Snapchat has changed since the last time I tried it. You know, back in 2011 when I was simply too old for it. Now Snapchat has stories and has become a channel for everything: as expected it’s excellent for silly selfies and personal communication in text and images and video and gifs and everything in between. But it’s also now a news channel, a marketing channel, an information channel and a collaborative storytelling channel that has a new and fascinating aesthetics. If you weren’t on Snapchat because you were too old to have any friends on it, now is the time to pick it up again. You don’t actually need friends on it now, but if you’re interested in digital media, you need to look at the Stories. In this post I’ll explain lenses, geofilters and stories, and talk a bit about how I think scholars could use them.

1. Lenses

The reason I picked Snapchat up again was my daughter showed me the lenses, actually, which are crazy fun. Look, you have to try them:

Official Snapchat lenses demo gif

The lenses are updated daily, so haven’t grown old yet. And interestingly, some of them are actually ads, but in a fun way. They’re geolocated, so for instance, being in Chicago yesterday, one of the lenses I saw was a set of headphones that were an ad for the TV show Empire, with a note about when and on what channel the show was going to premiere. I forgot to take a screenshot, but here’s a selfie Kehler Jacob at On the Line Social Media took with the lens:


2. Filters

Next, check out the geofilters and other contextual filters you can overlay on images. Geofilters only show up when you’re in a set region. So I see none here in the Chicago suburbs, but in an urban area or a popular natural park or something there will likely be several to choose between. You find the filters by swiping from left to right on a photo or video you have taken. Community and university filters for a location can be submitted to Snapchat for free, so that’s certainly something for academics and students to consider. You can also pay for a geofilter for a company or an event, and while it might cost hundreds of dollars for a long-term filter, a filter for a conference or a one-night event might only cost a few dollars. I would love to try this for the next conference or other event I organise. Sponsored, time-dependent geofilters can also include live information, like the scores of a game, or the polling results of an election. NRKbeta has a great post (in Norwegian but even just looking at the screenshots is useful) about how Snapchat is integrating political journalism into the platform.

snapchat-cruz-geofilter  Snapchat-geofilter-game-with-score

Geofilters for personal events, like weddings, are also possible, and you can either choose from a set of templates or create your own using a Photoshop template they provide.


3. Stories

But the stories are where I really see a potential for scholars. You see stories if you swipe from right to left from the main screen, where you take your photos, but do it before you actually take a photo. A story is a publicly posted series of still images and short videos shots (up to ten seconds each) that are viewable for 24 hours. After that they are gone forever, unless you took a screen capture.

I think I really got how amazing a story could be when I saw Snapchat’s own news channel, Good Luck America, which may only be available when you are in the US, and which has only shown up once since I started paying attention a week ago. The story I saw was astounding though: a political analysis of the presidential primaries told in a video aesthetics that is unlike anything I’ve seen on television. Fascinating. But it also uses tricks that aren’t available to ordinary users, like pre-edited video. If you see Good Luck America among the available stories, absolutely take a look!

The rest of us can only create stories from images and videos that are shot live in the Snapchat app. You can add filters and text to the images, and draw on them, but you cannot upload anything to Snapchat, it has to be done in the app in real time. (Although there are third party apps that let you upload stuff, and I haven’t checked these out yet.) That means stories have a particular kind of aesthetic.

As with any social media, the best way to understand it is to see how other people are using it. Obviously your friends are likely posting stories about stuff you may be interested in (where they are, what they are doing), but right now, I want to figure out how people create stories meant for a general audience, not just for their friends.

Here are a few people I have followed who are doing interesting things. Please let me know about others I should follow! To view their stories, add them as friends by clicking the yellow ghost at the top of the photo-taking screen the Snapchat opens with and entering their user names. Then view the stories by clicking the little icon in the bottom right corner of the main screen.

The only academic I know who has used Snapchat actively is Sunniva Rose (sunnivarose), a nuclear physicist in Oslo. Here is her blog post about how she uses it. I’m not sure if she is still active on Snapchat – I only just followed her!

Danthedirector is a South African photographer who sets himself challenges to take an innovative selfie every day. Each Snapchat story begins with a quote or a thought, then he uses short videos to show us how he sets up the image, which is usually a composite of several initial shots, or requires some other kind of complicated setup, like the spiderweb below. The editing is often done by a collaborator who has volunteered on Twitter, and the result is posted to Instagram later that day. Here is today’s final image:


You’ll be able to watch the story on Snapchat for about another 12 hours after I write this blog post, then it will disappear: Snapchat stories can only be seen for 24 hours after they are posted.

Danthedirector’s use of multiple platforms is particularly interesting because it is not simply reposting the same content in every channel. Far from it, he draws upon the best qualities of each channel: Snapchat for process and live engagement, Twitter for discussion and collaboration and Instagram for showcasing and archiving beautiful visual results.

Djkhaled is a social media phenomenon on many other platforms as well, and very active on Snapchat. His stories are bizarre and extremely popular – I read somewhere he has three million followers. He constantly posts videos and images about how “they” are after him and how he loves his fans and about his workout regime and all his inspirational stuff.

Thomas Moen (tornsuits) is a social media marketing expert from Norway who does daily Snapchat stories with social media marketing advice. He’s a good example of how you can make informational stories simply by recording a sequence of videos of yourself explaining something. For the few days I’ve followed him, he often speaks while walking somewhere, and the inclusion of his surroundings in the videos makes this feel quite different from a vlog on YouTube, where the surroundings of the speaker are usually downplayed, or at least unchanged for the duration of the monologue. Thomas also uses still images, filters and so on, but not to excess. This is a good example of how an individual can actually publish something useful every day to Snapchat without having thousands of collaborators like danthedirector or an entourage taking half the shots like djkhaled.

Ulrika Linnea (slottelinnea) is a young Swedish woman who is listed as a “storyteller” by Today’s story shows leisurely videos of her riding her bike out into a beautiful sunset and then panicked selfie videos of her having lost her bike in the middle of nowhere. Apparently this was not fiction, but it just as well might have been. I’m intrigued, anyway.

Some universities are on snapchat mostly letting students show what student life is like but some, like Colorado State Univeristy (coloradostateu) and Univeristy of Michigan (uofmichigan) are doing interesting things – both those have had wellmade stories available recently.

There are some interesting Norwegian examples, too. A Bergen art museum, Kode (kode_bergen), posts almost daily stories consisting of still images of artworks in their current exhibitions, with scrawled writing across them or added text. The national broadcaster, NRK, posts news stories as series of images with text (P3nyheter). I have to admit that now that the stories play automatically as a sort of visual feed where you can’t see what is coming next, it just keeps playing, the still images feel a little, well, still, among all the video. I’ve already gotten used to video, it seems.

4. What can scholars do?

I haven’t found any scholars on Snapchat yet, at least not sharing stories about their research or about the process or day-to-day experience of being an academic. This might be because:

  1. Academics are too old for Snapchat (except all the excellent young scholars…)
  2. Academics who get Snapchat actually want to keep it personal.
  3. Stories disappear after 24 hours, and academics don’t want to waste their time on something that won’t have lasting value. (But you can save your own story and repost it on your blog or YouTube or something.)
  4. Academics see their peers on Facebook and Twitter and so they think everyone important is on Facebook and Twitter.

Snapchat is obviously not a durable archive for scholarship, but its basic premise of immediacy and impermanence shouldn’t frighten us: that’s pretty much what television and radio have always been, right? And yet talking about your research on TV is seen as a big deal when universities measure impact and research dissemination. Academics generally don’t have enough time to be creating intricate daily stories, but short series of videos about what we’re currently working on, interspersed with relevant still images, might not be out of reach. Short reports from conferences or events seem like obvious academic uses of Snapchat. A few seconds of video of a presentation with a line of text explaining it – sure, why not?

A question is who we would be talking to as academics on Snapchat. We could use it like we tend to use Twitter and talk to each other. Or we could think of it as outreach adn try to engage young people. Those audiences are pretty different from each other.

I am sure there are zillions of other stories I should be looking at. Please let me know which ones, or send me a snap to tell me! I am jilltxt on Snapchat. I haven’t quite started posting research stories yet, but I plan to give it a go soon. I think my first story will be about the biometrics involved in the selfie lenses. I’ll let you know when I post it!

5 thoughts on “How Can Scholars Use Snapchat Stories?

  1. Dr. Sharon Albert Honore

    Awesome! I’m an “old scholar” who appreciates convergence journalism and the suggestions you make are so creative. I’ve got to spend some time learning this genre but looking forward to the challenge. Thanks for posting. #learningkeepsusyoung

  2. alan bigelow

    Interesting. Thanks for posting this!

  3. David Kampmann

    Interesting thoughts. I have gotten to know a few scholars on Snapchat. It is a wonderfully personal way to connect with colleagues and students. Twitter is great, but there is a truly conversational tone missing that Snapchat fills.

    Want to see what I am doing and connect with me there?

  4. Jean OHalloran

    I love your work, always inspiring! Some of my students identified how one filter on Snapchat automatically made them ‘prettier’. They regularly use filters to perform this function on other social media platforms for themselves but were quite shocked that the app was making the decisions for them- defining how large their eyes should be, how white their teeth! We thought there was much food for thought here!

  5. Jillana

    Thanks for sharing this tutorial! I like how you revisit snapchat–maybe I’ll try using it & not just writing about it!

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