The Sun, CNN and Mashable talk Snapchat Discover, and how the new look is working for them

Following Snapchat's revamp of its Discover section, Rebecca Stewart and Jessica Goodfellow speak to publishers to find out their thoughts on the new magazine-style look.

It's not just advertisers that are feeling the love from Snapchat, publishers are also getting its attention. Last week it unveiled a revamped version of its Discover section, ditching its hallmark circular icons in favour of a new and more user-friendly magazine-style look.

With a reported 150-million daily active users, it’s no wonder media owners are flocking to Discover. About 20 partners including BuzzFeed, CNN and the Sun share articles on the platform each day. Cosmopolitan has been among those cheerleading the service, revealing towards the end of 2015 that its channel was averaging 3m views a day.

Despite this enthusiasm, rumours have been circulating for months that Snapchat was keen to change the look and feel of Discover to keep eyeballs on the app. The original, simple button design contained only the logos of publishers and gave no indication of what lay beneath; something that publishers argued made content rather undiscoverable, ironically.

The revamp places stories front and centre, replacing the circles with square tiles which display images and headlines that link through to individual features. As well as making navigation easier for readers, an additional feature will give Snapchatters the long-requested ability to subscribe to their favourite publishers’ channels and stop being served content from ones they’re not interested in.

Access to Snapchat Discover doesn’t come cheap according to the tech mag the Information. The title reported in May that Snapchat is asking some media owners, including Vox Media and Tastemade, to pay the app a guaranteed minimum amount of money over a specific time period in order to reserve their slots. While all publishers are required to give Snapchat a cut of any ad revenue they make from selling space in the app (typically 30 per cent), this extra fee puts pressure on media owners to make sure they sell inventory.

With media owners willing to stump up the cash, and an apparent 10bn videos being watched on the site each day, it’s clear Snapchat is keen to keep partners on side. A recent study from Variety revealed that 44 per cent of US-based Snapchatters between the ages of 13 to 24 use Live Stories and Discover on a daily basis, but could its revitalised news-stand approach help it pull in more consistent traffic?

Emphasis on content

In terms of readers, the move looks to be paying off already. “It’s a bold move, and still early days, but we’ve seen a big increase in numbers already,” Duncan Chater, group publishing director at Cosmopolitan told The Drum.

“Overall we think it will create a better user experience as it makes the need for strong, well-curated content even more important as you can’t rely on your brand power alone,” he added.

CNN also has a team of editorial producers and designers who work to program its Discover area.

"We love the new design," said Samantha Barry, head of social media for CNN Worldwide, "and that's because we know its a better experience for the user."

Barry asserted that CNN works closely with Snapchat to listen to user feedback and optimise its presence on the app. The network's news team treats Snapchat in a similar way to other platforms and uses Discover to distribute breaking news, political, feature and entertainment stories. "We knew from our conversations with Snapchat that [the redesign] would suit us well, since there is an emphasis on content and headlines," she continued.

The Sun is another media owner reaping the benefits of the new look, with the paper’s head of strategy Derek Brown confirming that the first report from the app since the rebrand indicates an increase in traffic to its channel.

Commenting on the new look, Brown praised it for being “much, much better.”

“It should have been like that from the start. I personally think the idea of clicking on to a story instead of a logo is far more interesting and compelling for someone reading Snapchat.”

Brown said he wouldn’t be surprised if traffic numbers double on Snapchat as a result of the change, comparing the approach to content served on Facebook’s news feed.

“Not many people will click a logo, a lot of people will click on a story, especially if it is quite enticing. I don’t like to use the word clickbait. I found myself as a user in the past few days clicking on a lot more content which I would not normally naturally go into because the tiles have looked intriguing.”

Clickbait, done well

There’s no arguing that Discover is still in the test-and-learn arena for publishers, and the new look is likely to change the way they create content for the channel.

Mashable, which like many others now has a dedicated Snapchat team, is one such publisher that will be taking a fresh approach to stories in order make the most of the letting stronger visual and editorial identity the tiles offer to media brands.

For example, previously the first piece it would lead with each day would be one designed for users to share with friends, now it’s experimenting with what stories work best with the tile as a “lead in”.

“Outside of having to create a high-profile edition tile each day, we also now lead with the story we think will do the best with our core audience on the platform: young people with a strong interest in the intersection of technology and culture,” said Jeff Petriello, director of creative development at Mashable Studios.

Petriello conceded that there’s still a lot to learn about what works on Snapchat, but says that the redesign means headlines must live up to the substance of the content behind it so as not to lose the audience’s trust; ie no clickbait.

Meanwhile, The Sun’s Brown said he believes clickbait, done well, could help partners court more readers.

“The whole thing about clickbait in journalism is it has become a dirty word – if it is done really well, the rule for clickbait is the thing you are going through to has to be satisfying. If it is not satisfying you lose your audience pretty quickly.

“I think you will see a lot more intriguing headlines and pulling people into an edition; that is going to become an art form in itself within that platform. Snapchat are always keen to avoid clickbait but they also quite like intrigue and making things interesting for people. There is a fine line but I think you will see a lot more from partners doing more intriguing stuff,” he added.

Hungry for data

On the surface, the publishers speaking out about the revamp seem happy with the new-look Discover and their close working relationships with Snapchat.

However one of the main gripes about Snapchat with brands and media owners alike has been a concern around measurement.

While ads on the app have been given the Nielsen treatment, there's no real equivalent for media partners. Recent reports suggested that the platform could soon benefit from a ComScore deal which would allow them to better measure how stories are consumed on the app. Indeed, media owners could benefit greatly from including Snapchat numbers in their overall pitch to advertisers.

CNN admitted that like any good publisher it's "data hungry".

"It helps us understand our audience, and we always want more," said Barry.

The Sun's Brown thinks the data isn't actually lacking: "I know people moan about that but they send me pretty thorough stuff every day," he noted, "I don’t feel like that is lacking. The difficulty is it is quite a rigid thing at the moment and people play around within the rules."

"Snapchat are doing really well. They are nailing it at the moment in terms of out-of-platform which we are all looking at now, we live in a world now where as publishers we do rely on platforms quite a lot, Facebook and all that," continued Brown.

"Snapchat are holding their own there, they are doing a lot better on Twitter, which is no mean feat."

Rebecca Stewart

Rebecca Stewart is a reporter at The Drum. Based in London, she writes news, analysis and features around brand marketing and digital innovation. She has interviewed key figures from the likes of Airbnb, Amnesty International, Unilever, Facebook and Spotify, as well as covering international events like Ad Week Europe, Dmexco and Ciclope.

All by Rebecca