Snapchat’s temporary nature gave it a reputation as a teen platform for flirty messaging in its early days, a reputation it has worked hard to successfully change. In India, this early reputation has been turned on its head, using its ephemeral nature as a positive to helping teens open up about sensitive issues such as abuse.
Snap Counselors, launched by TBWA\India, is a service that aims to help teens that are vulnerable to abuse. The agency partnered with two not-for-profits to make it work; teen counselling organization LoveDoctor and Chayn India, a volunteer-led organisation that uses technology to empower women who have experienced abuse.
Rajshekar Patil, creative director at TBWA\India, said the agency came up with the concept after realizing there were no social initiatives around intimate partner abuse in India.
“India has the world’s largest youth population but even the most basic form of counselling is either not available or inaccessible. Besides, teenage relationships and dating are frowned upon by our conservative society, further isolating youngsters. There was space for a real solution that leveraged technology to address this gap and reach out to as many as possible.
We needed a platform that would not leave a trace and one that teens could easily access. Snapchat is not only ubiquitous, it also offers the specific discretion and anonymity that victims needed. The chat app has become a gold rush for marketing to teens. Snap Counsellors became the first to use Snapchat for a social purpose and solve a real problem,” he explains.
From a counselor point of view, Avani Parekh, counselor and partner at Lovedoctor.in, said Snapchat was a great platform because of the different choices in ways to speak to people that encourage empathy.
“As a counselor I love the features. We have done video calls, little snippets of video responses, and people can respond to the point in the stories that they really like and identify with – and get a response in real time with someone that is empathetic,” she said.
Nida Sheriff, information specialist and partner at Chayn India, says they’ve made the right choice over the platform to use; “Teenagers just feel so safe on Snapchat that they are able to open up to the counselor. It isn't just about the secrecy features of Snapchat, but its cultural implications. Snapchat is ‘cool’ right now, and kids trust it.”
The service works in three steps. Firstly, a teen or an adult has to reach out to Snap Counselors, at which point they are given some of the Chayn India resources and information packs. The second stage is where the Snapchat service comes into play more extensively, with one-on-one counselling. Thirdly would be referral to local support.
Alongside that Snap Counsellors is using the ‘Story’ part of Snapchat to publish content about healthy relationships, abuse and mental health for those following the account.
Parekh gives an example of a woman she is helping via the service; “[The] young woman is in college and is struggling to get over an emotionally abusive relationship – we have been speaking for 3 months, since very early in the campaign. She came to us in an acute crisis situation prior to breaking it off with her partner, and now is taking steps to move on in a healthy way. In this case her partner is not even in the same city, but he exercised his control by messaging, calling and harassing her online. It’s been a long road for her but she is finally in a better place – working on building a support system for herself and setting some goals for her life.”
There is now a plan to expand the service to Spanish speaking countries as they now have a counselor in place in Madrid, though expansion to the Americas is also being mulled. Similarly, Pakistan is a potential market on the horizon.
The service does rely on building a network of counsellors, however, making scaling the service a big task.
Sheriff, says; “There’s a vast scope for counselling lines for bullying, depression, etc. Issues where the sufferer finds it difficult to access advice can find Snapchat to be a discreet space to deliver a first line of counselling and avoid tragic conclusions. We’re talking to a lot of people who want to replicate this idea.”