Social Enterprise

How to get started on Snapchat: A beginner's guide for brands

Here's a rundown of what your brand needs to know about the ephemeral messaging platform.

Increasingly, Snapchat isn't just the territory of the under-24 set — brands are starting to sign up and figure out what it means to be on a social media platform unlike most others out there.

Recently, Snapchat's been in the media for launching a feature called Discover. Discover is a series of partnerships with media outlets like Cosmopolitan, CNN, National Geographic, Vice, and others to place content (both video and even full text articles) from those brands on Snapchat.

But for just about any other brand, Discover isn't an option at the moment. That means that if your brand wants to create a presence on the platform, it's going to have play by the same rules as regular, consumer users.

Before you sign up, here are the dos, don'ts, as well as a few other points to consider.


Don't just jump on the bandwagon

When any new platform comes along, brands must resist the urge to just jump on the bandwagon. It's fine to experiment and explore creatively, but do consider how joining Snapchat would help your brand reach its business goals and fit into your larger social media strategy.

"Know who your audience is and where they will spend time. If you're a B2B brand and people you know are on LinkedIn, maybe you should stick to LinkedIn," Adobe Social product manager Carmen Sutter said.

That's not to say there's not value to testing the waters and experimenting — just be judicious with your time and resources as these are things many folks in social don't have in abundance.

"We all hear the stories of Taco Bell and Gap, and these first brands trying to be the first brands on a new social network and they're really creative and they're really good at it," she said. The benefit to being an early adopter is having the liberty to try things out.

Last year, EA Sports joined Snapchat. Social media manager Kurt Stadelman said it served a few purposes — reaching a younger audience, and delivering interesting content to a new audience.

"It's not much about selling your product as it is just building your brand," he said.

Don't be a talking logo

Snapchat demands humanness, to an extent. Snaps are either one to one, or one to many, but when a user receives a snap, he or she has no idea if it went out to 10 other people, or just them.

"I think it's really hard for brands to do because they have always been a talking logo," Leber said. Social has changed that. "You have to be very, very human with your output because the kids that are on there are pretty discerning and they're not going to take any crap, and especially because Snapchat is voluntary," digital strategist Hank Leber said.

Stadelman said showing some of the things that happen around the office helps humanize the brand — including the ball pit in a meeting room in the Orlando office where he's based.

Part of the idea here, he said, is to be more free because Snapchat gives users the ability to be more free than other platforms.

"I'm sure a lot of managers sometimes feel like copywriters. We kind of are in some ways because we need to be perfect with our verbiage and our language across all these channels that are being published to the world. Snapchat is a little different," he said.

Emoji, drawings, jokes — all are welcome on Snapchat.

Don't snap just to snap

"A lot of social media managers, including myself, at times, feel obligated that we have to send out a tweet if we haven't tweeted in a few hours... it's not like that on Snapchat at all," Stadelman said.

Followers are waiting for your snaps. The priority is content that resonates and is entertaining, not content that satisfies a quota or the like. If brands start churning out weak content, users will stop opening those snaps.


Think like a Snapchat user

Brands are always after authenticity in their social media presences. Snapchat, perhaps more so than other platforms, demands this because of its basic nature. Snapchat is a conversation, an app built on immediacy, unpolished imagery, and last but not least, fun. So, keep in mind the expectations of Snapchat users when planning and executing your snaps.

"You have to understand why is someone going to go on Snapchat; what are they doing there? How are they doing it? And what does that mean for the way I think I might want to communicate my brand in Snapchat?" Leber said.

Remember the audience is in control

One way that Snapchat differs from other social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, is that there's not a newsfeed. If you consider how these platforms marry advertising and newsfeeds, you'll notice that Snapchat doesn't have that option — brands can't drop in an ad in between updates from your aunt and your college roommate.

So, when a brand creates a Story (more on that later), or even when a brand pays for a sponsored snap, the user can chose to tap on it for a split second and move on, or not open it at all.

"I'm going to hold my finger down on this snap for as long as I want, and then when I'm done, I'm going to take my finger off and you're done, so I have control," Leber said. Since the content is consumed on the user's own terms, it's got to be fast, and it's got to be chat-worthy, just like something that might come from a peer.

This intensifies the pressure on brands to make sure their snaps are things that users will actually want to open. They have to build the kind of relationships that draw users in, he said.

Use the Stories feature

The Stories feature presents the opportunity to build something like a clip reel that lasts 24 hours. Leber sees this as an underused feature. Some use it to post snaps from throughout the day. It plays through chronologically. Others, including brands like Taco Bell use it to create video shorts. The fast food chain recently created a short that showed life before and after Cinnabon coffee. As you might imagine, life for the star of the short improved vastly in the latter scenario. A nice perk to the Stories feature is that it doesn't trigger a notification, so brands can post at will without worrying about inundating followers.

Formats that work well on Snapchat

As is the case with any platform, brands have to sound fluent. There are a number of types of posts that can work well for brands for Snapchat.

"Be mindful of the type of content that works well, so if it's a message you need to convey but that is hard to understand, don't use snapchat for it. It needs to be a simple message. It needs to be compelling," Sutter said.

Contest and giveaways

Businesses like WetSeal, Photobucket, GrubHub, and Dominos have given Snapchat followers exclusive discounts or coupon codes. This plays into to Snapchat's tendency toward what's immediate and what's reactionary.

EA Sports makes use of this strategy.

"We'll snap a picture of a signed jersey and a copy of a game and then we'll say tweet this hashtag that only our snapchat followers can see. They'll tweet that and we'll find a winner on Twitter," Stadelman said.

Behind the scenes looks

Snapchat is, in part, about giving people that unvarnished look behind the scenes of our lives. Brands should keep this in mind.

Leber referenced the New Orleans Saints' presence on Snapchat. "They're not going to share a picture of the team posing for some magazine shoot. They're going to do stuff that's a lot more candid," he said. Candidness is a good word, as that's an important element that often translates to authenticity on the platform.

EA Sports takes advantage of its access to athletes and sporting events in order to give followers a look at scenes they probably wouldn't have access to on their own.

Rare finds

Similarly to behind the scenes is the idea of the rare find. This shows followers something they haven't seen and perhaps wouldn't otherwise.

So, when EA Sports snaps the PGA Tour, that's an experience that would be more rare to the average follower and keeps them interested in coming back.

"I think you should provide a rewarding experience for your followers because they don't have to open your snaps," Stadelman said.


Building a following

Building a following is always important — you've got to have someone to talk to. With Snapchat, the extra challenge comes in the fact that there's no virality to the content. Users can't share snaps, so it's not like going on Facebook and seeing a friend has liked a certain page or post, which serves as an endorsement of sorts.

This is an area that will most likely require some cross-channel promotion to attract followers who will then, hopefully, end up helping spread the word.

Measuring success

When you think about the common ways brands track their success on social media platforms — clicks, engagement, lots of graphs, complicated analytics tools — you'll realize that Snapchat isn't quite wired for these types of tools or markers, at least not yet.

Sutter recommends using social listening on other platforms to gauge sentiment about your brand's Snapchat efforts.

"Brand awareness is hard to measure, but social monitoring conversations is easy to measure, and if brands do something good on Snapchat, people will talk about it and will talk about it on Twitter and Facebook," Sutter said.

Another method EA Sports uses is asking followers to take screenshots of their favorite snaps as a contest with some type of payoff. It's not scientific, but it does provide a glimpse into the how the snaps are being received, and which ones are relatively successful.

"That's an easy way to see what type of content resonates," Stadelman said.

And going back to the example of offering coupon codes, that's another way to get a feel for how engaged followers are with a brand's account.

"That's something that's really measurable and it's easy to see how often it was redeemed," Sutter said.

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Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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