There may still be a few souls out here who haven't heard of SnapChat, or its Facebook imitator, Poke. If you're amongst them, here's a sixty-second catch-up on these Social Apps:
The apps allow users to share images, videos and text which have a built in self-destruct mechanism. Now-you-see-it-now-you-don't. A few seconds after viewing, pouf! it's gone.
The Snapchat app is the brainchild of a couple of students from Stanfield University and was released in September 2011 with VC funding. It went from nowheresville to delivering its current 30 million messages per day in little over a year. On Thanksgiving last year, Snapchat's peak photo-posting rate was four times that of Instagram: users sent 1,000 photos per second.
Facebook, scenting a winner, copied much of the functionality of the Snapchat app in Dec 2012 with 'Facebook Poke' (no, not the old 'Poke'. This is a new 'Poke': only available on your mobile devices. Keep up!)
Here's Techcrunch's side by side comparison of the two apps.
According to Mashable, Snapchat is winning the (free) download battle hands-down. I'd agree with Mashable's Pete Pachal that Poke is pretty annoying to use: your Facebook friends need to download the app to see your messages, and you have to press and hold the screen while your allotted seconds slip away. Last week, Snapchat was the sixth-most popular free app for Apple's mobile devices. Facebook Poke wasn't in the top 100.
Some (well, most) say that the obvious and inevitable usage of both apps is for sexting & bullying. What happens if you give teenagers the facility to send secret video, images and captions which will disappear by the time Mum grabs the phone / the relationship is over / you are sober again? Well, der.
Of course, imagining that all evidence of the messages sent is really gone is naive to say the least. You can of course screenshot the messages (both apps warn the sender when this has been done, but by then, it's frankly a little late). You can also take a picture using another phone. Whilst Snapchat promises to delete image data as soon as possible after the message is transmitted, Facebook will only permanently delete messages from their systems after 90 days:
"All Poke messages are stored in encrypted form and retained for two days after the last recipient receives the poke — a process that helps facilitate abuse reporting. After that period, a Poke's encryption key is deleted. However, it may still be possible for Facebook to recover that key from logs or backups.
"After a fixed time period, this key becomes inaccessible, rendering the content completely unreadable, unless it was copied for abuse reporting. Today, that fixed period can be up to 90 days, but we are working to significantly reduce that period over the next several weeks as we verify the stability of the Poke deletion system." said Facebook on Business Insider.
After Christmas, Buzzfeed found a “security hole” in both apps which allowed users to check out and save old files. Alas, "Snapchat Sluts" has started on Tumblr already.
No-one really knows, though it seems that Facebook want to find out for themselves. They've put up a call on user homepages to find participants to take part in a face-to-face interview about how they use the app.
And ... in addition to the inevitable denials from Snapchat founder Even Spiegel, there are others creating a small backlash against this assumption of the worst.
Child safety expert Anne Collier thinks it's probably not just about sexting. I read one parent's claim that her teen is more open to her via this method of messaging: it's more like natural conversation, to be recalled inexactly, not recorded in stone. The eloquent young Chloe Drimal blogged: "I think Evan Spiegel, the founder of Snapchat, understood our generation when he put a time limit on a picture message. Maybe he didn’t mean to, but he took technology backwards a bit, bringing us a little closer to what real human interaction is supposed be. It’s supposed to be a memory, not something tangible." One of the appeals to teens is that - unlike everything else they upload - content shared this way won't be searched by future employers, won't (in theory at least) come back as a digital spectre at some later feast.
Sarah Lacy's view is that calling Snapchat “the sexting app” may be missing a huge shift in mobile, photos, and communications. Lacy says, in Pandodaily : "anyone who can only see a sexual use for “self destructing photos” is either out of touch with where the mobile Web is taking us or suffers from a serious lack of imagination."
A few creative marketers have found ways to use the ephemeral nature of Snapchat and Poke to their advantage.
Delta Lingerie briefed ad agency Grey Tel Aviv to promote "a one-time sales promotion on lingerie", resulting in a video of Ninet Tayeb getting dressed in her own bathroom, which her agent sent out via Poke. According to Business Insider, when she slammed the door in their faces, there was a zoom to a message directing viewers to Delta's website for a one-time sale. Watch how they did it below:
Very creative - but not very practical. Poke isn't available to brand Pages, and you can only send Pokes to a maximum of 40 people at a time. With no upload of saved files possible, Ninet Tayeb's agent had to reshoot and send the film to friends on her personal Facebook profile over and over again. The video is unsharable - and of course, if viewers miss the call to action at the end, the whole thing was wasted anyway.
The instructions to the participants to get a discount coupon were:
16 Handles didn't have a Snapchat account before the campaign started on Jan. 1. Now, the company has sent and received more than 1,400 snaps with users. They have likened it to a digital version of a discount card which you can only scratch off at the register.
Neither innovative campaign has yet been quoted as a success, and it's hard to see how, if the restrictions on sharing remain, any kind of critical mass can be achieved in any commercial exploitation of the apps.
Of course, I do recognise a great direct response when I see one. At its most basic, what a wonderful competition mechanic for a brand aimed at a younger audience:
But I don't see a way to automate or scale up this process as it stands, unless I'm missing a trick? (Please tell me if I am).
So for now, I think brands hoping to capitalise on this new form of communication should be wary of two things: firstly, the restrictions of scale which could lead to promotional foot-shooting, and secondly - muck sticks. If you are marketing on a platform which becomes increasingly discredited because of its use for sexting (ok, even if it's not ALL about sexting), your own reputation may well get splattered.