Using Snapchat for storytelling is a brand journalism win

Many news outlets are embracing the mobile social media platform as a way to get their content in front of younger audiences. Here’s why you should join them.

To help capture the New Year’s Eve revelry in Times Square, The New York Times relied on common social media platforms, but also turned to an emerging avenue for storytelling—Snapchat.

The Times is among a growing number of news media outlets—including NPR, CNN, ESPN and The Wall Street Journal—that are adding Snapchat to their storytelling toolboxes.

The mobile app, which was introduced in 2011, enables users to send and receive videos and photos—but they can be viewed for only a short period. The content’s brief life span isn’t deterring professional storytellers from giving Snapchat a try.

Chris Snider, assistant professor of multimedia at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, says Snapchat holds promise for journalists “because it’s a great storytelling platform with some creative tools like drawing, adding text over photos and mixing photos and videos to tell a story. And it has a very engaged audience that is paying attention to what is posted there.”

So, what does the rise of Snapchat in journalism mean for reporters—along with their PR pro counterparts?

Snider recommends that journalists, bloggers and other communicators in the digital information realm download Snapchat and learn how to use it.

RELATED: Did you use social media in an innovative way to accomplish PR goals? Enter the Digital PR & Social Awards.

“Snapchat is not easy. You can’t just throw up some links like on Twitter and Facebook and call it a day,” says Snider, a former editor at the Des Moines Register. “You have to understand Snapchat and know how to use it the right way.”

Robert Quigley, senior lecturer in the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Journalism, suggests experimenting with Snapchat and shaking off any preconceived notions.

“It can be a powerful storytelling tool and the audience is there,” Quigley says, “so now is the time to jump in.”

Snapchat can come with a learning curve, but Quigley says it offers versatility in reporting about everything from college bowl games to presidential campaigns.

Several major media outlets have signed up for Snapchat’s premium Discover feature, which Quigley describes as a hybrid between print and broadcast. Outside the Discover feature, any journalist, PR pro or blogger can set up a Snapchat account and tell stories, he says. Snapchat Stories, which last just 24 hours, involve a series of videos, photos and text.

Quigley says some of his University of Texas students used Snapchat when they contributed to a recent Austin American-Statesman series about the tech culture in Austin. Nearly all of Quigley’s students at UT use Snapchat each day, he says. A comScore study revealed that 71 percent of Snapchat’s United States users fall into the 18-34 age group—a group that practically has grown up with social media.

“Snapchat is a natural broadcast medium, which is a first for social media,” says Quigley. “By that, I mean the person posting a Snapchat Story is broadcasting out a nearly live video news feed.”

Katie Hawkins-Gaar, a member of the digital innovation faculty at the Poynter Institute and former CNN editor, says Snapchat represents a reprieve from the short attention spans that plague much of the digital world.

“Even though there’s no fancy camera work or editing, the intimate nature of Snapchat makes it feel like the story you’re watching was made especially for you,” says Hawkins-Gaar.

However, given Snapchat’s relative newness, the app isn’t without potential faults as a storytelling tool:

  • Unlike Facebook or Twitter, Snapchat isn’t designed to drive traffic to a website or blog. Snapchat content doesn’t contain links and the app lacks the ability to tap your smartphone screen to get more information or take you outside the app.
  • The Discover feature, which Quigley describes as “the slickest way to display content,” is available only to major media partners.
  • You can’t go back and edit Snapchat posts, Quigley says, so you’re stuck reshooting clips if you’re not happy with the way they turned out.
  • Much of the content on Snapchat is light-hearted, so communicators must be careful about striking the right tone when covering serious stories, Hawkins-Gaar says.

Snider says, “There are lots of excuses not to use it, but I say jump in anyway and see where the current tools lead you.”

How have you used Snapchat to boost your storytelling efforts, PR Daily readers?

John Egan is editor in chief at LawnStarter, an Austin, Texas-based startup that helps people find, schedule and manage lawn care services. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.



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