By Michael Raine
Yes, loyal reader, we did do an article on Instagram a few months ago. About a year too late if we’re being honest. But now there is a new kid on the block and this time we’re ahead of the curve. Snapchat is that weird, disappearing selfie app you see your kids, employees, and young customers using. It may also be one of the best tools you’ll have this year to engage fans in a lighthearted, entertaining way.
Launched in 2011, Snapchat is still in its infancy, but the pace of its growth is incredibly impressive. In July 2015, internet marketing company WebpageFX compared Snapchat’s growth after four years to that of the other major social media platforms. At that time, Snapchat had an estimated 200 million active users, easily surpassing its counterparts at the same point in their evolution. After four years, Facebook had 140 million users, Instagram had 180 million, and Twitter a mere 30 million.
But, for the uninitiated, what is Snapchat? Is it that sexting app, you ask? Well, it kind of was at first, or that was the conclusion many people’s dirty minds jumped to when they heard of a photo and video messaging app where the messages disappear. But this young app has come a long way in a short period of time. At its core, Snapchat is quite simple, allowing you to send a photo or short video to an individual or group of contacts which the recipient can view for 1-10 seconds before it deletes itself. Over the past year, a number of other features have been added, including animated filters and, most importantly, “Snapchat stories,” where the user strings together a bunch of separate photos/videos that are available for their contacts to watch as much as they want for 24 hours.
There’s been more and more platforms where it seemed silly at first and then people go, ‘Oh man, there’s a lot of value here,’” says Will Thompson, a musician, audio engineer, and social media expert who founded the digital marketing agency Habitual Social. “I haven’t seen a lot of retailers using it but it doesn’t mean that they won’t be and I definitely think they should be. There’s a huge opportunity here.”
Because of Snapchat’s ephemeral nature (i.e. the photos/videos disappear) – which separates it from more permanent platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – its users tend to use Snapchat in a goofier, more irreverent way than they do other social media platforms. In fact, a 2014 study by researchers from the University of Washington and Seattle Pacific University on Snapchat’s popularity found that the majority of respondents, 59.8 per cent, said they “most commonly chose funny content as their primary use for Snapchat.” This provides an interesting opportunity for businesses: a chance to engage on a more creative and fun level with customers and fans.
The barrier for entry for the content that is on [Instagram] at a very high level now, which it wasn’t when it started. When Instagram started it was people taking pictures of their food with their iPhones. That’s evolved now to where, with National Geographic, it’s their main distribution platform,” explains Thompson. “With Snapchat, there isn’t any of that. It’s very lightweight – and it’s kind of confusing to use for most people when they start off because it’s not too intuitive – but the type of content you put on there can be done by anybody. That’s what is exciting to me about this platform. It’s good for music retailers, and it’s good for everyone, because it’s more so about just being yourself and just being a human. I kind of come back to that a lot whenever I’m talking about social media – just be real and just be who you are.”
Possibly the most useful feature for businesses, as mentioned, is Snapchat Stories, which was introduced in 2013. To make a good “story,” you do just what the name implies by telling a story through a chain of photos/videos with a beginning, middle, and end that can be viewed an unlimited amount of times for 24 hours. “At the end of the day, what makes a Snapchat story interesting is your own creativity with what you have. I think people who are in these music stores have tons of resources to be creative with all the instruments and whatnot. It’s a goldmine,” says Thompson.
You can be fun or informative or both. Have a busted guitar or amp come in to the repair counter? Snap a video of an employee playing the busted gear followed by a snap saying what the problem is and each subsequent snap in the story going through the steps of the repair, finishing with the employee playing the now-working gear. That’s just an obvious example of what can be done with the Stories feature. The possibilities are endless and only constricted by your staff’s creativity.
If I’m following a store and everyone at the store is smiling and happy and joking and making up silly challenges, like throwing guitar picks into a kick drum or something that just shows that these guys are cool and having fun, it makes me want to come in and visit,” adds Thompson. “Maybe I’ll pick up some stuff while I’m there. It seems so arbitrary and kind of not tangible, but that stuff really matters and at the end of the day it creates fans and, ultimately, drives sales.” He adds that snaps don’t need to be posed or calculated – as has become the norm on Instagram – and, in fact, it is better if the snaps are imperfect, feeling spontaneous and fun, because that relays the image of an enjoyable place that people want to visit.
Another advantage that Snapchat has over the other platforms is that there is no equivalent to the “newsfeed.” Instead, snaps or stories appear on the recipient’s phone in an alphabetized list and they click on the name to view the story/snap. What that means is a) your snaps/stories aren’t getting pushed to the bottom by newer content from others, and b) when you get views, they’re deliberate and engaged views because the person had to click on it. If someone saw your snap/story, you know they wanted to see it, which likely means they’re engaged with your content.
Of course, if you’re using social media to promote and brand a business, metrics are useful for gauging your success and progression. Here, Snapchat is not as thorough as the other platforms, but there are a few useful indicators.
The first is total unique views, which is how many people watch the very first individual snap or first second of your story,” explains Thompson. “The second would be total story completions. So how many people actually finish the story versus how many started it. With the completion rate, you can take a ratio of those two things and figure out, ‘OK, my completion rate is X per cent and can I improve that?’”
The third indicator is screen shots, which is interesting because the whole point of Snapchat to begin with is things disappear. Snapchat created screen shot notifications as a courtesy to users, informing them when a recipient had taken a screen shot of their snap. This courtesy feature, though, has become a useful tool for engagement and measurement.
You can see what people are super engaged in because taking a screenshot takes two fingers, it means you’re going to store this photo on your phone, and you have to be engaged to do that. So screen shots are pretty valuable in terms of Snapchat,” says Thompson. “You can use it as a creative tool to bring a call to action and say, “Hey, take a screenshot.’ You can have them choose one of two guitars and say, ‘Do you guys like the red guitar or the blue guitar? Take a screenshot of the one that’s your favourite,’ and then you can get bits of feedback through that.”
We’re just scratching the surface of useful ways businesses can use Snapchat to engage their customers and fans in creative, fun, and personal ways. Like every great social media platform, it offers features and opportunities that its competitors don’t and how you use it is only restricted by your own creativity. Better than any other platform, Snapchat allows you to bring your fans into your world, whether it is that moment a young customer starts shredding on the showroom floor or walking the aisles at the NAMM Show. Go online; there is a wealth of information and ideas that are easily accessible to get you started. Snapchat is here to stay; are you going to take advantage?
Michael Raine is the Assistant Editor of Canadian Music Trade