You may consider it just a time-wasting app for teenage girls – after all, more than two-thirds of Snapchat users are female and more than two-thirds are under 25.
But executives are swiftly realising they also need to get to grips with Snapchatz, the third most popular social media app among millennials, and a new frontier in business and marketing.
Snapchat is similar to Instagram; it began as a way to send photos to friends, but there’s a simple twist: the photos are deleted after 10 seconds. Initially there was alarm among parents worried their teenage children would use it to send inappropriate pictures of themselves. But today the appeal of the app goes much farther than teenage rebellion. Young people are increasingly sharing ephemeral moments rather than creating long-lasting archives and preferring to share information in smaller, more select groups. As a result, Snapchat’s move away from permanence is now looking smart and prescient, rather than an enabler of bad behaviour.
Although Snapchat user numbers pale in comparison to Facebook’s or Twitter’s, they are growing fast, and many businesses, news organisations and even universities are starting to use the platform for publishing and marketing. You can now follow brands on Snapchat in a similar way that you can on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and a new service on the app called Discover has partnered with news media companies like ESPN and National Geographic to provide easy-to-browse news in the form of photos, text and short videos.
The bosses behind Facebook were so worried about Snapchat’s incursion into its own territory that it offered the company a US$3 billion buyout deal last year, which was rejected. Snapchat is now valued at several times that much, and has a new service called Snapcash that enables money transfers.
It may be the punchline to jokes about self-obsessed millennials at the moment, but sooner or later the rest of us are going to have to wrap our heads around Snapchat or get left behind.
Where should I start on Snapchat?
Once you’ve signed up for an account, click on the ghost icon to start searching for businesses and individuals you want to receive messages from. Taco Bell is a particularly interesting case study: it has more than 200,000 friends on the app, to whom it sends funny, quirky videos and photos incorporating new products. Then check out the Discover feature, where you can read or watch a handful of stories each day from organisations including CNN, Vice and the Daily Mail.
How do I pick up followers?
Tell stories about your brand, create a hashtag and take pictures at local events and encourage interaction with fans. The tone on Snapchat is overwhelmingly fun and light-hearted. Adopt a casual tone and have a sense of humour – and as a last resort, cute pictures of kittens and puppies never hurt.
What’s the user experience like?
It’s not as intuitive as most social networking apps, it has to be said. But the Discover feature offers an easy, frictionless experience, and is an addictive way to consume bite-sized news stories.
Do I have to pay?
No, all the features are currently free: as with most networking platforms, you are the product rather than the customer; it’s your data that can eventually be sold, along with ad space. Download it from wherever you usually get your apps, such as Google Play if you’re on Android or iTunes for Apple devices.