Op-Ed: Leave No Trace— Year of SnapChat

By Kiran Aditham 

  Virgnia Alber-Glanstaetten, group director of planning at Huge, has returned with her monthly column for this here site, now discussing the year that’s been, most exclusively about the startup that we’ve admittedly never used. Take it away, Virginia.


For me, 2013 was the year of SnapChat. Let me qualify: not SnapChat as a platform or startup (though let’s acknowledge how innovative the product itself is, not to mention the guts—youthful bluster?—it took to turn down Facebook’s massive offer). No, I mean SnapChat as enabler of a major shift in user behavior this past year, which will have big implications for marketers.



When a client asked me recently what I’d be looking for in 2014, I realized how easy it is to focus on specific platforms or tools. Too often though, the hottest new service is really just a smart add-on. They don’t alter the overall picture. Big changes in the way people navigate the digital world, on the other hand, are tectonic, and SnapChat facilitated just such a big change.


With its here-today-gone-in-seconds visual messaging service, SnapChat managed to introduce impermanence back into our lives. In the last few years, that once timeless concept had become pretty quaint. We got used to everything being saved, and most of it shared (even if unshared, we learned that Facebook is probably looking at our unpublished updates and selling that data). Of course, the NSA swept up every last byte. Everything—every dumb drunk photo, stupid tweet, half-baked thought—was on our permanent record.


Enter SnapChat. Suddenly, there is no publicly available record of your unfortunate love confession to your cat. Or any number of indiscretions. Or just silly, ephemeral moments—you know, life. It allows us to live in the moment, and it restores “moments” to being momentary.


Now, there’s a big asterisk, of course—Already we know people  are finding any number of ways around the fleetingness of SnapChat, whether through screenshots or hacks. And of course, the company itself might decide to make things a little more lasting as it seeks to monetize. But the larger phenomenon remains intact: users have responded enthusiastically to a digital experience fundamentally different from every other social experience to date.


From a marketer’s perspective, these developments present a big challenges in how to engage users in newer, less predictable and engageable environments. Just as we seemed to be hitting our stride in reaching people on existing platforms in smart and targeted way. We better figure it out. We’re just going to see more and more fragmentation in social media and norms. I’m not surprised.  How, when and where we socialize is a constant evolutionary process—but at the core—our need to sometimes forget or ignore or just leave experiences in the past remains rather primal. It’s how memory works after all. Props to Snapchat and younger generations for remembering that…what you did last night, can stay just where it was, last night.