Millions of users - is it a step change in social?
A view from Sue Unerman

Millions of users - is it a step change in social?

My mum is moving house. This means she's going to chuck out a whole load of stuff from my and my siblings' childhoods. Some of it has to be rescued. So I've recently taken home a huge box full of old photographs, looked through a few of them, got bored and stuck them in a similar cupboard to the one they have spent the past few years mouldering in.

Keeping loads of physical copies of old photos is a custom of the past. Uploading lots of photos to Instagram and Facebook is the custom of the day. So much so that complaints are manifold about too much sharing (who cares what you had for lunch and, cute as your kids/pets/friends are, please keep them to yourself).

Some psychologists believe that, if you’re taking a photo, then you’re not fully enjoying the moment. Watching people watch their favourite music star at a festival through the frame of their iPhone can seem a sad example of this. It becomes more about kudos from the photo or film that you upload to your social network to share with your friends or review after the event than about participating in the event itself. The motivation to build a record of your life and a beautifully designed image can seem more important than living the moment.

Snapchat isn’t like that. It is spontaneous, impermanent and, in its way, contrastingly private compared with other social trends.

Beloved of teens everywhere, it allows you to send a picture of what’s happening right now to a friend or friends that will disappear in three or four seconds after it is viewed (and will be deleted from the server). Of course you can find a way to keep the picture you’ve been sent – even though you’re not meant to – but the sender knows if you do. And if you are a real geek, you can recover the deleted data. The picture is supposed to be grainy, unposed, blurry and simply fun.

Snapchat represents a change in a couple of ways from the social media that has reigned supreme so far. First, in a funny way, it is more private. You will probably send it to a select set of people, or just one friend, rather than posting for all followers. Second, the image doesn't last. You’re not constructing an image for your followers in the way that you can build for yourself on other social media. You don’t keep it, nor does the recipient – it is like a butterfly postcard of a moment in time.

Snapchat has its dark side, of course. Yet, it undoubtedly has potential as a communications channel for brands with the right profile and the right voice. Some teen brands are trying. Others are taking their time about venturing in for good, cautious reasons.

You may have noticed, though, that other social media has a dark side too. The commercial model for Snapchat isn’t clear to me yet, but there’s certainly an opportunity to win over lots of teens if a brand uses it appropriately.

Also – it is fun. Give it a go. Doesn’t matter what you look like, no-one will dig the image out of a cupboard decades later. Now you see it, now you don’t.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom