People are talking about Snapchat like it is the second coming of social media. But despite the hype, political and advocacy campaigners are looking at the app and scratching their heads as they ask, "How can we use this?"
Given Snapchat's popularity among Millennials, and Millennials' new-found enthusiasm for politics (especially for Bernie Sanders), candidates and advocacy groups are looking at Snapchat as some kind of Holy Grail. But is the tool really all we all want it to be?
Let's get right to the burning question, "Is Snapchat the key to reaching Millennials?"
While it's true that Snapchat is the Millennial social network of choice for communicating with their friends, most of that use is focused on peer-to-peer or small group conversations. As we see in Figure 1 (below), the vast majority of Snapchatters use it ONLY for chatting with their friends. That means they're not focused on gathering the kind of information campaigns are distributing from Snapchat.
More likely, if they're talking about politics and advocacy, they're getting their information from somewhere else.
Figure 1. What do people do on Snapchat?
When you consider that more Millennials use Instagram than Snapchat (see Figure 2) and that Instagram is better for distributing campaign messages than Snapchat, campaigners may be much better off using Instagram - and to some extent Facebook and Twitter - to deliver their messages to Millennials and let them carry the message across to their Snapchat networks.
Figure 2: Which social networks do teens use?
That's not to say that campaigns shouldn't have a Snapchat use strategy. Snapchat's developing its ability to deliver highly targeted ads to users, while it's also considering adding algorithmically ranked feeds, similar to Facebook's News Feed, to ensure more relevant Stories content is delivered to users. That means, campaigns will be able to derive value from having a Snapchat account and using the Stories feature, especially working with Snapchat to wrap borders around campaign events to allow attendees to contribute to the event story.
But, as with all good social media strategies, campaigns should always approach social media as part of a collective web strategy, a strategy which integrates all of the campaign's channels so that conversation flows fluidly across them. These channels include the campaign's website(s) and social network accounts, as well as the offline networks of its supporters and new recruits.
All of the advice above should work fine for the 2016 election cycle, but moving beyond that, it'll be important to watch for the evolution of Snapchat's functionality and usage patterns. It'll be important, as well, to watch for the relative rise and fall of Millennial usage of other social media channels. Things may change, as they always seem to do when it comes to social media.
At this point in time, nearly a quarter of Snapchat users are below the voting age (see Figure 3). That makes it doubly important to keep tabs on its development over the next few years. By the time the next mid-term elections roll around and certainly by the next presidential election, we will need to revisit this issue.
Figure 3. Age breakdown of Snapchat users