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How Businesses Can Leverage the Urgency of Snapchat

By Adam Pica

May. 12, 2016
How Snapchat can offer careful businesses more authentic engagement
For veteran content creators like Shaun McBride, a thoughtful strategy is the key to Snapchat success

Snapchat’s uniquely organic model is challenging influencers and brands to change things up.

Once equal competitors vying for the highly coveted teen and tween demographic, the battle between Snapchat and Vine appears to have an unexpected winner. While the short-video platform, Vine, has seen its popularity steadily decline during the last year, Snapchat has exploded beyond its teenage user base and into the mainstream.

According to Business Insider, the once-niche app reached 7 billion daily user views as of January 2016, and is poised to keep on growing throughout the year. This is making influencers and businesses both on and off the platform very excited.

“Snapchat is blowing up,” says Shaun McBride. Better known by the handle “Shonduras,” McBride’s Snapchat account sported over 140,000 followers when he first hit the scene in 2014. Now, according to McBride, that number has grown to over 500,000 as of 2016. He continues to work closely with large brands on Snapchat as one of the app’s first native content creators.

“They’re widening their demographic extremely. Now other countries are getting into it. A larger, older demographic is getting into it. [And even] parents are starting to get into it,” says McBride. According to a recent comScore report, Snapchat saw its 25-to-34-year-old demographic grow from just 5 percent in 2013 to almost 30 percent of its total user base as of December 2015. The percentage of users over 35 also increased from 2 percent to 8 percent in the same time period. “I would almost say that the novelty hasn’t even worn off. So many people have just found out about it,” says McBride.

Equal parts picture-sending app and social media platform, Snapchat is best known for its vanishing messages. Each one is only available for 24 hours before it disappears forever. And while this seems like a limiting factor on the surface, McBride contends that it is a major part of the app’s growing appeal and engagement. “It disappears, so you have this weird sense of, ‘Oh, I have to pay attention.’”

But as the platform’s reach grows exponentially, the very features that have made it a resounding success also present unique challenges to companies looking to tap into this market. However, the brands that crack the Snapchat formula will discover a far more engaged audience than they would likely find on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

The Power of Snapping

As an established YouTube fashion tastemaker with over 570,000 subscribers - as well as an extended presence on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram - Chriselle Lim was first struck by Snapchat’s emphasis on raw, in-the-moment photos. The style offered a perfect opportunity for Lim to draw back the curtain and give her followers a firsthand look at her authentic self.

“Snapchat allowed me to share with my followers a glimpse into my everyday life – not filtered at all,” says Lim. “That added so much value to what we do as influencers, because now we’re not just these figures that have a filtered, perfect life. It’s more about the personality behind it.

“Instagram is very filtered. You pretty much put up your best images and it’s all about – at least for me – making a beautiful feed and inspiring people,” says Lim. “So they can’t really get to know my personality through that.”

The platform’s limited mobile format and lack of seemingly necessary features – such as an effective search engine – all contribute to this unique feeling that the content is both exclusive and intimate. “Every Snapchat you get is somewhat similar to a text message,” says McBride. “Especially in the beginning, when you don’t have too many followers or friends. Each one feels very personal.”

And that personal, authentic content leads to far more authentic engagement – extended interactions that go beyond the seconds-long impressions and clicks that other platforms track. “My stories are being seen by these people every day,” says McBride. “Most of them are sticking around the full 80 seconds. That’s an 80-second commercial that you can give an audience, and they’re enjoying it and engaging, and they’re snapping back.”

Strategizing for Success

While Snapchat’s frenetic engagement has many brands scrambling to break in, the platform’s challenges have erected intimidating, but not insurmountable, barriers to entry. Ultimately, the spoils are reserved for those who think carefully about their approach, and are willing to discard the old social media playbook.

“You definitely need to have a strategy,” says McBride. “It’s not like other platforms where you can create really good content and grow and get known. Or create really great content and put some money behind it to have it be seen. Snapchat is 100 percent organic,” says McBride.

McBride is always willing to experiment, and no two of his campaigns are alike. His branded work runs the gamut from taking over Disney’s Snapchat account for 24 hours to running a parody cooking show with Yoplait. Each is its own mixture of imagination, playfulness and audacity. And they have to be. With Snapchat’s user base growing by the day, competition for attention is fierce. “I am constantly battling to keep my numbers up, just because where all my fans used to view my stories, now they’re following all these famous people and all these brands, plus all their friends,” says McBride. The content can become overwhelming, he says.

Already an established blogger and YouTuber, Lim evaluated the app in the context of her larger content strategy. Her behind-the-scenes approach was designed to fill a demand that none of her other platforms could meet. “It’s really about allowing my followers to get a piece of me that they don’t get anywhere else,” says Lim.

“I think that Snapchat now has opened a new way of doing business, and a new way for brands to think about organic content,” says Lim, “versus an obvious [product] placement like a video.” However, she emphasizes that her Snapchat strategy works best in conjunction with her other platforms. “A lot of my Instagram followers and my Twitter followers tweet me or they’ll tag me on a photo on Instagram because they screen-grabbed it from Snapchat,” says Lim. And when working with partners, she will often reverse the process, leveraging Instagram to help drive users to her client’s Snapchat account. So “that’s still, very much, part of our business today,” says Lim.

For brands that are launching their accounts for the first time, the ultimate key to Snapchat success is about marrying the company’s goals with the app’s emphasis on authenticity and urgency. An open mind also helps, as these topics can intersect in surprising ways.

For Miami University in Ohio, one of the most effective snaps was, unexpectedly, a quirky contest promotion. According to collegewebeditor.com’s interview with Kelly Bennett, the university’s manager of social media and marketing strategy, the contest was conceived to promote a scheduled speech from Piper Kerman, the author of “Orange is the New Black.” To create a buzz on the day of the event, Bennett challenged students via Snapchat to share pictures of the autumn trees that sported the brightest shades of orange. Offering two free tickets as the prize, the contest spurred students to take pictures all over the campus, resulting in a collaged snapshot of school life as well as a burst of excitement for the event.

“We reached over 2,000 snap story views – a record, at the time,” Bennett told collegewebeditor.com.

The Evolving Role of Influencers

For companies that are just starting out on Snapchat, McBride recommends seeking outside help. “In order to grow [quickly], you need to have a following and transition that following over, or use an influencer to bring you a following,” says McBride.

Just like on Vine and Instagram, social influencers continue to hold the keys to Snapchat’s sought-after audiences. However, just as the app has challenged companies to revisit their approaches, it has also created opportunities for some influencers to take on new roles as consultants. The degree to which individual influencers embrace this shift is a matter of preference.

Lim, for example, prefers to play the role of an influencer, keeping her online persona completely separate from her consultancy company, CINC Studios. “We consult [for] a number of brands on [Snapchat] without them having to hire me as an influencer, and help them with their strategy and produce content for their channels,” says Lim. “I have a whole separate team for that, and clients that we work for on that side. But we try to not mix the two together.”

Now having worked full time on Snapchat for more than a year, McBride has fully embraced the new opportunities. “I can actually help a brand build a strategy around engagement,” says McBride, “versus what a lot of social influencers just kind of lucked into. I built my Snapchat following from the ground up, [which is] very relatable for a brand.” His consulting work is often layered directly on top of his influencer work, with him playing multiple roles with the same company. For McBride, the goal is to create long-term, multifaceted relationships. “There’s a lot of brands that I leave with all the tips they need to get started,” says McBride. “But I like to work long term with brands. I don’t jump from competing brand to competing brand.”

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