Snapchat Explored

In Social Media by UFSocial Staff

by UFSocial contributor Stefani Higdon

Snapchat is a social application that originally seemed to be a novelty used by teens to share fun or suggestive photos. However, since it was launched in 2011, it has added new features that have helped it mature into a platform that may become much more influential in the marketing world. Snapchat is rumored to be planning an IPO, which has generated interest from marketers and is making the tech world wonder what is to come in 2017.

Snapchat operates on both IOS and Android, and works on most mobile devices with cameras. It allows users to communicate with each other using photos, videos, and messages which last only seconds, and cannot be replayed after they disappear. Users can selectively send to members of a “friend list”. Once opened, photos or videos only appear from 1 to 10 seconds (chosen by sender). However, if a viewer takes a screenshot of the photo while viewing it, the photo is saved to the viewer’s photo album. Users can respond to each other’s photos by sending messages in a chat format.

The photos, videos and messages disappear after being viewed, but until they are viewed they will remain in the user’s inbox for up to 30 days.

If you are using the messaging feature, messages are visible as long as you remain in the messaging screen; however upon exiting the conversation, the text messages will disappear. There is a feature that allows you to tap on any part of the conversation to save it, as long as you do this before you exit the conversation.

For the first two years, Snapchat had little functionality other than sharing photos until they launched the story feature in 2013. A story is a string of pictures and/or videos that remain on the user’s snapchat feed for 24 hours. Snapchat stories can be replayed as many times as desired, but each photo or video within the story is only available for 24 hours from the time that particular item was posted. This added more functionality, but the platform was still not widely viewed as a marketing platform.

Around this time, Facebook attempted to buy Snapchat, but the founders declined the offer, and proceeded to introduce some new features: filter and lenses.

Filters can be added to your photo by swiping left or right after taking the photo. To add multiple filters, you can press and hold, then continue to swipe and add multiple filters. Geofilters are filters that only show up when the user is in the vicinity of specific cities or businesses, and are one feature that has started to take hold as a marketing tactic.

Lenses are fun animations or overlays added to faces by pressing and holding on the user’s face during a selfie. While many of these lenses are unsponsored and just for fun, brands are starting to make use of sponsored lenses to promote their products.

The company also introduced a Discover feature, which is mostly used by publishers and news organizations to post daily news stories or features, but could potentially be embraced by brands to provide product updates and company news.

Here’s a fun guide to Snapchat’s history between 2011 and 2016:

Initially, the audience who readily adopted Snapchat were mostly teenagers who wanted to send information to their friends without their parents or teachers seeing it (think “sexting”). The market rapidly expanded as features were added, and today there are about 150 million daily active users. The app is most popular with adults 25-34 (38% of users), making this a prime target market.

In general the channel is about appealing to a generation that wants information and social connections at their fingertips with the click of a button. Major brands who understand this demographic are using the channel for quick-attention ads, special promotions, brand awareness, and audience engagement. Many brands also use other channels, such as Twitter or Instagram, to direct their users to their Snapchat channel.

A popular way for brands to engage users is through a feature called a sponsored lens. These lenses cost anywhere from $450,000 at normal times to $750,000 for peak times (e.g. Super Bowl). An example of this was Gatorade’s sponsored lens with Serena Williams during the 2016 Super Bowl. Gatorade released a lens that let the user dump a bucket of Gatorade on their head. The company had Serena create a picture of herself getting the Gatorade bath. Gatorade then tweeted a GIF (graphics interchange format; or a quick video clip) of her snapchat on their Twitter feed. By the end of the day, the lens had received over 100 million views on Snapchat.

Brands or teams can also increase brand awareness by setting up their own Snapchat channels and engage users through photos and videos, and giving users “behind the scenes” views. This social sharing has been embraced by many brands, and especially by sports teams. Many teams use their Snapchat account to highlight game day moments, and to provide an insider glimpse to practice and player interviews. Brands sometimes use their own filter on game days on top of videos of warm ups and live game action. They also use their Snapchat account for contests and contest information. For example, the Colorado Avalanche constantly gives out random pairs of tickets in a partnership with KeyBank. The brand will take a picture of a red key located somewhere around the downtown Denver area. The user will then have to use the picture(s) to locate where the hidden key is in order to receive the free tickets. This generates fan excitement and support for the team.

Besides building brand awareness, a few companies have found ways to use Snapchat for profitable campaigns. A good example of this is the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The WWF started the “Last Selfie” campaign. In this campaign the WWF snapchatted 6 pictures of endangered species using the hashtag “#LastSelfie”. They encouraged users to save or screenshot the picture and to donate to the WWF. The campaign’s entire goal for a month was achieved in only 3 days.

Other brands, such as Starbucks, have used Snapchat to increase profit, engagement and brand awareness via daily posts combined with sponsored lenses and geofilters. Each May, Starbucks promotes Frappuccino Happy Hour by using a geofilter that only shows up when you are in the vicinity of a Starbucks store during the happy hour timeframe. Starbucks hasn’t quantified how profitable this is, which highlights an issue Snapchat has: it’s somewhat difficult to measure the success of campaigns due to the lack of integrated analytic measuring tools.

While more companies are becoming aware of Snapchat’s strengths, the platform still has some weaknesses which need to be addressed. Below is a table showing a few strengths and weaknesses.


Private user sharing. You can set your profile to “Everyone” or “My Friends” to define who can see your pictures and videos.


Videos must be timed perfectly. Videos are only 10 seconds and you can’t record a whole song at a concert for example.

Pictures aren’t permanent. Goofy, embarrassing or even promiscuous pictures do not stick around, unless the viewer takes a screenshot (which sends a notification to the sender).Pictures aren’t permanent. Users can save posted pictures to their camera or memories however recipients cannot save snaps without notifying the sender that they have done so.
Fun and easy to use. Easy to post pictures.No way to automate. Posts cannot be set to automatically post from a platform such as Hootsuite.
Interactive way to engage with users with coupons, contests or reaction picturesNo built-in analytics reporting tools. Companies must outsource to get analytics or provide independent analysis to determine success rate
Continually evolving. Snapchat listens to its users and continues to add new features. They have also backed features out when they were not popular with users.Difficult to get a brand message across in only 10 seconds
Audience engagement through use of geofilters, lenses, and stories.No ability for users to forward/share photos or videos they receive, and no ability for them to “like” your photos
Doesn’t integrate seamlessly with most other social media channels

Smart brands have figured out ways to leverage the engagement strengths of Snapchat. A popular way to do this is to use Twitter and Facebook to drive users to Snapchat for special announcements and quick “sneak peaks” of new products. Another successful ploy is to partner with a blogger or Instagrammer who has a large following, and have them “take over” your Snapchat for a day to highlight brand products. This is a great way to gain new followers, and build product awareness.

Snapchat has promised several new features for 2017.  As these are added and companies understand how to exploit the dynamic nature of this channel, expect to see more major brands embracing this for marketing promotions.

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UFSocial Staff