How publishers use Snapchat outside the Discover feature
By Lucia Moses
Call it Snapchat lite. Publishers are straining to get past the velvet rope of Snapchat’s Discover, but the feature isn’t without its downsides. It takes dedicated teams of people to do the highly produced content on a daily basis that the platform demands. As a closed platform, Snapchat doesn’t send traffic to sites, so the effort can be hard to justify unless they’re getting a lot of views and ads. And with 16 separate channels in Discover, each publisher now has to work all the harder to compete for attention.
Publishers that aren’t in Discover are still finding ways to use the disappearing-message app to connect with followers, though, and with fewer resources. As Mic, The Washington Post, The Verge and The Huffington Post described, the advantage of Snapchat Stories is that it lets them connect with millennials (and often their most loyal readers, given you have to make an extra effort to follow an account) in a raw, personal way that’s not possible on Discover or other social platforms.
The news publisher for millennials adds to its Snapchat Story daily, using a variety of formats including news updates in under a minute; behind-the-scenes at a news event; and interactive quizzes and games. Recent posts included McDonald’s customers’ reaction to its new all-day breakfast and images from the Democratic debate in Iowa, including Mic reporters setting up in the spin room. “Any kind of access — we know that’s what our audience craves,” said Joel Pavelski, head of programming of Mic.
Mic makes a point of using Snapchat to engage with followers, whether through games or soliciting feedback, as it did recently when it asked people about microaggressions they’ve experienced. Snapchat data is hard to come by — publishers say Snapchat tells them how many views and completed views their stories get — but Mic said 2 to 5 percent of its viewers reply to its Snaps, or as much as 12 percent when the feedback is solicited. Nearly half (45 percent) of its followers come back daily, suggesting a loyal user base.
Given Snapchat’s success in hooking millennials during the debate, Mic believes it’s important to be there. “Snapchat’s coverage is going to be really useful, and it’s kind of the wild, wild west,” Pavelski said. “Right now, the time for experimentation is really exciting.”
The Washington Post
The Post got on Snapchat way back in early 2014, a year before Discover launched. Its social team is careful not to overdo it, posting just when there’s a major news event. That usually ends up being a couple of posts a week. Recently, the Post published Stories updates on the Democratic debate in Iowa and the Myanmar election.
Stories “feels like the right place to be in terms of how people are using or consuming Snapchat,” said Cory Haik, executive director of emerging news products at the Post. While Discover is valuable, she said, it’s different. “Discover is a news bundle; Stories is just quick-hit photos and videos that capture a live moment. There’s a raw connection and engagement potential with users than a more produced Discover.”
The work is spread out across various news desks, so there’s no need for dedicated staff. The Post also recycles its Snapchat material when possible. Snaps can serve double-duty on Instagram, while vertical video, the preferred format for Snapchat, is now the default for the Post’s site, so it can live in both places.
Haik wouldn’t give raw numbers but said the Post’s view and follower counts have grown “exponentially” in the past year. “We don’t have millions of viewers, but we definitely have seen a dramatic increase in numbers, to the point that it’s a very important platform for us.”
The Vox Media vertical uses Snapchat to share news tidbits while fostering a personal connection with the account’s followers by having its reporters post to the account in a low-production style. Recently, that’s meant having a reporter showing a rocket launch from Kennedy Space Center or documenting the iPhone 6S unveiling. The storytelling format is also well-suited to covering a long event, said Helen Havlak, The Verge’s engagement editor.
“There’s a personal connection you can get with one-to-one Snaps,” she said. “People expect you to be a lot more real. Discover is totally different. Discover has more reach because of the interface; it’s easier for new people to discover you. But what you’ll also see is brands with Discover channels also have a Story because it’s unique and special — it’s much more personal and for your dedicated fans.”
The dedication shows up in usage numbers, Havlak said: The Verge’s Snap stories have a 50-75 percent completion rate.
The Huffington Post
The HuffPost publishes several times a day, using the platform to represent its broad range of content and expertise. Posts range from the serious (video interviews done with Parisians after last week’s attacks) to playful (simple cooking videos). Like other publishers, the HuffPost spreads the content production across journalists in the newsroom. Most of the content is original, but some of the content is tied into larger stories. So a story on best college advice lived on Snapchat in the form of users’ screenshots, and a story around a Latin Food Crawl was filmed for the app.
Viewer feedback is so important to measuring success on Snapchat, and the HuffPost pays close attention to views per story and Snaps people send to its account, and since July, average views are up 155 percent, said Ethan Klapper, global social media editor there. “People are quite honest with us about whether they enjoyed a story or not,” he said.
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