Sitting in my cozy Boston office, sipping coffee, I’m suddenly transported to Washington State’s Cascade Mountain Range, soaring above the mile-high Cowboy Mountain and scanning Tunnel Creek, a popular, snow-powdered trail and the site of the tragic 2012 Stevens Pass avalanche.This is the genius of the graphics that accompany “Snow Fall: The Avalanche in Tunnel Creek,” a story that debuted in 2012 on The New York Times’ online edition. Although the rushing show and biting winds are only graphics embedded within the article, they are so well done you feel like you are there. In recent years, The New York Times, a stalwart of traditional print news, has dominated digital storytelling, integrating stunning and sometimes interactive graphics within its pages.
As beautiful as these features are (and they are still stunning 3 years later), where does this interactive, visual storytelling fit within our 140-character, 6-second-film, top-8 lives? (Forgive the MySpace reference, but nothing conveys digital restrictions more than fitting your most prized friendships into a 2 x 4 grid.)
Snapchat, an app notorious for its not-so-lasting impressions, recently released Discover, allowing traditional media companies to feature public content, like trailers and current events, within the app. The media outlets range from Cosmopolitan to National Geographic and tease users with graphics and sound bites as well as the traditional flashy headlines. After hitting the purple dot in the upper right corner, users are presented with an array of publications to choose from. Once a publication is selected, users can swipe left and right to move through stories, swipe up to read more, or swipe down to exit the publication and return to the Discover menu.
By now, most publications have a mobile presence of some type. So, why is Snapchat’s most recent move something we should care about? Although it’s not an entirely novel idea, Snapchat’s new feature adds several unique twists to digital storytelling.
- In keeping with Snapchat’s ephemerality, Discover’s content is only available for twenty-four hours. While the content can be viewed as many times as desired during that period, the news outlet invites users to come back tomorrow for new stories.
- Unlike Facebook and Twitter, both of which typically lead the user away from the platform, all Discover content—articles, videos, photo sets, trailers, music videos, etc.—is contained within the app.
- Snapchat also serves a very different demographic than most social media sites. Discover is targeted to Millennials, but, as of July 2014, over 50% of Snapchat users are between 13-17 years old and over 80% are under 24 years old. Many of the publications on Discover may be taking an initial risk straying so far from their key audiences .
- Discover is also a fresh idea to existing Snapchat users. Unlike Twitter, where incoming brands have to adhere to the existing 140-character boundaries, Discover breaks the Snapchat mold without straying too far from its original purpose. The format is different enough to interest users and keep them coming back, but still familiar enough that users recognize the Snapchat interface.
While the selection of publications could be tweaked further, Discover shows that Snapchat knows its users. Short, (mostly) teenage attention spans still get their familiar bite-size content but in a format that’s new enough to hold their attention. Discover also holds the potential to keep Millennials coming back for more than momentary embarrassing videos and wacky photos. It adds value to an app that has seen a lot more selfies than the average person could probably handle.
With over 1.2 billion websites cluttering our networks, storytelling has become increasingly important to stand out among the dot nets and dot coms. And it’s not just apps and news sites. In data heavy fields like market research, it can be easy to let storytelling take a backseat. That’s why we’re investing more time and resources into creating dynamic storytelling through infographics, video, and mobile. This engaging, inspiring, and motivating content brings results to life and helps us strengthen the relationship between our clients and their audiences. . .and best of all, we do it without all those selfies.
Blair Bailey is an Associate Researcher at CMB and a recent M.S. graduate from Boston University. When she isn’t working with data or being held captive by the commuter rail, you can find her carefully flooding her social media feeds with pictures of dogs.