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I still don't really get Snapchat, so there, I said it

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By Dom Burch, managing director

December 2, 2015 | 8 min read

I don't really get Snapchat if I'm honest.

Dom Burch doesn't get Snapchat

What? I hear you cry. How can that be? Only last week you were named the eighth most important social media person in The Drum's Social Buzz Top 50. I know, I know. I'm embarrassed to admit it. I'm a fraud. Take me off the list right now (actually please don't. Maybe just relegate me out of the top ten?).

In my defence I'm 41-years-old (and two months). My kids are nine and almost seven. My only regular snaps come from my co-presenter on BCB Lorna Kook, who is ten years older than me, but to be fair has three daughters in their late teens/early twenties and is down with the kids.

I'm also a medium adopter. I'm not an early adopter. I have a natural filter that holds back the noise until it reaches a certain tipping point. My healthy paranoia then kicks in. Shit, what am I missing? Is everyone else over there, looking back and laughing at me.

And that's just from a personal perspective. Then I start worrying about it from a professional point of view. Surely 150m daily active users, 60 per cent of whom are posting content every day not just consuming it, can't be wrong?

Paul Cimino, former chief executive at Brilig and Snickelways, writing for Ad Exchanger, reassuringly says most over 35s don't get it. He is brave enough to admit he too doesn't fully understand Snapchat as a user, but as an internet entrepreneur he knows a powerful new media when he sees it.

"I don’t understand why my kids send and receive hundreds of Snaps a day, but I understand numbers and potential for brands and publishers," he writes. As he watched his own kids and others use Snapchat he saw that they weren’t just communicating 'crazy stuff'.

"They were communicating whimsy – meaning this is how I am right now – using pictures, text, videos, lenses and stories. Ephemerally communicating what you’re doing or how you’re feeling is a powerful new type of peer-to-peer marketing. Different than Facebook or Instagram, which are mostly many-to-many."

It's an important point.

When the world woke up to Facebook and Twitter all those formative years ago, brands were dragged onto those platforms by their customers. In our case there were 15 unofficial Asda fan pages before we eventually turned up. We had to reclaim our brand at the very least.

We also realised that if 135,000 people were prepared to join a fan page campaigning to bring back the mooing cow shed to our milk aisle there was also an opportunity to engage a large audience of advocates and have some fun with them.

So back to Snapchat.

Surely we must be missing an opportunity to engage with all those kids? We've spent seven years trying to suss out Facebook, the last couple really getting to grips with YouTube, and now you're telling me all the kids are on Snapchat?

I was given some great advice seven years ago by my then boss, Nick Agarwal, who had just returned from a three year stint at Walmart in the US - 'don't do stuff just because it's cool.' - It helped inform our entire approach to social media.

Brands now stood on the wings watching others enviously trial content on Snapchat, before you do anything rash consider first why do you want to be on there? Are your customers on there? Have you even asked them? If so, how are they using the platform? What is it they love about it?

Is it the fact that you can't easily be judged, there are no likes or thumbs up of approval. Is it that the moments are fleeting and expire in a few seconds or by the end of the day if held in a story?

Unlike Instagram or Facebook no filter is applied, albeit lenses are available. The new Snapchat lenses feature includes facial recognition software that’s able to distort your expression and/or apply various effects to your face, rather than beautify your poor photography.

Only once you know the answer to all or at least some of the above should you then venture forward. But even then, what next? How do you break onto the platform? Who's got the keys?

Drew Benvie from Battenhall posted this morning that Snapchat content is infamously incompatible. Taken in the moment and experienced in the moment, linking to Snapchat content from elsewhere, such as Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp, has not been possible to date.

Quoting a report on Digiday though he adds that is all about to change. 'Snapchat’s enabling its publishing partners to promote their channels on Facebook and Twitter with links directly to their content.'

Media partners including Hearst, IGN, Vox, BuzzFeed, CNN and Vice, will be able to share links on social media apps that will take people directly to their Snapchat content. Publishers also run their own channels on the messaging app, posting daily editions that expire each night, filled with video and articles.

According to a statement released by Snapchat, they said: “We are launching Snapcode deep-linking for Discover Channels, creating another way for partners to publicize their great content...Snapcodes are scannable codes that link directly to content on Snapchat.”

Benvie makes the point that this great news for those who are already active on multiple networks, such as influential bloggers and vloggers. That's certainly been our entry point.

Rather than risking hundreds, maybe thousands of pounds on a yet unproven platform (some early reports in January this year quoted $750,000 a day as the going rate), we chose to team up with an influencer Marcus Butler as part of a wider campaign that landed a short video on YouTube, Facebook and a teaser on Snapchat.

The short form video, less than 30 seconds performed amazingly well on Facebook (500k views in 24 hours with no media spend), and did a decent job on YouTube too (250k views). By simply capturing how to make a healthy smoothie in a fun, engaging way, without heavy branding or overly forced calls to action, and by using a video expert in Marcus with a key affinity to healthy living, we set ourselves up for success. How it did on Snapchat as a teaser is still a complete mystery. We simply don't know.

So what's next?

I was fascinated to discover Snapchat is making original series content for its app. According to Pocket Lint Sasha Spielberg, daughter of famed film director and producer Steven Spielberg is the co-creator and writer of Snapchat's first original series, called Literally Can’t Even. She even has a part in it, appearing as a comedic version of herself.

The mind boggles.

So, if like me Snapchat is still a bit of a mystery, I'd encourage you to make it your business to get to know it a bit better. Whether you like it or not, the kids are all over it. Just resist the urge to be that uncle trying to look cool in the centre of the dancefloor at the family get together. You may think you look cool as a brand, but they all think you dance like a dad.

Snap that quick!

Dom Burch, senior director of marketing innovation and new revenues at Walmart (Asda), explores the ever changing world of social media marketing in his 'Thought of the Day' blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @domburch

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