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In Praise of Snapchat, Social Media's Inner Child

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

I’ll admit it: the first time I sent an ugly selfie on Snapchat, I took it three times to get the right kind of ugly. You know, high neck, tucked chin, open eyes, squirrely mouth. Cute-ugly, not truly ugly-ugly.

And then I received my first round of snaps in return—a parade of ridiculous doodles and rainbow-puking portraits that cued me in to Snapchat’s central truth: in the land of ephemeral photography, authenticity rules and silliness is the hand of the queen. I abandoned cute-ugly selfies for good.

Since 2011, Snapchat has inspired legions of high school and college students to chronicle their days in a series of photos and videos, each visible for ten seconds or less (for the historically inclined, see this Snapchat timeline infographic). With the spring 2016 integration of third-party content and advertising that catapulted company worth to an estimated $20 billion, Snapchat has earned new street cred. It seems imminent that parents (and perhaps even grandparents) will soon join the fun, which in turn creates exciting new markets for social-media advertising.

I love Snapchat because it makes smartphone photography playful. The amber filters of Instagram may preserve your weekend hike in Aspen, and Facebook may boost your ego by broadcasting your new profile pic to your latest crush, but no other app allows you to swap faces with a friend, to transmogrify your likeness into a panda, nymph, or bumblebee, to spew fire, hiccup bubbles, or frame your photo with a neighborhood geo-filter—in short, to play in an unbridled selfie carnival. The app’s navigation has a trapdoor funhouse quality that is also easy to learn: swipe left to chat with contacts, up to add friends (up again for your trophy case), right for public stories and third-party content, down for memories, and a simple touch for silly filters.

By freeing us from the ideal, Snapchat opens up the silly, the ugly, the boring, and the real. We can swap glimpses into each others’ lives without the threat of judgment or censure, which so often lurks in other forms of social media, and we can celebrate the mundane, stitching together snippets of everyday life that only we experience. Some critics scoff at the seeming narcissistic self-absorption of the app, but reporter Rachel Syme is quick to remind us that selfies are inherently social: “Once they go live, they have adventures, they go out and ​make friends…They ​voyage ahead ​and probe new communities, and sometimes they bring back stories. Our selfies are weightless versions of ourselves, with wings.”

It’s this buoyant, ‘90s-internet feeling of possibility that keeps me chatting with my friends and coming back for more, and that feeling doesn’t go away even with the occasional ad. I can dip into user-generated shots of far away events like Mardi Gras or the upcoming Rio Olympics, and I can quickly access CNN updates, Amy Schumer sketches, or Buzzfeed distractions with a few swipes. Snapchat makes it easy to access the stories that matter the most to me.

Ultimately, Snapchat offers a fun way to build public engagement and recognition of your brand. You should consider adding it to your social media presence if your brand has a significant visual component or if you host regular events. Start simple by creating a geo-filter for select times and places, then build a group of followers who see your work and ultimately join you in documenting it.

Curious about how Snapchat could work for your brand? Contact today!

--by C. Paul Bindel

Paul is a community manager who appreciates his co-workers’ well-played puns. He performs improv with the Bovine Metropolis house team, Squid Goat.

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