From Selfies to Self-Promotion: The Evolution of Snapchat

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Snapchat has seen a constant evolution. What started out as a simple app to send silly faces back and forth soon became ripe with filters, stories, geotags, chats and rainbow vomit. Through all its changes, Snapchat generally provides more of a private experience than social networks like Facebook or Twitter. Users have to know the exact usernames or have the contact information of those they want to add, and there’s no way to know who follows whom. Recently, however, Snapchat has seen transformation from a private photo sharing service to full-fledged social network due to its unique ability for celebrities and social groups to promote themselves and interact with their fans, from behind-the-scenes looks into their lives to student groups promoting their next event.

Snapchat’s My Story has become the catalyst that turned what was a way for two people to communicate into a way for celebrities, brands and clubs to promote themselves to millions of people. “Personally, I love the feature called My Story… It provides a unique way to communicate or connect with friends by sharing photographs and videos,” said NU biology student Ann Tsai. It’s not just average college students who love My Story. Celebrities have also taken a liking to the feature. Celebrities like DJ Khaled (djkhaled305) have become famous for their dedication to regular snaps. By sharing his “keys to success,” promoting his clothing website (wethebeststore.com) and showing off what his personal Chef Dee whips up for breakfast every morning, Khaled has reaped Snapchat’s unique benefits by personally interacting with his fans.

Snapchat has also become a way for some to unwind. Take tennis legend Serena Williams – her Snapchat (serenaunmatched) completely ditches the tennis-player label – in fact, there’s hardly ever a glimpse of a tennis court or racket. Instead she focuses on posts with her beloved dogs or of her lip-syncing Italian opera, and lets her fans enjoy the downtime with her. According to NU Assistant Professor of Communications, Joseph Reagle, “the fact that it can be semi-ephemeral [is] useful for those… [who] want to goof around and post silly videos, photos and selfies,” which seems to ring true for college students and world class tennis players alike.

While some use Snapchat solely for fun, others have found a way to mix business and pleasure. Record producer and DJ, Diplo (diplo) uses his Snapchat to live stream his performances to fans not in attendance, while also posting hilarious car videos with plenty of face filters. In doing so, he is able both promote his shows and connect with fans in a fun and laid back way. In a similar manner, Northeastern’s Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) makes sure to promote their events, but also keeps it fun in order to attract more followers. Members take turns managing their Snapchat account “resulting in fresh and different pictures or video every time,” said VSA Executive Board member Anthony Li.

Snapchat’s popularity among younger generations, especially teenagers and college students, at least partially explains the draw of these student organizations to Snapchat. According to an August 2015 Pew Research Center survey, Snapchat ranks as the third most popular social media app among teenagers, ages 13 to 17, with 41 percent saying they use it.

Even large organizations see the power of using Snapchat to connect with their audience. Northeastern started to use Snapchat in the 2015 fall semester. With its Snapchat account (NortheasterU) the university is sharing stories from around the NU community.

Snapchat is a win-win for anyone who uses it. For celebs and organizations big or small, it’s a fantastic marketing opportunity, as the app allows them to cleverly promote themselves for free. With other social media sites like Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, there’s no way to tell if the account is really a publicist. On Snapchat, that doubt doesn’t exist, allowing fans, friends or fellow students to get to enjoy an illusion of closeness.