Snapchat: about tightly-knit close relationships, not useful connections

Snapchat is a very (and increasingly) popular social media platform. According to Omnicore, as of 22nd January 2017, it had 100 million daily active users, spending an average of 25-30 minutes per day on the platform.


It is highly popular with youngsters (45% of users are aged 18-24 years old), particularly female users (70% of users are female). So, it is, by all means, a very interesting phenomenon. Yet, there is very limited research about how it is used, and what for. This is partly because the vast amount of content shared on Snapchat is ephemerous, and partly because it is so very difficult to find users and their networks.


So, when I came across a paper (here) by Lukasz Piwek and Adam Joinson, investigating patterns of use in Snapchat (what was posted, to whom, etc.), I was very curious to see what the researchers had found.


This paper has some limitations. First, as far as I understand it, data were collected at least two years ago… and that’s an eternity for social media. Second, because the content shared on Snapchat is ephemerous (it disappears after a few seconds, if it’s an instant message sent to another user; or 24 hours, if it’s an update to one’s story), data collection was based on self-reports, which are subject to recall errors and biases. Finally, the paper talks about individual messages and group messages, but Snapchat only launched group chats after the paper was published. So, it is not clear to me what the authors mean by ‘group messages’ (maybe they mean the stories feature, though that is more like an update that you share with your followers than a message that you send to someone, as suggested by the wording used in the paper).


With these caveats in my mind, there are two very interesting findings in this paper. The first key finding is that Snapchat is a very intimate social media platform. For instance:

  • About two-thirds of the research participants reported interacting regularly with less than 10 persons;
  • Moreover, by and large, they shared content with people who were close friends (as opposed to, say, work colleagues).
Image source


This intimacy is facilitated by the design characteristics of the platform. Examples include:

  • The home screen is a camera, inviting users to share something (vs. Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, where a large proportion of the main screen is content posted by others);
  • There is an emphasis on talking directly with selected users via instant messaging (whereas in Facebook, Instagram or Twitter the emphasis is on posting updates for all friends / followers);
  • Discoverability is very difficult, and mostly based on users actively sharing their usernames (as opposed to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, which make suggestions based on existing connections, shared interests, or because someone paid to ‘be promoted’).
Image source


The second key finding concerns what people get out from using Snapchat. Snapchat helped users develop social bonds, i.e., close-knit relationships, that offered a sense of belonging and emotional support. By contrast, research about Facebook and Twitter showed that users mostly benefit from developing bridges, which provide tangible benefits such as staying informed or solving a problem. [For more on the difference between bonding and bridging ties, see here].


What these findings mean for marketers

The paper did not discuss implications for marketing management. However, I think that these findings are still revealing in terms of ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘for what purpose’ users might follow brands or companies Snapchat.

Why – You will mostly attract people that are, already, interested in hearing from you. These customers’ intent to buy is much higher than if they had found you via search marketing, or even on Facebook.

How – Customers will find you via referrals from someone they are following, already; or, if you let them know that you are on Snapchat. So, think about affinity marketing and partnerships with other brands, and referrals from influencers. And, of course, display your Snapchat username very visibly on your other social media channels, website, etc.

Purpose – Customers are not connecting you strategically, as they might do on Twitter or even Facebook. So, ditch the promotions, discounts, product announcements, and even problem solving. Instead, focus on developing emotional engagement, by telling stories, showing behind the scenes footage, presenting the human side of your business, sharing your charity or philanthropic work, and so on.


What else should marketing managers keep in mind, when using Snapchat?


PS – While we are at it, my Snapchat username is acanhoto, and this is my snap code (if you point your phone at it, Snapchat should recognise it and add me, automatically).


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