Snapchat engagement and other myths

Screenshot 2016-05-04 09.24.56

By Mark Schaefer

I have been absorbing as much as I can about Snapchat and its potential for businesses. The more I learn, the more I’m convinced it will probably not rise above a niche role for brand marketing … and that Snapchat may want to keep it that way!

The strong business case for Snapchat I keep hearing over and over again is that “engagement is through the roof.” Finally, we have a social channel that is really focused on connecting and authentic conversation. But is that true?

Engagement happens in the quietest places

I attended a panel discussion featuring Snapchat stars at Social Media Marketing World and here was an off-hand comment from that panel that should have sent a chill through the room: “My followers on Snapchat have been increasing a lot, but my engagement hasn’t.”

I don’t know who said this because the room was so full I was sitting on the floor and could not see anything. But it was stated by somebody undoubtedly important and influential in the Snapchat world.

Here’s why that comment is significant. What he is saying is that high engagement is not sustainable on a large scale, something we all know by now. The same “content shock” principle applies with Snapchat and every other attention-based platform — when the amount of content goes up, so does the competition for attention. If the amount of content skyrockets, and our attention span is finite, something has to give.

Even in my little Snapchat experimental world, I already have access to so many stories, that I’m ready for them to be over. OK, I see you with a clown nose. Great, I see you eating your hamburger today. Yippee, you’re drinking beer with friends. You’re walking through a mall. When can this be over please?

If I was following just five people, this might be manageable. But as more people climb aboard, I feel obligated to follow these people back, and that’s when it starts to get overwhelming. I can only take so many hamburger movies in a day. That’s what content shock is all about. To earn my sustained attention, you are going to have to provide content that is through the roof entertaining, every day … Just like Facebook, YouTube and every other saturated channel. And that’s not easy.

Faking Snapchat engagement

The point is, the high engagement levels we see today are not sustainable on Snapchat and cannot be considered a long-term business enticement. This may seem like a radical prediction given the state of guru hype out there, but it’s not. It’s simple economics.

In any human, business, or natural system, when supply goes up, and demand remains constant (our attention), the economics must shift. Snapchat engagement will inevitably suffer from its own popularity. It’s already happening.

Another point for marketers to consider is that it is now possible to fake engagement on Snapchat, so the engagement levels we see being reported may not even be real.

In this short and entertaining video, Keenan Erwin explains how bots can help fake engagement and how third party apps like Ghostcodes may debilitate Snapchat and create a Twitter-like firehose. He also explains how Snapchat needs to prevent this to survive. (H/T to Patrick Kitchell on the video).

Click here if you can’t see this video to view on YouTube: Snapchat engagement

The rest of the story

Some other points about Snapchat emphasized at Social Media Marketing World:

“Snapchat makes you more human.” No technological platform makes you more human. If your company does not come across as human on Facebook or Twitter, you’re not going to be human on Snapchat, either.

“Snapchat is a great platform for storytelling.” No it’s not. Telling “stories” in 10 second chunks sucks. Now, some people are gifted at this. But telling compelling stories in 10-second chapters is a rare skill. If you really want to tell a story, why not do a live stream or make a YouTube video? I would maintain that brand storytelling on Snapchat is the high-wire act of marketing today. One media company is building a “Snapchat studio” to handle this.

“Snapchat is the next big thing.” Snapchat is significant because there is a high emotional connection between 18-24’s and the platform. That value cannot be underestimated! But we also need to remember that there is no major patented user feature on Snapchat that Facebook and other competitors can’t copy and improve on (and they are). There are something like 150 million active users on Snapchat and 1.9 BILLION combined active users on the two Facebook apps WhatsApp and Messenger. In the war between Facebook and Snapchat, who would you bet on? Can “emotional connection” outlast the overwhelming firepower of Facebook? We’ll soon find out.

The other significant issue is that Facebook has Snapchat boxed-in. As Facebook “Snapifies” its assets like Instagram, it precludes Snapchat from international growth, where WhatsApp and Instagram are already popular. Snapchat could become a niche play with slow user growth like Twitter.

“Snapchat will re-invent the community manager.” This was a point made to me by my friend Carlos Gil and I believe he is correct. Many of the traditional duties of a community manager are being consumed by marketing automation software. But to represent a brand on Snapchat … well, there’s no substitute for being a hipster human. The whole livestream/Snapchat trend could enhance the jobs of many community managers.

Snapchat is awesome. But not for every business.

I want to conclude with an important point. Snapchat is awesome. It is what social media was meant to be: raw, fun, personal, an expression of joy and creativity.

  • As I wrote in recent posts, Snapchat is a MUST for large brands with deep creative pockets trying to reach young people. This is where the customers are, and this is where you need to be. Figure it out, find an influencer, pay to be an advertiser. Do what you need to do to be there.
  • There is also probably a niche play for some small businesses with the right Snapchat attitude and employees who can pull off that content high-wire act.
  • It’s a great place to build a personal brand, if Snapchat fame is something you seek.
  • The overall trend toward private versus social networks is a huge trend (and my money is on Facebook Messenger and their bots).

But overall, I don’t think most businesses are equipped to succeed in the quirky and ephemeral world of Snapchat.

I am currently working with a Fortune 100 company that wants to be cool enough to attract hip new employees. It is a company with a huge HR department, a massive PR group, hundreds of staff lawyers, and thick rulebooks about content approvals and brand identity. Nearly all of their content is farmed out to global ad agencies. They really need to be on Snapchat. I have no idea how they can do it with that kind of bureaucracy. And many companies have that kind of bureaucracy.

As I was enjoying my floor view at SMMW, I was sitting next to a guy from a large agency. I asked him how he planned to bring his customers into the Snapchat world. “I have no idea,” he said.

I know this post goes against the grain of conventional social media wisdom, but I also went against the grain when I predicted Google Plus would not go mainstream the first week it was introduced. I said we would not be having a Quorgasm after techno-guru Robert Scoble predicted Quora would replace blogging, and I said to forget about QR codes when people were enthusiastically slapping them on everything in sight.

Snapchat owns the hearts and minds of the 18-24 demographic and that is significant, but it will be very difficult for most businesses to access them in a consistent and meaningful way because the barriers to entry — consistently quirky content — are so high, and the opportunities to advertise so limited and expensive.

Your thoughts are welcomed … especially if you disagree!


SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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