From taking risks to offering exclusive content, here’s how marketers can tap into one of the fastest-growing social platforms.

The past year has seen organic reach in social media – reach not supported by paid advertising – decline further. Simultaneously more users, particularly younger ones, are spending more time in private spaces, harder to access by brands, including WhatsApp, Yik Yak and Snapchat. The latter has emerged as the leading dark social channel with over 700m snaps shared every day. How can brands be part of the conversation on this ever-growing platform?

Snapchat Logo

One defining feature of these platforms is that they’re private and, unlike other social media, are almost completely unmeasurable. This is key. The adults of tomorrow are actively avoiding channels where they feel like they have to care about how liked and appreciated their content is and gravitating to places where they can be their true selves without that pressure to gain approval.

Entering these spaces as companies is inherently difficult. Social media was never meant for brands and dark social far less so. But Snapchat is making a concerted effort to accommodate businesses and their ad money. While there are no immediate plans for company profiles, there are now multiple ways to reach people in a one-to-many model, as well as the original one-to-one messaging functionality.

On top of the core feature which enables users to exchange photos and videos that self-destruct once seen, additional aspects of the app are:

  • Stories – a place where users can publish their snaps with the last 24 hours’ worth always being visible. This is where your brand’s output will live.
  • Discover – editorial channels from well-known content brands such as Buzzfeed, Vice and Daily Mail. Brands can’t buy in here; these are chosen purely editorially by Snapchat.
  • Live – curated streams of content from specific locations or major cultural events eg London, Hannukah, World Cup final, delivered to you based on your location. Marketers can now buy interruptive ads between these.
  • Filters – Instagram-style filters and overlay graphics available based on location. Can cover a city or just specific venues. These can be bought as sponsored filters on a per day basis, enabling you to design an overlay graphic which people can add to their image. Notable examples recently include W Hotels’ postcard filtersand McDonalds’ raining fries filter, both of which were only available at or near an outlet’s locations.
  • Lenses – 3D mapped overlays enabling you to wear interactive “masks”, with fun animations triggered by facial expressions. These can now be sponsored and while they cost tens of thousands per day, they certainly create a lot of awareness, such as the first one which for Peanuts the Movie at Halloween.

Having had some recent successes on Snapchat I would advise the following as key elements of a successful Snapchat strategy:

  1. Share your snapcode in social and on product
    If you’re going to do Snapchat, shout about it. Turn your Twitter and Facebook profile pics into your snapcode – the unique image that people can point their camera at to add you. Also, place it on products, or as we did in our recent Zoella campaign, put it in a bestselling book.
  2. Take risks
    Just as users share more candid, less polished content, brands can take risks and worry less about production values. The native language of the platform is not slick brand content or ads, it is interesting or funny videos and images. Look at brands such as Amazon and Taco Bell which have slick above-the-line advertising yet are happy to post employee selfies, cover live events on the fly and offer a glimpse behind the scenes.
  3. Reach younger, female audiences
    Snapchat is heavily popular with teens with their main demographic stated as 13-23-year-olds and founder Evan Spiegel has remarked on a predominantly female user base. Users who are this age live through their smartphones and love the fact their parents are not on Snapchat (yet).
  4. Publish to stories and keep people tapping
    When you publish content to stories, the last 24 hours’ worth is visible. When viewing, the user taps the screen to see the next one. Think of stories as hyper-edits – each snap is a scene in a fast-paced sequence. Ask a question in one and answer it in the next, or lay out clues and reveal the answer later. Always be making users want to tap rather than swipe down.
  5. Ask for responses
    Snapchat not only has the right audience to challenge with creative responses, but fun creation tools such as the basic doodling, emojis, text and filters. But many brands still neglect competitions and calls for creativity, both for fear of receiving inappropriate content or not knowing how to frame the conversation in a relevant way. You really have nothing to lose by trying this out, and your brand’s baby steps will be all about experimenting to see what works best.
  6. Exclusives
    The golden rule for any brand on a social network is adding value. Give me a reason to add you. Content exclusive to Snapchat is a great way to use the platform. Activision gave gamers a sneak preview of Call of Duty in 2015 through the app – and offered people a genuine reason to engage with them there – building a younger, more tech-reliant audience for the future.
  7. Add value through vouchers and competitions
    Again, make yourself worth adding through offering value to the audience. This is probably the most common way in which brands use Snapchat and it has worked well, particularly for students and teens, who are time-rich and highly engaged.

Has your brand used Snapchat yet? If not, start thinking about how 2017 can be the year they leverage one of the fastest-growing social platform.

First published on The Guardian by Will