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A Marketer’s Guide To Snapchat & How Brands Can Build Followers Through “Stories”
Haven't gotten your brand on Snapchat? The time could be right, given recent changes to the service. All you need to know on getting started.
Don’t understand why anyone uses Snapchat or how marketers can tap into it? I was with you until about two weeks ago. But the recent launch of Snapchat Discover is causing many to take another look. Here’s my guide to using the social network, in particular the “Stories” feature, and why it might be worth your time.
Snapchat’s “One-To-Many” Change
I am not a Snapchat expert. That’s because at nearly 50 years old, I’m neither a teenager nor millennial. I’m not in the 13-24 age group that makes up about half of Snapchat’s estimated 100 to 200 million users. I’ve had no interest in using it to send quick snap messages to friends and family.
All that changed about two weeks ago, when Snapchat Discover launched. Discover allows brands to have a permanent place on the service for the first time. If there’s one thing I do know, it’s that whenever a growing social network gets formal with brands, the opportunities begin to skyrocket soon after.
Discover brought me to Snapchat out of curiosity; the Stories feature has kept me there both as a user who gets entertained by following people and brands that way as well as a marketer who sees the opportunity for brands to be found beyond the limited number allowed into Discover.
Stories allow brands to go beyond the “one-to-one” limitation that came from Snapchat’s origins, where one individual would send a message to another. Yes, one individual might send to a group of other individuals. But that still isn’t the same as the “one-to-many” broadcast mechanism so familiar to brands who reach out to thousands of followers at once via places like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
While Stories is over a year old, I think it’s coming under renewed attention now that Discover is reawakening some brands to Snapchat. Discover is helping them realize that Snapchat can be a one-to-many channel. While virtually none of them can get into Discover right now, they can leverage Stories for instead.
So come along. I’ll explain through my newborn Snapchat user eyes how to get going with the service and, in particular, to use Stories as a way to reach out to followers in a way familiar to those using more, dare I say, “traditional” social media networks.
Signing-up is straight-forward. You’ll need to provide an email address and whatever birthdate you want to fake for your company (make it over 13 — and better 18 — so you don’t wind up classified as a child). You’ll be asked for a phone number, but you can skip verifying that and still have your account work fine. There’s no explicit support for business accounts. That means as a brand, you have no real protection if one person in charge of your account goes rogue. So, trust your people.
There’s also no significant profile to establish. You won’t have a bio. You won’t have a custom picture. You won’t get a verified icon. You won’t get a URL to your site. You won’t have a URL where people can easily find you. In fact, you won’t even be suggested as someone for others to follow when they upload contacts because, as a new brand on Snapchat, it’s doubtful you’ll be in anyone’s contacts.
In short, it’s still kind of like the Wild West when it comes to businesses being on Snapchat. Take solace that other social networks like Facebook eventually adapted to support business use. It’s a good bet that Snapchat will do the same
Your Home Screen & Your Ghost
Once in, all the action starts from the Snapchat home screen, shown below on the left.
Tap the “ghost” at the top of the screen to reach your own profile page and ghost. From there, you can see who has added you (and you can add them back, if you want). You don’t have to add people. By swiping across to the left on their names, you can select “Ignore” if you don’t want to see them listed any longer on your Added Me list. You can also block anyone this way, too.
One reason not to clear your Added Me list is that this is your only list of who follows you. Unfortunately, that list doesn’t come with a count (your “Score” is a count of snaps you’ve sent and received).
Finding Accounts & Being Found
You can also seek out others to follow, using the Add Friends option. Unlike more mature social networks, there’s no decent attempt to suggest accounts, if you don’t know their exact names. This is likely due to Snapchat having grown as a service where friends were telling each other their names directly. There’s was no need to surface interesting people or accounts to follow.
Consider a search for our own Marketing Land account on Snapchat. We won’t appear if you start typing our name, nor if you mistakenly do it as two words. Unless you know our exact name is “marketingland” on Snapchat, you won’t find us:
Understanding this is important when it comes to encouraging people to follow your brand. You need to make sure they know your exact name — and you’ll likely have to do that through your other social networks.
20th Century Fox is an example of this. If you went to look them up on Snapchat, guessing “20thcenturyfox” as they are on Twitter, you wouldn’t get a match. No suggestions will appear at all.
That’s why you can see in a recent tweet, 20th Century Fox encouraged its Twitter fans to follow them on Snapchat by looking for the “foxmovies” name:
Actually, the studio screwed this up. If you look closely at the image above, you’ll see that they added their logo inside the ghost image. Snapchat didn’t do that for them. But in doing so, they also messed up the ability for someone to take a picture of the ghost from within Snapchat to automatically add the account.
That’s right. People can add accounts by taking pictures of ghosts. When it works, it’s pretty cool — you’ll get a confirmation notice that the account was added.
More importantly, 20th Century Fox listed their account as “Fox Movies,” two words rather than the “foxmovies” that it is. As a result, anyone searching for two words won’t find them.
Bottom line — tweet and share your ghost but don’t go messing with it. If you want to see how an automatic add works, take a picture of ours, as shown in our own tweet below:
Snapchat’s Confusing “Social UI”
Before I move on to taking pictures, allow me a short detour to discuss Snapchat’s far-from-intuitive user interface. It can make you feel dumb. It can make you want to scream. It might make you believe that only people under 25 can understand it through some super-youthful powers they alone possess. Will Oremus has a great recent post on Slate about how maddening it can be.
After spending a little time with my own teenagers, I’ve realized why the UI is successful seemingly only with the young. It’s not that only young people get it. It’s that young people who use it are teaching each other. My kids learned Snapchat from their friends. In turn, they pass on tips to others (and now me).
Snapchat has a “Social UI,” if you will, one that encourages people to be social with others in real-life in order to be social virtually. Whether this is by accident (likely) or intentional, I don’t know. But that’s why I think oldsters like me or anyone without friends who regularly use Snapchat struggle.
You’re trying to learn something alone that’s better taught by a friend sitting next to you. Once you get that it’s not you — that Snapchat isn’t easily figured out without a little help — you may feel a bit better. I sure did.
Taking Pictures, Video & Adding Text
Now on to the core part of Snapchat: making Snaps, pictures and video that you’ll share with followers and how to mark those up with text.
Picture and video taking is pretty easy. From that home screen shown above, tap on the big circle button at the bottom to take a picture. Tap and hold if you want to record a video. If you need flash, use the flash icon in the top left of the home screen. If you want to use the front facing camera for a selfie, use the camera switch icon in the top right.
What’s not so easy to immediately understand is how add text to your image after taking it. To do so, tap on the image itself, and a text entry box should appear. You can then type in a short caption. After entering this, you can then use your finger to drag the caption up or down within the image.
You can also alter the size of the text and change the color in various ways. Look for the big “T” font icon at the top, then tap on it. That will make the text large and left-aligned. Tap again, and it will center. Select the text when large, and you can use the color palette on the side to change colors. Use two fingers to pinch the text smaller or stretch it larger, plus rotate how you like.
The GIF below illustrates some of this:
By the way, the palette won’t show white, black or gray as color options. For black, start in the color palette and keep dragging down out of it and to the bottom of your screen. You’ll get black. Keep dragging across and to the left-side then up, and you’ll get shades of gray. Keep going up to get white.
You can also draw on your image by using the pencil icon in the top right corner. That’s easier to understand, because the icon immediately appears as soon as you take a picture, unlike the text icon. You can change colors multiple times, just by lifting your finger then selecting a new color.
By default, your pictures will show for three seconds. If you want a longer or shorter period, look for the clock icon at the bottom left of your picture. Tap that, and you set to your choice of between 1 and 10 seconds.
Sharing To My Story
After making your snap, whether it’s an image or video, you have two sharing options. The arrow icon in the far right bottom corner allows you to send to either “My Story” or to your contacts. As a brand, it’s easier to use the special story share icon that’s in the middle of the bottom screen, which looks like a square with a little plus symbol in the corner.
Tap that button, and you’ll send your snap to your story. And now’s the time to explain more about what Stories and My Story are.
Stories: Public Snaps, Shared For 24 Hours
Stories are a collection of snaps that others can view. For a brand, My Story (your own story in the “Stories” area, as opposed to those from others) is effectively your Snapchat feed that others follow.
Every snap you send to your story can be seen by anyone, if you make this so — and you should. The snaps you send will last for 24 hours from when you first send them. If you send multiple snaps, people can watch them in order from oldest to newest.
It’s as if you were tweeting and every tweet lasts 24 hours then disappears. Don’t be put off by the disappearing act. After all, tweets sent directly to followers make short impressions before effectively disappearing from attention, if not amplified through retweeting by others. Snapchat has the same short-burst attention opportunity that marketers can tap into.
To get started, go to your ghost as described above. Look to the top left, where there’s a gear icon to reach your settings. You’ll see a section there called “Who Can…” with an option called “View My Story.” Tap that, and you’ll see that “My Friends” is set by default. Change that to “Everyone,” so that everyone who follows you regardless of whether you follow back can view your story.
To see your story — and to understand how others will see them — head to the Stories area. From your home screen (again, previously shown above), use the icon in the bottom right corner. That will either be a three horizontal bars “hamburger” menu icon or a number in a purple square (the number means how many new stories you have). Alternatively, just swipe to the left from the home screen.
When the Stories page appears, you’ll see your own story at the top as “My Story” followed by recent updates from others. Tap on a story to make it play. While playing, tap with another finger if you want to fast-forward to the next snap.
Below is how my own Stories page appeared when I was writing this guide, on the left. On the right, what I got when I tapped on “snoopysnaps,” which is the official Snapchat account for Peanuts.
What I received was a cartoon similar to one that Peanuts tweeted the same day. It’s nothing fancy. Perhaps it could have been better. But the point is that Peanuts has delivered its content to an audience on a growing new platform where some of them may prefer to get it.
Viewing Stats & Editing Stories
For your own story, you’re able to view the individual snaps that you’ve shared. For instance, look below:
You’ll see on the left that my own story is opened up at the top, showing a total of three snaps. On the right, one of the individual snaps.
Look again at the left side. For the second story, you’ll see an eye icon with a number next to it. That shows how many people have viewed that particular snap. If you tap on the snap, you’ll see what shows for the third snap — a listing of exactly who viewed the snap (I’ve obscured some of the names in my example for privacy reasons — not that Snapchat user names give any real clue about who someone really is).
Also notice in the third snap the X icon on the right. That lets you delete a snap. It’s helpful if you make a mistake and want something to disappear faster than 24 hours. Or, perhaps you want each day to start with a fresh entry for a story. You can delete any old snaps that haven’t yet expired to start anew.
Unfortunately, you can’t reorder the way snaps appear. Nor can you upload images or video from your phone’s gallery to Stories (you can do this when chatting directly to an individual).
Discover: A Permanent Home For Brands
Take a moment from the Stories screen to either tap the circle icon at the top right of the screen or just swipe left. That will bring you to Discover, which has gotten all the recent attention.
Discover is a permanent home for brands on Snapchat. These are partners that have paid to be listed here, as shown on the left. Tapping on a brand allows you to view content they’ve shared, such as the National Geographic story on the right. The Discover area is basically a way for brands to supercharge often highly-produced stories, having them available to anyone on Snapchat, regardless if those people follow the brands or not.
Discover doesn’t put the Discover stories directly into any individual’s Stories stream, as happens with Snapchat’s ads. That means less potential views but also less potential user upset.
For example, Snapchat’s first ad ran last October for the Universal Pictures film Ouija. That resulted in millions of views but also some Snapchat users didn’t like having content pushed on them that way. Discover is a middle ground. It gives prominent placement for selected stories, but users still have to seek them out within Discover.
Up Close With Snapchat’s New “Discover” Feature is our story from earlier that explains more about how Discover works. Eventually, perhaps more brands will be allowed in. But the key thing is that Discover might be teaching Snapchat users to tune into brands via the platform in addition to using it for messaging.
Maybe it’ll be that Snapchat users won’t want brands there. Maybe the novelty of Discover will wear off, both for users and brands. After scanning a few college newspapers reports, it’s clear not everyone is a believer.
But other accounts are positive. If Discover does pick up a following, even a relatively small percentage of Snapchat’s millions of users, that’s an interesting new marketing channel for marketers. It’s even more interesting if Discover whets Snapchat user appetites for brand content beyond that which Discover offers.
Stories: The Discover For Any Brand
That brings things back to Stories and why brands that haven’t tried Snapchat yet might want to give it a second thought. The ground is changing significantly now. It’s often the case with social networks that brands which establish beachheads early reap big benefits.
Some marketers are betting they can gain a following that might pay off now and perhaps even more in the future. Pitch Perfect 2 (pitchperfect2 on Snapchat) might not be in Discover, but it still figures Stories are a way it can reach fans — enough so that it even encouraged them to follow it through its Super Bowl ad.
Building a fan base now is one potential advantage. Another is that at some point, it feels inevitable that Snapchat will make it easier for its users to actually discover other people and brands who want to share on a one-to-many basis.
The need to generate revenue will likely power this. We’ve already had an AdWeek report that some advertisers don’t want to pay an apparent $750,000 per day rate for regular ads that go into everyone’s feeds. As for Discover, while being selective with brands there is smart in terms of pushing for high quality and high fees due to limited inventory, there’s potentially much more money to be earned by allowing more brands to vie for visibility.
This is because Snapchat users, like any community, aren’t going to be monolithic in what they like. They’ll have diverse interests. Allowing more brands to be easily found by those who want such content gives Snapchat better material plus a broad base of publishers to sell-up on visibility. Those brands can also help Snapchat itself grow by attracting new people who don’t currently use the service.
Sure, maybe Snapchat will eventually charge for things that we’ve come to expect for free on other social networks, such as custom profiles, better search, verification and suggested accounts. However, I suspect that Snapchat will fall closer to the services that have come before it, allowing brands to have more formal and free profiles that get some exposure as they earn followings, with payment for promotion being optional yet lucrative for the service.
What will actually happen, of course, is anyone’s guess. But I do think the time is right for brands that have been curious about Snapchat to give it a closer look and start experimenting with Stories — which, the company told The Verge last year, get viewed more than snaps between individuals.
Some Brands To Consider
If you do plan to experiment, you can’t go too wrong learning from some of the brands already on the service. These include (with some join dates when I could easily find them):
- Taco Bell (tacobell — joined April 2013)
- GrubHub (grubhub — joined Aug. 2013)
- New Orleans Saints (saints — joined Oct. 2013)
- 17 Magazine (SeventeenMag — joined Dec. 2013)
- HBO’s Girls (girlshbo — joined Jan. 2014)
- EA Sports (easports_snaps — joined Jan. 2014)
- LA County Museum Of Art (lacma_museum — joined July 2014)
- Acura (acura_insider)
- Wet Seal (wetseal)
- MTV (mtv)
- McDonald’s (mcdonalds)
- Ellen (ellen)
- Mountain Dew (mountaindew)
- Glee (gleeonfox)
- General Electric (generalelectric)
- Pitch Perfect 2 (pitchperfect2)
- Mashable (mashable)
- The Verge (therealverge)
- 20th Century Fox (foxmovies)
- Search Engine Land (searchengineland)
- Marketing Land (marketingland)
Yes, the last two are us — Marketing Land and our sister site Search Engine Land. It’s definitely experimental for us, mainly testing sharing some of the stories we have up or are working on (and if you want to follow me personally, I’m sullivandanny on Snapchat).
For some interesting reading, here are few articles the especially stood out to me about how brands are making use of Snapchat:
- How brands are mastering the 10-second Snapchat, from Oracle last March, but still interesting.
- The best brands on Snapchat, iMedia Connection, from last May.
- How 12 Brands Used Snapchat, from Co.Create last August.
- How to get started on Snapchat: A beginner’s guide for brands, TechRepublic — just out yesterday with lots of useful and interesting observations.
- Wet Seal Shorty Awards Profile: Wet Seal won the Shorty Award for its Snapchat work last year. This profile is full of great information about audience size it grew (9,000) or views in 24 hours (6,000) and more.
- Here’s What Innovative Brands Did On Snapchat For The Super Bowl, our own story from last week.
Also worth reading: Snapchat Support, the service’s help areas that’s full of useful tips and advice in getting going.
All the best to those trying the service. We’d love to hear your stories, if you find success — as well as hear from those already on!