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Feb. 23, 2015, 1:05 p.m.
Audience & Social

Snapchat stories: Here’s how 6 news orgs are thinking about the chat app

From live events to behind-the-scenes tours, The Huffington Post, Fusion, Mashable, NPR, Philly.com, and The Verge tell us how they’re approaching Snapchat.

When Sam Sheffer, The Verge’s social media editor, launched the site’s Snapchat account at the end of July last year, he meant it to be a small-scale experiment.

“I only promoted it on my personal Twitter account,” Sheffer told me. “I didn’t make it an official thing that it was our account, I just told my followers, ‘Hey guys, I’m going to be doing this thing. Follow if you want to.’”

But soon the audience started growing; today, The Verge’s snaps each get about 10,000 views. The Verge, like many news organizations that are active on Snapchat, still views it as an experiment, trying out new ways to use the format — from covering live events like the NBA All-Star Game or the Oscars to a regular series where Sheffer has Verge staffers explain what’s on their desks.

Snapchat’s popularity is booming. Last year, it said that its users sent more than 700 million snaps daily; the company is reportedly in a new funding round that would value the company at $19 billion.

Snapchat’s potential for news outlets became more clear last month with the launch of Snapchat Discover, which lets a small number of publishers reach new younger audiences with well-produced stories that are made specifically for the platform and utilize slick graphics and video. No one is releasing hard numbers yet, but the buzz is they’re amazing. (“But from speaking to people at several other news organizations, I can tell you secondhand that the numbers, at least for the initial launch period, were enormous. We’re talking millions of views per day, per publisher.”)

To get a sense of how outlets are thinking about Snapchat, we asked six news organizations — Huffington Post, Fusion, Mashable, NPR, Philly.com, and The Verge — to explain how they approach the platform and how they plan to continue to evolve on Snapchat. News organizations say their Snapchat presence needs to match the tone of their outlet: That’s why Philly.com, the joint web presence of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, is focusing its efforts on covering local events and why every snap NPR sends ends with a staffer signing off by saying their name and “NPR News,” just as its reporters do on the radio. Here’s what the outlets told us, lightly condensed and edited.

Philly.com

Erica Palan, Philly.com social media manager:

When it comes to all social media, I think it’s important to respect the culture of the community that already exists there, so we didn’t want to jump into using Snapchat until we had an idea that worked for our content and for the platform. I’d love to tell you that we had a calculated plan in place for our first foray into snapping, but the honest truth is that we were preparing our site’s coverage of Wing Bowl and it just seemed like a good fit, so we gave it a whirl.

Wing Bowl is an annual chicken-wing-eating contest that gets a ton of local coverage, much of it snark about how it brings out everyone from pre-dawn tailgaters to strippers. It’s loud, messy, boisterous, and completely over the top. In other words, it’s an event begging to be shared.

Two of our photographers, Colin Kerrigan and Stephanie Aaronson, agreed to snap for us while they also captured the scene for the website’s coverage and shared it on Instagram, Twitter, and more. They took videos and photos throughout the day and updated a continuous story on the site. The result gave viewers a taste of the overall feel of the day.

We’re still very much in the brainstorming phase of how to make it meaningful for us as a news organization. I’d like to see us use Snapchat more as part of an events-coverage strategy. I’m thinking it will fit in during the Made in America music festival or during the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia in September. I’d love to give reporters a chance to use it if they were following a story that would be compellingly told through short snippets of video throughout the day. Will people still be using Snapchat in the same way when the DNC hits Philly in 2016? If so, that might be a great time to use it.

The Verge

Sam Sheffer, The Verge social media manager:

There’s no written guidelines from an editorial perspective. We’re definitely still in the experimental phase. I have written some best practices for Snapchat, but to make it really simple, I just go with my gut and what feels right kind of thing.

For instance, we always give context, so you’re not just going to post something and post a picture. If you’re taking a picture of a person with a gadget in their hand. You have to tell people who that is, what the gadget is, and why they should care. You can contextualize by adding filters also — like the time filter, the geolocation filters, you can also draw on it, so that kind of thing.

One thing I like to do — and lately I haven’t been doing because we’ve just grown too big and I have to do my actual job and not just sit on Snapchat all day — but I really really really enjoy interacting with readers, and by readers I mean fans of The Verge. We get tons of snaps everyday, and a lot of them are personalized responses to snaps we post, and I’m still surprised at how many people use the texting feature. So I get messages, we reply to messages, and I’ll get messages like, “When’s The Vergecast going up?” That type of thing. So I like to be the human connection between the people who follow us on Snapchat and The Verge. Because The Verge, for better or worse, is a hashtag brand, and having a Snapchat account and the way we use it humanizes it. It’s interesting because people snap The Verge and talk to me, because I’m sort of the face of it — but that’s also something we’re trying to get away from. People have come to know that Sam is the face of The Verge, but we try to get as many different faces on there as we can.

NPR

Wright Bryan, NPR social media desk:

At NPR, we think of Snapchat as another place to connect with a young audience looking for news close at hand. Since we started our Snapchat experiment in October 2013, we’ve built up a following of about 6,000 people. The response to what we’re doing has been overwhelmingly positive, with friendly snaps from fans regularly hitting our inbox.

Our approach is low-key and tailored to what people expect from us: expert reporting, a human voice, and an insatiable curiosity about the wider world. The form that we’ve chosen is a “fact of the day” presented by one of our journalists each weekday. It’s easy to produce (we do it all at NPR’s Washington headquarters) and right in line with our mission to create a more informed public.

The question is, should we do more? Should we be more ambitious? We’re intrigued by Snapchat’s Discover feature; it’s slick! And Snapchat, both the platform and the community, are fun. But it’s been a secondary effort so far and we’ll have to clearly define our goals before deciding to put more time into it.

Fusion

Margarita Noriega, Fusion director of social storytelling:

I might be biased, but I think Fusion is by far the best channel on Snapchat because we are truly offering users news in a way that invites conversation in a genuine way. Snapchat Discover is a perfect extension of the multi-platform and social-first approach Fusion is known for. [Fusion is on Snapchat Discover outside the United States and U.K..] We create original videos and articles every day, 5 times a day, just for Snapchat users, and we’ve been lucky enough to receive overwhelmingly positive responses to our stories (just search Twitter for “Fusion Snapchat”).

We talk about everything from pop culture (the anniversary of Selena’s death), to science (robots and germs) to sports (both kinds of football) to featuring Fusion’s award-winning investigations and interactives. We feature work from Fusion’s best known journalists, including works by Alicia Menendez, Tim Pool, Anna Holmes, and Kevin Roose. We create original work that goes well beyond aggregating the daily news. For example, Vine and Snapchat artist Anne Horel’s original 3-part video series launched last week on Fusion Discover, which was crosspromoted on Vine, Twitter, and Instagram.

And I believe Fusion is the only Snapchat channel that has a specific expertise in stories from Latin America, where we know Snapchat is especially popular. Our Latin American coverage allows us to shine. Last weekend, we featured an amazing photo essay about tecnobrega, and an animation about the latest rumored drug cartel in Mexico.

How does this new project incorporate into the newsroom? The editorial unit looks quite like your typical news desk, except there’s no separation in the work flow between our creative, strategic, and editorial experts. We create original art for stories to invite our audience into a discussion. This includes, at times, creating entirely new artistic designs and media for stories you see first on Fusion Network, or on Fusion.net. We strongly believe Discover opens endless opportunities to reach young, globally sophisticated, and engaged communities who care about what’s going on in the world.

The Huffington Post

Ethan Klapper, The Huffington Post’s global social media editor:

Snapchat provides a great opportunity to connect with millennials. In the past, we’ve posted content that’s popular with the audience: interviews from Comic Con, cute dogs visiting the office, the latest memes as well as interesting guests who visit HuffPost. Our Snapchat strategy was devised with this audience in mind, and we think it helps bolster HuffPost among younger fans.

We’re planning on ramping up our Snapchat activity. We’re going to use Snapchat to cover more live events such as award ceremonies, concerts, and popular TV shows. We also want to use Snapchat to make the news more digestible and accessible for millennials who might not regularly read long-form journalism. It will also be one of the primary platforms for our just-announced weekly video offering, “The HuffPost Show,” and Snapchat will be a cornerstone of its social strategy. We’re really excited about the potential.

Mashable

Dasha Battelle, Mashable visual storyteller:

Mashable took an early interest in Snapchat. We hopped on the ephemeral bandwagon just over a year ago to establish a new channel of communication with our audience. Our goal was to further our understanding of the platform and investigate an emerging avenue for mobile content distribution, as we felt that Snapchat’s strengths lay in its simple, visual communication and raw, real-time experience sharing. While it has been a tricky platform to navigate as a brand (lack of analytics, editing tools, etc.), Snapchat continues to provide our audience with unique access to our content and our culture.

Our Snapchat stories have featured a broad array of subjects. We’ll often cover live events on the platform, or create original narratives that tie-in to editorial themes on our site. Other stories have included product reviews, photo roundups, and news updates. Each story is a compilation of still images and short video clips, so it takes a fair amount of planning to deliver strong visual content and relevant, interesting information; brainstorming and storyboarding go into putting together a successful story. We try to keep in mind that genuine energy and personality go a long way on Snapchat.

We were also excited to see Snapchat launch its latest product development, Discover, earlier this year. We think there’s tremendous opportunity for brands there and look forward to seeing Discover take off.

Photo by Maurizio Pesce used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Feb. 23, 2015, 1:05 p.m.
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