How legacy media companies are adapting to Snapchat

Photo by Adam Przezdzlek via Creative Commons

Photo by Adam Przezdzlek via Creative Commons Legacy media companies are trying to figure out ways to tap into one of the newest mobile news trends–Snapchat

Legacy media companies are emphasizing digital media content more than ever, but now they have to figure out ways to tackle a new challenge–Snapchat. 

Finding the audience

After the launch of it’s new Discover feature in January, Snapchat brought an entirely new level to it’s playing field. Now traditional media companies are trying to follow suit.

The days of strictly being a private photo messaging app were gone–Snapchat now provided it’s users with freshly prepared news content.Media companies noticed the trend and are now trying to follow suit.

Wright Bryan, National Public Radio’s social media desk editor, said they are still discovering new ways to use Snapchat to bring the news to their audience.

NPR is trying to find a balance, Bryan said, between while engaging and educating their audience while entertaining them at the same time. Finding a balance is difficult, he said, but remaining true to news helps break out a path for their Snapchat content.

“Our primary focus, whether we’re in the building or outside the building, is that we’re being true to what people expect from NPR,” Bryan said

Bryan and NPR have been experimenting with Snapchat for two years now, he said. There is still no clear-cut approach to how to properly utilize the app for their organization.

NPR Social Media Intern Vesta Partovi said NPR creates specific content for Snapchat without trying to redirect users to their primary radio operation. Rather than transforming radio stories into Snapchat content, Snapchat is it’s own addendum, she said.

But because Snapchat’s audience varies from young teenagers to adults, what the audience wants varies just the same, Partovi said. And the difficulty continues to be balancing what they all want.

Older people have followed NPR’s Snapchat account because of how they advertise the account on Facebook and Twitter, where they have an older audience. However, Partovi said, younger people still follow the account.

According to a graph from ComScore found via ReCode, 71 percent of Snapchat users are between the ages of 18 and 34 years old. Partovi said NPR has some users even younger than 18 years old.

71 percent of Snapchat users fall between the ages of 18 and 34 years old via comScore

71 percent of Snapchat users fall between the ages of 18 and 34 years old via comScore

It is hard, Partovi said, to find a balance between such a wide range of people.

“Some want more news, some want more fun, daily, life of NPR stuff,” Partovi said. “It’s interesting. It’s a really big mix, so I guess the challenge now is finding a voice and content that appeals to everyone.”

Snapping into action

NPR’s approach is not dissimilar from other news organizations. Julia Carpenter, an audience and engagement producer at the Washington Post, said the Post embarked on their journey through Snapchat’s uncharted waters two years ago.

The Washington Post’s  presence on the app has increased, Carpenter said, over that time and they have explored different ways of utilizing it. Followers enjoy “behind-the-scenes” interactions with Washington Post reporters, Carpenter said.

“We’ve had foreign correspondents take it on trips to Nigeria and Scotland and India and we’ve had our political reporters take it along the 2016 trail,” Carpenter said. “So that’s kind of our general premise for the account: A day in the life of a Washington Post reporter.”

Both Bryan and Carpenter said user interaction is essential for their respective company Snapchat accounts.

Carpenter said reporters from the post will routinely ask followers if they have questions prior to an event starting or on a subject the reporter is covering. They also ask for the opinions of users that interact with them.

The Washington Post track the number of users who reply as well as those who view individual snaps they post. Follower interaction determines what types of stories are covered in the future on Snapchat, Carpenter said.

“A lot it is how people respond and snap to us,” Carpenter said.

Peter Hamby, the head of the news operations at Snapchat, said young people are “living” on Snapchat in an audio interview  on the evolution of journalism and social media at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center in September.

Along with the installation of Discover, Snapchat also hired a team of journalists, headed by Hamby, to document the 2016 Presidential election.

Currently, Snapchat features legacy news companies such CNN, ESPN but also features new digital media companies such as BuzzFeed, VICE, and Mashable as part of their Discover feature. The companies featured in Discover provide content for Snapchat every 24 hours.

Snapchat's Discover feature via screenshot

Snapchat’s Discover feature via screenshot

Snapchat’s news team works on live stories for their Snapchat exclusive coverage, Hamby said in the interview. Snapchat sets up a “geofence” around an area where an event is happening and every Snapchat user is able to submit a “story” within the filter where the news team can select it and make it part of an exclusive story.

Carpenter said the Washington Post account is more about “showing” followers a story rather than breaking one.She agreed with Hamby, she said, saying news  posted on Snapchat is more educational.

NPR refrains from breaking news on Snapchat right now as well, Bryan said.

But, for the Washington Post, that is not because of the younger demographic, Carpenter said. It is more about the tools available on the application.

The Snap experience meets limitations

There are some limits with Snapchat, Carpenter said. Organizations cannot link directly to stories, she said, within their snaps. They last for a limited time and there are limits to the stories that can be done within Snapchat.

Cheryl Thompson, a social media editor at NBC Washington, said there are some limits to what organizations can do with Snapchat. NBC Washington’s focus is more of Facebook and Twitter currently, she said, but they are aware of Snapchat’s growing platform and are trying to take advantage of it.

Currently, though, Thompson said, it is being used as more of a “promotional tool” for their television operation. Although, she said, the tools available from Snapchat make the content more exclusive than other applications and social media sites.

“It’s such a new platform,” Thompson said. “It really is putting an emphasis on creating original content that will live just on that platform.”

NBC Washington  currently uses Snapchat to provide a “behind-the-scenes” look at things leading up to their shows, Thompson said, but unlike the Washington Post and NPR, they will include breaking news in their Snapchat coverage often. Their followers enjoy the current content coming from NBC Washington, she said.

However, Thompson said, because of the ephemeral nature of Snapchat, there are some stories that cannot be used on the application. If  a story will continue to develop for over 24 hours, she said, it will not make it to NBC Washington’s application.

Bryan said because snaps only live for 10 seconds at a time and snap Snapchat stories can only live for 24 hours, content put on the application has to be selected carefully.  But that is no limitation, he said.

“We see it as a chance to really work within a forum and try and master it,” Bryan said.

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