Snapchat seems to exist on the edges of the social networking craze. It’s weird, confusing, silly, and gradually shaking off a seedy reputation of old.
It’s not even very easy to explain what the app is all about, its ethos, or even how it works. However, more than 150 million people regularly use Snapchat, and it has 10 billion video views each day, so surely there is something to it.
Then, it revealed those crazy video-snippet recording Spectacles. If they take-off (and it’s a big if) Snapchat’s headed for the big-time, so it was time to delve beneath the surface and find out what Snapchat’s really all about. We attended the first community-driven Snapchat gathering, called Snaphappen. Billed as a chance for Snapchatters to mingle with, and learn from, some of the most influential and best-known Snapchat celebrities, it was a chance for us to discover the app’s appeal and reveal it’s slightly obfuscated function, from the people who love it most.
It turns out that Snapchat is the source of considerable creativity and enjoyment, plus surprisingly an emerging force in cutting edge reporting, and viewed as a more genuine way of connecting to people online.
“My happy content means a lot to people. I give people smiles.”
Geeohsnap was joined by several other well-known, and highly artistic, Snapchatters, including SalliaSnap, Georgio.Copter, and OperAmericano. All use different drawing techniques to create their limited-lifetime masterpieces. OperAmericano said she draws freehand, but mainly because she constantly loses a stylus, while Geeohsnap and Georgio.Copter use Samsung Galaxy Note phones, thanks to the included stylus. Seeing their posts puts all this into context. These aren’t childish scrawls. It’s art, and it’s way harder than it looks, given Snapchat’s few tools and the limitations of the app itself.
“Snapchat’s fun,” Laurel Dean, a keen Snapchatter, told me. “It’s more about sending each other funny things, to make you laugh.”
“It’s made for fun,” another Snapchat fan, Kirsten Lett, continued, adding that the many filters, Lenses, and drawing tools are the reasons she and her friends like using it.
Whether Snapchat really is fun or not may depend on your definition of the word, if your friends use the app, and who you follow. TristanTales is a professional Snapchatter whose antics fall into the entertainment category. He has a year’s worth of experience behind him, and is popular enough that brands such as Disney, Coca-Cola, and Fox have all employed his talents to promote them through Snapchat.
He describes himself as a storyteller, but that’s not in the Rudyard Kipling sense of the word. He makes creative little Snapchat skits, often referencing pop culture, that depending on your comedic preference (and yes, probably your age) will either be highly amusing or cringingly embarrassing. However, while TristanTales content isn’t for everyone, he makes great use of an aspect of Snapchat’s messaging system that’s not immediately obvious.
He adds an interactive element with clever choose-your-own-adventure style continuing stories. These longer narratives are possible thanks to Snapchat’s My Story feature, which collates several Snaps together and makes them publicly visible for 24 hours. Entertainment is TristanTales mission, but there are plenty of others who use the feature more seriously. It’s the combination of images, video, emoji, artwork, and text that presents unique ways of telling a story, and the often rough-cut style in which it’s assembled and presented, that gives a story a very real feel. More so than a polished YouTube video, or television broadcast.
Taking My Story in a far more serious direction is Yusuf Omar, mobile editor at the Hindustan Times, who used Snapchat to, amongst other things, report from Syria, chronicle an undercover drugs investigation, and cover a political march by rape victims. However, while Omar effectively covered these immensely difficult situations, the use of Snapchat gave the reports a slightly flippant feel. Snapchat’s Lenses were used to obscure the victims faces in the rape story, for instance, and the usually portrait video made it appear more amateur than was fitting. He also mentioned a story about a person who removed his braces before going to college, as he didn’t want to be judged by girls. That felt more like the content suited to the platform.
While Omar’s stories are published on Snapchat, he considers the app a canvas, and then repurposes the content made with the app. His technique is aimed squarely at mobile audiences, so using a complete mobile toolkit — with apps including Quik, Videoscribe, Splice, and iMovie — and Snapchat’s up-close-and-personal aesthetic, it’s the perfect way to produce news for mobile viewers. Snapchat itself recognizes how the platform can be used in this way. Aside from its Discover channel, where you’re one swipe away from news-related Snaps in the app, it has hired journalists to cover the 2016 presidential election.
Anyone who has never used Snapchat may be surprised to discover that it’s used for art, enjoyment, and spreading important news quickly around the world. Walking around Snaphappen and talking to other attendees, other reasons why people liked using it quickly emerged. Nick Harrington runs Eximius, a recruitment business that uniquely uses Snapchat to find people interested in finding a new job. “You can hold little five-to-ten second interviews to find really that creative spark,” he told Digital Trends, emphasizing how the time limit works brilliantly for quickly discovering someone’s personality.
“Snapchat is all about your face. You see people for who they are, and it’s a more genuine way of sharing.”
Sadie Shamsie, who runs travel site Spirited Navigators, uses Snapchat to virtually bring viewers along on her journeys, calling it a “real and authentic platform,” where editing is minimal. “You’re with us all the way,” she continued, saying that because of the 24-hour lifespan of a Snapchat message, people know they’re seeing what’s happened at that time. It’s this real-time directness of contact that also makes Snapchat appealing to newsmakers, such as Yusuf Omar.
Pete Gartland, from marketing agency AndrewandPete, said Snapchat is considerably more personal than other social networks. “You can get to know someone very quickly,” he said. “Snapchat is all about your face. You see people for who they are, and it’s a more genuine way of sharing.”
Why not Snapchat?
Geeohsnap talked about Snapchat’s problems. “The app’s not that user friendly, you have to be fast to see the stories, otherwise some disappear, so you need to be inquisitive.” He’s right, and it’s representative of Snapchat’s problem. The ephemeral messages, the almost non-existent discovery process, and impenetrable user interface don’t encourage people to get involved.
This is a shame, because there’s a happy, excited, interesting, and very personal social community waiting to be joined. But you have to put in the time to learn, absorb, and integrate. However, if Snaphappen taught us anything, it’s that Snapchat has more to offer than you may expect, and may just be worth the effort.