Do Brands Have To Get Naked On Snapchat?

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The Saints chat trash on Snapchat

It’s already starting. Snapchat might be the least likely social media platform for marketers since Twitter but big brands are already piling in. They’re experimenting with different content, seeing (by some accounts) good results and they’re producing some clear trends. Most of those trends involve naked honesty.

The breakthrough for Snapchat as a marketing platform came last year with the introduction of Stories. Until then, the mobile app’s main feature had been to automatically delete pictures sent from one individual to another after ten seconds. For young people keen to impress their partners, but less keen on their images being seen by others, the feature was a killer. For people who were less likely to take selfies in the shower, including marketers, Snapchat had little to offer.

Stories, though, changed the dynamic. They can be seen by more than one person, turning them into a broadcast channel closer to that of Twitter or Facebook. Users can make Stories visible to friends, to custom lists or to everyone on Snapchat. They can also be stitched together to form a narrative — and one that’s told historically. While a series of tweets on Twitter starts with the most recent post, making new readers feel left out and the message hard to follow, stories begin with the oldest image, allowing marketers to tell coherent narratives about their brands. That’s a rare benefit on social media.

The content of Stories is still temporary; the images are only available for 24 hours. But while the feature might have been created to allow users to share more creative content than the odd (naked) snap, they do provide an opportunity for brands to engage in visual storytelling that feels personal.

It’s that personal touch that’s key. The biggest advantage that social media has always had over other marketing channels has been the closeness of the relationship between seller and audience. On billboards, in print ads and in television commercials, companies interrupt conversations. On social media, they engage in conversations. The content should be friendly, and audiences can respond to it and even receive responses to their comments directly from the marketer.

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Drew Brees makes plenty of appearances on Snapchat

Snapchat takes that personal touch even closer by cloaking corporate messages with the appearance of private MMS messaging. Where companies have combined the visual storytelling potential of Stories with the closeness of Snapchat’s private content streams, the result has been levels of engagement that other platforms can only envy. According to one report, Stories are seen by more than half of the company’s active users.

Stories As Chat Channels

One approach being taken with Stories is to treat them as louder versions of the MMS messaging they’re meant to supercede. That’s what the New Orleans Saints have done.

In an interview, Alex Restrepo, the Saints’ Web and social media manager, toldCNet that Snapchat’s audience was too big to ignore. The team was the first in the NFL to set up on the app, and began publishing content shortly after the launch of Stories. The Saints don’t engage in one-to-one messaging, so fans won’t be receiving private messages from Drew Brees, the quarterback. But Restrepo does believe that the app gives supporters a close relationship to the team.

“Fans see Snapchat as almost a text, where it’s direct, one-on-one communication. So even though it’s a story, they see it as: this is a personal message, for me, from the Saints.”

It helps that the images are very personal too, as befits the platform. Restrepo would post videos from the field, the pre-game huddle and even shots from the locker room. Fans might not have been able to chat with Drew Brees but they got to see a lot of him.

That approach seems to be working. According to CNet, the team has 37,000 followers on Snapchat and each story generates 21,000 views. That’s a much higher rate of engagement than the miserable organic reach that Facebook now grants to companies, and it suggests a potential for a great deal more. When Restrepo tested a Snapchat-based contest in December, inviting followers to send in a screenshot of a snap for a chance to win a signed photo, he received 3,700 entries. That would have been a response rate high enough to interest a sponsor, Restrepo said.

The Story Of Events

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Taco Bell gives Snapchat users 24 hours to enjoy this coffee.

The Saints are creating Stories out of the team’s season. Off-season, the content stream has shrunk. Other brands restrict the Stories to singular events. HBO created a Snapchat account for its hit show, Girls, believing that the app’s young, free-thinking audience matched its own demographic.

The most prominent content posted by the stream however, hasn’t been behind-the-scenes at the show’s shoots or candid pictures of the stars but a 200-second photo and video montage of its season three premiere.

Like the Saints’ images, these too were candid. While photographers from outlets like Getty would have been shooting the stars as they beamed on the red carpet then distributing the pictures to their media subscribers, the show’s followers were getting more direct shots of the actresses pulling faces at the camera. The stars were also able to doodle over their own images, giving supporters exclusive and frank content. Again, engagement rates were said to be much higher than those seen on other platforms.

Snapchat For Quick Chats

It’s a strategy that’s particularly effective for the entertainment and fashion industries which have plenty of opportunity for glamorous photography alongside grittier shots taken behind the scenes and shared with an in-crowd. Juicy Couture, is one of a number of clothing brands to turn to Snapchat. Most of those companies have used Snapchat in exactly the same way as HBO: creating candid behind-the-scenes shots at glittery events. Juicy Couture went a little further and created an event out of the launch of its new campaign, sharing the images on Snapchat.

The flexibility of Stories — their longer lifespans, bigger audiences and deeper stories — has been winning the most attention from marketers but some brands, and even some personalities are sticking with the platform’s original model.

Grubhub, a food delivery service, still sends one-to-one messages and Senator Rand Paul also uses the platform to talk directly with members of the public without leaving a permanent trail of his content. For marketers, the ability of Stories to reach more people will always offer a bigger draw.

Can Snapchat Move From Behind The Scenes To Front Of Stage?

The easiest strategy to implement on Snapchat is one that allows followers to see behind the scenes of a business or an event. Fans feel that they’re being let in on a secret, that their relationship with the brand is as close as two friends sending each other candid messages.

But that’s not a strategy that will suit every brand. Showing how the sausages are made or the burgers are fried is unlikely to be effective for fast food companies, and yet some have signed up with Snapchat. McDonald created a 36-second story with Lebron James that was effectively a short ad. Taco Bell, an early Snapchat adopter, has shared preview pictures of its new menu items, a useful way to gauge customer response. It’s unlikely though that that content enjoyed the same engagement rates as the Saints’ stream — or reached an audience larger than that on Facebook.

It’s still early days for Snapchat. Engagement figures are promising but are hard to gauge and even harder to obtain. Companies are still experimenting with content to see which kinds of campaigns work best and to what extent they can expand beyond behind-the-scenes shots to more traditional branding stories.

Snapchat will need to change too. The company needs to improve its search and recommendation features so that users can more easily find brands to follow. (At the moment, companies are using their Twitter accounts to tell people where they are.) And it will need to offer users more than the chance to see the dusty side of the red carpet.

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