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Can Snapchat Help Government Engage a Younger Audience?

The consensus among agencies that have a profile on Snapchat is that it can be used both as a unique story-telling platform, as well as an interesting way to get engagement at events.

by / December 2016

The Snapchat app’s user interface was not the easiest thing for me to get the hang of. Is this where I should swipe left, down or press? The camera is on me again — quick, duck! But despite my initial experiences, the fact is that there’s an extremely large (and growing) group of people who totally get it.

Snapchat has carved out an interesting niche in the social media world, considering that about 60 percent of active users are under the age of 25. This offers a lot of opportunity for government agencies that want to reach out to a younger demographic in nontraditional ways.

It’s funny that a lot of agencies are considering Snapchat as a new tool in their social media strategy. The social platform actually launched way back in 2011 and has been silently engaging young people for years.

The gist is that users send Snaps to each other — an image or video clip, usually of themselves, spiced up with filter overlays and other bling. Once read, the Snap disappears and they can’t see it again. A user can also create Stories, a collection of snaps that all followers can see with a much longer shelf life of 24 hours.

Because people use this app on their mobile device with location services, the company launched Geofilters. This is where the government agencies with profiles on Snapchat are focusing their efforts, because you can create a filter with your agency branding. The filter will be available at the time and location you specify.

But Snapchat is not all rainbows and kittens for government despite its opportunities, as there are a few big challenges. Many agencies are required to archive social media, some even down to the metadata level. Although an agency can save screenshots of Snaps and there is an option to download stories, that approach wouldn’t capture the metadata.

One challenge for busy government social media managers trying to juggle multiple platforms is that Snaps happen in real time. While we’ve mastered planning and scheduling content for most other social platforms, the in-the-moment nature of Snapchat can be time-consuming.

In late September, Snap Inc. amended its terms of service for U.S. government users. These federal-compatible terms offered amendments favorable to government agencies in the area of advertisements, endorsements and liabilities. This is definitely a sign that the company sees the value in public-sector participation on the platform. 

The consensus among agencies that have a profile on Snapchat is that it can be used both as a unique story-telling platform, as well as an interesting way to get engagement at events. If your agency is not ready to start a Snapchat account, remember that you can still create a free community Geofilter.
If you’re looking at learning from some of the agencies already using the platform, make sure to find these friends: Las Vegas; Tampa, Fla.; Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado; West Hollywood, Calif.; BeReadyUtah; and the Fort Collins, Colo., Police Department.

As with any social media platform, make sure your onboarding approach includes trying it yourself, observing what has worked for others and reaching out for help. Although the casual style of Snapchat is not going to work for every government agency, the ones that have tried it at least have a story to tell.

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Kristy Dalton Contributing Writer

Kristy Dalton is known as "GovGirl" in the government technology industry. She has been called on as an industry influencer and has a passion for social media, technology and digital strategy. Kristy is the founder & CEO of Government Social Media.

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