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Marketing Brand Safety Social Media

Why Snapchat is experimenting with a limited comment tool on Spotlight videos


By Chris Sutcliffe | Senior reporter

June 16, 2022 | 6 min read

Snapchat is conducting an experiment with the introduction of comments on its Spotlight feature. While other platforms have leaned into public comments in order to foster community and appeal to advertisers, Snap’s new tool is more limited – by design. The social media company tells The Drum why the feature isn’t quite giving creators everything they asked for.

Spotlight Replies is currently in trial form in New Zealand

Spotlight Replies is currently being trialled in New Zealand, and will be rolled out elsewhere later in the year / Snap Inc

Social platforms are changing. Brands are increasingly focused on speaking to communities rather than buying anonymous audiences, which is changing how social platforms think about their users. As the focal point of those communities, creators hold a lot of cache when it comes to influencer marketing; it’s understandable then that platforms are catering to the desires of their creators when it comes to new tools for community building.

For Snap, which has often been ahead of the curve when it comes to developing features for its creators, that drive to innovate means reinventing one of the oldest community tools – comments. The platform is currently testing a new form of commenting among its users in New Zealand, with plans to extend the Spotlight Replies test to other countries later in the year.

The feature enables audiences to leave a text reply on a creator’s Spotlight video, which is first moderated before being sent directly to the creator. Creators are then given the ability to control which replies appear publicly on their video for other viewers to see. It follows impressive growth in Spotlight use – in Q1 2022, total time spent on Spotlight more than tripled year-over-year, while in Spotlight’s first year the number of monthly posts per creator also tripled.

A Snap spokesperson tells The Drum that the new feature is based (in part) on requests from its stable of creators. “The most requested feature since we rolled out Spotlight is comments. And when people request comments, what they are asking for is the conventional form of public comments that you’ll find on other platforms. So we hear that – we understand that what they want is the ability to engage with their fans to create this community, to create this conversation around the content.”

Snap notes, however, that the sort of comments on social platforms that have existed until now have the potential for misuse. That broad description encompasses a lot of misbehavior, from allowing abuse to creating an economy in which inauthenticity flourishes. To that end, Snap says Spotlight Replies is an exercise in giving users what they need – not what they want.

“We know that people don’t want the negative aspects that come with comments, so when we hear that feedback we say, ’OK, what are the underlying needs here? What do people actually want?’ And then, ’How can we give that to them in a way that ultimately serves them?’

“It’s not users’ job to design these unique features. That’s our job. Their job is to help us understand what it is they’re looking for.”

To that end, the Spotlight Replies tool uses Snap’s existing machine learning to first filter out anything that breaks the platform’s terms of service around abuse or unsafe language. Only then are the comments handed over to the creator, who can then choose to include them or not.

It speaks to the increasing desire from advertisers to speak to communities: the marketing industry is investing in partnerships with creators who act as figureheads for engaged audiences, across platforms like Discord and Reddit. Trials like Snap’s aim to bring that community aspect to platforms that have traditionally been less about reciprocal conversations between peers and more of a broadcast tool for individual creators.

Commerce and comments

Snap acknowledges to The Drum that there are commercial benefits to ensuring that a social network’s content is brand safe, especially when there is parity across both advertiser and creator content. However, its spokesperson says its success is predicated upon allowing creators the freedom to experiment and that the development of tools like Spotlight Replies is undertaken to allow them that freedom.

“We see time and time again – and not just from creators, but from the community at large – that they feel Snapchat is a more positive environment than a lot of these other options that are out there. And so that has always been part of the pitch in general for advertisers, for people that want to use our products.

“This is a place where we put safety and user protection and privacy first, and we believe that’s ultimately going to be a differentiator for us and lead to better experiences. And again, yes, a safer place to advertise your products and for your brand to live side by side with creators.”

As the social media industry moves to prioritize community and brand safety, it’s likely that other platforms will follow Snap’s lead when it comes to handing creators greater control of tools like comments.

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