In a recent episode of Gary Vaynerchuk's '#AskGaryVee' video series, one of the questions posed to Vaynerchuk was "why are so many people afraid of Snapchat, especially in the marketing field?" This is an interesting query - the general view within the social media marketing community seems to be that Snapchat is a bit risky and probably not a good fit for most brands. But given the platform's evolution that perspective is probably no longer true.
Hesitation around Snapchat largely relates to app's beginnings, when it was best-known as a facilitator for 'sexting', but the platform has evolved significantly since then. Indeed, recent figures show that Snapchat is one of the fastest growing social networks globally - Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel recently revealed that the app now has more than 100 million daily active users viewing two billion mobile videos, every day. Granted, that's only half of Facebook's four billion daily video view count, but Snapchat's doing this with an audience only one eighth the size of Zuckerberg's behemoth. Snapchat has also become a pipeline to millennials - data shows that more than 60% of smartphone users in the US aged between 13 and 34 are active on the service, with a significantly higher proportion of millennials than any other social network.
Yes, there's a lot more to snaps than risqué images, and it's star is only rising. Given this, the question posed to Gary Vaynerchuk really is one worth probing a little deeper - why is it that marketers are afraid of Snapchat?
Fear of the Unknown
In Vaynerchuk's video, his response to this question is that, essentially, most marketers are not innovative and don't want to evolve, that they'd rather continue doing what they already know. Vaynerchuk argues that a large contributor to the hesitancy around Snapchat is because "95% of people in marketing at digital and social agencies actually don't know how Snapchat works".
To get a little more perspective on this, I spoke to a few social media marketing identities who are leading the way in terms of Snapchat, Snapchat marketing and millennial outreach. The first was Nick Cicero, the Founder and CEO of Delmondo, an agency which connects brands with Snapchat influencers.
"There was the same fear from brands about Instagram," Cicero told me. "Mobile equals personal, and often times, marketers struggle with their brand being personable enough to truly put themselves in the customer's shoes."
Chris Mikulin, owner of CLYW, a yo-yo company that has seen great success in connecting with fans via Snapchat, supported this view, saying that for many it's basic fear of the unknown that keeps brands away from the platform. "Traditional agencies are skeptical of social. Digital agencies are skeptical of platforms that don't show direct ROI. Snapchat's sort of between the two," Mikulin said. "It's a platform for building your brand, building loyalty, storytelling, and interacting with fans one on one. It's hard to scale... I think they're just being late adopters right now."
Social media marketing identity Ben Phillips - who's written an excellent beginners guide to Snapchat (and was the originator of the question posed to Gary Vaynerchuk in the above mentioned video) - also agreed that lack of familiarity is a significant factor.
"[Marketers] can't game the system like they do on other platforms by buying followers and flaunting an inauthentic audience number."
"Another reason," Phillips added, "may be the fact that they have no understanding of how to use the platform because they have never spent more than 5 minutes with it before walking away." This was also noted by Cicero: "yeah, it's probably weird to spend 3-4 days in a row looking at different Snapchat accounts, watching, hunched over your phone in between meetings, but that's what it takes to do your research."
Lack of platform familiarity was a common note - which goes back to Vaynerchuk's original response - but another concern may be fear of being able to produce Snapchat content. "One concern I have heard from a few people is their fear that they can't generate enough good content on a regular basis," Phillips said. "[Marketers] feel stretched thin across other platforms, and to allocate more time and energy to a platform that houses no evergreen content - requiring daily 'real-time' production - can be very intimidating, particularly if you're used to putting a large amount of content in the can well in advance of deployment."
"Snapchat pushes you into continuously looking for "snap-able" content all around you. You can, and should, plan your stories content, but it's very non-traditional."
Selling Disappearing Content
Another big challenge for Snapchat is monetization of the platform. While the company was recently valued at a whopping $16 billion, as yet, Snapchat has not turned a profit. They're making in-roads, through features like Discover and Live Stories, but at the same time, CEO Evan Spiegel has stayed firm to his view that Snapchat ads should never become too invasive. Given this approach, will Snapchat ever be able to effectively monetize that engagement?
"Right now they have the capabilities to offer quite a complex and unique advertising offering with what they've built," says Cicero. "They're sitting on a treasure trove of data targeting capabilities for a mobile-first consumer, the same way Facebook has been gleaning millennial data for more than 10 years now."
Another avenue of opportunity is in sponsored filters, which enable advertisers to buy custom 'stickers', images users can add to their snaps. Just this month, McDonald's became the first company to purchase sponsored geofilters on Snapchat.
"A huge area of opportunity is in sponsored filters," says Phillips. "I've been hearing rumors that Snapchat will begin offering filter placement to brands and events." Such an addition seems logical, and in-line with Spiegel's stance on ads being non-invasive - with stickers, users can opt to use them when they are within a specific location. This provides them with a whole new set of images to play with - but only if they choose to do so, making it a fun, optional, addition, while also pushing advertisers to be creative and provide filters that users will find interesting.
The Friendly Ghost
One thing that is clear, from all the data and projections - and aside from the fears that some people hold regarding the platform - is that there's alot of potential in Snapchat and what it may become. The engagement levels the platform is seeing are incredibly high - of its aforementioned 100 million daily users, 65% of them are regularly contributing their own content. Snapchat is a platform built for users, a platform meeting a clear audience demand. And in talking to advocates of the social app, it's evident that Snapchat fans are very passionate and dedicated to the service.
"My favorite aspect of Snapchat, by far, is 'Our Story'," said Phillips. "I love the 'live coverage' aspect, it's 100% user-generated content that places you amongst the action, whether it's the College Football Playoffs or travelling the globe, one city every 24 hours. It's the best example of UGC implementation I've ever seen - Snapchat's discovered how to generate an insane amount of value without producing a single piece of content."
Cicero also had high praise for 'Our Story', which is essentially making your Snapchat content available for others to see as part of an event: "I think that the way that Snapchat has been using editors to put together all their collaborative Our Stories activations from different perspectives of events is amazing. They're really creating with their users. Kind of the way I've always wanted to experience events at a glance - or in a Snap you could say."
Cicero also praised the way prominent Snapchatters are adapting to the platform and creating new and inventive content. "I'm a big fan of emerging Snapchat influencers like CyreneQ, Evan Garber, Mark Kaye, Audrey Spencer - the way they're mixing art, video and location is just so creative and fun to watch."
But the true strength of Snapchat is the element of fun, of interacting in new and innovative ways. "I really enjoy the one-on-one interaction I'm having with fans," Mikulin said. "I'm having conversations that were never possible on any other platform - it's almost like texting, email and Instagram all in one. But you can be silly and have fun. Stories disappear the next day. Snapchat has quickly become my favourite platform for interacting with fans."
While lack of familiarity and fear of the unknown remains something of a barrier, it's clear that there's a lot more to Snapchat that what initial perceptions may seem. If you haven't spent some time with Snapchat yet, it may be time to cast your fears aside and check it out. Unless, maybe, there's actually some other factor at play. I mean, the logo is a ghost. Scary stuff.
Extra note: One element of Snapchat that has been lacking, and may also be contributing to the overall hesitancy around the platform, is the lack of analytics, But that may not be a problem for much longer, Chris Mikulin shared with me a new app called Snaplytics, which provides a trove of detailed data on the performance of snaps.
Looks pretty interesting.