Recently, the Rutgers Business School asked me to include Snapchat in the Viral Video Marketing course that I teach, even though the primary use of this photo and video app is sharing awkward selfies and funny faces. Oh, and the content disappears 10 seconds after being viewed.

So, where exactly does SnapChat fit in the world on online video? It may not be immediately apparent, but before I take you through the looking-glass to find strategic insights and tactical advice for the world's leading ephemeral marketing platform, let’s review critical data and trends concerning SnapChat, the Cheshire Cat of the digital video marketing business.

Snapchat: Should Video Marketers Care About It?

Snapchat silly facesFirst, a quick overview of Snapchat, an app that lets users enjoy fast and fun mobile conversation. A user can “Snap” a photo or a video, add a caption, and send it to a friend or list of recipients. They can view it, laugh, and then the Snap will disappear from the screen. A user can also add a Snap to their “Story” with one tap to share their day with all of their friends. Apparently, the best conversations happen when both friends are present, so Snapchat lets users know if their friend is “Here” in their “Chat” so that they can give each other their full attention. And if they’re both Here, then they simply press and hold to share live video - and Chat face-to-face.

The app was developed by Evan Spiegel, Bobby Murphy, and Reggie Brown, who were Stanford University students. When Spiegel floated the idea of what he called “Picaboo” in front of his product design class, his classmates balked at the idea of impermanent photos. Picaboo was launched in July 2011, but the app was later renamed and re-launched as Snapchat in September 2011

In May 2012, Snapchat users were sharing more than 2 million snaps a day. In October 2012, they were sharing over 20 million snaps a day. In December 2012, they were sharing more than 50 million Snaps a day. That’s when Snapchat released Video Snaps:

Instead of requiring users to toggle back and forth between a photo and a video setting, Snapchat combines them into one button.  If a user wants to take a photo, he or she can just tap the button.  If the user wants to capture video, he or she can just hold the button down. When the user is done recording, he or she can just lift his or her finger. Video snaps are up to 10 seconds long, and like photo snaps, can only be viewed once in the application.

The growth in the app’s usage continued. In April 2013, Snapchat users were sharing over 150 million snaps a day. In September 2013, they were sharing more than 350 million snaps a day. 71% of active U.S. social media users aged between 18-29 years old have a Snapchat account,and in a recent poll, 58% of college students indicated that they would purchase a product or service from a brand that sent them a coupon via Snapchat. According to another recent study on the social media and viewing habits of millennials, Snapchat is the 4th most popular app among 18-24 year-olds, ahead of Tumblr, Vine, and Pinterest. It's the 3rd most popular app among those aged between 14 and 17.

snapchat usage 13 to 24 year olds

SnapChat Stories: Creating a Narrative For Users to Follow

In October 2013, the company introduced its Snapchat Stories feature:

Snapchat Stories add Snaps together to create a narrative. When you add a Snap to your Story it lives for 24 hours before it disappears. Your Story always plays forward, because it makes sense to share moments in the order you experience them. And each Snap in your Story includes a list of everyone who views it. In May 2014, Snapchat announced its Chat feature could share live video:

At that point in time, Snapchat users were sending 700 million photos and videos per day, while Snapchat Stories content was being viewed 500 million times per day. In June 2014, the company said its Stories feature had surpassed Snaps, with over one billion viewed per day. In June 2014, Snapchat introduced Our Story at the Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC).

Our Story enables Snapchatters who are at the same event location to contribute Snaps to the same Story. Users need to turn on location services to let Snapchat know that they’re actually at the event.

SnapChat Discover: Enabling Media Companies to Engage Users

In January 2015, Snapchat introduced Discover with 11 media companies. Discover is a new way to explore Stories from different editorial teams. It’s the result of collaboration with CNN, Comedy Central, Cosmopolitan, Daily Mail, ESPN, Food Network, National Geographic, People, Vice, Yahoo! News and Warner Music Group to build a storytelling format that puts the narrative first. Discover also relies on editors and artists, not clicks and shares, to determine what’s important. As the Snapchat Blog observed, “This is not social media.”

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In October 2014, Snapchat launched disappearing ads for $750,000 per day. Snapchat’s first paid ad, in the form of a 20-second movie trailer for the horror film Ouija, was shown to users on October 19, 2014. In addition to acknowledging Snapchat’s need for a revenue stream, the company’s blog explained:

We want to see if we can deliver an experience that’s fun and informative, the way ads used to be, before they got creepy and targeted.

Where Does Snapchat Fit in the World of Online Video?

Now that we’ve looked at what Snapchat is, let’s see where this photo and video app fits in the world of online video. And let’s start by examining Ben Thompson’s Social/Communications Map on Stratechery. In a post is entitled, “Blogging’s Bright Future,” he puts Snapchat on the same map with YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Vine. They’re just in different quadrants.

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Thompson states that:

In many respects, this map – indeed, the entire history of social media, particularly the public-facing services – is a story of unbundling the old-school blog. Twitter has replaced link-posts and comments, Instagram has replaced pictures, and Facebook has replaced albums and blogrolls.

Now, I could quibble over the placement of Instagram and Vine in the asymmetric/ephemeral quadrant. But, let’s not bicker and argue about who goes where. The strategic insight that Thompson’s map illustrates is this: the world of online video is segmenting – not fragmenting – into four different parts.

So, what tactical advice can I share about what works in a market that’s segmenting? Well, best practices for Instagram, which provides ways to make photos prettier or more stylized, may not be best practices for Snapchat, where users share awkward selfies and funny photos with their friends. And the best practices for YouTube, where approximately 60% of a creator’s views come from outside his or her home country, may not be best practices for Facebook, where the median number of friends is 155.

Do video marketers need expert advice, tips, and guidance on how to make content that appears and disappears? Well, most of them thoroughly understand how to create TV commercials, which appear for 15, 30, or 60 seconds and then disappear immediately after being viewed. Will some video marketers still choose to ignore Snapchat and focus on other quadrants of Thompson’s Social/Communications Map? Well, that might end up being a missed opportunity.

The introduction of Stories turned Snapchat from an ephemeral media platform into one of interest to brands. This includes: 16 Handles, Taco Bell, Unilever’s Lynx, Acura’s NSX supercar, Co-operative Electrical, Doritos, WetSeal, DoSomething.org, Betfairofficial, McDonald’s, Evian, Karmaloop, Miss Crofton, Calvin Klein, MTV, Groupon, AT&T, Sour Patch Kids, Universal Pictures, WWF Denmark, Alzheimer Portugal, Dove, Mountain Dew, and GrubHub!

Earlier this year, Snapchat started telling people how many views their “Our Story” clip receives if they make one in the collective, crowdsourced section. And it appears Snapchat’s Our Stories are hitting viewing numbers that television’s most popular shows see. For example, Dana Krangel’s snap of Wearhaus’s social headphones was viewed by over 27 million people after it appeared in the CES “Techies in Vegas” Snapchat story.

How Big an Opportunity is Ephemeral Marketing?

Well, on Nov. 14, 2013, The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook offered to acquire Snapchat for $3 billion, but Spiegel declined the offer. On Nov. 15, 2013, Om Malik tweeted that Google offered $4 billion to acquire Snapchat, but Spiegel said no. On Aug. 26, 2014, Mashable reported that an investment by Kleiner Perkins, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, valued Snapchat at $10 billion. And on Mar. 12, 2015, The New York Times reported that Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, had invested $200 million in Snapchat, which would value the three-and-a-half-year-old start-up at $15 billion.

In conclusion, it’s probably worth venturing through the looking-glass to see the smile that the Cheshire Cat of the digital video marketing business leaves behind after it disappears.