The Definitive Guide to Snapchat: Massive Engagement and Ghostly Metrics

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With its youthful audience and authentic content, Snapchat offers marketers several benefits; however, its limited metrics can leave them wondering whether the channel is worth their while.

Snapchat is the new darling of the social media world—and for good reasons, too.

For brands targeting millennial and Gen Z audiences, Snapchat is a goldmine. According to the app’s internal data, 63% of its userbase falls within the 18-to-34-year-old age range, and nearly a quarter (23%) are 13 to 17 years old. A survey of 6,500 U.S. teens conducted by investment bank and asset management firm Piper Jaffray Companies also found that 28% of respondents consider Snapchat the “most important” social network, as reported by Business Insider

“If this is the demographic you’re after, Snapchat is the place to be,” Will McInnes, CMO of social media monitoring and analytics provider Brandwatch, says.

Not only is Snapchat able to attract these youthful audiences, but it’s also able to engage them. Millennials spent nearly six hours on Snapchat every month last year, according to “The 2015 U.S. Mobile App Report,” by comScore, and Snapchat states that more than 60% of its more than 100 million daily users create content every day.

Perhaps one reason Snapchat’s engagement is so high is because it’s deliberate. As Tiffany Elliot, analyst for advisory firm Digital Clarity Group, notes, Snapchat users don’t scroll through a feed to view its content like they do on other social networks. Instead, they directly click on the content they want to open and expand it to the full mobile screen, Elliot says, making it a “very intentional experience.” 

Whom marketers and users send their content to is purposeful, as well. Whether they want to broadcast a photo to their entire following or simply send a one-to-one message, they can be selective about who sees the content.

“It’s a really nice place to make sure that the people who are closest to the information that you’re sharing actually get to see it, as opposed to the wider universe of folks,” Erna Alfred Liousas, an analyst for research and advisory firm Forrester, says.

Even Snapchat’s content creation process can be considered a perk. While Instagram posts are often altered with filters to create a more artistic or professional look, Snapchat encourages a rougher, unedited appearance. For Taylor Malmsheimer, research associate for business intelligence benchmarking firm L2, this works in marketers’ favor. Marketers are forced to create their content within the app, he notes, which provides limited editing abilities and disappears after 24 hours. Although the pressure to generate content that immediately captures consumers’ attention is high, Malmsheimer says it also gives marketers a pass to create “more casual, low production cost content” that still comes off as authentic.

It’s this laundry list of benefits that makes the lure of Snapchat a bit of a tease. Indeed, there are still many challenges within the social networking app that marketers have yet to overcome.

For starters, there are a limited number of places within Snapchat that brands can advertise: Live Stories, Discover Channels, and Geofilters and Lenses. These avenues can be expensive. According to L2’s Intelligence Report “Instagram Vs. Snapchat,” Live Stories cost about $ 250,000 per day and generate 10 million to 20 million views. The Discover platform is a bit more cost effective, costing between $ 50,000 and $ 100,000, cites the report; however, these media opportunities generate significantly fewer views, about 500,000 to one million. Geofilters and Lenses can either fall somewhere in the middle or exceed both advertising avenues. These methods cost anywhere from $ 100,000 to $ 700,000, according to the report, and generate one million to 120 million or more views.

Here’s the problem: Aside from these views, many marketers don’t have the metrics they need to justify their Snapchat investment. On its advertising page, Snapchat—who did not respond to DMN‘s multiple press inquiries—writes that it provides marketers with “a robust set of first-party post campaign metrics” and works with “industry-leading measurement partners to help understand who their ads are reaching and what impact they’re having.” However, industry experts seem to tell a different tale.

Liousas describes the app’s measurements as “skimpy”—citing the following as its main success metrics: how many users viewed an ad, how many times a brand filter or lens was used, and how many times people swiped over an ad to see additional content. Marketers can also track their number of users, their number of screenshots, whether users watched a story all the way through, and the number of times users snapped back at them when asked, Elliot adds. As for keeping tabs on competitors, Malmsheimer says marketers can monitor rivals’ post volume.

But in terms of more granular user behavior or ROI metrics, Snapchat comes up short.

“The absence of any good metrics in Snapchat and a proper API [is] the number one problem for marketers,” says Jan Rezab, founder and executive chairman of Socialbakers—a social media marketing and analytics provider. “You can’t see much, and this will create a barrier for Snapchat to attract any advertisers or interest from CMOs in any serious way.”

There are several factors that could deter Snapchat from releasing these metrics. For instance, Elliot says that it would be difficult for Snapchat to introduce new marketing and promotional tools without sacrificing the authenticity of the organic user experience. Liousas and McInnes also cite privacy as a viable concern.

“People are on Snapchat for a reason,” Liousas says. “[It’s] not just the functionality it provides but the fact that they can remain fairly anonymous with their activities and with their preferences.”

Still, Snapchat writes that it’s “continuing to invest in deepening these partnerships and expanding our capabilities” on it’s advertising page, and rumors of Snapchat developing an advertising API or updating its Discover page seem to support this claim. Although it’s anyone’s guess as to when the photo messaging app will debut more robust metrics, McInnes suspects that it “may not be more than a year or two” before marketers start seeing anonymized data from the platform. Liousas also notes that the expectation to deliver more meaningful metrics has already been set by other social networks and, therefore, should help move this progression along.

“The fact that networks like Facebook, Instagram—i.e. the behemoths—are making these available to marketers and brands, I know Snapchat wants some of that pie.”

But until Snapchat rolls out what Liousas refers to as “actionable” metrics, one question still remains: Is it even worth it for marketers to devote time and resources to the channel?

From a brand awareness perspective, Liousas says it is worth the investment; although she asserts that marketers must do their “due diligence” and have the right funds, possible partners (e.g. influencers), and willingness to experiment if they hope to succeed.

Some brands have already been able to crack the Snapchat code and leverage the channel successfully to drive awareness. Take Taco Bell, for instance. According to a recent Adweek article, the fast food restaurant created a sponsored lens campaign that transformed users’ heads into large taco shells for Cinco de Mayo, resulting in “the most viewed Snapchat lens to date” with 224 million views in one day. Sour Patch Kids is another example. The Mondelēz International brand worked with social influencer Logan Paul for a five-day takeover of its Snapchat account and had him perform “sour” and “sweet” pranks with the brand’s mascot, the Sour Patch Kid.

Other marketers are determined to squeeze dollars out of Snapchat and connect their activities to the bottom line. CoverGirl is one example. As Liousas and the L2 report note, the cosmetics brand developed two different geofilters for the launch of its Star Wars collection in Ulta beauty stores. Each filter promoted a different product line (the dark side or the light side) and was only made available at select Ulta stores. This allowed the brand to correlate their Snapchat activities with sales lifts for particular product lines at certain locations.

Twentieth Century Fox is also getting in on the action. Variety reports that the film studio created Lenses for the new movie X-Men: Apocalypse that allowed fans to transform themselves into different characters and then share videos or photos of the experience. But that’s not all the company did. Users could also view a video ad for the movie in the Snapchat Discover section and then swipe up to buy tickets for the film via Fandango or—the first movie-buying ad unit for the platform, according to Variety.

However, McInnes believes that there are other ways marketers can tie engagement and ROI to Snapchat. For instance, he suggests snapping offers or promo codes and tracking whether users leverage these specials. He also recommends snapping a shortened trackable URL or a unique hashtag and monitoring the engagement.

“Marketers have to get creative in order to see if a campaign is working,” he says.

The important thing to remember is that Snapchat isn’t like the social media channels that became before it, and therefore, marketers’ cannot, at least at this time, hold the app to the same measurement standards.“We can’t expect to measure Snapchat like we measure regular digital channels,” Liousas says. But if Snapchat’s growth and popularity are any factors, marketers’ may be willing to hold out for these metrics a little longer.

“If 2015 is anything to go on (and it is), Snapchat is one of the fastest growing social networks, if not the fastest,” McInnes says. “And as 2016 picks up pace one thing is certain: Snapchat isn’t going anywhere, and businesses—and marketers—are starting to realize it.”

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