5 Things Everyone Should Know About Snapchat

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“I have a 21, 19 and 16-year-old using Snapchat for everything including texting. Both (traditional) texting and emailing are dinosaurs to them. We snap together over 100 times a day. It’s keeps them close to me while away at college or with their father.” – Leah Fein-Roque, Public Relations Manager, SociallyFein

Recently I reached out to a representative sample of PR and marketing professionals to get their thoughts on Snapchat. Most responses ranged from “I don’t use it” to “I don’t know too much about it.” Some still perceive it as a “sexting” app, and others perceive it as superfluous relative to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Some noted that Facebook changed their image uploads to emulate Snapchat photos.

Here’s why these lines of thinking are antiquated: while you were sleeping Snapchat amassed more than 100 million daily users, with a heavy concentration in millennials and Gen Z with very little bleed into other demographics. Not only that, but the Snapchat culture has revolutionized social content far beyond some of the superficial aspects that Facebook adopted. 100 million people are communicating on a platform that you may know little about, and we need to triage this.

What I want to do in this post is reintroduce you to Snapchat: demographics, how it works, and how brands are using it to communicate. If you are unfamiliar with Snapchat or have an outmoded perception of the network, let’s try to get you up to speed…

1. Who is using Snapchat?

“Snapchat is a generation-specific platform, ideal for popular or new product launches. The platform is best optimized by Millennials marketing products that engage a tech savvy, short attention span consumer such as Gen Z, or, fellow Millennials.” – Esta Singer, Principal, s.h.e. CONSULTING

Snapchat trends young. This probably shouldn’t surprise anyone as Snapchat has always been purported to be big in college circles. But the scale of infiltration in the younger demographics is incredible: ComScore Snapchat Demographics 2015 As Fein-Roque describes at the outset, Snapchat’s popularity isn’t limited to college-aged users. Snapchat has good saturation into the teenage demographic as well (according to Pew): Pew Internet Snapchat teen demographics Finally, a surprising aspect of Snapchat is its gender distribution. Often disparaged as a “sexting” app (which presumably would trend male), Snapchat’s actual demographics are 70% female and 30% male. Clearly there is more to Snapchat than an initial impression might indicate… let’s explore what that is.

2. How does Snapchat work?

  • Expiring images and videos (this is what most people know about)
  • Text and drawing features for images
  • One-to-many expiring video montages (“stories”)
  • Text and video chat
  • Non-commercial peer-to-peer payment (“Snapcash”)
  • Sponsored discovery branded content (“Discovery”)

You can see that there is a lot more going on than you might expect with Snapchat. From a brand and communications standpoint there is opportunity to build a community on Snapchat, and to share content and to interact in a variety of different ways.

And if Snapchat personally intimidates you (or if you don’t know anybody using it), there is a still a lot of cool content that you can consume without snapping, posting stories or sending money.

3. What is special about Snapchat content?

Brands have been present on Snapchat long before the Discovery feature was added, but the brilliance of “discovery” is that it gives you an easily accessible insight into the Snapchat content culture (and gives Snapchat projected 2015 revenue of $50 million).

In a word, Snapchat content is about exclusivity.

  • Browse live events and you won’t see polished, produced vignettes. You’ll see Taylor Swift on a red carpet as shot by somebody backstage on a mobile device. You’ll see perspectives of a sporting event from different places in the stadium.
  • Browse Discovery “channels” and you’ll find unique, brief content (that sometimes can be expanded out, as Vice does quite well) that is specifically designed and produced for the Snapchat medium.
  • Of course, Snaps are characterized with text and rudimentary sketching which oftentimes make images look unpolished.

What marketers and PR practitioners need to understand about Snapchat is that its content is different. The Snapchat culture embraces a rawness that might seem unusual on any other social network. It is dynamic and fast-paced. Here’s a recent long-form piece from Apple Music that exemplifies this:

4. How do brands leverage Snapchat content?

Brands are using Snapchat in beta.

There isn’t an organic means to link back to another site, or to convert a Snapchat customer to an email subscriber or e-commerce buyer. Snapchat remains focused on the user experience, leaving businesses to rely on rudimentary metrics or tactics like promotional codes to measure the impact of the Snapchat presence. Even Spegiel alluded to this user focus relative to advertising at Cannes his year when he said:

“I love when advertising fits the context of the story we’re telling”

As of right now, unless you have the scale and budget of BMW, McDonalds, or Proctor and Gamble, you and your business/ brand are a Snapchat user. This means that you need to have people add you on Snapchat in order for them to see your Snaps and Stories. Mashable has a fantastic page walking readers through the steps of a Snapchat add manually or via QR code that one might emulate if one were so inclined. But your success communicating on the platform right now is dependent on your organic reach and relevance.

An additional content tactic that you may want to know about is the “Snapblast.” A snapblast is a burst of posts (images and videos similar to what you might string together in a story) sent out within a very short time period. Marketer Nick Cicero says that the completion rate of snapblasts is greater than similar brand stories.

5. What is the future of Snapchat?

“The critical question for Snapchat is how the core and evolving user based changes over time, the rollout of new features, and the steady growth in the subscriber base over time and what those subscribers look like from a demographic perspective.” – Elissa Nauful, President/CEO BallywhoSocial

Spiegel shared earlier this year that he would like to take Snapchat to IPO, which implies a couple of things:

Nauful’s insight is prescient: Snapchat won’t be the same platform for advertisers in the near future that it is today. Whether it will be Facebook-level granular remains to be seen, but the difference will impact user experience. And will millennials and teenagers be loyal to Snapchat when their dad, grandma and distant uncle are sharing Snaps with them?

Although the future of Snapchat may be uncertain, its current success cannot be dismissed. Snapchat has earned a place in the social landscape.


Marketers and PR practitioners that aren’t familiar with Snapchat are disregarding a pivotal social utility for teenager and young adults. Snapchat is a multi-faceted utility that offers a unique mobile-first communications experience. Snapchat demographics trend young and female, and Snapchat content differs qualitatively from other social content.

Bottom line: Snapchat is a big deal. You don’t have to love it, but you need to understand it.

“From a brand perspective, Snapchat offers great access to a young audience and it’s getting to the point where it feels unparalleled, like a deeper version of Instagram.” – Anonymous Ad Executive speaking to Business Insider

About Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision Blog and his own blog, leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology, and content marketing. When not writing, he is likely reading, running, playing guitar or being a dad. PRSA member. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.

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