Snapchat is bringing user location to the forefront of its social media experience. Today location is a defining characteristic of Snapchat, and the company continues to develop new features that make otherwise mundane longitudes and latitudes meaningful.
The effective use of location data has proven difficult for the social giants, and the market is rife with unmet opportunity around user location. Nine out of 10 smartphone owners enable location services on their devices, according to eMarketer and data from the Pew Research Center, but a recent Skyhook Wireless survey found that only 38 percent of respondents grant social networking apps access to that information.
Snapchat's fresh take on location
Snapchat's unique approach to location already earned the company legions of geo-fanatics, thanks to its quirky location-based filters that augment images or video, as well as it "live stories," which are only available within specific regions or at certain venues. Snapchat also hopes to use location data to create on-demand geofilters so it can sell them to businesses that want to market events, products or specific locales.
Snapchat's use of location is notable because it takes a refreshingly different approach to the feature, which has become somewhat stale, boring and under developed in other similar social apps. Facebook, Google and Twitter have largely shifted location to the background of their social apps and activities, but Snapchat elevates the importance of place and puts it front and center in the user experience.
For example, Snapchat has "gamed" location around human behavior and capitalized on it through a "more private network where space isn't precious, but rather fleeting," says Cameron Friedlander, marketing technology strategy lead at Kimberly-Clark, a consumer packaged goods conglomerate. "Quick non-linear storytelling is inherent to the [Snapchat] platform and location is a natural part of that — connecting people to their environment and others to tell their stories."
Snapchat aims to add 'right place' to the marketing mix
Location-data has been available to marketers in social apps for many years, including data collected via geo-fencing on Twitter. Facebook also offers targeted ads based on users' cities, states and zip codes. However, Snapchat presents marketers with a new and creative means to customize their messages using location, according to Stephen Golub, vice president of accounts at DXagency, an "engagement agency" that focuses on the entertainment industry. For example, when people in Hoboken, N.J., open the Snapchat app they see a completely different set of geofilters and curated content than users in Los Angeles, he says. And while brands can also target Facebook users with location-specific content, Snapchat lets them sponsor new sets of filters and functionality that may only be available for 24 hours, according to Golub.
"Snapchat is the only social network that is customizing their platform's functionality to users' locations," Golub says. "Snapchat has taken [location] to a new, more organic level by changing the platform's functionality for users based on location and seamlessly integrating brands."
Marketing is no longer just about getting the right message to the right person at the right time, according to Rebecca Lieb, an independent industry analyst and advisor. "Mobile's pervasiveness means 'right place' needs to be added to the mix," she says. "Marketing is enormously local and site specific."
The established marketing technology ecosystem is ready to implement this extra layer of contextual data, but marketers need to change their processes to create relevant customer messages using location, according to Friedlander. "It involves a complete shift in distribution strategies, content creation and understanding data within the creative process," he says.
"Geo-filters provide a method for the Snapchat audience to co-create with a brand," says Forrester analyst Erna Alfred Liousas. "It is another way for audiences to express themselves and another input to marketer insights. These location-based capabilities allow marketers to test across different markets" and personalize messages to create deeper experiences between brand and consumer, she says.
"Location-based advertising on social media has not been a total failure," but adoption has been stunted due to a disconnect in the ways marketers use location data and social companies' business models, according to Golub. Snapchat wants to reinvigorate the market for location-based ads by leading brands away from the traditional, restrictive strategies of its peers in social.
"Location-based marketing is pervasive, but the traditional model of marketing can't support it," Friedlander says. "Snapchat may be redefining how we communicate moving forward, and they should force brands to rethink how they advertise, rather than looking for ways to sneak in traditional advertising that we all ignore."
These points of differentiation also empower Snapchat to make an impact across the full spectrum of social media, including video and ephemeral, or "disappearing," messages, according to Friedlander. "The evolutions of communications or social media will be in the objects we interact with," he says. "It won't solely exist in some nebulous virtual space — it will be connected to locations, things and objects to give it more meaning."