Waking up to a bunch of Snapchat notifications helps make my mornings a bit more bearable. The fact that there is no context and no warning to what you’re about to open makes every snap a surprise, something that not many other platforms can attest to. Currently, Snapchat is the second most popular free application on the App Store, above Facebook and Instagram. This simple observation is telling of the direction social media is moving in: people are becoming more and more engrossed with the idea of immediacy and privacy as well as real-time, live coverage of events.
Snapchat was first released in 2011, and has come a long way since its initial function as an ephemeral photo/video sharing platform. According to CEO Evan Spiegel, who spoke at Morgan Stanley’s Tech, Media & Telecom conference in February, Snapchat users are watching a whopping 8 billion video views daily. It’s kind of absurd, or even unfathomable, to think about as there are not even 8 billion people on this planet! But Snapchat has made it. And what I think is more deserving of praise is how it has handled its success and grown with its users over the years. In addition to being able to send photos and videos with a limit of 10 seconds, after which they will ‘disappear forever’, Snapchat has added a continually changing set of filters to apply to your content and geotags to demarcate where you are in the world.
Now, don’t kid yourself and deny that you’ve sent a snap with the dog filter, everyone has… But the real question is, why? Honestly, the answer is because it’s silly, harmless fun. Snapchat is great at keeping its users engaged and a large part of this has come from the interactive, facial-recognition filters that transform any user into a goth, a grandma, a dog, a panda, or even someone else (with help from the classic face-swap filter). The fact is, these silly gimmicks are funny to watch and so easy to record that users have made using Snapchat and posting content a part of their daily routine. Common practices like “liking” posts or commenting on posts are nonexistent on Snapchat because it is not a platform that encourages user participation through mechanisms that boost people’s self-esteem, it is a platform prospers through the curiosity of each independent user, as they can create their own snap stories without having to abide by any standards or guidelines that might be typical of say, Facebook or Instagram. Snapchat is curated by each individual user who controls who can see what snaps and who cannot, making it a much more intimate experience.
But what is even more influential and bursting at the seams with potential is Snapchat’s ‘Live Story’ feature. This feature, introduced last year, allows users to post content to Live Stories, upon curation, for certain major events including Coachella, the FIFA World Cup, St. Patrick’s Day Parades, etc. What’s really important to note about Snapchat is that in the US, 86% of users are under age 34. This demographic is extremely important to keep note of, as teenagers and young adults are the most prominent users on the app.
Brian Hanley, of Huffington Post, offers the idea that Snapchat is an ideal medium to help bring awareness to campaigns / events because of its ability to target a highly in-tune and receptive demographic. I agree with this argument 100% because Snapchat has now established itself as an application that listens to its users by showing their content on a global scale, which is huge if you think about it. During my time in the U.S., I remember watching the Live Stories from all sorts of events like Fashion Week, the Superbowl, and even political campaigns. However, being in Central Europe is quite different, as there is no Prague Live Story or any other sort of ‘Live’ option in the Czech Republic. It seems to me that while Snapchat is very prevalent among the younger generations, it has yet to takeoff in Eastern Central Europe despite its attempt at live, national coverage. The live coverage users contribute to in the US is much more expansive than anywhere I’ve been in Europe, perhaps excluding London and Paris, but that is because the sheer amount of event covered in the US are staggeringly more than here.
I would like to offer some advice to Snapchat, in that they should hire consultants from each Eastern-Central European country to help them create ongoing Live Stories for their capital cities, just like NYC, and to determine when to launch Live Stories for events and holidays. My idea is that if they aren’t currently launching these Stories in Prague, they probably aren’t doing so in many other places. Czechs love hockey, so why not capitalize on that and make a Live Story when the championship game comes on? Creating Live Stories in Eastern European countries is something that I think would help benefit users by feeling united and connected to one another. Advertising is also something to think about, as companies could potentially pay for spots in Live Stories.
We must not forget, though, the power that comes with creating Live Stories and curating them. Snapchat has been called out on multiple occasions for selectively curating what photos/videos make it on to Live Story’s. Most recently was involving a Live Story covering a US Democratic Debate in Brooklyn from this weekend. Hanley argued that the Live Story was partial towards Clinton’s party as the Story was oversaturated with pro-Hillary snaps and there were very few snaps in support of Sanders. This shows just how much responsibility comes with enabling Live Stories, in that backlash is always a possibility. From my perspective, though, I think that Live Stories are a great way to engage users, keep them motivated to create and post content, and have a greater cultural effect in bringing people from nations and around the globe closer together. The cultural growth that can be made by offering Live Stories in CZ and East-Central Europe as a whole would be incredible. It’s only a matter of time before Snapchat picks up even more here and becomes many youths primary source for obtaining news.