Snapchat for Hotels: Read This First!

It’s debatable how much Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel saw how popular Snapchat would become when he came up with the idea at Stanford—regardless, he’s certainly pushed the platform a lot further than anyone probably thought it would go. Multiple feature releases later, Snapchat is still massive, especially for the under-25 market. Let’s take a look at it in a bit more detail.

After I put together the first article on Snapchat for hotels, something was still niggling away in the back of my mind. Although I’ve had a fair bit of experience with Snapchat personally, it’s been difficult to come up with a decent Snapchat strategy for hotels (or anyone else in hospitality for that matter). That isn’t to say that hotels aren’t using Snapchat, because they absolutely are. In fact, a lot of businesses are using Snapchat. But to what end?

After perusing the endless litany of articles on the topic of Snapchat for business, it’s now become abundantly clear exactly what Snapchat is, how it’s used in business, and how hotels don’t necessarily gain very much from using it.

What is Snapchat?

If you’ve found this article, you’ve probably got a fair idea of what Snapchat does, and most likely you’ve used it or do use it yourself. You know it allows sending 10-second videos to friends and to your Story. You know it allows disappearing photos and chat messages. You know that big companies are jumping into the Discover page to deliver news, culture, music and sports. And if you didn’t know that, you do now.

What I wanted to get to the heart of, though, is not what Snapchat does, but what Snapchat is. The way I’ve come to consider Snapchat is not as a “social media platform” like so many do. Snapchat is essentially an IM platform at heart—an instant messaging platform on steroids. Snapchat is much closer akin to WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or iMessage. Although it’s tacked on a Story and Discover feature to keep people in the app, it’s certainly the case the most people spend their time sending private messages to one another directly.

Instant Messaging vs Social Media

I think it’s important to recognise the distinction between a traditional (for want of a better term) social media platform and an IM platform like Snapchat. The main difference between the two platforms relates to discoverability. I know I touched on this in a previous article, but I’d like to expand on that idea further. When I use the term discoverability, I’m talking about the ability for users on the platform to discover new content easily without leaving the platform.

Let’s take Instagram as a contrast. Instagram is a typical social media platform, built on discoverability. It encourages users to use relevant hashtags and to tag their friends and followers in photos. The Search tab gives suggestions on who to follow, and presents photos the user may find interesting.

Snapchat has created a platform that completely opposes this undercurrent of discoverability. Snapchat is all about engaging with people you’ve met outside of its app, whether online or in the real world. The search feature only searches your current friends list, not the entire platform. There is no tagging, hash or otherwise.

Although Snapchat has released many new features and UI tweaks over its lifetime, it’s clear that its not trying to be a social media platform. I would go so far as to suggest that it will never become one. Snapchat, despite its growth, has really stayed true to its roots of being a very personal, private IM platform, with some “public” features (Story and Discover) added just as a way to engage its users further.

If you're interested in the backstory of Snapchat, including all the prominent features added over the years, I'd recommend Gary Vaynerchuk's article "The Snap Generation: A Guide to Snapchat's History". For something more visual, check out this timeline of Snapchat's history:

Reading through Snap Inc.’s official blog, most of which is (supposedly) written by CEO Evan Spiegel, the undertone is that Snapchat is “all about the user”. This contrasts directly with Facebook’s outlook on its platform, not because it’s different but because it doesn’t really seem to know what it is. Facebook wants to be a place for your friends, and for companies you interact with, and for games, and for your photos and videos as well as an advertising platform.

As a matter of fact, Facebook’s general motif of “being a source for everything” is becoming increasingly difficult to follow. And although this article will not recommend Snapchat as a good marketing tool for most hotels (spoiler!), I can at least say with some confidence that Snapchat knows what it is and what its users want.

SNAPCHAT FOR HOTELS?

My last article about Snapchat saw me sitting on the fence. Perhaps this wasn’t too much of a surprise—if you’ve read my articles at all you’ll know I’m quite good at doing that. As Dwight Schrute puts it so elegantly, “I know how to sit on a fence. Hell, I can even sleep on a fence. The trick is to do it face down with the post in your mouth.”

Today, however, I want to take a stand. Snapchat is not a good platform for increasing your brand awareness, promoting competitions or securing more direct bookings. I’m not saying it can’t be done, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t try, and I’m not telling you what to do. I’m just the messenger—I’m delivering the information, and it’s up to you to take it how you will.

The reasons why Snapchat isn’t a good platform for building an audience or increasing your hotel’s direct bookings should be obvious by now. If it isn’t, just replace “Snapchat” in the preceding statement with “WhatsApp” or “Facebook Messenger”. The simple fact is that users aren’t on Snapchat to interact with brands, and they certainly aren’t able to discover new, interesting content even if they wanted to.

I’ll reiterate the words of Wistia’s Jenny Mudarri once again:

“Even if you do happen to build a small following on Snapchat, these individuals are probably already superfans rather than potential customers.”

What this means for a hotel is that any users following you are probably already your raving fans. They’ve probably stayed with you before, and would probably recommend you to their friends and family even without your Snapchat presence. They certainly aren’t really able to share your Snapchat photos and videos easily (they can send them to their friends, although they disappear after they’ve been viewed).

BUT… WHAT ABOUT THE MARRIOTT? AND W HOTELS?

Yes, I know. The Marriott uses Snapchat. W Hotels uses Snapchat. But of course they do. If you Google “Snapchat for hotels” just about every article you’ll find references some or all of these enormous players who are using Snapchat to get their followers engaged and to even run competitions. It’s incredible to me that these articles seem to suggest that most hotels can use Snapchat to their advantage by following these examples. I mean, seriously? Come on, now. Let’s be realistic.

For most smaller operators (“smaller” here still includes 40-room hotels and smaller chain hotels, as well as local and independently-run hotels, motels and B&Bs), there simply isn’t the time, the money or the high potential follower count to consider Snapchat viable. Because of the lack of discovery on Snapchat, the amount of time and money it takes to promote a Snapchat account, as well as to continually keep it relevant—remember, all your Snaps disappear after 24 hours—is just a non-starter.

Let’s take a look at W Hotels as an example. Although if you did do a Google search before, you’ll have seen this about 50 times.

W Hotels worked with Snapchat directly to create what are called Geofilters. These are overlays that can be added to photos and videos taken by anyone who happens to be at a certain geographic location—in this case at the hotel. And they look great—but then, of course they do.

According to Debbie Miller of Maximize Social Business (whose article I took the above image from):

This is an excellent way for more hotel brands to build awareness using Snapchat. Aligning the brand with young, hip, upscale brands, and being one of a handful of companies that created their own filters is a victory.

How excellent is it really, though? The problem with Geofilters is that they’re expensive. As a hotel (or any business, or even an individual), you have to “purchase” a certain geographic location (which you define on a map) for a certain number of days (or even infinitely). The price increases with land area and length of time.

But to what end? These Geofilters may look great, and may get people taking more Snaps at your hotel, but those guests are already there—you’ve already convinced them to stay. To be honest here, Debbie, I really don't think you've thought this through.

Admittedly, all their friends will see those Snaps if they post them on their story, so there is some level of “free marketing” (although not really, based on the cost of a Geofilter). But really all this does is build brand awareness. And for a big hotel chain, brand awareness is a big thing, mainly because they have so many hotels in so many different places.

In this way, Snapchat isn’t a bad platform for brand awareness. And I can see why big players have used it for that. But for smaller operators, whilst brand awareness is important, that doesn’t do much for their bottom line. In the end, users are still only using Geofilters or Sponsored Lenses (another paid-for big-brand sponsorship) to Snap their own friends.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Snapchat is a great platform, and it will certainly evolve over time. And if you want to engage with your followers using Snapchat, I’m not saying you shouldn’t. I’m just saying that most users simply aren’t there for that. Your raving fans will certainly follow you, and take notice of the stuff you put up on Snapchat, but it will be very difficult to build a decent enough following on Snapchat unless you really work at it.

In the end, there are better social media channels you can use to engage with fans and with potential guests—like Instagram and Facebook, both of which require less time and money spent on promoting them, and which have much more potential to create interest and engagement.

If the bottom line here is about increasing your bottom line, I would treat Snapchat the way it wants to be treated. Approach it slowly with an outstretched hand if you will, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t respond or decides to bite your fingers.


BY THE WAY...

If you know what Neil Fleming's VARK model is and you're more of an "A" than an "R", check out the podcast on this subject below:

Nick’s background is with visual media, most notably photography and graphic design. His experience with composition, colouring and storytelling led him to his latest role at Raving Digital. He also dabbles with recording music, so he understands how important audio is in any video.

He’s worked at everything from checkout chick to business analyst to pizza chef, but somehow his loyalty lies with telling great stories with brilliant visuals and even brilliant-er sound.

As the director of photography, he’s often behind a camera, but then he’s also back in the studio splitting hairs over the amount of green in the shadows or the stereo spread of the room tone.