This paper explores the multiple purposes of Snapchat as a publishing platform. The app has gone through numerous transitions since its inception — I will explain the common personal uses of this app, explore the different ways media companies are publishing on Snapchat and delve into how Snapchat is becoming a media company itself. I will explore the multiple ways magazines have expanded their brands to Snapchat and what this could mean for the magazine industry in general. Has trendy publishing shifted from 140 character limitations to limited-time access to the content? Snapchat has not changed the magazine industry but has expanded it and thus provided an innovative outlet that allows different content formats.
Disclaimer: Since the Snapchat website does not offer a layman’s explanation of what this app is and their blog is not much better, I’ve resorted to Wikipedia as one of my sources (believe me, I am not happy about this either). So, be warned, some of the numbers in my introduction below have come from Wikipedia but the information content has been collected from all of the sources listed in the Works Cited.
Ode to Snapchat
Snapchat is an app available on IOS and Android, launched in 2011. It allows users to take pictures or record videos, add filters / ‘Lens’, add text, sketch on their pictures, and then send them to a controlled list of followers. The key to Snapchat is the time limit on these pictures / videos: recipients can only view someone else’s snaps for a range of 1-10 seconds (the sender decides the time limit). After this, Snapchat claims that all pictures/videos have been deleted from the company’s servers (although the people you send snaps to can screenshot the picture and keep it).
–Spencer “Snapchat’s ‘Our Story’ Events Are a Captivating Experiment.”
In 2014, Snapchat expanded beyond a social media app and became a media company by focusing on its “Stories” function. This function allows “users to compile snaps into a ‘story’ that can be viewed by other users in chronological order, with each snap available for 24 hours after its posting. This allows personal publishing (a la Facebook and Twitter) that anyone on their friends list can watch. In addition to users’ stories, Snapchat also features curated ‘live stories’, with content from various users focusing on a specific theme or event, as well as channels of short-form content from major publishers” (Wikipedia). This shall be explored further in the following sections of this paper.
As we can see from Omnicore’s data (Omnicore is a digital marketing agency):
Researchers from the University of Washington and Seattle Pacific University performed a user survey of Snapchatters (127 adults, so take these results with a grain of salt) in 2014. This survey set out to find what kinds of pictures/videos these users are sending, considering that the ephemeral nature of Snapchat leads people to suspect that it would be used predominantly for privacy-sensitive content like sexting. However, as I know from my personal network of friends on Snapchat, this study found that only 1.6% of respondents reported using Snapchat primarily for sexting, although 14.2% stated that they had had used Snapchat to send sexual content at least once. “Rather, the primary use for Snapchat was found to be for comedic content such as ‘stupid faces’ with 59.8% of respondents reporting this use most commonly… They found that the majority of users are not willing to send content classified as sexting (74.8% of respondents), photos of documents (85.0% of respondents), messages containing legally questionable content (86.6% of respondents), or content considered mean or insulting (93.7% of respondents)” (Wikipedia). Exploring beyond the social media uses of Snapchat, we can look at how publishers began using this app.
The new publishing platform: Magazine’s on Snapchat:
Company-sourced Stories And Crowd-sourced Stories
As defined above, Stories is a feature that allows your friends to view what you post for 24 hours. You can stack videos and pictures together to create a narrative, which has been utilized by many different companies. Two options exist for the content living on company Stories: company-created content and user-curated content.
Professional sports teams have been using company content Snapchat to engage and interact with their fans since the Stories feature came out: “Essentially, they use a normal Snapchat account and create My Stories that are visible to everyone that follows them” (Spencer “Snapchat’s ‘Our Story’ Events Are a Captivating Experiment”). So this form of company Snapchat gives consumers a behind-the-curtain view of what they normally wouldn’t get to see, like teammates hanging out in the locker room.
Some American universities (eg University of Houston, University of Michigan) started using a professional Snapchat in 2014 to interact with their students and attract new students. “Nikki Sunstrum, director of social media at the University of Michigan, says the goal of using Snapchat was to engage the target demographic in a thriving space that organically cultivates creativity and community development. Michigan’s account now has more than 5,000 followers, stories with 3,500 views” (Joly). These social media directors find that Snapchat is more creative than other social platforms and the University of New Hampshire started using it because they “wanted to create engagement that spanned beyond just comments” (Joly). Even though this content is on Snapchat, it is still a professional profile. These Stories are company created content so they are in control of what they post to social media (i.e. they wouldn’t be posting content about their drunk friends on campus). Snapchat has generated a large response for these universities because “[i]t can be challenging to elicit engagement from students on Facebook, but it seems to come naturally on Snapchat. Students have used the Campus Stories geofilter created by the school without much prompting. The overlay filter lets them show their school pride while sharing with their network of Snapchat friends” (Joly). It is this kind of consumer engagement which helps UNH promote their school to students and potential students on popular platforms. Once students are enrolled in school and are on campus, Snapchat can be used to promote activities; “at Miami University, Kelly Bennett, manager of social media and marketing strategy, has been using Snapchat to promote events. Bennett creates regular stories at the beginning of the week and posts snaps of event flyers. The students following the account can save the ones they find the most interesting” (Joly). These examples indicate that Snapchat is not being used just for its large-reaching broadcasting capabilities, but it is actively engaging with its users.
The first magazine to be on Snapchat, using the Stories Feature, was Seventeen magazine.
As quoted by Abbruzzese in his article in Mashable, Seventeen’s Editor in Chief Ann Shoket says: “As part of our ongoing efforts to speak to girls whenever, wherever they are, we launched Snapchat for Seventeen. When we met with [Snapchat CEO] Evan Spiegel, we knew immediately this would be yet another way for us to create a personal connection with our readers in real time”. Seventeen uses the same behind-the-scenes content on their Snapchat Story to make themselves feel accessible to their readers. Consumers are not permitted to send their own content to Seventeen Snapchat.
The alternative option for publishing using the Stories feature is by posting user-content submitted to you; followers of a Snapchat account can send snaps to the account and that account can post or not post these submissions. This crowdsourced publishing is great for live events — for example, fans at sports games can send their snaps to the company Snapchat account, and the company (in this case, a NCAA football team or professional sports team) curates and filters these stories and posts on their Story which submissions they like. The stories submitted would be of fans watching the game or having fun with their friends at the game (or in the case of NCAA football, tailgating pre kick-off). This kind of crowd-sourced publishing is useful because “it draws you into the event, giving you a real sense of what it is like to be there. And the key word there is real: this isn’t some highly produced video promoting the event or even a news report from a local TV station – these are Snaps from people at the event, sharing their personal experiences. But I guess most importantly, these Our Story snaps are entertaining and interesting.” (Spencer “Snapchat’s ‘Our Story’ Events Are a Captivating Experiment”). Live events broadcasting via Snapchat has become popular for concerts, festivals and sports events. There are no advertisements on Snapchat Stories and, therefore, is no revenue pouring in from these Stories — companies are using this platform to build their fan base and engage with users. Live streaming crowd-sourced content at NCAA football games has been extremely effective, in fact, “more people are watching the college football Our Story events than are watching it on TV” (Spencer “Snapchat’s ‘Our Story’ Events Are a Captivating Experiment”).
‘Discover’ the New Bite-Sized Magazines
Snapchat introduced Discover in 2015, which is “a new way to explore Stories from different editorial teams. It’s the result of collaboration with world-class leaders in media to build a storytelling format that puts the narrative first. This is not social media. Social media companies tell us what to read based on what’s most recent or most popular. We see it differently. We count on editors and artists, not clicks and shares, to determine what’s important” (Team Snapchat). This means that Snapchat is moving away from being a social media platform and is transforming into a media company. This new feature sees Snapchat “partner with news and entertainment brands such as CNN, National Geographic, MTV and Cosmopolitan to produce and publish content for the Snapchat app… each partner will publish new content every 24 hours and that content can include video, articles, pictures, and other editorial content” (Spencer “Snapchat’s Discover: Daily Mini-Magazines from CNN, Cosmopolitan & More”). These publishing companies create content that is available to all Snapchat users, and the content changes every 24 hours. Essentially, these companies are publishing mini-magazines / several short articles / videos on this platform every day.
“It’s important to realize that Snapchat Discover is more than just the existing Snapchat Stories feature, which allows anyone to take photos/videos and share them with their followers. Discover is really on a different level to that, with the packages put together by the media partners resembling something closer to a small digital magazine. It’ll also be a way for Snapchat to make money, with the content including advertising” (Spencer “Snapchat’s Discover: Daily Mini-Magazines from CNN, Cosmopolitan & More”).
For example, this content, pertaining to each different brand, will be:
“Vice plans to pull stories from all 10 of its verticals and update once a day, highlighting written text as much as its video content. Snapchat Discover Vice content will be a “best of” selection from its publications, not new stories just for the platform.
Vice has been pushing mobile content, so observers say the move to join Snapchat Discover was a natural one. It hopes to expand to a larger global audience, with a focus on younger users who might not be familiar with the Brooklyn-based publisher.
Cosmo wants to create snackable items that consumers can consume in a short period of time on its channel. The updates, which will post at 8 a.m. daily, will tease its videos and feature articles. If things go well, Cosmo may bump up to posting twice a day. Sperry and Victoria’s Secret are sponsoring its channel at launch.
Sources said that Cosmo wanted to join Snapchat because it provided an alternative to other social media channels and it was a natural fit with readers already using the platform.” (AdWeek)
Unlike Vice who aims to repurpose already created content, “[c]ontent on the Cosmopolitan channel will be created exclusively for Snapchat by Cosmopolitan editors and uploaded to the app as a daily “edition” with five articles that users can swipe through easily. Each edition will be available for 24 hours” (Bernardo). While this preference might merely speak to different publisher’s ideologies, it also might indicate how brands are evolving in the digital age. If consumers are on so many different platforms, does the content need to change and be specifically curated for each different platform? Will brands lose consumers if they repurpose content on different platforms or will the content simply reach a larger audience?
As mentioned above, Discover is the first aspect of Snapchat that has allowed advertisements. “Since the October  introduction of Snapchat’s first official ad format, Brand Story, the company’s advertising platform has become increasingly lucrative. Each story is a 10-second to 20-second spot that contains advertisers’ photo or video content and appears in Snapchat’s organic story feed. Ads cost brands up to $750,000 and expire within 24 hours” (Minsker). Concerns regarding advertisements and revenue potential will be explored more thoroughly in the next section.
The content on Discover is still evolving and improving. Discover is attractive for publishers because Snapchat research “found that [users] are really excited about reading and learning about lots of different things and so what we’ve done instead is made a home for publishers who have a unique editorial voice and are publishing on a consistent basis to kind of garner a following that way. It’s not a topic-based following. It’s really like a brand affinity, for example for Cosmopolitan… On one of our top performing channels, it wouldn’t be unusual to see 60 percent of their reader base coming back five out of seven days a week. It’s that sort of loyalty that we’re interested in, not so much the black hole of the same content that you see on a lot of the Internet” (Fernandez). However, some critics are still cynical about the revenue potential: David Jones (founder of Social Lab) states that “I can live in Snapchat and never go to the Discover content…I can use the device for what it was intended, and the other stuff is just over there. It’s cool, there’s some good stuff there, but I don’t think that’s the reason that most people go to Snapchat” (Fraser). Which bring about the more obvious question: has Snapchat become more of a social app or publishing platform? Can it exist as both or will people always be divided on what they view Snapchat’s primary use to be?
It appears to be a very effective platform for Cosmopolitan — they are getting 3 million readers per day on Discover, which is a hard number to ignore. The conclusion here is that if brands can break up their content into easily consumable pieces and have enough interesting content to update daily, then your platform in Snapchat will not be ignored. Snapchat provides an innovative smaller platform for magazines to use, which makes it something that their readers can go to every day (like a blog), find new content, and share that content with their friends via Snapchat. This content is related to but different from both the print and digital versions of these magazines. It should be seen as an extension of the brand, not a replacement for the full-sized magazine.
App or Media Company?
“Snapchat is increasingly becoming more of a media and publishing company first and social network second. They’ve had Our Story for a while and now they have Discover. Both are two big operations that regularly publish content to millions and millions of consumers. But more than that, Snapchat has been able to convince some of the world’s biggest news and entertainment brands that they should publish a daily mini-magazine to Snapchat’s platform exclusively. Impressive and utterly fascinating” (Spencer “Snapchat’s Discover: Daily Mini-Magazines from CNN, Cosmopolitan & More”)
Snapchat continues to merge into media company landscape with their board of directors: In 2015 they hired Cosmopolitan magazine’s editor-in-chief Joanna Coles. Kokalitcheva writes that “Snapchat’s choice for a new board member isn’t surprising. The startup has long been public about its aspirations to become a large media empire, built through partnerships with large brands and publishers. Coles is sure to be a valuable advisor who can offer the young company her perspective as the editorial head of a major publication”. This seems like a move to make other Discover publications more like Cosmo — because “Cosmo’s known for its punchy, bite-sized content. Unlike more text-heavy magazines whose style wouldn’t fit on Discover, Cosmo’s quick hits of pop news and instructive beauty tips feel digestible on Snapchat. As a board member, Coles could aid Snapchat in teaching other brands how to feel like a natural part of Snapchat” (Constine). This again leans towards Snapchat wanting their Discover-partners to produce new, small-sized, timely packages of content that make their readers come back to Discover every day. Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel gave these tips to magazine publishers wanting to be on Snapchat during a talk at The Association of Magazine Media’s American Magazine Media Conference in February 2016:
Snapchat users want to watch, not read
Millennials are optimistic and recognize disingenuous behavior
Magazine brands shouldn’t change to try to cater to millennials
Stay tuned for more Discover publishing partners with less content [ eg. a Vanity Fair edition to cover the Oscars and their Hollywood Issue; this accommodates publishers who can’t publish enough content everyday and allows them to publish for special occasions]
Advertising needs to hit a sweet spot between creepy and irrelevant
Users might be able to shop through Snapchat in the future
Users don’t want more of the same content” (Fernandez)
Fitting into this context, Cosmopolitan launched a Snapchat-only brand on Discover called Sweet, “which only exists on Snapchat…[it]will evolve into an e-commerce platform so eventually, you will be able to buy from it… Ms. Coles didn’t offer details, like when Sweet would start selling stuff on Snapchat, how those sales would work or whether other Discover publishers would be able to add e-commerce to their Snapchat channels” (Peterson). Implementing e-commerce would expand the revenue model beyond advertisers — does this imply that advertisers are not willing to spend big bucks on an advertisement that is only available for 24 hours? Or is Snapchat just exploring more ways to diversify their revenue stream? Unfortunately, because Snapchat-exclusive brands are so new, there is not much data on them.
Challenges Facing Snapchat
Nitty gritty revenue details are yet to be determined: “Snapchat doesn’t provide much in the way of tools for ad targeting and measurement yet, either. Country-level geo-fencing was recently added so that brands could target only users in Canada. But age, gender, and demographic targeting are still absent. Although there are third-party analytics vendors, Snapchat’s onboard tools for measuring campaigns are pretty limited” (Fraser). Tracking return-on-investment results aren’t the biggest drawback to some advertisers, however, “the biggest concern for marketers is that Snapchat has historically attracted young users. According to Baliber, 71 percent of Snapchat users are under 25, which can be off-putting to brands that want to target older or broader audiences. Determined to silence this concern, Snapchat launched Discover to attract new audiences through partnerships with a number of major content providers, including National Geographic, CNN, the Food Network, Yahoo, and Cosmopolitan” (Minsker). Even with Discover, however, if the majority of Snapchat users are under 25, why would luxury item companies advertise to that demographic? “Although the audience is large, it’s still fairly narrow and it’s hard to picture a big auto brand or a bank investing” (Fraser). Will the age/income demographic be a deal-breaker for providing advertising revenue for Snapchat? Jeff Fraser critiques whether he thinks big brands in Canada are willing to advertise on Snapchat by saying “if all you read is the tech press, you might think that advertisers are dying to get in on the world’s hottest social network. One hundred million highly engaged users who watch 7 billion video clips every day? What marketer wouldn’t want a piece? Yet in spite of all the hype around Snapchat — and all the investor cash being thrown at it ($1.2 billion at last count) — Canadian advertisers have been hesitant, if not downright disinterested, in the platform. A few brands like Tresemmé, Air Canada and Ford (all clients of Mindshare) have started experimenting, but we’ve not seen anything on the scale of U.S. early adopters like Taco Bell or Sour Patch Kids” (Fraser).
Revenue is not limited to just advertising revenue — e-commerce remains an option. Peterson states that publishers selling products through their Discover channels will make Snapchat more profitable because “diversify[ing] their revenue beyond advertising, as well as advertisers, who could conceivably pitch publishers on offering their products through some kind of bundled sponsorship deal” (Peterson). And sponsorship options have proven to be a lucrative road for magazines already, with events and branded merchandise.
As explored above, Snapchat is no longer merely a silly app you can use to send your friends funny selfies. It has gone through many transitions and now has successfully become another outlet for several magazine brands and potentially a place to sell products. Snapchat is not a transition out of print or traditional web publishing (or even publishing on Twitter) but has merely extended publishing to a time-sensitive platform. By extending this new platform Snapchat has enhanced the value of these brands by providing an another branch in which can build customer loyalty by engaging consumers with short easily consumable content. Snapchat advertising is too new to determine what brands will obtain the most return-on-investment from this young demographic of users, but it probably won’t be luxury automobile brands. Only time will tell if Snapchat-only brands (i.e. Sweet) will survive or if users are willing to use Snapchat as an e-commerce site — but for now, these short mini-magazines are a great way to kill time and consume content during public transit.
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