Snapchat is one of those apps you either “get” or you don’t. Users – who tend to be young, technologically savvy, and creative – actually seem to prefer it that way. Particularly after it first launched, it wasn’t intuitive to use, and the reason you’d want to use it wasn’t immediately clear to many people either – your pictures disappear after a few seconds? What’s the point of that? Of course, people immediately started using it to send nudes, at which point a whole lot of those people discovered smartphones take screenshots.

Snapchat has become more intuitive to use with more features – short videos, the ability to link several snaps together into stories – including allowing multiple users to add snaps to those stories, the ability to replay a snap if you were distracted for ten seconds while watching the first time, and even a traditional instant messaging format (although your old messages get deleted periodically).

However, to marketers’ chagrin, it still remains a platform with a fairly high barrier to entry and no easy way to get interaction. There are no likes, no strings of comments. To get a response, a user has to go to the effort of interacting with a brand through a picture or a video. Beyond that, there’s precious little in the way of targeting or analytics. Where platforms like Facebook allow for an almost creepy level of of audience segmentation, and Google has analytics for days, Snapchat (as it stands in New Zealand right now) doesn’t have any targeting and only the very basics in terms of feedback – how many plays a certain snap or story got, and how many responses.

It’s also worth noting that there isn’t, strictly speaking, advertising on Snapchat in New Zealand. While there have been two paid campaigns – for Air New Zealand and for Alien Covenant – the cost of running a full Snapchat advertising campaign locally is prohibitively expensive. This means brands have to create their own accounts, and engage their own audience.

Still, brands have been able to use Snapchat to get genuine interaction with users – far more genuine than the level of interaction that’s usually achieved with Facebook or Twitter. The secret is to get very creative, and to get people to want what you’re offering.

MOSH and Hell Pizza have regularly run competitions on Snapchat this year – that screenshot function which tripped up early users allows Hell Pizza to run a video, ask their followers to take a screenshot, and send it back to Hell to be in to win. The unholy doughnut, the Saviour pizza, and a competition involving shooting the Easter bunny have all been successful.

If you’re a brand looking to get into Snapchat, there’s something important worth remembering – when you run a competition, make sure you publicly announce a winner. Some unscrupulous companies have simply not given anything away, and plenty of cynical users assume that the competition is faked if there’s no winner announced.

University of Canterbury also ran three successful Snapchat campaigns at the start of the year to promote the university as a brand and get students engaged with them through social media. With prizes as incentives, the first campaign showcased Orientation Week on campus, where students were asked to send snaps of their favourite O-Week activities leading up to the start of the semester. The second, “show us your crib” campaign, asked students to send snaps of their flats and dorms. The third revolved around the campus celebrating Mardi Gras, in which students sent snaps of their best Mardi Gras moments. The campaign grew UC’s Snapchat following, and got hundreds of replies – which is impressive given the tendency towards user apathy which plagues Kiwi social media campaigns.

Obviously, Snapchat is not for every brand. The user base is young, with a thousand other competing demands for their effort and attention. If you don’t have something to offer them, they’re not interested. However, for the right brand with a good campaign (and good campaign management) there is a real potential for far more meaningful interactions with potential customers than just spamming their Facebook feeds. It takes more creativity, sure, but that creativity is rewarded.

As Snapchat seeks to make a profit now that they’re a publicly listed company, the options for actual paid advertising will likely increase across the globe. Geofilters, a location-based filter which is overlaid on a snap, offers particular opportunities for smaller brands who can “purchase” an area of just a few blocks around their store to offer the Geofilter inside.

And although users themselves may prefer the perceived exclusivity of Snapchat, the company is going to need to broaden their user base, meaning in the future brands will likely be able to reach those who currently “just don’t get it.”

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