Engage With Teens - Then Disappear

In the past several months, there has been growing interest in apps and sites that allow teens to share information in anonymous or ephemeral ways. This isn’t a new phenomenon. The explosion of mobile devices and always on audiences have accelerated the growth and adoption of this type of technology, particularly among teens, as is evident through even a casual scan of the sorts of secrets that are being shared.

Anonymous offerings include PostSecret, which began as an art project in 2005, sixbillionsecrets and Secret. (There is also Whisper but that is in a somewhat different class.) These all allow people to share information without revealing their identities. There are some that allow “clues” to be provided for shared secrets and questions among friends, but the main thrust is that the content shared can’t be tracked back to a specific source.



These apps are gaining traction. But how can brands use them to connect with and engage teens? Perhaps the simplest approach is the “open secret.” This allows brands to share tongue-in-cheek messages in ways that conform to an app’s typical format. This can allow brands to let teens in on the joke. 

Ephemeral messaging offers a safer and more promising approach. Snapchat is currently the most important player in this space. Edison Research found that 46% of Internet users between 12 and 24 had used the service and eMarketer reports that 32% of teens between 12 and 17 had sent or received a snap in November 2013.

A number of brands are already working with Snapchat effectively. 16 Handles, the New York-based frozen yogurt chain, asked followers to send selfies from its stores in return for special New Year’s Eve discounts. Other brands, including Taco Bell, MTV and Wet Seal have all taken advantage of Snapchat’s ability to share short, ephemeral content with fans and followers. 

One tool available for shaping Snapchat stories is Stories. It allows marketers (or any Snapchatter) to string together Snaps to build a more coherent narrative. Unlike Snaps, which live for only seconds, Stories live for 24 hours. While Stories allow a story to be told from a single perspective, Snapchat’s recently introduced Our Story creates an interesting opportunity for engagement from multiple perspectives.

Our Story (which had its premier at the Electric Daisy Carnival earlier this month in Las Vegas) allows any Snapchatter at an event to contribute content. All the Snaps contributed to an Our Story can be curated, a feature that gives the host of the Story greater control over the viewer experience. For Snaps to be included in the EDC Story, they had to originate from within a geo-fenced area. 

One can imagine, though, the opportunity for a brand to encourage Snapchatters to contribute Snaps from multiple locations during a fixed period of time. For example, the introduction of a new item at a fast food restaurant or reactions from movie-goes across the country following a premier. These types of opportunities are tailored to teens, who actively seek ways to share their experiences. 

Snapchat isn’t the only ephemeral channel available to marketers seeking to reach teens. Facebook, which offered $3 billion for Snapchat (a sum that was rejected), has just unveiled Slingshot. Like Snapchat, Slingshot allows teens to create and share temporary content but with a twist. Before a recipient can view they shared content they need to reply with a message of their own. This approach could encourage deeper engagement or it could turn teens off to the app. (It is also worth noting that Slingshot might be slung back based on patent questions, but that’s another issue all together.)

Regardless of the app that is used, though, ephemeral sharing creates opportunities to meet and engage with teens on their turf.

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