Snapchat: An Introduction for Churches

Snapchat: An Introduction for Churches

August 24, 2016 by

Snapchat is the latest social media rave. It’s where all the kids are these days, so let’s take a look at this new platform and see what it means for the church.

Ug, not another social media platform, right? I know. I’m right there with you. I’m not a Snapchat fan, and I’m far from an expert. I’m a reluctant user, wondering what the big deal is and if churches need to care.

The simple answer? If people are there, the church should care.

So let’s (grudgingly) dive in…

Up Front Basics About Snapchat

If people are there, the church should care.

Snapchat is four years old, just a year behind Instagram. While I’ve been dragging my feet on Snapchat and hoping it goes away, it’s quietly surpassed Twitter. It’s not the bleeding edge anymore. 100 million people use Snapchat every day. 41% of all 18- to 34-years-olds in the U.S. use it every day.

If you want to know where those young people are, Snapchat is it.

Early on Snapchat got a negative reputation for teens sending inappropriate pics. That was blown out of proportion in the early days, and the app has definitely matured.

So What Is Snapchat?

OK, it’s big. What is it? It’s helpful to understand how Snapchat is different. It’s unique in a lot of subtle ways, and that drastically impacts how it’s used. Let’s take a look at what differentiates Snapchat:

  • Not Intuitive – If you’ve spent any time playing with Snapchat you’ll be relieved to hear someone else say it: Snapchat is not intuitive. The user interface doesn’t help you out. You have to swipe and tap and poke around until you figure it out. Some say it’s horrible design, others say it’s intentionally designed for millenials who grew up on devices and are happy to play with it until they figure out how it works. So if you feel lost, you’re not alone.
  • Share First – When you first open Snapchat, it starts with the camera. It’s the only social media channel that starts with creating and sharing first. You don’t see other people’s content, it invites you to create and share your own. (By the way, each thing you share is called a “snap”—yes, like any good platform, it has its own lingo you’ll need to get used to.)
  • Chronological Order – Snapchat is also the only social media channel that tells stories in chronological order. Blogging popularized reverse-chronological order, with the latest stories at the top. Social media, for the most part, followed suit, showing you the latest and greatest first. But Snapchat tells stories in order.
  • Content Disappears – For the most part, content on Snapchat disappears after 24 hours. There are ways to save content, messages to specific people can last longer and they have a new “Memories” feature that can feature older content. But the core of the app is an expiring clock of content.
  • No Feed – Perhaps the most jarring part of Snapchat is that there’s no feed of everyone’s posts. This can feel freeing, because you’re not doing the infinity scroll through endless updates. You can see your friends’ updates and be done (remember, they expire after 24 hours).

What’s unique about Snapchat is that it’s really a messaging app for connecting with a specific set of people. You send pictures and videos (“snaps”) back and forth, reading what you want and not drinking from the fire hose.

So What Does That Mean?

Snapchat is much more real and authentic than any other social media platform out there.

OK, Snapchat is different. So what? How does that impact how people use it?

This is where Snapchat can get really fascinating. All those subtle differences mean powerful changes in how people use it.

Perhaps the most important change is that Snapchat is much more real and authentic than any other social media platform out there. People always talk about how social media is about being authentic, and Twitter, Facebook and Instagram certainly get more real than a polished blog or website. But Snapchat takes it to a new level.

People are drawn to the lack of data permanence on Snapchat. We see “success theater” on other social media channels (think the Pinterest ideal vs. Pinterst FAIL) where people only share the best photos, only allow themselves to be tagged in flattering pics. But on Snapchat people are more willing to let it all hangout because it will disappear.

Teens will actually send “ugly faces” to one another on Snapchat, something you never see on the other channels where most selfies are perfectly lit.

This gritty, real, casual vibe is seen all throughout the app. For the most part you can’t import photos or video, so everything is created within the app. Everything feels a little more handmade. You can draw on images, and sometimes that’s the easiest way to add interest or engagement (even for major brands).

Snapchat is not very polished. This is a platform where you let it all hang out.

Practical Snapchat Tips

Since Snapchat is so different from every other social network, a few tips on how it works might help:

  • Vertical Video – Shooting vertical video (what happens when you hold your phone straight up and down) is mocked everywhere else, but it’s the only way to do it on Snapchat. Everything is vertical in the app, so if you shoot your video horizontally, it still plays vertically and gets shrunk down super tiny (about a quarter the size). As a result, the completion rate of vertical videos is nine times better than horizontal videos.
  • Decreased Quality – Snapchat compresses everything you create, so the quality isn’t as good. Keep this in mind if you’re saving content to share elsewhere. That also means it’s even more important to get good quality from the start. If you’re serious about Snapchat, you might want to invest in a gimbal stabilizer that attaches a lens, light and microphone to your device.
  • Few Metrics – Snapchat’s metrics leave much to be desired. You can get basic all-time stats on a single snap, but that’s it. You would need to manually view and log this data to get an ongoing picture of what’s working. This can feel archaic, but remember that Twitter didn’t add robust data until 2014.
  • Image and Video Effects – Much of the fun of Snapchat comes from the various filters and editing you can do to your pictures and video. Pull the camera up on your face like you’re taking a selfie and hold your finger down. An array of augmented reality face changers, morphers and swappers come up (swipe to the side to cycle through them). This is how people do the dog face thing. If you like nothing else about Snapchat, show this feature to some kids and have fun.
  • Sound Off – Mobile users often keep the sound off, so videos should use text overlay to give context and encourage users to turn the sound on.
  • Call to Action – There are no links in Snapchat, so sending people to a website for a call to action can be a challenge. Many brands use shortened URLs and encourage people to screenshot an image so they can come back to the URL or coupon code.

Strategies for Using Snapchat

So what does all this mean for your church? It might mean nothing. You only have time for so many social media platforms. You likely don’t have the time to do them all well, and Snapchat is probably going to be lower on your priority list.

But if you’re specifically trying to reach younger people, this may be the platform for you.

If Snapchat is for your church, here are some strategies to help you make the most of it:

  • Get Creative – The simplified tools within Snapchat require getting creative. Embrace the way it works: With chronological-order storytelling and the ability to tap through content, you can tell stories with multiple images, even creating a stop-motion animation effect. You’ll need to experiment and watch what others to do to grasp the full potential.
  • Behind the Scenes – Snapchat seems tailor made to tell behind-the-scenes stories. The informal approach is ideal.
  • Events – The timely nature of Snapchat makes it perfect for events. While its chronological-order approach doesn’t hyper focus on the right now like Twitter, the 24-hour expiration makes it great for exploring what’s happening.
  • No User Discovery – It’s kind of hard to find people to follow on Snapchat (there is a slick geo-location friend finder where you can add friends who are nearby). This means you end up with people following you who actually want to follow you. It also means you have to work harder to help people find you. Use other social networks to drive adoption—put your snap code (those weird ghostly QR-codes over people’s faces) on Facebook, Twitter and anywhere else (this is why those images are popping up everywhere).
  • Sponsored Geofilters – One of the simplest ways your church can engage with people on Snapchat is by sponsoring a geofilter. This is a cheap and easy way to engage, and we’ve explored Snapchat geofilters for churches in more detail.

Who to Follow on Snapchat

If you’re specifically trying to reach younger people, Snapchat may be the platform for you.

One way that Snapchat is similar to other platforms is that it helps to follow some of the most successful and see how they use it.

While a lot of churches are experimenting with Snapchat, here are just a few to check out:

There are plenty of lists of Snapchat users to follow out there, so take your pick. This list of 101 of the best, coolest, smartest and weirdest Snapchat accounts is a good place to start.

Consider Snapchat for Your Church

As churches try to connect and share the gospel, we need to be where people are. That might mean Snapchat.

So there’s your quick introduction to Snapchat. You may not get it yet, and that’s how it works with every new social network. It’s only through using it that you’ll figure it out and see if has a place in your church.

Remember: Social media networks are always changing, and everything we say here may be obsolete next week. Also, big props to Greg Swan of Space 150 for sharing about Snapchat with Social Media Shepherds, a local church comm meetup in the Twin Cities, and giving this non-expert the necessary insight to not sound like a complete buffoon.

More:

Learn even more about Snapchat for churches:

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks


When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998 and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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