It's Not a Post -- It's a Gift. How to Embrace the Intimacy of Snapchat

Five Ways Brands Can Think Differently about Snapchat to Engage with Consumers

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Snapchat wasn't built for brands, and barely behaves like a typical social platform. And yet, as it enters a new round of funding that would value the company at $19 billion, the photo-and-video-sharing app is working to become a more attractive place for advertisers. Brands see the opportunity to reach an audience that has grown to upwards of 100 million users, but how much value is there in paid placements that are ephemeral -- up in smoke in ten seconds? And is there any room for organic success on a platform that takes pride in making discoverability difficult?

While Snapchat has its share of challenges for marketers, it offers something unique in the world of mostly-broadcast, feed-centric social media -- intimacy at scale. Every time a user opens a snap, she has no idea who else – if anyone – is seeing it. It's a tiny, personal gift, even when broadcast to a huge audience. And brands can use it to bring people closer to their culture, events and personalities. It's the perfect behind-the-scenes platform because it's built to deliver unfiltered, intimate content.

Here are a few things to keep in mind before you give up the ghost:

1. It's a shape, not a limit.

Don't consider Snapchat's lack of certain features -- editing, filters, the ability to upload content -- as a limit. See it as a shape your content needs to take. What you lose in creating high-quality content, you gain in intimacy and perceived spontaneity. Is a perfectly-lit shot of your product on Instagram really that much more valuable than a quirky, half-doodled visual joke on Snapchat? If so, consider another platform (Or buy more traditional ads on Snapchat's Discover section). Taco Bell embraces the quirky aesthetic of the platform, making each snap playful with lavish amounts of doodling.

2. It's a gift, not a post.

You get an alert and a badge shows up on your phone -- someone has sent you a snap! It wasn't posted, it was sent to you, and maybe only you. While a brand's social output on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook is measured in posts seen in feeds, every snap is delivered as a personal gift. This adds to each snap's value immeasurably. Treat each dispatch as a tiny present. Even Snapchat Stories feel gift-like, since no one knows how many people are seeing them or have seen them. GE does a great job of fostering science love with tiny gifts like quick-hit brain teasers and blink-and-you'll-miss-it videos of celebrity scientists like Bill Nye.

3. It's a peek, not a spotlight.

Most brands use social media to introduce new products or brand experiences, posting an image or video that leads to more content around the product. In effect, their posts are intended to spotlight. Snapchat is a quick, finite experience with no chance to link out to more content. Rather than trying to cram entire brand stories into each snap, craft content that feels more like a brief peek behind the curtain. Tease the audience and don't overstay your welcome. Everlane focuses its social media efforts on Snapchat, so that every snap feels like a unique, exclusive peek, only seen by the select few who follow them.

4. It's imperfect, not polished.

People aren't looking for perfection on Snapchat. Clever, lo-fi messages that seem like they're coming from a friend get love and attention. Don't be afraid to be idiosyncratic and spontaneous. Use the doodle tool. Use geofilters. Be silly. Don't overthink it. McDonald's does a great job at this.

5. It's their world, not ours.

In addition to looking to other brands for inspiration, check out what popular YouTube and Vine creators do on Snapchat. They understand the platform far better than brands, and are constantly testing their content and learning the best ways to grow their audiences on it. Start with Snapchat artists Shonduras or Mike Platco and Vine/Snapchat celeb Jerome Jarre.

Bottom line -- the right brands can successfully find a voice on Snapchat, but the cost is spontaneity and access, neither of which are easy for any brand.

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