If you’re not already, it’s time for your nonprofit to pay attention to Snapchat.
The social media network turns 5 years old later this year (that’s 57 in internet years, for those counting at home), but 2016 is shaping up to be it’s pivotal moment where it shifts from a niche teen audience to the larger public (see: old people like us. The truth hurts).
How do I know? Snapchat just announced that their average daily video views have now reached 8 billion per day!
And that just so happens to match Facebook’s average daily video view number.
Snapchat has some built in advantageous that make it a very attractive option for nonprofits, but that still doesn’t mean every single charity needs to be rushing to make an account.
So how can nonprofits use Snapchat? What advantages does it offer? Who should consider trying out the platform?
The Basics: What is Snapchat?
Snapchat is a mobile-based social network that focuses on visual content (pictures and video) that is time-limited (your posts disappear after awhile). Users can follow people and brands (just like on Twitter) and view their public stories (similar to a timeline on Facebook or Twitter), or send messages directly back and forth with other users.
Here’s what a “snap” looks like:
As you can see, you can draw on your pictures or video, add text, use special filters, even add emoji stickers.
When you snap something, you can either choose to send it to an individual (or multiple individuals) or add it to your “story.”
When you send it to an individual, they can only view it for the amount of time you specify (up to 10 seconds).
When you add a snap to your story, your followers can view it for 24 hours before it expires and disappears.
What makes Snapchat so great?
Besides the big audience, Snapchat offers some big advantages for nonprofits:
1. Build an audience before things get crowded
One of the advantages of Snapchat is that not every single nonprofit is on there already. When you’re an early adopter to a platform, you have a better chance of standing out and growing your audience before everyone jumps on board.
This might mean that initially you won’t have a big crowd or experience much success. It might feel like you’re snapping to nobody. But this is when you can experiment and see what’s working and what’s not. That way you’ll have a solid, working strategy in place when the masses start to show up.
2. It’s the best sequential storytelling tool out there
On every other social network, your updates are mixed into a timeline with hundreds or thousands of other accounts that your audience follows. So if you were to string together multiple posts that go together, they’ll get lost in a mix of other updates. Your story might come through, but it’s going to be interrupted by other people’s tweets and statuses.
Snapchat works differently. Updates are organized alphabetically (with a separate section on top for most recent updates).
Users then tap an account they want to watch updates from and each update is played back in order to them. Meaning your updates are seen back-to-back, one account at a time. When you post something new, users see the most recent unseen update from the past 24 hours, so they pick up right where they left off.
This makes it perfect for telling sequential stories. Something like a day in the life of one of your volunteers. This feature makes it unique among other social networks.
3. Captive audience
When someone is viewing your snaps, there is nothing else showing on their screen. No other updates from other accounts, no ads (yet), no other tabs or windows open, nothing.
It’s all you.
Where else do you find that on the internet today?
This allows you to tell more meaningful stories and engage your audience in a deeper way.
4. It’s not just mobile-first, it’s mobile-only
If a mobile-strategy is a high priority at your organization (which it should be), Snapchat can be the perfect addition to your plan.
It’s not just mobile-first, it’s mobile-only.
Snapchat is only available to be browsed as a mobile app. Video and pictures are only allowed in portrait mode, the way most people hold their phones while in use. Everything about the app is meant to optimize the experience via a mobile phone.
As more and more internet traffic comes via mobile device and smartphones become more ubiquitous, this will serve Snapchat and its users well.
What nonprofits are using Snapchat successfully?
The list isn’t huge at the moment, but there are a few great organizations you can learn from.
LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
LACMA was one of the first organizations, and really brand of any kind, to jump on the Snapchat train and experience viral success after being featured by Buzzfeed.
They also happen to be one of our favorite nonprofit social media accounts ever.
LACMA uses Snapchat artfully (heh) to make cheeky jokes and show off their collection in an interesting way. They do a fabulous job of making art museums attractive to a young professional audience.
There’s a safe bet that when it comes to anything involving young people, DoSomething.org is already kicking ass at it.
DoSomething has been on Snapchat for a while now, so they’ve had lots of time to refine their strategy. Granted, they appeal to a very specific, young audience. So they may well be doing things on there that won’t work with your audience. However, it’s always good to watch a master at work and see what ideas you can borrow that might work for you.
DoSomething is a great example of how Snapchat can be used to trigger a real-world action for your cause. Back in 2014, they ran a campaign encouraging teens to create Valentine’s cards for homebound seniors. To promote the campaign, they created a Snapchat story in which one of their workers agreed to go around New York on Valentine’s Day delivering the cards dressed as Cupid. Users could text in their vote as to how exactly he should deliver the cards.
After texting in their vote, users received a call-to-action to participate in the campaign. 57% of text voters signed up to make cards for seniors! How’s that for a response rate?
What cool things can nonprofits do on Snapchat?
Snapchat is a visual platform, so it provides a lot of opportunities for creativity. Sequential posts tend to work very well, whether that be a story or a Q&A. Here’s a few ideas to get your wheels turning:
- A day in the life of one of your organization’s volunteers
- A Q&A with an expert on your nonprofit’s mission
- Special shout-outs to donors
- Short stories about the facts around your mission (i.e. - “How many seniors in the U.S. are homebound?”)
One of the coolest things Snapchat offers (and it’s brand spanking new!) is the On-Demand Geofilter.
Geofilters are graphics users can put over their snaps that are dependant on where the user is or what time/day it is. Like this:
Just last week, Snapchat announced that they’re allowing users to create their own Geofilters and assign them to a specific time and place. Cool!
Now, it’s not free, but the prices are very reasonable. And just think of the possibilities! People love these filters. Having a big volunteer day? Make a special geofilter for it so your volunteers can show off their work!
Make yourself easy to find.
One of the tough things to get used to with Snapchat is that it’s much harder to find people to follow. Unlike Twitter where I can type in an organization’s name into Twitter and it will pull up suggested accounts, on Snapchat I have to type in their exact user name.
The other option is the use of “Snapcodes.” A Snapcode is kinda like a QR code (flashback!), except it looks like the Snapchat logo with some random black dots on it. Each person’s Snapchat account has it’s own Snapcode. You can take a picture or screenshot of these codes, then add users by selecting the “Add by Snapcode” under the “Add Friends” menu.
Here’s what they look like (and feel free to give your’s truly a follow!):
You can post these Snapcodes on your other social media accounts or put it in an email newsletter so your supporters can find you.
Or you could even make physical copies like The New School did. They put their Snapcode on these handy little magnets and gave them away at an event:
Should my nonprofit get on Snapchat?
After all that selling I just did, I have to leave you with the most noncommittal answer ever:
Snapchat might be a good option for your nonprofit, or it might not. But I will say this: it’s okay to experiment.
Most nonprofit social media advice goes something like this:
“Don’t dive into every new social network. Unless you know exactly who you’re trying to appeal to, why you’re trying to appeal to them, how you’re going to appeal to them, and how you’ll measure it, steer clear.”
And for the most part, that’s true. If you dove head first into every social network out there, you’d be drowning in boring updates that aren’t doing anything to further your mission.
But here’s the thing: with new platforms, everything isn’t perfect, and that includes your strategy.
There might not be a great way to measure success yet. There might not be a clear path to engaging your audience. Sometimes you need to experiment a bit.
So, should you try it?
Start with these bare basic questions: Is my audience there or will it be there in the next year? And do we have the resources to invest in this for 8 - 12 months with little return?
If the answer is yes to either of these, I think it’s worth allocating some resources to a new social network.
Still nervous? Here’s a way you can dip your toe into the Snapchat pool without diving fully in: have one of your social network savvy employees make their own account and experiment with it for 3 months. Get their feedback on their success and challenges, what worked and what didn’t. From there, you can decide whether or not to make your own account.
Is your organization on Snapchat! Tell us your account name in the comments!