I snapped. Or rather, I truly started paying attention to Snapchat. It had been sitting on my phone for a year or two, but I never really used it or understood it. Snapchat, to me and many others during its first few years of existence, was treated as something for college kids or your younger cousin, a trend that was reserved for teens and Gen X. But the resurgence and current use of Snapchat as a successful content distributor for businesses, CEOs, celebrities, and personalities, is new. The medium is a voyeuristic peek inside the lives of well-known people's lives. The continued willingness to share the ephemeral photos and videos into the lives of the most popular means that Snapchat is something new for media, privacy, and how we showcase our work and our lives. It is not a trend.
To be totally honest, the real reason I actually began taking Snapchat seriously was for the one-man inspirational show DJ Khaled, whose previous fame was mostly in the music industry. A fateful emergency jetski situation and some plant watering later, DJ Khaled became a symbol for how Snapchat could change a career's direction with the word "lion". As a result, Khaled has launched clothing and shoe lines based on his popular phrases from Snapchat, graced the cover of countless magazines posing with his phone in his hand, had to go somewhere besides the famous Driskill hotel in Austin, Texas for his arrival to South by Southwest Interactive because there were too many fans waiting to interact with him on their Snapchats. He has an enormous audience, made up of people that he previously wouldn't have interacted with had it not been for his understanding of the democratic medium. Every day he tells people to be better, gives them his "keys to success", and I have to say, it works.
For a peek inside of the lives of people we want to know about, Snapchat is an incredible opportunity for a new reality. Not a filtered, manufactured one either. Celebrities are flocking to it in droves. This past weekend on actress Kate Hudson's Snapchat, her friend and TV personality Erin Foster asked Hudson a series of questions that stunned me. On their way back from actress Reese Witherspoon's birthday (where according to Snapchat, Taylor Swift performed), Foster asked Hudson questions in real time that you would never hear a celebrity responding to, let alone being asked. Things like, "What are you gonna do with your life when there is no paparazzi outside?" (She would celebrate, said Hudson, though Foster said she would just "call them and tell them to come back") "How does it feel to be inside a giant bubble of fame and wealth?" ("Hard work," said Hudson) "How does it feel losing roles to younger, prettier women in Hollywood?" (No answer). I was floored and deeply curious.
Aside from celebrity fame and their realities, Snapchat has tremendous potential to be used not only by the well-known but those wanted to find new ways to step into the public eye. I wrote once that what we say online is forever. That's true, but on Snapchat you have less of a chance of your words being etched in the annals of the internet. You feel better about a silly video, or a real glimpse. You can control your message, but it's also one that doesn't stick around. That's the thing about Snapchat, you have 24 hours to watch it or it's gone. That doesn't mean the gossip blogs won't record it or people will take screen-grabs of it. I'm sure an entire division of the popular gossip empire The Shade Room will be reserved for celebrity Snapchats. The medium allows you as a user - business owner, speaker -- to remove, literally, a filter that would've been reserved for places like Twitter or Instagram.
This means the individuals and companies have an opportunity to showcase themselves, auditioning in a way they couldn't before. That's important for business. The CEO of Shop Jeen, a popular Gen X e-commerce site, Erin Yogasundram, has started using her Snapchat to talk about the realities of being a young woman running an e-commerce startup. Her setting? The bathtub. Dubbing herself the "Bathtub CEO," Yogasundram sits in the bubbles, talking to her fans and customers, on how hard it is to fundraise from VC's, put together a deck, and the constant pressures and stressors that come with running your own business. It feeds in perfectly to her already savvy audience - making her and her site even more relatable than it already is. It's captivating to watch her, but also drums up interest for her business. She declared a desire to be the first entrepreneur to raise and put her deck on Snapchat, and is sourcing help for her fundraising deck through fan responses to her snaps.
Many mainstream content providers, from People magazine to Vox, have their own channels on Snapchat. But it's not just the mainstream publications that are able to gain readership and eyeballs through the medium. Discovering ArsenicTV, "Playboy for the Snapchat Generation" a channel that showcases models posing and sharing their lives, exploded as a business itself, entirely contained within the app. The founders of ArsenicTV realized that Snapchat was the medium to show their models, in a way that exists entirely outside of traditional means like print or television. Even if your company isn't showcasing models, "for any brands wanting to truly engage with Generation Y and Zs, Snapchat is a requirement. Even the major social platforms are no longer where these folks are spending time," said Susan McPherson, communications specialist and founder of McPherson Strategies.
There is a lot of money to be made around being real, particularly in a medium like Snapchat. And by telling a story, because it can also help your small business. Laney Crowell, a luxury content provider who runs Crowell Lane, a boutique content and social media consultancy, has a Snapchat that I watch every day. It's not only because she's my friend, but also because it is completely in line with her company's ethos of beauty, minimalism, and understanding the luxury market. This is no coincidence. "Snapchat has been amazing for showing the behind the scenes of starting a business, and teasing upcoming projects, which has been great for my own brand awareness," says Crowell. "It doesn't have to be perfect, which is why it feels more real and exciting."
For Carrie Kerpen, the CEO of Likeable media, a large digital agency, she realizes the potential that Snapchat holds for her clients. She uses the medium "to document the realities of being an entrepreneur. There is significantly less social capital used when you're updating a small part of a story that disappears quickly, which makes it easier to share short snippets of your life," she said. Kerpen spends a lot of her time educating parents on how to use the medium, not so they can stop their kids from using it, but rather so they can gain insight into their world. Not only does Kerpen train on safety protocol for a medium like Snapchat and why it's important to understand what your kids are doing, Kerpen herself uses it as an outlet to show what it's like to be a mom and entrepreneur, a business owner and a leader. Yes, it's another place to promote yourself and tell a story, and while that might yield more pressure, the potential from it goes way beyond 140 characters or one photo.
The same way that when celebrities joined Instagram it allowed people to have their own peek into the lives of aspirational individuals, Snapchat is now doing the same thing for that set of people for everyone who wants to be known, no matter the size of the audience. Liz Plank, a popular voice in politics, feminism, and content, who recently joined Vox to produce a show for the 2016 election, recognizes that the power of Snapchat has always been there. Even though she already has a video audience, this is different. Snapchat "helps me connect with my readers and my viewers in ways that are more personal and less produced," she said. Snapchat lets me speak to people before I've thought about what I want to say. Sometimes I literally just press the record button and see what comes out. I've actually learned a lot about myself," says Plank.
A friend who works in digital told me over a year ago that she was working on launching a TV show on Snapchat. I thought she was crazy. Now I can't believe that I missed it when it was airing. As more and more well-known people and CEOs join Snapchat, it allows an opportunity, and a need, to get a glimpse into your business otherwise can't be shown. It's in real time, meaning if you have a visual product or want to give users a glimpse into what it is you're selling, you have an opportunity to make it real and visible.
And that won't go away in 24 hours.