Marketing Land’s guide on how to use Snapchat
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.
Do you find Snapchat confusing? Not sure why anyone would even use Snapchat at all? Don’t worry. Marketing Land has you covered. Here’s our guide to using the social network, especially written for marketers used to sharing to a wide audience on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Snapchat’s confusing ‘social UI’
Before diving in, it’s been well discussed that Snapchat’s user interface can be confusing to newcomers, especially older people — with “older” being like 25 or over.
After spending time with my own teenagers, I don’t think it’s that only young people “get” Snapchat. I think that it’s young people teach each other how to navigate the app when they see each other in person. My kids learned Snapchat from their friends. In turn, they pass on tips to others.
The Snapchat app 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 within the app. 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 they see in person who regularly use Snapchat struggle.
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.
Signing up is straightforward. You’ll need to provide your name, a birthdate and an email address or phone number. If you’re making an account for your company or brand, you’ll have to fake a birthdate. Make it so your company is aged 18 or over, so you don’t wind up classified as a child.
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, make sure you trust your people.
Unlike most social networks, there’s no significant profile to establish. You won’t have a bio. You won’t get a URL to your site. You can have a custom picture, but you can’t upload an image to use. You’ll have to take it live, as explained further below. Some lucky Snapchat accounts can be verified, but there’s no formal procedure for this.
You’ll also have to create a unique username, up to 15 characters long. This is different from your regular name. Pick carefully, because you can’t change your username. You can change the regular name that’s associated with it, however.
Your Snapchat home screen & profile screen
Once you’re in the Snapchat app, all the action starts from the Snapchat home screen, shown below:
Tap the “ghost” icon at the top left of the screen to reach your own profile page and personal Snapcode — that ghost-looking thing:
By default, your Snapcode will be empty. If you want to add your photo, tap on the ghost. A new screen will appear with the ghost image enlarged, and you can put your face within it. Tap on the camera button below the ghost to take your picture. A series of pictures will be taken, to create an animated profile picture. If you don’t like it, tap the camera button again to take another. When you’re happy, tap on the < icon to the left of the camera circle to save and return to the profile screen.
In some places, Snapchat will use a Bitmoji image rather than your ghost, if you’ve created one. To do that, select the “Create Bitmoji” icon at the top left of the profile screen. This is optional, and even if you do it, your Bitmoji image will not replace any custom image within your Snapcode.
As mentioned above, you’ll have a unique username. In my case, it’s “sullivandanny.” But you also have a regular name to make it easier for others to find and identify you. If you don’t have one or want to change it, tap on the gear icon at the top right of your profile screen. Then select the first option, “Name,” where you can set a first and last name. Use the < icon in the top left to get back to your profile screen when finished.
From there, you can tap on “Added Me” to 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.
Unlike other social media networks, there’s no way to see all the people who have added you. The Added Me list will only show the last 200 or so people. You won’t get an overall count nor a complete list. Nor is your Snapchat “score” — that number below your username — a count of followers. That’s simply a mystery figure that Snapchat calculates based on the number of snaps you’ve sent, received, stories posted and other factors.
Taking pictures, videos & adding effects to them
The core part of Snapchat is making Snaps: pictures and videos that you’ll share with followers.
Picture- and video-taking is pretty easy. From the home screen shown earlier, tap on the big circle camera 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 right 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. If you don’t like the picture you’ve just taken, tap the X in the top left corner to start over.
After you’ve taken a picture or video, you can add effects to it. It’s not required, but it can be fun and informative. We’ll go through each of the effect options, but here’s an overview of key tools and options that appear after you’ve created your content:
To add text, tap anywhere on the picture or video that you’ve taken. 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.
Here’s an animation that illustrates some of the text options:
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.
Drawing on your image
You can draw on your image by using the pen icon in the top right corner. You can do this in addition to text you add or instead of adding text. After selecting the pen, you can use the color palette to set your preferred color. Each time you lift your finger, you can draw something new in addition to what you’ve drawn already — and in a different color, if you want.
There’s also an option to add stickers to your photo. Tap on the sticker icon that’s next to the T text icon, and you’ll see a variety of stickers you can pick. After selecting one, use two fingers to make it bigger or smaller, plus you can rotate it. You can add several stickers.
Custom stickers & more with scissors
The scissors icon lets you select a portion of your image and copy that to use in a sticker-like fashion. Here’s an animation from Snapchat’s help page about the scissors tool that illustrates this in action:
Here’s an example of a Snap using text, drawing and stickers. Again, you don’t have to use any or all of these things. Use what makes sense:
Adding filters, including geofilters
Aside from effects, you can also add overall filters to your images. After taking a picture or video, swipe right on it to cycle through what’s available. First, you’ll see a range of color filters. Keep going, and you may see filters that show your current speed, elevation and time. Often, you’ll see “geofilters,” those that show the name of the city or location you’re in. Sponsored filters may also appear from companies.
So you want to do the face swap thing with a friend? Or want to turn yourself into a dog? Or make other goofy things happen with your face? Then you want to use Lenses.
For Lenses to work, you have to be taking a selfie. Then you have to tap on your face (or faces, if you’re doing face-swapping). And you might have to try a few times until you get good at it.
Once a face is detected, you can use the various icons that will appear to apply different Lenses. Here’s a Snapchat animation from the Lenses help page that illustrates this:
Snapchat also has World Lenses. These are different in that you don’t need to take a selfie. Instead, they allow you to change what you take pictures of from your main camera, such as the always popular rainbow-vomiting clouds. Read more about them here.
Setting the display time
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 then set to your choice of between 1 and 10 seconds.
Sharing your snap
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 to the left of the bottom screen, which looks like a square with a little plus symbol in the corner. Tap that button, and you can send directly to your story.
And now’s the time to explain more about what Stories and My Story are.
My Story: Your public snaps, shared for 24 hours
Stories are a collection of snaps that others can view. My Story (that’s name of your own story in the Snapchat “Stories” area) is effectively your Snapchat feed that anyone can follow, similar to a feed of tweets or Facebook posts you make.
It’s as if you are tweeting and every tweet lasts for 24 hours, then disappears. Don’t be put off by the disappearing act. After all, tweets sent directly to followers on Twitter 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.
Every snap you send to your story can be seen by anyone, if you make this so — and if you’re a marketer, you should. Otherwise, you’re not getting your content out in front of the broadest audience. The snaps you send will last for 24 hours after you first send them. If you send multiple snaps, people can watch them in order from oldest to newest.
To ensure everyone can see your story, go to the profile screen (as shown above), then tap on the gear icon in the top right to reach your settings. Scroll to the “Who Can…” section and tap the “View My Story” option. Then ensure you’ve set the “Everyone” option, so that everyone who follows you can see your story.
To see your story — and to understand how others will see them — head to the Stories area. From your home screen (as previously shown above), just swipe right. You can also tap on the three circles icon to get there.
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 in the story.
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 The New York Times story:
In addition to stories from those you follow, Snapchat will also feature content from its Discover area, where Snapchat and its partners publish custom content. You can also go directly to Discover by swiping right from the Stories screen.
Viewing story stats
For your own story, you’re able to view the individual snaps that you’ve shared, along with stats on who has viewed them.
To do this, tap on the three dots to the right of where your “My Story” is listed. That will open up the individual snaps in your story. Next to each of them will be a count. That’s how many people have viewed that particular snap. If you see a smaller number also listed in green, that’s how many people have made a screen shot of your snap. Tap on any individual snap, and you’ll be shown exactly who viewed them.
Here’s an illustration:
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. (I’ve obscured names in my example for privacy reasons — not that Snapchat user names give any real clue about who someone really is).
Also notice the trash can icon at the top. That lets you delete a snap. It’s helpful if you make a mistake and want something to disappear faster than 24 hours.
Finding accounts and being found
To see stories from others, you have to follow other accounts. Unfortunately, Snapchat doesn’t make it easy to do. Unlike Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, there’s no decent attempt to suggest interesting accounts to follow, a situation that hasn’t improved since the first edition of this guide was written in February 2015.
There’s a search option you can access using the magnifying glass on the home screen. This was recently improved, but it won’t automatically suggest accounts without an actual search being performed. And if you do search, you might come up with little.
For example, a search for “New York” yielded nothing, when this was written. That’s despite both the New Yorker (newyorkermag) and the New York Times (nytimes) being on Snapchat. “San Francisco” also came up empty. “Los Angeles” came up with only one listing — for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Orange County baseball team:
Basically, if you’re after a particular account, you need to know its Snapchat username to find it. That’s why if you want to be found, it’s important you make it easy for others to locate your Snapchat account, such as through your web site or through other social media networks.
You can do this just by promoting your Snapchat username. However, you can also generate your own Snapcode — that image you see on your profile page — to share.
Making a Snapcode
To make your Snapcode, go to your profile page and click on the gear icon in the top left corner. Then scroll down on the Settings screen to the Snapcodes option and tap that. Select “My Snapcodes,” and then select “My Snapcode” again for an option to export the image to your camera roll. You can also use the share icon in the top left of this screen to copy text that has both your username and a URL people can use to add you.
Once you have a Snapcode, anyone using Snapchat can point their camera at it from within Snapchat and automatically load your profile to follow. It’s pretty cool.
You can also use the same process to reach the “Create Snapcodes” option, which allows you to make a Snapcode that leads to any URL. Unfortunately, these aren’t codes that actually work well on Snapchat itself. Instead, the idea is that you might share them off of Snapchat, then people who have Snapchat can scan them like QR codes in order to reach a URL.
Snaps from ‘Memories’
Snapchat is oriented around sharing live — taking a picture or video in the moment and instantly sharing it. However, you can share older content that’s stored on your camera roll, using the “Memories” option.
You do this by tapping the smaller circle below the big camera circle on the home screen. That opens up the Memories area, where Camera Roll is one of the options. Select an image you want to use, then press and hold on that photo.
Unlike live photos, adding text and drawing are your only markup options. No stickers. When you share, the snap will also look slightly different from regular ones to indicate to viewers that it’s not live content being shared. Here’s an animation from Snapchat that illustrates the process:
More information and help
Those are the basics of using the Snapchat app for sharing to a wide audience. There’s much more that can be done, such as sharing with individuals, but the focus on this article is on public sharing.
If you do want to learn more, Snapchat Support is a comprehensive help area that’s an excellent place to start.
Marketing Land also regularly covers news about Snapchat, and you can find all our past stories in the Snapchat category here.
Here are some selected stories especially suited to new Snapchat users and marketers:
- Snapchat New Feature Allows Friends To Be Added With Personalized URL
- Up close: How the new Snapchat On-Demand Geofilters work
- 4 top brands on Snapchat that are having just as much fun as their followers
- Snapchat redesigns Discover tab to grab more attention for publishers
- Snapchat’s Memories opens Stories to pre-produced photos, videos
- Snapchat’s latest Stories tab redesign adds post-roll ads, playlists
- What brands should know about shooting with Snap’s Spectacles (which are now on sale generally)
And if you need some accounts to follow, may we suggest Marketing Land and some of its sibling sites and conferences:
- Marketing Land (marketingland)
- Search Engine Land (sengineland)
- MarTech Today (martechtoday)
- SMX: Search Marketing Expo (smxpo)
- MarTech Conference (martechconf)