Approach Snapchat cautiously…but don’t ignore it

Posted on March 10, 2016 5:11 pm by | Marketing | Mobile | PR

Sometimes the shiny object is worth chasing

Every day, it seems, my feeds are cluttered with tales of brands finding new and innovative (and not-so-innovative) ways to use Snapchat. The last few days have been different. In addition to the use cases, I have seen a rise in posts cautioning marketers and communicators that Snapchat may not be the panacea all the hype has cracked it up to be.

Jeff Gibbard denounced the “Snapchat Hype Train” in a YouTube video and in a Forbes piece, marketing industry observer Mark Fidelman said he has the data to prove that Snapchat is a marketing loser. Their objections mirror those I have seen from other critics. Each of them presents a challenge. What they don’t represent, though, are insurmountable obstacles.

Objection #1: Snapchat messages disappear—So do Periscope sessions. For that matter, so do TV and radio commercials. You drive by a billboard and never see another like it. Was it a waste of marketing dollars?

If you’re doing your job, your Snapchat messages, Periscope sessions, and other ephemeral messaging are part of a larger campaign. The Mayo Clinic recently Periscoped a colonoscopy. It was available for 24 hours, but if you didn’t catch it by then, you were out of luck. Except you weren’t. While the Periscope session was the anchor for the event, other channels were employed to reinforce key messages; the Periscope sessions themselves were captured and highlights shared as YouTube videos (here and here.

Snapchat should be no different. When your message is viewed for the 10 seconds it’s visible, it shouldn’t (in most cases) be an isolated missive, but rather contribute to a larger campaign, building awareness and reinforcing messaging. It could be the impression that tips the scales and leads a consumer to proactively seek more information or make a recommendation.

Objection #2: No outbound links—There are no outbound links on Instagram, but marketers find plenty of utility on Instagram. Consider the value of having a celebrity share a photo in which your product is featured prominently. Outbound links are great on services that offer them, but not every marketing strategy relies on one. (I’ll point again to radio commercials and billboards. Hell, even skywriting can be effective and has no outbound links.) The answer here is simple: If your campaign goal is to generate clicks or traffic, don’t use Snapchat. If there are goals more conducive to Snapchat, don’t let the lack of outbound links hold you back.

Objection #3: Difficult to get new followers and to have followers follow you—Right, choose not to do something because it’s hard. God forbid you should have to work for your results. Stick with what’s easy. (And never listen to JFK’s announcement of the moonshot in which he explains we choose to go to the moon not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard. You can’t handle that kind of message.)

In all seriousness, half the people I follow on Snapchat are people who shared their Snapcode on Facebook or Twitter. How hard would it be to do that on a Facebook page or other social media channels?

Objection #4: Short video duration—I’m completely flummoxed by this one. Every indication right now is that short video beats long video. Should brands have eschewed Vine because of its six-second limit, or should they have figured out how to tell amazing and compelling stories in six seconds?

To be fair, Fidelman points out that Vine and Instagram allow you to import video rather than force you to shoot it natively on the app (though this was not always the case, and based on the evolution of Vine and Snapchat, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that Snapchat may introduce video uploading at some point. In the meantime, the Snapchat user base isn’t really interested in slick, highly produced videos. They will be far more likely to pay attention to your videos if they embrace the Snapchat ethos. Surely there’s somebody under 30 in your organization who can help you figure out how to produce a good video using the app.

Objection #5: A lack of analytics—The analytics Snapchat offers are available for 24 hours, which Fidelman calls a “non-starter.” If I felt I was getting value from using Snapchat, I’d be sure to scrape that data within the 24 hours it was available and feed it into a spreadsheet. Is it as convenient as downloading a permanent dataset? No, but I remember the days when I had to use a typewriter to record media impressions from the clips Burrelle’s mailed to me every week. Besides, Snapchat has already promised to improve analytics.

Objection #6: You can’t promote from other social networks—So you can’t link to a Snapchat story from Facebook. I wouldn’t use Snapchat for anything for which that was a requirement, but it wouldn’t stop me from taking advantage of it for those results is can help me achieve.

Ultimately, Fidelman’s objections strike me as a list of marketing must-do’s that have to be ticked off before I can use it. It rejects tapping the tool for the benefits it does offer, and ignores the need for marketers to occasionally take a freakin’ risk. I guarantee you, General Electric wouldn’t have the reputation it does for genius use of social media if they weren’t willing to take risks

I’ll add one objection Fidelman and Gibbard didn’t address: cost. If you want to take advantage of Snapchat’s paid opportunities, plan to stuff your wallet. It can cost a cool half a million to buy a Snapchat ad, and a bundle for its geofilter opportunities (although a much less costly version was recently announced—as low as $5—in order to attract small business).

The case for Snapchat

You should always make sure the tool you use is conducive to the goals you’re trying to achieve. That said, if your goals include reaching people in the 18-24 and 25-34 demographic, you’d be crazy not to at least consider Snapchat, which is the preferred social tool in those groups.

Snapchat demographics

Snapchat also recently announced that its users view 8 billion videos daily, equal to Facebook’s video reach. That’s nothing to sneer at.

From an even bigger-picture perspective, messaging is overtaking social networking as mobile overtakes desktops.

There have been limitations that have kept people on the traditional Internet, but those are rapidly fading away. One of those limitations has been the fact that mobile apps exist in isolation; you couldn’t click from one app to another the way you could from one website to another. Deep linking is enabling greater connectivity, though, and now bots are emerging as a way to connect to services without even needing to open an app. (I am completely enamored with Prompt, a service that lets you send a message to find nearby restaurants via Foursquare or order a car via Uber, among other uses.) As media expert John Battelle wrote on Medium recently, Mobile is tantalizingly close to becoming the actual Internet.

Mobile devices are driving half of the traffic accruing to the Web’s top sites. More than half of Facebook’s users access the social network solely on mobile devices. So important is mobile that Google has announced an alliance with 15 mobile carriers to create a richer SMS text messaging experience as carriers see customers migrating to the over-the-top services (the label for apps that send messages over data networks rather than voice networks).

Microsoft’s Skype just announced that group video calling was now available on mobile, another concession to the expanding mobile universe and the diminishing use of computers. (My wife—who was once attached to her PC—now does everything on a smartphone and tablet. Her old computer is gathering dust in the garage.)

Meanwhile, app companies know that business will inevitably capitulate to the rise of messaging. WhatsApp is introducing document sharing, undoubtedly a nod toward business and the kinds of features that will encourage adoption.

Fully immersed in the mobile world, younger users are embracing messaging tools like Snapchat, along with Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Kik, among others. Telegram, a newer entry that appeals to younger teens (and boasts strong encryption), just passed the milestone of 100 million monthly active users. I bet most of you haven’t even heard of it. Messaging appeals to them more than the networks that have migrated from desktop to mobile for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that they can engage more genuinely with people they want to connect with, out of sight of parents and advertisers.

Messaging users use those apps some nine times every day compared to five times daily for other kinds of apps. The retention rate for mobile messaging apps is close to 70% while other apps have 38% retention rates. Despite the challenges these platforms present, if you want to reach the audiences they have attracted, you need to figure them out. As Geoff Livingston wrote, “Snapchat is pure and unaccountable. It’s really what social media was meant to be, a real goofy conversation between people. In that sense, perhaps SnapChat is social media‚Äôs ultimate revenge on businesses.”

New tools should spark innovation, not denial

Organizations are figuring out, albeit slowly, that messaging is the new frontier. Data demonstrating that branded content is more effective at influencing purchase intent when it’s found on mobile (according to Nielsen) is driving the growing awareness that it’s nuts to ignore messaging. After all, I’ll take higher intent over a lack of outbound links every day.

And there are other uses besides driving sales. Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, for example, has implemented a program in which it texts patients and families before, during, and after surgery in order to alleviate anxiety.

As for Snapchat, here are just a few brands that are experimenting in intriguing and exciting ways (rather than resisting because it doesn’t accommodate traditional criteria):

  • This Tuesday, Major League Baseball will suspend its prohibition against players posting to social media from the field. MLB is asking players to share Snaps as part of an agreement between the league and Snapchat, ultimately offering an enticing behind-the-scenes look at how the game looks from the inside out. Other teams and leagues are using Snapchats stories feature—which remain accessible for 24 hours—to connect fans with their favorite sports. Birchbox's Screenshot Survey
  • Demonstrating that the lack of analytics isn’t an obstacle to getting data, three retailers are using Snapchat for “screenshot surveys.” Birchbox, WhoWhatWear, and Urban Decay Cosmetics prompt followers with a question and multiple answers. Followers screenshot their choice (or signal an affirmative response) with a screenshot while the 10-second snap runs. According to a Digiday report, “Before the story expires, these companies can take a look at the metrics to see how many people viewed the story, how many people participated in the survey and what the takeaways are.” No analytics my ass. It just took a little creativity to come up with a way to glean insights from user engagement on Snapchat.
  • IHOP has launched a campaign that serves an ad to customers while they’re actually in an IHOP restaurant. The campaign was inspired by the number of snaps users sends to IHOP every day, many taken inside restaurants. The pancake chain had previously introduced customized filters that were accessible only by customers when dining at an IHOP. According to the company’s marketing chief, it’s all about engagement.

If you’re looking for more, try this, this, and this.

What should you do?

I’m not telling you that you must use Snapchat. You should, however, get to know it. If you don’t have it, install it. A growing number of us older folks are banding together to message with each other on Snapchat so we can safely figure it out. You can join us or build your own network.

Read about how brands are making it work. Certainly there are examples of brands chasing the shiny object, throwing good money after bad at ill-conceived Snapchat campaigns. But that’s true of every platform, new and old. Just don’t be one of them. When considering Snapchat, ask yourself:

  • Is my audience on Snapchat?
  • How will I draw my audience to my Snapchat efforts?
  • Is there a call to action that will be effective on Snapchat? (Look at the screenshot surveys as an example of a call to action that produces useful results for the retailers employing them.)
  • How will I measure success?

And by the way, feel free to connect with me using the Snapcode below.

My Snapchat Snapcode



  • 1.Loved the way you compared snapchat to billboards. A view is a view no matter what format it comes from right? Never sleep on future media channels.

    Marcus Ferreira | March 2016

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