How to win at Snapchat while covering the 2016 presidential election

Screenshots of Snaps from Sen. Marco Rubio (marcorubio16), NBC’s Snapchat team (shiftmsnbc) and CBS News (cbsnews).

Screenshots of Snaps posted from the Republican presidential primary debate in Colorado on Oct. 28. (Snaps from Sen. Marco Rubio (marcorubio16), NBC’s Snapchat team (shiftmsnbc) and CBS News (cbsnews).)

By Chris Caraveo

The 2016 presidential election is a much-anticipated event. The date, Nov. 8, is set, but who will appear on the ballot is anything but certain.

One thing is clear: Snapchat will be used heavily during the presidential election. Journalists and candidates will all be “snapping” away on the mobile chat application.

That is already happening now, as journalists and candidates have used Snapchat during the primary debates.

Not only will news organizations provide news and updates next November, Snapchat will also thrust itself into the newsgathering process. The company brought in former CNN political reporter Peter Hamby as its head of its news division in April 2015.

Snapchat, which launched in 2011, was around for the 2012 election cycle but it’s only in the last two to three years that Snapchat has grown in popularity among 18 to 34 year olds, surpassing Twitter as the third most popular social media app in 2014.

More than 100 million monthly active users are on Snapchat, and that number may be even double, according to Business Insider.

The app is so popular among the younger demographic that Snapchat is a great way for the media to attract millennials, said Robert Quigley, a senior lecturer and social media instructor at the University of Texas at Austin.

“The media says they want to reach out to a younger audience but don’t,” Quigley said. “The only wrong thing for journalists to do is to do nothing.”

So how should journalists use Snapchat while covering the presidential election?

First, establish yourself

Julia Carpenter, a digital audience producer at The Washington Post, said context is necessary when appealing to users.

“Otherwise, they’re not engaged with your Snaps,” Carpenter said.

For example, Washington Post reporter Kevin Sieff opened up his election coverage in Nigeria earlier this year with a photo of his reporter’s badge and a line of text explaining who he was and why he was taking over the Post’s account.

Quigley said all it takes to establish yourself on Snapchat is to get out of the house. In his social media class at the University of Texas, he incorporated Snapchat into the collection of tools — including Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest — students have been using. Establishing their brand on Snapchat might take putting themselves on camera first, Quigley said. The essential thing is to experiment with the app, since it is relatively new as a reporting tool.

“Use it much like the way as you would with friends,” Quigley said. “But with a news angle.”

Get creative

Audiences don’t like the same thing over and over (unless you’re a cartoon character who wears the same outfit every episode). Creativity and variety in Snaps will go a long way to engaging your audience and getting them to Snap back.

Chris Richards, the pop music critic at The Washington Post, once took Snapchat followers on an entire day of viewing shows, touring venues and listening to albums.

And while the music scene is more of his style, Richards offered some tips journalists can use while covering the election and campaign trail. The best way to connect with viewers is to show them things that are usually exclusive at events, as not everyone can be there.

“Share what you’re experiencing,” Richards said. “Give people something to connect with that’s interesting.”

Dan Balz, a political reporter who also uses Snapchat at The Washington Post, brought viewers into the newspaper’s event before the CNN Democratic primary debate in Nevada. He previewed the event by showing where he was located, and pre-event festivities. He even interviewed people attending the event and let them know they were on Snapchat.

Find the right people

Carpenter advises journalists to follow people who know the trends for lessons on how to use the app’s gadgets — such as geofilters, which allow users to post and view Snaps within a certain location — and incorporate them into their Snaps will help engage your audience.

Even some of the candidates have their own accounts. They’re using the app for a few reasons: to campaign, to advertise and to portray themselves as an everyday person.

When going out to events, it is best to include people into your Snaps. As for the next year’s election, Richards said one thing a reader would enjoy from Snapchat is any on-the-ground audio or video that they wouldn’t normally get from a recent article, including interviews with people along the campaign trail. Richards said it’s always great to hear from multiple voices.

Snapchat won’t influence the election any more or less than any other platform, Richards said, but it is where some conversation is happening.

Snapchat requires one to have fun and experiment, and offers an opportunity to inform a younger audience about the election.


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