Snapchat is having a moment.
From celebrities jumping on board in both the entertainment worlds (DJ Khaled) and business (Gary Vaynerchuk) to brands and publishers testing stories and working with influencers, Snapchat can no longer be ignored.
So should you use it?
The answer, as with any channel, tactic, or technology, is a loud, unmistakable, "It depends."
It depends on your strategy, your goals, and your customers. It depends on whether your hypotheses internally put Facebook or Twitter or email or blogging or offline or events ahead of Snapchat. It depends on whether you're the kind of person or company that likes to build audience way ahead of advanced functionality for marketers ... and therefore way ahead of things like measurement or even ROI.
It depends. It just does. Never let anyone tell you that you have to be on a channel. It always, always, always depends.
Now that said, I've been tinkering on the platform for awhile, and I wanted to write about why I believe you should tinker too, if your "it depends" situation points to such a conclusion.
Just one problem: Every eager new user to any new platform will inevitably start feeling down about the lack of traction they're getting. They're used to at least some semblance of followers and engagement on another platform, and that's just not going to happen quickly on the new network.
But with Snapchat, if you think about the way it's built and how people interact, that's not an issue. The value of a single follower on Snapchat is much greater than the value of a single follower on any other social network.
Let me explain...
(By the way, you can check out some behind-the-scenes of my content creation on Snapchat by adding me here: snapchat.com/add/jayacunzo )
"Nobody watches my snaps."
It's true: When you first join Snapchat, you'll feel the sting of a lower follower count and therefore fewer views (the lone metric you can track on your snaps through the app). On Twitter, Medium, and my blog, I have thousands of followers/subscribers. All posts get hundreds if not thousands of views, and that makes me feel pretty good and fuels my lizard brain's ego. Snapchat right now yields about 20-40 views per snap in my story. But that STILL makes me feel pretty good.
That's because, on a per-follower basis, my reach on Snapchat is much more valuable than anywhere else right now.
1. Snapchat is built for the sole purpose of consumption. Views are "more active" than elsewhere.
Quite literally, the only way to interact on Snapchat is to consume the content. You can't feel like you're part of the experience and you can't extract value by skimming or rifling through a feed with the flip of your finger. You can do that on Twitter. You can do that on Facebook. LinkedIn, Medium, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube, search, blogs, you name it -- they all allow for today's hyperactive user to skip around and either "view" but not engage with your stuff ... or outright miss it.
There is no value in flipping quickly through the feed on Snapchat because the only feed-like experience is a list of contacts you follow. You just see their names, and whether they have new snaps to watch. That's it!
So unlike other channels, Snapchat it's literally built to be consumed. That's hugely powerful.
2. Snaps are all about attention in a world where it's difficult to acquire and maintain it.
Attention is gold.
Actually, that's an insult to attention and just how important it is to any digital tech right now.
Attention is carbon. It is the most fundamental element required for their to be life on any digital platform. Without attention, your site or network or app or individual post is dead.
Snapchat is the king of attention. (#MixedMetaphorAlert)
He may be a king you've never heard of that hails from a far away land at this point, but he's been plotting and is now starting to storm the castles of Facebook, Twitter, television, and more.
He's not as rich in users or even dollars, but he understands the science of attention. Other rulers of our digital world may as well view him as a sorcerer. Why else would Zuckerberg offered to acquire Snapchat for a cool $3 billion? He built his empire on attention and sees an approaching king with hordes of it and better tools to wield it today.
So why is Snapchat so great at capturing attention? The answer lies in the psychology behind the app.
>> First and most importantly, snaps are ephemeral.
When you send snaps directly to your friends, they disappear immediately after being viewed. When you add a snap to the feature called My Story, friends can view them whenever they want for 24 hours, but then they're gone forever.
A few things happen as a result of this disappearing content:
When you see that someone has shared a snap, you're eager to consume it now so you won't miss it. This is like a mini version of the last bastion of TV's attention dominance: live events. Sports and awards shows can command such attention (and therefore dollars) because they're in the moment, then they're gone (or at least way less valuable if viewed as a recording). Snaps are micro-Super Bowls that occur every day. If you don't believe me, ask the influencers who command thousands of dollars per brand-sponsored snap.
Snapchat is also multimedia as a core functionality in a way that's less natural on other channels. It literally engages multiple senses: sight, sound, and touch. Even YouTube falls short of that last one. On Snapchat, you consume videos, audio, text, pictures, hand-drawn creations, emoji, and interactive gestures like pressing and swiping. And a single snap can contain several of these things, which help them retain your attention.
Lastly, while you're consuming a given snap, you feel compelled to keep watching. Again, it's going to disappear, so you not only become eager to consume it (#1 above), but you can't look away once you start. You're afraid to miss something.
Number 3 brings me to the next reason why Snapchat is great at the attention game:
>> You can't look away once you start. (This time, I mean that literally.)
When watching a snap, it takes up the entire screen. There is literally nothing else available to see or to distract you.
That is so impossibly rare today!
Every other channel seems to play into your hyperactivity as a user by giving you more stimuli. Snapchat gives you less. Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn suggest more things while you're consuming one thing. And their UI surrounds you with additional options. Read any blog post today, and you'll find yourself distracted by dozens of options, from suggested headlines to multimedia like photos, videos, audio, to marketing messages like pop-ups, slide-ins, pre-rolls, pop-downs, and muhc more.
According to the BBC, the modern internet user has an attention span of 9 seconds. Given that fact, and all the craziness thrown at consumers on other channels, suddenly a single follower consuming a 10-second snap seems profoundly rare.
But for a brief, beautiful moment in time, that one snap is all there is in their world.
What if you gave a daily talk to 30 people?
You'd focus on depth, on acquiring and maintaining and deepening their attention paid to your message. If I told you that you could deliver a talk to 30 highly engaged, relevant people to your world today, you'd probably be interested. You'd probably believe that was time well-spent. And you'd definitely be more interested in speaking to 30 people offline than if I'd said "30 followers."
Why? Because "followers" are often so passive. Their attention is less valuable on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, et al, than offline in a room.
Snapchat is basically scaling that room for you.
Oh, and in this case, your talks take around 1-2 minutes per day to prepare. And you can do it the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that. And all the while, your room will grow.
That is Snapchat.
Yes, the company has made more than a few headlines thanks to some users' fondness for photography of the testicular persuasion.
And yes, Snapchat seems a bit trickier than some other social networks to use, mainly because you'll be new to it.
And I'll even concede that Snapchat is primarily a young person's network at the moment. But so was every popular social network to date. That's how these things work, and so we'll eventually hear about the next one once Snapchat goes the way of Facebook (hi, mom).
But there's tremendous potential here because of that fundamental element the platform is so uniquely great at capturing. And that element, that carbon atom of social media so needed for life -- attention -- is about to create a huge, thriving world on Snapchat.
So grab your snorkel, don your flippers, and hand me those goggles. There's life in those waters. And we won't want to miss this.