Video Essentials

A Video Marketer’s Guide to Snapchat: Tell a Story in Snaps

Right now Snapchat is definitely having a moment. Almost four years after the launch hype and more than a year after big brands like McDonald’s made a splash with their first marketing experiments, interest is heating up again for strong reasons. As a result Snapchat merits a fresh look from video marketers.

Investment dollars are raining onto the company. In May, Snapchat disclosed it had raised $537 million in new venture capital this year, adding up to more than $1.2 billion of total outside funding. This is driven by an enormous and growing user base. The company reports nearly 100 million daily active users of its apps who view 2 billion videos per day.

On top of that, a ComScore study published in March says that 71 percent of Snapchat’s users are in the very desirable 18- to 34-year-old age demographic, and the company says more than 60 percent of all 13- to 34-year-old U.S. smartphone users are Snapchatters. That’s why CEO Evan Spiegel told the ReCode conference that his company—valued at $15 billion—is considering an IPO.

The big question is whether or not the platform’s particular user experience and features are a good fit for your brand. Snapchat is principally a near-real-time messaging app that emphasizes visual communication. Snapchat messages, known as snaps, are videos and photos that have a short lifespan of just seconds to no more than 24 hours. This places active and immediate engagement at the forefront, even more than with Twitter, since Snapchat doesn’t provide an archive or content search.

Users opt-in to receiving a brand’s snaps by following an account. They’re only available in the app; there is no web version. This contributes to an intimate user experience that’s useful when building relationships with an audience. It’s not so great for discovery.

If your campaign can be tailored to Snapchat’s constraints and make the most of its strengths, then the platform may be a good choice. In this guide you’ll learn more about getting started with Snapchat, viewing best practices along with examples from actual brand campaigns.

The company recently started courting paid advertisers as it looks for a way to turn billions of views into revenue, but that comes a cost of $750,000 per day. For this article we’ll only look at Snapchat’s basic (free) feature set.

A Snapchat Tour

Understanding the basic operation and appeal of Snapchat should stimulate some ideas for putting it to work. Its young user base is attracted by the synchronous and visual nature of communicating with friends. The ability to add filters (a la Instagram), captions, emoji and visual annotations to pictures and videos adds to the fun.

Press the large circle to take a photo or video, then use the text and drawing tools (top right) to annotate and decorate.

Press the large circle to take a photo or video, then use the text and drawing tools (top right) to annotate and decorate.

The ephemeral nature of snaps is what Snapchat is most known for, and also why it’s hot with millennials. The app puts a hard expiration on all content, letting users choose to have it display for only one to ten seconds once the recipient starts to view it. Although someone can take a screen shot, Snapchat reports those captures to the sender.

Simplicity is also part of the appeal. After setting up an account, every time users fire up the app the first thing they see is a camera view where the most prominent button is a large circle. Press it once to take a photo, or press and hold it to take a video up to ten seconds long. There’s no delay in creating content. Once a photo or video is taken, users have the option to draw on it, add a text caption, or add a filter before sending it to friends.

Snapchat users can only send photos and videos taken with the app. Third-party apps that import other content have been banned by the company. Anyway, Snapchat is supposed to be about the moment. That said, the app doesn’t share a snap until the user decides to. That means users can shoot multiple takes, sharing only the ones that make the grade.

Turn Snaps into Stories

Marketers can get the impact by adding snaps to a story, which is a more durable collection of photos and videos, each of which stays accessible for 24 hours after creation and can be replayed without limits during that period. You have only one story, but you can keep adding to it.

Snapchat-StoriesStories make Snapchat more valuable for brands both because of their longer lifespan and because you can make them accessible to all users. The best brand campaigns make use of stories, and several are detailed below. As the name implies, their power lies in letting users create a narrative or timeline that spans multiple snaps.

Stories have their own screen in the Snapchat app, separate from the friend list. Swipe left on the home screen to see the stories currently available from all the accounts you follow. The icon for each story indicates how much of the 24 hour viewing window remains. Play a story by tapping the user’s name and holding—it plays only as long as you press the screen.

Be sure to change your default account settings to permit all Snapchat users to see your stories. Also, to encourage interactivity enable all users to send you snaps, as well. Otherwise you’ll need to approve every user individually.

Get and Promote Your Brand

Snapchat account usernames are exclusive on the platform. If you have any thoughts of using it register your preferred handle.

It is vitally important to promote your Snapchat content on other channels. There is little discovery on Snapchat, mostly limited to content partners that appear in the Discovery channel or to paid advertisers. For everyone else attracting followers requires promoting elsewhere. This is easier if brands have the same handle on multiple social networking platforms.

Snappy Tips

Ellen DeGreneres shared her Snapchat ghost on Twitter to bring in new followers

Ellen DeGreneres shared her Snapchat ghost on Twitter to bring in new followers

Here are some tips for creating and sharing snaps and stories.

  • Make sure your account settings allow all Snapchat users to see your stories and send you snaps.
  • Take photos and videos in the vertical (portrait) view so they fill the viewer’s screen the way people normally hold their devices.
  • Use text captions and annotations to spice up snaps, brand them, and help drive a narrative.
  • Promote Snapchat stories across other social channels. Make sure to do it while the content is active.
  • Take a screenshot of your own ghost avatar (click the ghost on the main screen to see it) and share it on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest. Snapchatters can snap it in the app to automatically add you.
  • Ask followers to share your snaps.

Campaign Examples and Ideas

Snapchat-TacoBellLearn from brands that are exploring and innovating on Snapchat. Their account handles are in parentheses.

  • Create a special event: Fox Home Entertainment and the VaynerMedia agency won a 2015 Shorty for their one-night-only #SurviveTheNight sorry campaign featuring celebrity Snapchatters competing in challenges based on events in the movie The Maze Runner.
  • Provide an exclusive “you are there” experience: This year MTV (@mtv) snapped behind-the-scenes pictures and videos at the Bonnaroo music festival.
  • Share exclusive content: Heineken (@heineken) sponsors a Major League Soccer (@mls) “Rivalry Week” where players from selected matches reveal their big game preparations.
  • Offer discounts and contests: Ellen DeGeneres (@ellen) offered a Grammy ticket giveaway to her Snapchat followers and Sephora (@sephora) gives away gift cards.
  • Be personal: Followers receive a “Taco Bell Horoscope” from the chain (@tacobell) during each astrological sign’s birth month.
Michael Platco uses Snapchat’s drawing tools to turn photos into eye-catching illustrations.

Michael Platco uses Snapchat’s drawing tools to turn photos into eye-catching illustrations.

Follow these young Snapchat trendsetters for more inspiration:

  • Kenny Holland (@kennyholland) and Amy Marie Gaerner (@amymariexoxo) competed in #SurviveTheNight.
  • Logan Paul (@loganpaul) created a story for Modelez’s Sour Patch Kids candies.
  • Michael Platco (@mplatco) specializes in creative and often intricate illustrations on top of snaps, and has worked on campaigns for NBCUniversal’s The Voice, Major League Soccer, and Marriott Hotels


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