Whenever a new online tool hits the market, you’ll find somebody ready to tell you why you shouldn’t waste your time with it. Critics have different reasons for rejecting the latest app: It serves no legitimate business or marketing purpose, it’s not ready for prime time, the potential risks haven’t been determined yet, it’s a flash in the pan, and so on. When Snapchat was new, it was dismissed in marketing circles. What value was there in pictures that “disappeared” in 10 seconds? Besides, there was nothing like a brand page for people to follow. Now, Snapchat is fast becoming a standard marketing platform. Suddenly, there’s a cottage industry in articles and posts extolling Snapchat’s virtues, presenting case studies and listing innovative ways to use it. Some companies that were first to test Snapchat’s waters—such as Rebecca Minkoff and Taco Bell—have developed big follower numbers. For McDonald’s and Taco Bell, Snapchat is a battleground for brand advocacy in the breakfast wars. Gary Vaynerchuk calls it his most valuable marketing tool. Recently, we’ve had dismissals of Whisper and Secret, though both have been the focus of interesting communication efforts. A TV series paid Whisper to add its images to the mix. When users whisper a secret using one of the specified keywords, a related image is dished up as the background. As for Secret, Vic Gundotra’s departure from Google was first reported as a Secret post. When a new tool seems to be drawing an audience—especially your audience—there’s little reason to hold off on undertaking an experiment or two, and there’s plenty of justification for taking the plunge:
• You have a content strategy, not a separate strategy for every platform, so adapting your stories and messages to new platforms is not a drain on resources. • It’s no big deal if the platform doesn’t take off. There’s no huge investment to lose, and maybe it paid off for a while. You can apply what you’ve learned to other platforms. • By testing the waters before a platform gets big, you have a bit more leeway than usual, because mistakes there won’t get the same kind of attention that a gaffe on Facebook or Twitter would. • If your target audience includes early adopters, an app’s first user cohorts fill the bill. • If the tool becomes a hit, you’ll already have content and fans waiting when the hordes arrive. Think about Red Bull on Instagram, for instance. • You’ll undoubtedly reach some people you’re not reaching on other channels. • Your experimentation will help your in other communication efforts as you adapt to the acceleration of online change.
To temper this enthusiasm, a note of caution is in order. Jelly, shrugged off as a communications vehicle by many of the initial reviews, was so quickly adopted that one commentator said he was uninstalling the app because his feed was so overloaded with marketing. Personally, I haven’t experienced this on Jelly; the number of questions shared by organizations in my feed is still in single digits. But overwhelming an app that’s still building an audience with commercial material could kill it before it has a chance. Short of flooding a community with branded content, experimentation should be the norm for our organizations, not something we let our competitors do first. Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology. A version of this story first appeared on his blog a shel of my former self.