The 3 factors behind Snapchat consumer behavior


snapchat consumer

By Jay Acunzo, {grow} Community member

Say you’re in the business of building dams. Your dams are made of steel, concrete, and granite — you know, for that fancy-dam feel.

Question: If that’s your livelihood, what’s the first thing you need to understand incredibly well in order to build the best damn dam?

Answer: Water.

It’s easy to point to the building materials, but that’s not the point of building a dam. The point of building a dam is to create something that interacts with, redirects, and captures water. And yet, at the same time, the water is so easy to overlook.

Similarly, marketers build our own versions of dams with our content. And yet we fail to answer the above question correctly time after time: We focus entirely too much on our steel, concrete, and granite, when in reality, what we’re making has to be built on intimate knowledge of the water, i.e., people.

And so, here we are, stressing over Snapchat like the rise of new social networks and tech is somehow a brand new thing in our world.

After years of this happening to us, you’d think we’d all be better prepared. And in a world where we all seem to want a shortcut for our work, understanding people is like the ultimate shortcut. You don’t need to be a Snapchat expert (or Facebook, or Twitter, or email…) you just have to be a people expert.

That way, when the waters shift, you’re prepared. And they have shifted, to the tune of 150 million daily active users on Snapchat — larger than Twitter. Think about that: As of today, right now, more people will use Snapchat than the social network we so often cite in marketing right behind Facebook.

But do we proceed calmly as one does when one is prepared? Nope! Some of us launch into our best Chicken Little impressions (“The water shifted again! Our dam is doomed!”), while others flat out deny that there’s any change afoot (“Oh this shift in current is just for kids. Don’t worry, it’ll pass, and our dam will still be standing.”)

So it’s high time (high tide?) that we started by understanding the water first and foremost. Let’s begin with the people and embrace that if we just knew that first, the rest gets easier.

Below, we’ll review three big ideas behind Snapchat consumer behavior. In other words, we’re going to study the water for a bit.

Let’s dive in. (Water Pun Alert.)

Understanding Snapchat consumer behavior

Yes, Snapchat will be used by more human beings today than our beloved Twitter, but luckily for you, we don’t need to immediately drown in the onslaught of information about “Snapchat for marketing.” By thinking instead “Snapchat for humans,” we’ll benefit from the equivalent of social media floaties on our arms — something so simple yet so crucial to our ability to navigate these waters.

#1 – A feed built for actual content consumption and attention

The first thing you’ll notice about the way people use Snapchat is that it’s pretty useless unless you consume a single snap at a time. In this way, it’s built entirely for attention. It’s built for consumption, not scanning, or scrolling.

Nowhere does this idea come through more clearly than looking at the feeds of Snapchat compared to other social networks and apps.

Twitter, Facebook, and most of Snapchat’s other competitors are based on “content feeds.” Open any of them, and you start drowning in a sea of content right away. These overwhelming, content-centric feeds create a very specific behavior in users too—namely, a frantic scrolling to see what’s happening and make sure you don’t miss out on the next thing, then the next, then the next. It’s nearly impossible to capture attention with your content given that behavior.

But if you open Snapchat, you’ll see that the list of people you follow is, well, exactly that: a list of names. It’s not a content feed at at all, so you get zero value from this list, even if you start to scroll. So unlike Twitter and Facebook, where you can derive some value simply by scrolling through the feed and lightly consuming everything, Snapchat’s value comes only from content consumption.

In basing their app on a “people feed” rather than a content feed, Snapchat has avoided that hyper-distracted scrolling behavior and instead achieves the impossible: actual attention paid to its content, one piece at a time. In a world where we don’t focus on anything, this is huge!

But there’s something even bigger happening that helps Snapchat not only capture your attention as a user but retain and grow it as well: the fleeting nature of the content.

#2 – A content unit you (literally) can’t miss 

Snaps are the ideal content unit for a world full of distracted human beings. To understand why they’re so powerful, just think about TV for a second. In an on-demand world, the last bastions of mass-market viewership that are live and in the moment happen around sports, and maybe annual awards shows like the Oscars and Grammys. But other than that? Give Me DVR or Give Me Death.

Snapchat’s content unit, the snap, is essentially a micro-moment of must-see TV. Because Snapchat’s content disappears, it creates the same fear of missing out that live TV does, but it does so native to your phone and in low-commitment time increments. Snapchat creates FOMO for a YOLO world.

Snaps disappear in one of two ways — either right after you view them (if the snap was a direct message to you) or after 24 hours (if the snap was added by a user to their daily Story). Either way, if you begin to consume one, you’re glued to your screen for their duration. You don’t want to look away because, quite literally, you’d miss it.

Oh, and did I mention that these snaps take up your phone’s ENTIRE screen? Yeah, so that device you can’t stop obsessively checking? That’s mine now, if you’re watching my snaps.

Because it’s never been harder to capture attention, you see a ton of effort paid to doing just that — making someone stop their incessant scrolling on Facebook, Twitter, et al, and pay attention for a brief moment. This desire to tell someone, “Hold on just one second and look here” has led to all kinds of terrible tactics: clickbait headlines, higher and higher volumes of content, auto-likes if a certain key phrase is met, and more. What we fail to remember is that once you actually have someone’s attention, there’s more work to be done. You need to actually resonate with someone, not just reach them.

Well, as I mentioned earlier, Snapchat is built to help capture attention by designing its app for consumption, not scrolling. But once you start watching my snap, I don’t want you to stop — a behavior Snapchat has also taken into consideration thanks to its micro-must-see moments.

(Side Note: You might be lamenting the fact that resources go into creating content on Snapchat, only to have that content disappear. Well, you’ll be happy to know there are some evergreen capabilities in the app. You’ve always been able to download snaps to your phone, but they also launched a new feature called Memories that let you either store snaps for later use or turn existing photos and videos from your phone into snaps.)

Attention is one major piece of the Snapchat user behavior puzzle. But then there’s something us marketers tend to have a hard time embracing in the era of measuring everything: fun. 

#3 – An experience built on play

Want to know how to use Snapchat? Start using Snapchat!

When you figure out the very first principle driving any of this stuff, it’s play. Users are on Snapchat seeking fun, seeking interestingness, seeking a great experience. YOU should be on there for that same reason too — just for fun, just to play around. It’s the best way to learn.

So, yes, I’m telling you to stop reading articles like this one. Stop writing off the entire app just because some media outlet said “it’s for kids.” Stop debating it in Facebook comments, and stop writing it off as stupid or detrimental to society or get-off-my-lawn-you-damn-snapchatters!

Stop doing all of that. And start playing. It can be that simple.

Ask: What would a child do? Hand the app to a kid and say, “Figure it out,” and they’ll open it up and just … figure it out.

Because to them, it’s about finding the fun. For me, too, it’s about finding the fun. I teach mini-classes, I show behind-the-scenes of building my podcast, and I generally do goofy, random things to just enjoy myself. And the whole thing has created a nice, engaged audience for my work.

But it starts with fun. It starts with people. It starts with the “water.”

In the end, you have to remember one truth: Snapchat isn’t building their app for us — not if the “us” in your head is “marketers.” But Snapchat IS building their app for “us” if by “us” we mean “human beings.” NONE of this stuff was originally intended to do marketing. Period.

So, no, I don’t have some kind of growth hack for you to scale a massive audience on Snapchat. I don’t have a strategy myself. I barely know what our industry even means when we scream “ROI?!” anymore. But I do know one thing: Snapchat is a whole lot of fun, and the more fun I have on it, the more people seem to join in.

And shouldn’t that be enough? After all, if marketers are gonna keep shouting about things like “adding value” and “audience-first” and “content-centric,” then really, what the hell else do we need to know?

“That looks like fun. Let’s try it out.”

I think our choice is pretty clear: We can keep focusing on the concrete, the steel, the granite, and run around screaming the next time the water shifts. Or we can finally, mercifully decide to start by understanding how people use this stuff, and maybe we use it as people too.

My advice? Just dive in. The water’s fine.

Jay Acunzojay acunzo 2015 close crop copy snapchat behavior makes things to help other makers. He’s the creator and host of Unthinkable, a show that tells stories about people who follow their creative intuition and all the surprising places they go. He’s also the VP of content at NextView, a tech VC firm. Say hi on Twitter or Snapchat @jayacunzo.

Illustration is a montage of snaps from Flickr CC including Fumi Yamazaki, Ember Ashes, TotallyRoxxin, and Jess Jonas

All posts

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast!

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details

Share via