Have you heard of Snapchat yet? It’s the latest technology company to dominate the headlines after achieving rapid adoption by teens and young adults. Or it’s just another tool for teens to “sext” each other (send sexually explicit text, photos or videos), depending on the headline. Snapchat is a mobile app where users can send photos to individuals or groups that disappear in 1-10 seconds. As of December, users shared 50 million snaps every day. It became so popular so quickly, Facebook tried unsuccessfully to buy it, and then launched its own less popular Poke app.
What’s important for social marketers to remember (especially those interested in reaching teens and young adults) is why teens embrace certain types of social media before attempting to follow them to these platforms.
Unlike early adopters who are often first in line to purchase the latest expensive gadget, teens are about embracing technology that meets their developmental and emotional needs. They latched onto MySpace because they truly felt it was their space – and it sort of was until marketers, parents, teachers and law enforcement discovered the site and began spamming, busting parties or installing software to track their teens’ online activities. Most fled to Facebook, where some had older siblings in college already using the site and thought surely they could hang out there without being bothered…until grandma sent a friend request.
Teens are at an age where they are figuring out who they are, experimenting with identity and connecting with peers over parents. They also tend to be overscheduled and have less time and physical spaces to hang out and socialize away from adults. Now that Facebook is for everyone, and the notion that what you post is public and permanent, teens are spending more time on sites like tumblr where they can express themselves visually and Snapchat, where they can communicate privately.
Are teens using Snapchat to send sexually explicit messages to each other? Definitely – the same teens that would be engaging in risky behavior anywhere – online or off. Unfortunately, stories about sexting and bullying tend to dominate coverage about teens and technology. The real story for those of us trying to understand and reach this demographic is that Snapchat appears to be a new space that offers the promise of being able to communicate away from adults. It’s like a virtual “Keep Out” sign on a smartphone where what’s said or snapped simply disappears (even though the recipient can grab a screenshot).
What do you think about the explosion of Snapchat? Would you consider trying to use the app for a social marketing campaign? Why or why not?