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Snapchat: What does it mean for marketers?

1st Aug 2013
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More and more brands are experimenting with social messaging app Snapchat to engage users but does it hold long-term value for marketers or is it just the latest social media fad?

Not just a platform for posting selfies, mobile messaging app Snapchat is growing in popularity and with ever-increasing financial backing, looking like it’s here to stay.

Launched in 2011, the app allows users to send messages that self-destruct (ok, are deleted) after being displayed for anywhere between one and 10 seconds, depending on how long the snapper wants them to be shown for (unless someone chooses to take a screenshot, of course).

The instant messaging service is snowballing in popularity with recent figures claiming 200m snaps are now sent every day – compare this to Instagram’s 40m. The current user base is primarily made up of US teenagers but last month saw the messaging service raise $80m in a new round of funding, which is likely to help founders Evan Spiegal and Bobby Murphy develop the app and expand to a wider audience.

So with its popularity set to continue soaring, what does this mean for brands? Last week Lynx become one of the latest brands to use the app for marketing purposes. Alex Wilmott, community manager at TMW, the influence agency behind the campaign, explained in a blog post that the FMCG brand used the platform to leak content to fans ahead of an exclusive product launch party.

“We asked fans to connect with us in the 48 hours before the event and posted a few candid images throughout the day to our few hundred new-found friends. The responses came back thick and fast (and with a few interesting images), all suggesting that we were using the platform in the same way that Lynx fans already were,” he said. 

Social rookie

So with other brands such as O2, MTV and frozen yoghurt company 16 handles also experimenting with Snapchat, how does it fare for marketers against social media’s major players: Twitter, Facebook, Vine and Instagram?

Wilmott said that whilst the Lynx campaign was an ‘interesting experiment’ into the platform, it was time-consuming and costly in replying to all of the images sent by fans.

“We’re always looking for ways to drive deeper engagement, but we don’t want to ignore the bulk of our fans to serve exclusive content to a few, so (in the same way that Asos approached Skype with their one-to-one consultations) our next task is working out how best we can use this platform to support our always-on approach, to make sure we deliver the content our fans want in the way they want it across the board.”

However, Holli Brown, social media consultant at ramarketing & PR believes that other social media platforms ‘don’t hold a candle’ to new kid on the block Snapchat as they lack the exclusivity and rarity.

She says: “When something is posted onto Twitter or Instagram it’s there for everyone to see, and it’s there forever (unless deleted). The sense that the Snapchat image/video might disappear before you get the chance to take advantage of an exclusive offer or get an invite to a Snapchat invite-only event, gives the app a sense of urgency and might just make recipients sit up and take notice, something that marketers worldwide strive for.”

Rory Mulloy from Essence adds that Snapchat has some interesting features that can help engage customers in new and exciting ways – pointing to MTV’s use of the app to promote a new series of Geordie Shore with teaser clips and O2’s use of Snapchat as part of its #BeMoreDog campaign, awarding fans with prizes if they correctly identify items in the pictures.

But, whilst the app provides a new platform for marketers to creatively engage customers, he says that it’s important to remember that not all apps and platforms lend themselves to all brands and campaign messages.

“The most powerful and successful uses of Snapchat are integrated into a wider, existing social strategy. Rather than seeing it as a competition to Vine, Instagram or Twitter, Snapchat for me is an extension of their new approaches to content formats that allow us marketers to show a different facet of our brand personalities and connect with customers on a more personal level.”

Neil Major, strategy director at Yomego, believes Snapchat is more of a communications tool than a social network. “You can broadcast, but it lends itself towards two way conversations, and for brands, the teaser campaign, because secrecy and privacy is baked in to how you consume it. Outside of that certain type of campaign, Snapchat’s business model may end up being a bit more like What’s App – more of a messenger or SMS service than a real space for brands,” he says.

Since its rise to fame, Snapchat has failed to shake-off the likening to online chat website Chat Roulette, which allows users to video call unknown members around the world and now infamous as a platform for sexting. 

CEO of eModeration Tamara Littleton speaks of the reputational risk brands must be aware of if looking to add the messaging service to their marketing mix. “On more public channels, you can see what people are saying about you and take action. With Snapchat you can’t. I imagine a brand would want a tool to moderate and manage inbound content before getting deeply involved.”

Jason Steele, social media director at MEC Global Solutions, also believes that some of the content posted on Snapchat is “very questionable” and claims that the app’s lack of engagement metrics may also deter marketers from using it.

Long-term adoption

So with these privacy concerns in mind, we’re yet to see if marketers will continue to adopt the tool once it’s no longer riding the wave of novelty take-up.

Brown says that despite the hype surrounding Snapchat right now, there is definite value in it for marketing given that it can be utilised as a low cost platform reaching a highly engaged audience.

“The sense of scarcity of the images and videos and the limited viewing time means recipients are more likely to digest the image or video before the full viewing time expires, meaning marketers have a better chance of creating a lasting message, whether it be a limited time offer or a sneak peak at a new product.”

Social media consultant Alison Battisby however doubts that the tool will become widely adopted by marketers and cement its place alongside the likes of Twitter and Facebook in the long term.

“Marketers have so much choice in social networks at the moment, and so there really needs to be a huge benefit to creating and establishing a new one - and I don't Snapchat holds these benefit,” she says.

For those marketers keen to experiment with the app, Littleton concludes with some parting advice: “Before you jump in and use Snapchat, make sure you don't spread your brand too thin and put your content on every mobile platform available.

“Think which platform and tool is the most appropriate for your brand and audience. Your audience may not be ready to jump onto the new tools so think about what you want from the tool and can it deliver it for you.”

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