When Snapchat launched its Discover platform in January 2015, it was a move to become an official destination for news instead of just vanishing photo messages. Today, the app boasts 23 Snapchat Discover partners, including The Wall Street Journal, Mashable, CNN and BuzzFeed, along with dozens of news outlets posting under free personal (or organic) accounts. Its popularity and approach to content is reinventing the way publishers create and distribute news for younger readers.
Snapchat recently announced that it has more than 150 million daily active users, and users are eagerly consuming the content published there by news media: According to a new study by Variety, in the U.S., 44% of Snapchat users between the ages of 13 and 24 use Discover on a daily basis. However, joining the platform is not an easy commitment for a publisher.
“Snapchat is definitely a resource-heavy platform,” said Jeff Petriello, director of creative development at Mashable. “You’ll have several people dedicated to this platform every day, including a sales team.” Mashable currently has two full-time employees who are devoted exclusively to Snapchat content, with 12 other employees assisting as needed.
Mashable has been a Snapchat Discover partner for a year and also maintains an organic Snapchat account. According to Petriello, the two accounts serve different purposes and illustrate the value that news organizations can find on the platform either way.
In terms of content and engagement, “The two accounts couldn’t be more apples and oranges,” Petriello said. “It’s basically the difference between having a TV show and posting a family video to Facebook. You’ll see a more filtered selection of content for our Discover page, limited to technology, social media and a few lifestyle stories. We are the only tech-focused publisher on Snapchat Discover, so we concentrate on owning that differentiator.”
For Mashable, practical stories on technology – like how to conserve a phone’s battery when playing Pokémon Go – tend to perform very well on the platform, as do stories specifically geared towards the high school and college-aged demographic.
Other outlets use the platform to experiment with new storytelling tactics and invite viewers for a more behind-the-scenes experience. The New York Times, which has an organic user account, recently had several reporters in Philadelphia narrating key moments and unusual aspects of the Democratic National Convention via Snapchat. Through a mix of video, photos and text overlays, reporters quizzed passersby on their political preferences, displayed a new mural unveiled at the convention and showed viewers which state delegation had the best sign.
“We’re using it as a means to connect with new audiences, a younger audience, and flex different storytelling muscles,” Cynthia Collins, social media editor at The New York Times, recently told Digiday.
Similarly, The Wall Street Journal specifically stated that it views Snapchat Discover as an opportunity to build a new generation of Journal readers, in hopes of converting them into paying subscribers over the long-term.
Although Snapchat Discover requires a much more significant investment than maintaining an organic account, it can lead to a strong boost in views, exposure and advertising. Snapchat has strict requirements for the amount and quality of content its Discover partners create and the amount of ad dollars a Discover partner must deliver. Yet, the opportunity to sell advertising is a unique advantage given only to publishers on Discover.
“Snapchat provides a few different types of ad products that are incredibly engaging and fit really naturally in the product in a non-intrusive way,” Petriello said. “In my opinion, it’s currently one of the most valuable digital ad opportunities. You can really reach a high volume of viewers with your content, especially if your target demographic is that high school and college-aged group.”
The platform’s recent redesign to feature articles on the main Discover screen, rather than just brand logos, and offering a new “subscribe” button, has already had a big payoff for both advertisers and publishers. According to Petriello, the updated design dramatically increased user engagement with Mashable’s content and made it easier to develop a core group of loyal users.
Now, users are more inclined to click on an interesting title rather than the publisher’s logo. And when a user chooses to subscribe to a channel on Discover, all of the channel’s snaps appear in his or her main “news feed”, alongside messages and stories from friends.
“That’s a huge advantage,” Petriello said. “If you can get someone to subscribe, you’re at an advantage of converting them into a loyal user. It’s the same approach to the internet itself: owning a community of people who are interested in what you have, content-wise, and making sure you’re consistently delivering them and able to convert new people who consistently find value in your product.”
To measure engagement, Mashable looks first at the number of loyal users, which is defined as anyone who engages with its content three to seven times per week. Metrics including the amount of time spent on the channel, the completion rate of each edition, and the percentage of people who swipe to read an article or view a video are also important in order to understand the type of content and headlines that are most successful.
But regardless of whether or not publishers have the opportunity to use Snapchat Discover, Petriello says they can still find significant benefit in experimenting with the platform as an organic user.
“There are so many creative ways you can use Snapchat outside of Discover,” he said. “If you are part of the platform, you can use geofilters, engaging channel stories and cross promotion on other social networks to really get the most out of it and have a presence that’s worthwhile.”
Members of the News/Media Alliance staff have contributed to this post.