The Snapchat Evolution

Like many social media trends, Snapchat was born from simple, superficial roots, giving users around the world the ability to share real-time selfies with their friends. The temporary (10 second maximum) nature of the photo sharing app inspired everyone to get weird, creative, and sometimes even inappropriate. It was fun for a while, but many users, including myself, expected the app to disappear as quickly as it appeared. For a while, that prediction seemed correct. Even with the addition of filters and colors, the Snapchat revolution began to wane. As advertising rumors began to circle, I assumed that would just add to the decline in usage.

I’m here to admit that I underestimated Snapchat. The company has understood from the very beginning the short attention span that characterizes our society. They have released updates constantly over the past few months, targeting youth and media alike, and securing their position as a relevant communications source. I’m impressed by the innovation they have shown over the last few months with location targeted stickers, stories from around the world, and now, the “discover” feature.

Now I open Snapchat for more than just a selfie. I open it to check out what Kite Day looks like in India, or how snowstorm Juno has affected the East Coast. I take 60 seconds to catch up on CNN news, or see what the recipe of the day is from the Food Network.

When people talk about social media trends—news, videos, staying connected across countries and timezones, etc.—it can start to feel repetitive and predictable. However, it seems that the minds behind Snapchat listened and took their app to the next level, it doesn’t seem so shallow anymore.

Companies are Watching You

I’m not talking about targeted advertising.

This morning, LinkedIn left this fascinating article in my inbox. The author, Bill Tancer, does an excellent job of illustrating the changing “ratings” landscape. For years, companies have been adjusting to the real-time review system that they must battle. Now it’s our turn.

Bilateral reviews can serve the critical function of providing a sense of trust. In the case of eBay, Airbnb, Uber, and others that provide reviews in both directions, the parties are on equal footing.

As an agency employee, it’s easy to see how this shift might affect my professional life as well as my personal life. More than anything, it’s just another reminder that in this digital age you are constantly being watched and evaluated… whether as an employee or as a consumer. Does that concept scare or inspire you?

The comments on the article suggest that most readers lean towards scared. Multiple people protest that it’s an invasion of privacy, that we as consumers shouldn’t “audition for the privilege of paying you money.” The flip side is that people become more accountable. There is a basic level of respect that you should offer those who serve you (and yes, that includes tipping your waiter).

But the most glaring problem remains, rating the quality of your experience at a coffee shop is very different from rating the quality of the person you served coffee to. So how can we say they are the same? In fact, the services listed above (eBay, Airbnb, and Uber) are all person to person transactions. The company merely created the connection tool, whether that be an app or a website. For now, the new rating system only enhances the effectiveness of the transaction.

I’m sure the bi-lateral rating movement will continue to grow. My suggestion? No matter how we humanize companies, we (as people) should consciously work to recognize the distinction between a business and a person. Also, be aware that your actions are more important than ever in building your personal brand.

Ice Bucket Challenge and Public Relations Awareness

*Originally appeared on Pursuing PR 8/18/2014*

Over the past few weeks, social media sites have been flooded with videos of peers and celebrities dousing their selves in ice water to promote the ALS Foundation. Although there seem to be different versions of the challenge, the gist seems to be that nominees are required to either donate $100 to the ALS foundation OR have a bucket of ice water poured over your head. You then pass along the challenge to three friends, reminiscent of a 90’s email chain. “SEND THIS TO THREE FRIENDS OR ELSE.”

As a result, annoyed users are beginning to question the practice. The most common argument is that the entire point of dousing yourself with water is to avoid donating the suggested $100.

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Despite this, the ALS Foundation has received millions in donations from the campaign. “As of Sunday, the association said it had received $13.3 million in donations since July 29, compared with $1.7 million during the same period last year.” (New York Times) I know that might be a bit confusing, but this entire “ice bucket challenge” is just an extremely successful public relations campaign. Even more interesting, the ALS Foundation doesn’t appear to have started the movement. Originally, the challenge was to donate to an organization of your choice, but along the way the focus shifted to ALS. The gods of communication must have helped them out.

Back to public relations…

There are three main types of objectives in every PR campaign; awareness, acceptance, and action. More ‘obscure’ diseases such as ALS often suffer from lack of awareness. As the ALS Association’s lead fundraiser explained, “It’s very difficult to fundraise because most people have never heard of ALS and its a very complex disease to discuss and explain.” (Washington Post) The goal of this fundraising campaign, unplanned as it is, was primarily to raise awareness for the disease. That’s the first step towards motivating people to donate.

Brilliantly, action is tied into the challenge as well. No one said you had to donate; it’s just a suggestion. If you don’t want to, just douse yourself in cold water, an awesome way to have fun and appear charitable on Facebook. Writing a check is considerably less fun. However, now that you know about ALS and it’s devastating effects, you might feel motivated to donate as well. Obviously, thousands of people have.

As critics point out, you’re actually not all that charitable if you just dump water on your head but it’s engaging, it’s fun, it’s a challenge. A challenge that prompts awareness and action from the public, and ultimately raised $13 million dollars for the ALS Association.

Most companies will not be so lucky in their fundraising endeavors, but take this challenge as a lesson in how to be successful. Research simple ways to engage, entertain, and challenge your stakeholders. If you do it right, your message will echo across social media.

Or, in lieu of researching your audience, just do a PR dance to the communications gods. It’s worth a shot.

Rebecca Martineau