If your customers aren't on Snapchat, do you still need to read this post? Yes—because they will be.
That's a bold prediction, and I'm not claiming to be a psychic. But it's looking like Snapchat is where Facebook was in 2006, when it opened registration to everyone over 13. At the time, many people thought it was just a niche platform for college students, but they were wrong.
In the early stages, people get distracted by the demographics of early adopters and details of user interface, but over time the value of core technologies becomes obvious. And with the changes Snapchat has just made, they've broadened their appeal to pretty much everyone. More on that later.
So, what has Snapchat changed?
1. New Messaging Features
Within the current chat functionality, Snapchat has added a range of other communication options, from stickers to audio and video.
The big kahuna is updates to live voice and video calls. Now, you can call someone from within a chat and they'll get notified even if their chat screen isn't open. If the app is closed or is open in the background, they'll get a push notification.
You can also choose to answer an incoming call as either a voice or video call, so you can talk without revealing that you're still in your pajamas. Snapchat makes it easy to toggle between audio and video if, for example, you need to set the phone down but keep talking. You're also still be able to exchange text chats while you're on a call.
What if you don't have time to talk live, but still want to add a personal touch to your messaging? For that you have audio and video notes—looped audio and video recordings of up to 10 seconds that work like custom GIFs.
You can also share photos stored on your phone within chat, and even edit them with the same tools you use to create snaps. Snapchat still doesn't allow you to create snaps from saved photos, but if you really want to, you can use tools like SnapUp.
Finally, Snapchat has added 200 sticker options within chat, allowing it to compete with Facebook and apps like Bitmoji. They're pretty cute, too. Update: as of May 2016, you can use these stickers like emoji in your snaps.
Together, these chat, note, call, and sticker options allow you to have a natural conversation at whatever scale you want to have it—from a simple "lol" message or emoji to a reaction video or live call.
2. Watching Stories
Snapchat's changes will affect how you view the stories in your Recent Updates as well. When you open a story to watch it, Snapchat will now pre-load the next couple of stories and autoplay the next story when the story you selected is complete.
As before, just tap to skip a snap. But now, if you want to skip an entire story, just swipe left to move on to the next one. Convenient, right?
3. Creating Snaps
So what's changed about Snapchat's core offering: making and sharing snaps for your story?
Well, for one thing, you can now add more than one line of text. Technically, Snapchat has "more than doubled" the 33-character limit they had before, though they didn't reveal the exact number. It looks like 80 characters by my count.
Also, you can now paste text into a snap, as long as it's not longer than 80 characters.
But let's get to the fun part! Snapchat is trying to give you even more options for creatively augmenting your world. Not only can you draw on and add emoji to your snaps—you can now pin stickers and emoji to objects in your videos if you choose. Just make a video, add a sticker or emoji over the object you want to pin it to, and hold it there to pin.
Snapchat's face-swapping filter has long been popular with the internet, but they've added one more cool detail: the ability to swap faces with a photo, be it your BFF's high school yearbook pic or a self-portrait by Frida Kahlo.
For brands and marketers, the increased flexibility Snapchat keeps adding will make it much easier to create engaging content in real time, and share it with a larger and larger audience.
Why the grandiose prediction?
These changes all sound cool, but they hardly amount to a communication revolution... right?
What Snapchat is trying to do here is make online communication more natural by bringing all the options into one place. There are no constraints of format.
Here's an example:
You share a snap of yourself with some friends at a local beer market. Another friend sees it and realizes she's nearby. She opens a chat directly from your snap to ask how long you're going to be there.
You don't see it for a few minutes, but when you do you reply with a 10-second video saying you're not sure, but probably a while. She's still in the app when she gets this video note, so she opens an audio call to get more details. You answer with a video call so you can show her who's there, and she can talk to them directly. Before long, she's by your side enjoying a dry-hopped IPA.
See what I mean? No limits.
One of the biggest perks of these changes, which you can see in the example above, is that they help adjust for the natural lag time in online conversations. Instead of texting back and forth, getting frustrated, and resorting to a phone call to hash out the details, you can scale a conversation up or down as needed without having to switch platforms.
In the words of Josh Costine in his TechCrunch review, "With today's launch of Snapchat 2.0, Snapchat wants to BE your phone."
Everybody likes visual communication; within the last generation we've added not only visual formats like YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, and even GIFs, but also technology that makes it incredibly easy to embed visual content into whatever else we're doing.
When your mom has no problem adding an angry Clair Huxtable GIF in an email about Easter dinner, you know the world has changed.
We're telling our personal stories in different ways, both publicly and privately. And any tool that makes everyday communication both more visual AND more intuitive is a cultural shift waiting to happen.
As more and more people begin using Snapchat, marketers who are ahead of the learning curve will have a significant edge. Start learning, exploring, and formulating a Snapchat strategy now, and you'll reap the rewards later.
In short, get on Snapchat and claim a good username before they're all gone. Vieodesign is taken!