Originally published June 2, 2016. Updated May 15, 2020.
Snapchat has become one of the most powerful social media platforms on mobile. The app once described as great for sexting evolved into a content studio, a multimedia communications platform, and a media company all rolled into one. And Snap, the parent company, was dubbed the most innovative company in 2020.
In March 2020, Snapchat co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel sat down with Fast Company to chat about the innovative future of Snapchat — a future in which the entire notion of "content" will be turned on its head.
These days, there are two main types of content on Snapchat: videos to watch on the app's "Discover" tab and a suite of digital effects emerging from Snapchat's investment in augmented reality. Discover is essentially the idea of cable TV being brought to the digital realm, and those digital effects and Snapchat Lenses can provide fun ways to enhance communication between friends. What will this look like in the future? The two will be mixed together.
According to Spiegel, content "is the dominant use case of AR today. Most of AR is overlaid on the world, overlaid on your face."
And Snap has explored the branded side of this augmented reality. In late 2019, brands including Coca-Cola and McDonald's bought advertisements for Snap's Scan feature, which allows users to aim the camera at a can of Coke or at a carton of McDonald's fries, for example, to unlock secret lenses — like a polar bear standing on your table.
And with 229 million daily active users, Snapchat has rolled out its genius plan to give those users content to consume while they wait for their friends to message them back. From user-generated event synopses to original content created by publishers like Mashable, BuzzFeed, and ESPN to a feature-length film, Snapchat engages its users with rich multimedia experiences.
And that’s where Snapchat’s big advantage comes into play. It successfully marries engaging editorial content to our most natural mobile behavior: messaging.
The idea of brands turning to social networks to create and publish original content is something we’ve covered on The Knowledge Bank before, but Snapchat’s evolution could be ushering in a new era of media.
It’s clear that everyone wants to be a publisher these days, but it’s ultimately up to readers to decide where and how they want to consume content. We might come to find that Snapchat isn’t that place, but done tastefully and strategically, it does offer several advantages:
So what can we learn from all of this? It’s unlikely that anyone will copy Snapchat’s exact model any time soon, but as content marketers (and content consumers ourselves), there are a few things Snapchat’s exponential growth can teach us about how people love to consume content.
I feel like a broken record when I say this, but mobile is a big deal.
In 2019, the average American adult spent nearly three hours on a smartphone per day — a nine-minute increase from 2018. Optimizing your digital content for a mobile-first experience will improve your ability to engage and interact with your audience members where they are.
Snapchat capitalizes on rich experiences that are highly visual. Bite-sized stories make it easy to consume content via Snapchat, even if you aren’t fully focused or willing to devote very much time to the platform. Its editorial Discover content is highly visual, but it complements that video content with text and simple subtitles to make it easy to consume content even without sound. Snapchat also mixes an editorial perspective from publishers, correspondents, and journalists with user-generated content via Stories. It’s giving its readers an honest picture of the events that they are peering into from multiple angles, providing a rich and unique experience.
I mentioned this earlier, but I’m bringing it up again because it’s so important. Snapchat weaves content into your life and into your natural behavior in a noninvasive way. You can easily navigate the platform and interact with your friends while also consuming content that relates to events and topics you actually care about. Audiences will always have a “me first” mentality; marketers must remember to engage those audiences in a way that’s helpful and welcome rather than use content as a tool to spray people with their message.
Will Snapchat continue rising as a force to be reckoned with in the media world? We can’t know for sure, but it is certainly on an exciting path to creating a new kind of media company that’s disrupting the way that we create and consume content.