What brands need to know about Snapchat's new Lenses and features, from its partner summit
Snapchat held its developer conference on Thursday online, adapting to the new reality of social distancing while looking to create a new future in augmented reality. Snapchat also set its sights on Silicon Valley rivals like Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, highlighting products that take aim at the core specialties of these platforms.
One new feature called "happening now" did not escape the notice of industry watchers for mimicking the mantra of Twitter, which is "what's happening now." Both platforms are catering to the public's reliance on social media during a time of unrest. "Clearly working to become a real-time news source," tweeted Rich Greenfield, a partner at tech research firm LightShed, as Snapchat released the "happening now" tab on Thursday.
Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel opened the summit by addressing the role Snapchat has played as a communication tool during the coronavirus pandemic and then more recently how the community has taken part in protests for civil rights, which erupted around the world in support of George Floyd. Last month, Floyd was killed by police officers in Minneapolis.
"We find ourselves together in a new world still yet to be defined," Spiegel said. "And amidst the many challenges we face, including the global pandemic and the scourge of racial violence and injustice, we all share a desire to uplift our global community through the love we have for one another."
Here is what Snapchat covered at the summit:
What's new in AR
One of the most high-tech advances from Snapchat was opening Lens Studio to machine learning developed by third parties. Snapchat co-founder Bobby Murphy explained the Snap ML program. "Snap ML will open up incredible new possibilities for Lens Creators by allowing anyone to bring their own neural network machine-learning models directly into Lens Studio to power their own Lenses," Murphy said.
The Lens Studio is a platform for creating augmented reality that is popular among Snapchat users. The Lenses can be simple animations that change the color of someone's hair in a video. The machine learning ups the sophistication factor so that Lenses can feature more innovative experiences. Snapchat shared examples of developers that could use the machine learning, including Prisma Labs and Wannaby.
"That's something creators have been really wanting for a long time," says Rhonda Greene, a Lens Creator and chief technology officer at Houndstooth Media Group, a digital strategy agency. "Creators have all these cool models and all these ideas that come out of being in that machine-learning space, so it's nice that the tool is catching up to their ideas."
Snapchat talked about advances in AR like a voice-activated tool, which launches filters just by speaking into the phone. There also are new dynamic filters that can display real-time information like game scores.
Ditching the QR code
Snapchat also is finally phasing out the need for QR codes, which are like bar codes that phone cameras scan to open digital pop-up experiences. Brands have been slow to adopt QR technology because it is clunky. But tech platforms have been pushing it for years to instantly connect a real-world item to the digital world. For instance, brands have placed QR codes on packaging and billboards.
Now, Snapchat has scanning technology that dumps the need for QR codes. People can just scan logos.
"Brands like Louis Vuitton are partnering with us on scan and using our camera technology to build deeper relationships with their customers," said Carolina Arguelles, head of AR product monetization at Snapchat.
With Louis Vuitton, shoppers scan the famous logo and it will lead to more information and Lenses. Too Faced cosmetics also partnered with Snapchat.
Businesses on the map
Snapchat also opened Snap Map to businesses, which means that stores will appear there. Spiegel said 200 million people use maps every month. Typically, it is for people to see where their friends are and dive into videos from specific locations.
Businesses will now appear there, and Snapchat is giving new advertisers $500 in ad credits to promote their stores. Aaron Goldman, chief marketing officer at 4C, a marketing technology platform, says this could open Snapchat to a new set of small businesses.
"It's a page out of the Facebook playbook," Goldman says. "Where the first step is you get the businesses on your platform and then you monetize them down the line. It's also smart because it starts to get Snapchatters more leaned into Snap with commercial intent."
Snapchat's ad platform did take a hit like most digital ad companies during the pandemic, Goldman says, but it still grew in the first quarter. Goldman also says that spending is starting to accelerate on Snapchat. In the first quarter, Snapchat's ad revenue grew 44 percent year over year to $462 million.
For comparison, in the first quarter, Twitter ad revenue was flat year over year at $682 million.
Taking on Twitter
Snapchat showed that it was going after Twitter's sweet spot, too. It released a "happening now" tab that will highlight real-time information. Twitter's marketing message is "what's happening now."
Snapchat also developed a new way to surface trends in the app with "topics" stickers. That is a way for people who create videos and tag them with topics. Videos with the same topic will appear grouped together.
It "makes it a lot easier to browse for Snaps related to topics that you care about," Spiegel said.
There also is a new navigation bar at the top of Snapchat's screen that will direct people to the map and content from publishers and brands. It is called an "action bar."
"It also elevates our premium content product and gives it its own place on this action bar," Spiegel said. "The action bar itself changes contextually based on what you're watching or doing."
These are all ways that Snapchat is trying to make its content more prominent and suck people into its media ecosystem. Snapchat also has a section called Discover, which features videos and shows from publishers. Brands run commercials inside Discover.
Off-platform into new apps
It would not be a developer conference without some advances for the app partners that use Snapchat technology to build their own products. Snapchat said it will incorporate its camera technology into outside apps.
Snapchat is working with Major League Baseball, Nike, Triller and Squad to share the camera and Lenses. Triller and Squad are social media apps.
Snapchat has made Lenses available to a few select desktop video sites in the past, but it has yet to truly open them to third parties on mobile devices. Opening the Lens ecosystem expands the potential audience for Lens Creators and brands.
"People underestimate Snapchat's audience and how many people actively use it," says Greene, the Lens Creator, "but still it doesn't have quite same reach as other apps do, so anything it does to get us in front of other eyeballs that hasn't come across our work before, is excellent."