What Brands Can Learn from Gen Snapchat


-Why don’t you answer your Facebook messages?!

-I don’t use FB, it’s just for old people to post about politics

-What do you mean?! What do you use?

-Insta + Snapchat


(Instagram exchange between an MBA student and his 15-year-old cousin, Nov. 2015)

Why are media companies tripping over themselves to create a Snapchat presence? How can a platform that erases its content disrupt entrenched competitors in the era of permanent memory? Conventional marketing wisdom suggests that the stickiness of Snapchat’s platform revolves around its frictionlessness:

1. Launch the Snapchat app, the camera is already on, so less steps to action translate to more action: pure and simple sharing.

2. There is a time limit. Stories only last for a day; snaps are time-sensitive, forcing users to return to the app multiple times.

3. Privacy: The image disappears once it is received, removing potential social stigma linked to an embarrassing picture. No one spends hours flipping through filters to create the perfect moment as they might on Instagram.

But all of these functional attributes don’t actually explain why Snapchat is so successful with Gen Z. Many apps have immediate calls to action, and those apps or features are largely ignored (when was the last poke you sent on Facebook?). 

I use it because of the disappearing concept… I mean, I know it doesn’t actually delete, but still. 

With “disappearing snaps” debunked, how is this functional attribute driving adoption? It isn’t.  

My phone was broken and I didn’t have Snapchat for like 4 days, so I lost all my streaks. Streaks: The number of consecutive days a snap was sent from one user to another.Some people get to like a 100, and they’re like super proud of it. 

If you don’t check your story or create one, you are potentially missing out on your social network’s activities. FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) fuels the platform, drives consumption and creation. It drives the sharing of a customer’s LIVE life with all (or some) of their friends. This Venice Beach activist company has created the perfect social media customer experience: a place where the subculture of friend groups (hidden from view from parental authorities) combined with the macro-culture of mass-media meet in one very personal platform, where you can almost literally tell the story of your idealized self to only the exclusive members of your social network. It is a platform that rewards frequent use in multiple ways, but more importantly, punishes those who are offline. Snapchat is private and socially differentiating, while also tapped into pop-culture. 

So what does this mean for brands?

Snapchat has exhibited activist behaviour, evading multiple buyout attempts to be valued at $10 billion. Twitter is flooded with traditional media companies replacing their profile pictures with Snapchat’s personalized ghost (Huffington PostCBCGlobe and MailGQ, etc). Network effects are occurring, so how can brands capitalize on the customer desires to create and consume within their social networks?

The Rules of Twitter Apply: Customize, Broadcast, Reply, Re-Broadcast, properly. Brands must interact with their customers/friends directly, consuming and creating, or else risk leaving the in-group and moving to the out-group (like Facebook and the old people who use it). 

Calls to action, behind the scenes private access to Taylor Swift, the integration of a customer’s personal story into a brand’s story all serve to reinforce the brand’s customer experience. Brands can use these tools to connect the private user to the macro picture, create personal connections and exclusive clubs between the brand and its “friends.” 

If your brand doesn’t engage, don’t be surprised if your friends aren’t around when you have a story to tell.

Martina Boni, Amrita Jambavalikar, Samvit Roy, Julien Naggar, Shikhar Shah are students in Markus Giesler’s Customer Experience Design MBA elective course at the Schulich School of Business, York University.