Selfie-centered social media.

snap_chat_blogHave you recently been out shopping, at a restaurant, even stopped at a traffic light and noticed a young adult or teenager posing for a quick selfie or talking into their screens? Did you chuckle, shake your head or maybe even grumble about “kids these days?” Chances are you witnessed someone (perhaps me?) using Snapchat, a photo and messaging app. Snapchat is the selfie-centered social media choice for teens and young millennials, a demographic that is notoriously difficult to engage with from a marketing perspective. A quick search for “marketing to millennials” yields over 11 million results, many of them advising on new approaches for reaching young people through social media. Snapchat, with a median user age of 18, is exactly the platform to reach that young demographic but its potential has been largely untapped.

I spend most if not all of my day on social media. Of course, that is my job, but I don’t stop when I leave the Shiny office for the day. In fact, I took a day to keep track of what I do on my phone and for how long. Over the course of a normal day, I spend more than 4 hours on my phone and one third of that time is on Snapchat. I send selfies to my friends, post photos of my dog to my story, vid chat with my sister, tap through the live stories of music festivals and sports championships and then start all over again. Snapchat creates an immersive experience for its users, integrating photo sharing, chat, video and entertainment all in one app. The catch for brands and advertisers – but the appeal for its users – is the impermanence of content on the platform and its commitment to user privacy. Unlike the platforms integrated on my Hootsuite dashboard, the messages, photos and content on Snapchat disappear after an allotted amount of time. They cannot be reposted or shared and users must actually choose to view it.

If that doesn’t sound quite so appealing from a marketing perspective, it’s not a surprise. The value of Snapchat in a social media strategy can’t be demonstrated with analytics tools. However Snapchat’s mobile dominance in the youth demographic cannot be ignored. According to Millward Brown Digital, only 17% of all consumers are “very favorable” towards mobile ads, but on Snapchat that number triples to as high as 60%. What accounts for this dramatic difference in receptiveness? I attribute it to the same youthful demographic that defines Snapchat. Teens and young adults have inhabited the mobile tech space their entire lives, more or less transferring the computer or television experience (complete with ads!) to mobile. This demographic receives almost everything on mobile, so why not brand messaging?

Many brands have already taken advantage of this receptiveness among the Snapchat user base. Brands like the NBA, Audi and NBC’s The Voice post exclusive and behind-the-scenes content not available anywhere else. The NCAA sponsors live feeds of events available to all users featuring curated user-submitted photos and videos. Clothing retailers announce early or secret sales on their Snap stories. Charitable groups create time and location specific geofilters to promote their fundraising events. My personal favorite? The Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers social team blends humorous drawings, play highlights, game updates and ticket offers in their Snap story.

Snapchat ultimately allows brands to build loyalty and drive user engagement not in spite of, but because of the aspects that make most social media strategies shy away from it. The privacy and short-lived interactions make its users more likely to engage with brands than on other platforms where information is public to friends or followers. I can’t wait to see the creative new ways in which social media strategies integrate Snapchat’s capabilities. In the mean time, I have to send a new selfie.