Snapchat – is it safe for brands to come in?

Snapchat: an app that seems to have been designed perfectly for sexting if you believe what’s reported in the media. So why would brands consider going there?

Launched in 2011, it is one of the latest social networking apps that has been slowly gaining traction. Available on iPhone and Android it allows users to take photos, record videos, add text and freestyle drawings, and send them to selected contacts. Once the recipient opens the message, the image or video disappears after 1 – 10 seconds, depending on the settings the sender chose.

Figures from Snapchat reveal a jump in engagement from 60 million ‘snaps’ exchanged in February, to 200 million snaps. If you consider a ‘snap’ to be the same as a Facebook photo upload, Snapchat are biting at their heels; there are 350 million photo uploads per day on Facebook.

In fact, it appears Facebook have been keeping a close eye on Snapchat, after they released their own version at the end of last year – Poke – with little success.

Facebook Poke


Facebook’s Poke has a remarkably similar layout and user experience to Snapchat.

Due to its fleeting ‘moments’ of photos and videos (users can only view photos and videos sent to them for a short time at which point they are deleted forever*), it’s no surprise that it’s been surrounded by reports that its main focus of use has been for sexting (sending explicit photos or videos primarily via mobile phone). Indeed, research revealed that nearly half (47%) of Snapchat users have received nude pictures. But recently there appears to be a shift in how it’s being used, with more of the focus on ‘fun’ rather than the lewd, with parents using Snapchat to send pictures of their newborn babies without fear of them leaving a baby-sized digital footprint.

* Snapchat claims that these photos are deleted forever, but they’re just hidden and there are ways for savvy users to access these if they try.

Snapchat Snap

Who uses Snapchat?
Snapchat don’t release data on their user numbers but according to Liz Gannes chat with Evan Spiegal in December 2012, the app’s demographics are between 13 to 25 years old with an increasing number of users aged 40 and over. Furthermore, 70% of ‘snaps’ are shared with individuals, with a high proportion of these being ‘selfies’ (self-taken portraits).

Why do people use Snapchat?
It’s no surprise that the youth market dominates Snapchat’s user-base. In an age where parents admonish their children against leaving immortal digital footprints that could cause embarrassment and shame in the future and where schools warn that future potential employers will be picking through all of their digital presence, Snapchat seems like a good solution.

Why users might be drawn to Snapchat

  1. Users can send as many photos and videos to their friends without leaving a scratch on their digital presence.*
  2. Users can be less inhibited or restricted about sharing information, with less risk of being ‘caught’.
  3. There is less emphasis on building up your personal profile online – because nothing is kept, users can be themselves.
  4. Snapchat’s fleeting moments resemble face-to-face contact, rather than the embedded, documented, weighty interactions of other platforms such as Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter or Instagram.
  5. The feeling of ‘loss’ when the content disappears, in this age where everything digital is permanent, is likely to be a novelty.
  6. There is nothing beautiful about the images or videos posted on Snapchat – they’re not like Instagram with its numerous filters and carefully crafted captions. Snapchat is about rapidly created, messy selfies, silly photos and insider jokes.
  7. It is fast – as soon as the app is launched, you’re straight into the camera function. • Unlike most other apps it’s easy to draw and write on both video and photos.
  8. ‘Snap’ recipients pay more attention to the content received, knowing that it will disappear in a matter of seconds.
  9. Some use it to solve puzzles: this chap, Kanyi Maqubela, snapchatted his crossword and within minutes it was solved.
  10. There is no fear of employees facing dismissal following inappropriate postings of images online. In fact, young corporates, especially in the US are turning to Snapchat as a ‘safe’ means of sharing their exploits.

* It should be noted that recipients of ‘snaps’ can take a screenshot of the ‘snap’ sent to them, and although this will notify the sender, it does mean that there’s the potential for content to be immortalized and more widely shared.

How are brands using Snapchat?
As the initial controversy of ‘sexting’ surrounding Snaptchat has died down, brands have started to focus their sights on it as a platform to connect with an active and receptive audience.

Here are a few examples of how some brands have used the app:

1. Behind the Scenes / Exclusive Photos
To promote Geordie Shore’s sixth season, MTV UK used a TV campaign to push users its users to its Snapchat account. There, friends of MTV were treated to exclusive, behind-the-scenes photos and videos of Geordie Shore’s cast showing their ‘cheekier side’.

MTV Geordie Shore Snapchat

2. Discounts
Co-operative Electrical has launched a UK-only campaign for its Snapchat users, specifically targeting students offering them £30 off their purchase of one of their laptops online. When users befriend the Co-operative Electrical online, they are sent a picture of a code that they can then use on their website. It’s a move that aims to build excitement and anticipation amongst their audience, especially as they need to be quick-fingered enough to write down the code before it vanishes.

Cooperative Snapchat

3. New Product Launch
Taco Bell was one of the first major US brands to use Snapchat. They started enticing users to friend them on Snapchat before revealing the launch of their Beefy Crunch Burrito in May 2013.

Taco Bell Snapchat

“It feels extremely special to get a Snapchat. It’s almost like we pick up the phone and give them a call.” – Tressie Lieberman, social media & digital manager for Taco Bell

According to Taco Bell, using Snapchat gave consumers an added sense of intimacy and friendship that they didn’t get from some of the other big social media networks.

4. Competitions

ChatSports Snapchat
Chat Sports, a US brand used Snapchat as a competition platform. Targeting high school and college students, Chat Sports fans had to persuade five friends to add the brand to their contact list and send a photo with the hashtag #gimmietickets along with the initial fan’s handle who had initiated the joint entry. Chat Sports considered this a success after receiving 150 entries in 48 hours, so much so that they are rolling out similar competitions on a regular basis.

Most of the brands so far using Snapchat have been US-focused so there is still virgin ground to be broken for brands outside of there.

Should you be on Snapchat?
The Facebook tide is slowly turning with more and more of the youth audience are feeling increasingly overwhelmed, frustrated and stressed with the responsibility and drama of being part of it. Therefore, it’s imperative that brands harness other social platforms before oversaturation occurs.

If you’re thinking that your brand needs to be on Snapchat, stop and ask these questions first:

1. Have you tried it yourself? What did you like? What didn’t you like? Can you understand the appeal for a teen audience? If the answer’s no, stay away.

2. Is your content risqué or exclusive? Snapchat users love cheeky content and will respond best to content that is potentially too immodest for other sites such as Facebook or Instagram.

3. What are you going to use it for? Some brands reach out to the saucier nature of their audience. Is that in-line with your brand values? Snapchat is about immediacy – users won’t put up with having to wait for a competition to end. Like a scratchcard, they want to know immediately if they’ve ‘won’ or not.

4. Are you brave enough? Snapchat already comes with much controversy. Are you equipped to deal with that and use it with clout?

5. Do you have the capacity? Befriending a brand is like giving away your personal email. Even after a campaign finishes, users will continue to send content, regardless of whether you want it or not, and they will expect a response, just like on Facebook or Twitter. However, unlike those platforms, only the individual in question will see response. This is something Lynx found out when they used Snapchat, and worth bearing in mind:

“The cost of viewing and responding to all these images is potentially extremely high when compared to the reward of improving relationships with individuals.” Spokesperson from TMW, Lynx’s advertising agency

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