“Social media” – as it has been defined in the past – is almost antiquated. Drowning in babbling brooks of gibberish. Pissing hearts and thumbs into ego receptacles. Enough with the unwanted opinions also: even the biggest news websites are sweeping Comments under the rug. We’ve learned Followers and Likes don’t necessarily equate to dollars or success (nor does it mean that anybody actually follows or likes you). “Social media” is at best a beautiful distraction; at its worst, a noisy room where everyone talks and no one listens — No longer a place to properly develop a brand or foster a relationship with your customer.
So the first thing you’ve gotta do is to think of Snapchat not as a social network, but as a text-messaging app. If you do that, you’ll immediately understand what sets this platform apart from its cousins.
When we all signed up for Snapchat a couple years back, the app was mired in dickpics and shit-shots (One particular Sales Director at The Hundreds would champion his toilet duties (doodies?) when he first logged on (no pun intended)), but a lot has changed since then, with Snapchat introducing public, 24-hour Stories and Snapcash (eh, kinda weird). But again, first, consider it a text-messaging app, a means to connect with a friend.
Successful branding boils down to an identifiable personality — stripping a cold, sterile corporation down to a familiar face. This is the biggest reason Snapchat excels: Although it’s a platform, there’s no platform to stand on. It’s peer-to-peer, eye-to-eye. So,
1. Faceless corporations can’t play.
I mean, they are trying. Desperately. But it’s not making much sense for them or their potential customers.
Think about it. When was the last time you FaceTimed McDonald’s? Or iMessaged Coca-Cola? Snapchat is about a personal interaction, not someone speaking (and selling) down to you.
There’s also little information in the way of metrics. No data to gather. No way to target an audience or monetize. No flex zone.
[EDIT : On the day this article was published, Snapchat introduced Discover: a “new way to explore Stories from different editorial teams.” I believe Snapchat incorporated a tasteful, non-invasive way to broadcast top-down news that still reinforces my point here. In order for a corporation to play, there needs to be a face up front with a story to tell (like how I am with my brand, The Hundreds). Snapchat’s hand-selected media participants have a track record of informative narrative from a human point of view.]
2. …neither can your parents (or maybe, sadly, you).
Paid advertising and infinite updates didn’t kill Facebook. Your Aunt Margot and her banana bread recipes did. Not only do the youth (culture’s true movers and shakers) oppose whatever their parents practice, they can barely tolerate trends a few years old. So as soon as your Instagrandma twerked her tweeter, the cool kids retreated to the dark corners of their phones and devised their own secret society: an impregnable fortress of right-swipes, screen-grabs, and self-destructing notes that baffle the most savviest of Social Media Coordinators.
You know what it’s like trying to watch your dad program the 3D Blu-Ray player? That’s what it’s like watching a 28-year-old on Snapchat. It’s not intuitive, there’s little Google clarification out there, and it’s bewildering just finding a suggested list of who to follow (Go ahead, try it). Because anyone who’s old and uncool enough to write a piece like that wouldn’t even be on Snapchat.
And that’s what keeps it young and powerful.
3. Snapchat is Limited Edition.
Supply and demand. The less there is, the more we desire and revere it. It applies in universal economics and it works across better branding.
At first, Snapchat’s disappearing act confuses anyone who’s accustomed to social media’s open-diary arrangement. Crazy how fast we’ve forgotten that our lives were once contained in private bubbles, our thoughts to ourselves, our cappuccinos to be consumed and unshared with a voyeuristic audience. Or that phone conversations, television shows and their commercials used to disappear once they were finished. Having grown up in a culture that memorizes their (and all else’s) every embarrassing step, the youth cherish privacy and ephemerality more than their attention-seeking parents. Snapchat provides a safe haven for that to happen.
The best sneakers are limited edition. The finest clothing is exclusive and rare. With Snapchat, everything is 1 of eventually-none. The urgency makes everything more special.
My favorite part: As fantastic as Marketing and Advertising can get, nothing beats fostering a trend through word-of-mouth, which is all that Snapchat allows. Without anything permanent to share, the only way to pass on something remarkable is by personally telling a friend. The mystery is maintained and the story becomes almost mythical — larger than life. The most elaborate memories are those that go unpreserved.
4. The naked, first-person film narrative (no, not like that. I mean).
With Twitter, we became more conscious of wit and the written language. Instagram cultivated the inner photographer. Snapchat, however, encourages its users to delve into film and directing. Yes, Vine also showed its users what a moving narrative looks like in 6-second clips, but Snapchat’s 10-second stories stitch together over a 24-hour period and then vanish, providing an immediate form of storytelling that is not only impromptu but improvised.
This leaves no margin for editing, post-process, or preferred angles. There are barely any filters, you can’t upload a public story from your library or implement 3rd party effects, so What You See Is What You Get. Meaning, no fake-funkers. On social media, you can beautify your photographs and copy-edit your words into masterpieces, but on Snapchat, all you’ve got is your uncut personality and some colored pencils to draw with. It’s raw, it’s real, and it’s the most “authentic,” the buzziest of branding buzzwords.
5. You get to choose what you want to see, instead of being forced to look at it.
Entering a quiet room where you get to choose which friends to listen to and potentially respond? Instead of having them shout at you all at the same time? Mindblowing. Sounds as good as real life.
You forgot how much you missed the autonomy, huh? TAKE BACK YOUR PHONE.
I can go on. Snapchat is one of the newest “social networks,” so the engagement is high. Although there may be fewer of your friends and audience on it, they are more open to hearing what you have to say on Snapchat because there’s less competition and more novelty. Contrary to popular belief, there is some censorship, but not by much. The freer the speech, the smoother flow of ideas. And because there’s no comments board and crowdsourced thumbs-up approval, you’re more inclined to take yourself and the sharing less seriously. You’ll take more risks, venture outside of your comfort zone; your posts become less formulated around what the world wants, and more aligned with your individuality.
Snapchat also has its faults. It can be daunting to wade through 350 seconds of the birthday girl’s night out (although the “tap” feature helps). Because public Stories are exponentially longer than a single Instagram shot or 140-character tweet, the app can be time-consuming and burdensome on your battery (not to mention your data usage). And due to load times — and so you don’t lose your job and/or girlfriend — you’ll most likely follow a shorter list of buddies. But isn’t that sort of a good thing?
In another year, there’ll be another app to download. That’s the nature of the beast. Once the courtship wears off, we’re always searching for another way to be heard, refine our narcissism, and gloat about our awesome lives. Xanga, Friendster, MySpace, I did it all. I’m even testing a new social network you’ll hear about called Zoe. But for now, Snapchat is the right app at the right time.
Even if for another 10 seconds…
5 TIPS TO A BETTER SNAPCHAT
1. Oh baby, I like it raw :: Pretty photographs were made for your Instagram gallery. To share a moment with a friend, you wouldn’t sweat the composition and Photoshop. The more honest and direct the snap, the more entertaining. So instead, take that time to…
2. Tell a story :: Like I said, it’s about entertainment. Hold your viewer’s attention by trying to tell a narrative throughout your day (like a blog). This takes some forethought and planning, but after a while, it’ll come naturally. For some good examples of storytellers who’ve mastered the snap, follow “caseyneistat” and “psimadethis” (I’m not co-signing the content; just watch how they do it).
3. Involve yourself :: This is the tricky part for people like me who’ve preferred the selfie-less route in past social incarnations. Snapchat is the closest you’ll get to your own reality show, except you’re the director and talent. Don’t be shy. Get all up in there. And get used to dealing with that fat ugly face of yours.
4. No drunken club stories. We beg. :: One thing Snapchat has in common with all other social media. Your half-conscious drivel was cute on Twitter and weird on IG and Facebook. On Snapchat, it’s downright obnoxious. We can’t understand what you’re saying when we’re in the bar with you, imagine how it translates over a video.
5. Pan fried :: Chill with the panning. For whatever reason, it’s the freshman move. Like everyone discovers the video function on their camera and starts wielding their phone like a lightsaber. You know how drivers in movies always swivel the steering wheel back and forth even though they’re going straight? Nobody actually looks like that in a car, and no director films a movie on a carousel. Once in a while, try holding your phone still and let the story happen in front of you.
AND FINALLY, 5 SNAPCHATTERS YOU SHOULD START STALKING NOW
1. Aaron Kai :: “aaronkkai” (notice the extra K) :: The artist’s Stories encapsulate how important personality is to a winning Snapchat. One part artistic process, two parts girlfriend-teasing, and five parts Aaron’s infectious humor. Start here.
2. Musa Tariq :: “musatariq” :: Musa and I have been figuring out this Snapchat thing together. Apple’s Digital Marketing Director (formerly Nike and Burberry) is pulling out all the stops and the learning curve is steep. Follow Musa along on his travels, as he introduces you to influential people over coolguy dinners, and as he pulls all-nighters on impossible Lego projects.
3. Neave Bozorgi :: “sirneave” :: Unfortunately, most professional photographers will have a hard time transitioning to the Snapchat format, because it’s not about creating frame-able art as it is shooting a TV show. The exception would be Sir Neave, who takes you behind the scenes of his iconic babe shoots. Instead of just knowing one side to the girls through portraits, now you get to “meet” them and see how their personality rolls. It’s pretty ingenious, actually.
4. Alysha Nett :: “alyshanett” :: There are a lot of cute Tumblr girls taking advantage of Snapchat, but Alysha’s doing it the best right now. Once again, it comes down to personality, and her spunky candor plays warmly across Q&A sessions, out-loud musings, and backstage at her boyfriend’s (Mike from Pierce the Veil) concerts. Sorry about the boyfriend part.
5. Me :: “bobbyhundreds” :: Please validate me and shower me with attention. I’m a middle child.
Illustrations by Joshua Clements