Snapchat’s strategy for becoming the information media of young people

Snapchat is no longer the sexting application that originally built the brand’s reputation. By constantly posting new content, Snapchat has quickly developed into a powerful messaging service and, more recently, a platform designed to deliver freshly packaged information to its 100 million young users.

Written by Barbara Chazelle (Méta-Media)

Since it was launched in 2011, Snapchat has been continually innovating, with new features to make its information packaging more relevant: exclusivity, crowdsourcing, editorial content and personalization have all been gradually integrated. The formula appears to meet with the approval of teens, who now swear by Snapchat.

Stories: Live information

Story allows Snapchat users (both publishers and the media) to compile a day’s snaps chronologically so that followers have access to a 24-hour summary. These Stories are usually use to report on events, such as The Times coverage of Fashion Week or the Pope’s visit to New York, and to offer the public backstage videos, capsule interviews, and other exclusive content. Having to post a video (or photo) immediately after shooting it (telephone gallery content is not accessible) provides the spontaneity and authenticity valued by Snapchatters. And who cares if the image is poorly framed—Instagram takes care of that!

Like Facebook and Twitter, Snapchat has just added verified accounts for VIP users, further proof that the application is one of the big players.

Live Stories: Multicam crowdsourced information

In June 2014, Live Stories became a serious game-changer when Snapchat began saving and assembling snaps from important events in order to create mini-reports viewable by all users.

To ensure that it was generating quality content, Snapchat recruited journalists, including Peter Hamby, formerly with CNN.

“When I was with CNN, we covered an event with several cameras. Live Stories makes it possible to cover an event from different perspectives using everyone’s cameras—in some cases thousands of cameras—and the result is truly powerful!” explains Hamby in an interview for KUT.

The most popular Live Story to date is “Snowpocalypse,” which relates the experience of a New York snow storm last January. The three-minute video got nearly 25 million views in 24 hours. TV networks can only dream of such an audience!

Discover: The editors’ mobile video magazine

Launched in early 2015, Discover provided irrefutable proof that Snapchat intends to become an information service. On its blog, Snapchat explains the new feature:

“This is not social media. Social media companies tell us what to read based on what’s most recent or most popular. We see it differently. We count on editors and artists, not clicks and shares, to determine what’s important. (…) Every edition is refreshed after 24 hours – because what’s news today is history tomorrow.”

Unlike Stories, Discover requires media partners to publish a sort of new-generation video magazine. Partners are under pressure to create quality content, there being a limit of exactly 15 channels, one of which may be reserved for a temporary network (such as the one promoting the release of the latest James Bond film). In other words, any new content provider displaces an existing one. This summer, for example, Yahoo News and Warner Music lost their spots to Buzzfeed and iHeartRadio.

Beginning in December 2015 on Discover, Snapchat enables publishers to promote their content on Facebook and Twitter.

Note that this highly popular section contains no French content, although rumors are circulating of tests in the near future. And even though the British Daily Mail provides a channel, helped no doubt by the fact that it can produce content in English, Discover is dominated by American media.

Story Explorer: Personalized information

Late 2015, Snapchat launched Story Explorer to respond to the challenges of personalization. The idea is to provide access to multiple points of view on a single event by drawing on public Stories and Live Stories.

This new information channel is more selective than previous ones and allows users to view content similar to items they have previously viewed and to sort information by area of interest.

Young people are buying in

Obviously, Snapchat is not for everyone. Only 5% of the online adult population use the application each month according to the latest GlobalWebIndex quarterly report. Never mind that! The goal of Snapchat is clearly not to connect the entire planet (Facebook is looking after that), but to target a public that may be smaller in volume but means business in terms of commitment!

In the United States and the U.K., 45% of teens are Snapchatters, according to GlobalWebIndex. In the U.S., the application is now the second most popular after Facebook, just ahead of Instagram.

But don’t presume that all young Snapchatters are American: half of the platform’s audience connects outside the United States. And Snapchat is a huge hit with young people in these other countries also: more than a quarter of all teenagers in France and Saudi Arabia use the platform, while the figure jumps to 46% in Sweden and Belgium and to 52% in Ireland, according to Statista.

Snapchat does more than just attract young people: the platform holds their attention for up to 6 or 7 minutes daily, on average, for the best Discover channels, since teens return several times each day to check out the content. This was the pattern for 57% of young Americans and Brits according to GlobalWebIndex.

Snapchat’s popularity

Although Snapchat audience figures are not made public, some data is available.

To begin with, 6 billion videos are viewed each day, which amounts to an average of 60 videos per user per day, based on 100 million users. This figure, which has tripled in the last 6 months, is due entirely to the mobile app. To put this in context, Facebook users view 8 billion videos daily across all platforms.

Every day, Snapchat Discover posts about 160 news reports on wide-ranging topics that are viewed by 60 million people each month. The service seems to be making its content providers quite happy: Jonah Peretti, CEO of Buzzfeed, reports that 21% of the brand’s views are on Snapchat Discover, and Cosmopolitan announced that it has reached 3 million readers and up to 1.2 million content shares daily.

And since information on Snapchat is removed within a maximum of 24 hours after being posted, young people suffering from FOMO (fear of missing out) syndrome return day after day knowing that they will always find fresh content.

Not exactly in the realm of information, but still significant, Snapchat has set record figures for social TV: 12 million people interacted on Snapchat during the recent Video Music Awards (whereas only 9.8 million actually watched the show on television). The Live Story dedicated to the event was viewed for 3 minutes on average according to Digiday.

Snapchat is an expensive but necessary investment!

Return on investment is measured in ADR (average daily rate)! The media partners who have come on board have had to develop large teams to produce original content—between 10 and 20 items each day. Content is driven by two key concepts: instantaneousness and verticality. People expect Snapchat to be original.

At CNN, a full-time staff of 4 (2 designers and 2 editors) is assigned to produce content for Snapchat. The figure is 3 at Konbini, 8 at Fusion and as many as 10 at Refinery29.

Such structure is necessary because content published on Snapchat cannot be recycled from elsewhere. Fusion, for example, has already produced two seasons of a series of short (one minute) documentary videos called Outpost.

Content has to be fresh and eye-catching. And it has nothing to do with making journalists’ lives easier, for in addition to working with mobile devices and video, they now have to master design and even animation.

This investment in human resources is even more expensive given that the Snapchat business model is not yet known for providing publishers with a strong revenue stream. According to Recode, the revenue from an advertisement is around $100 for 1,000 views. When a publisher sells an ad, he or she can normally expect to pocket 70%, but with Snapchat, the platform and publisher share the proceeds 50–50, according to Fortune.

When it comes to advertising, the situation is the same as for other videos: vertical format generates 9 times more views than horizontal advertising.

Investing in Snap chat still remains a good deal for the media, especially television, which are having a difficult time attracting a young audience. As Fortune reports:

“Within the industry, there’s a running joke that CNN’s Snapchat channel gets more views than its cable TV channel. (It may well be true—some partners report millions of views per day, which beats most cable news networks.)”

This article was originally published on Méta-Média and is presented here as part of the editorial partnership between CMF Trends and Méta-Média.  © [2015] [Méta-Média]. All rights reserved.

Méta-Media is France Télévisions' collective blog that focus on the evolution of traditional media, new media and journalism.
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