On the surface, Snapchat may not seem like the best fit for travel brands.

The smartphone app allows users to send texts, photos and videos to each other that appear for up to 10 seconds and then disappear.

Despite its brevity, many of Snapchat’s attributes, especially its emphasis on visuals and immediacy, lead its users to share stories about their travels on the platform. As a result, travel brands are experimenting with a presence in the app.

While the app has its drawbacks, travel marketers are keeping an eye on its evolution as it forms consumer behaviors likely to shape future media consumption trends and marketing opportunities.

After gaining notoriety as a means for sending inappropriate photos, Snapchat is becoming a mainstream social platform for those under the age of 35. According to June 2014 comScore Mobile Metrix data, 32.9% of American’s between the ages of 18 and 34 use the app—behind only Facebook and Instagram, with 75.6% and 43.1% penetration rates, respectively. The app also has global appeal, as a leaked internal Snapchat report from July 2014 noted that 50% of the app’s users were outside of the United States.

One-Trick Pony to Multiple Features

The original feature of the app enables users to send photos or videos to each other that disappear after being viewed—Snaps in Snapchat parlance. However, the company has recently added many more features that have helped it become habit-forming. In 2013, the app launched Story, which allows users to combine Snaps into a montage that is viewable for 24 hours—similar to a Facebook newsfeed. The features Chat and Here followed in May 2014 and allow users to chat which each other via text and video, respectively.

But the big splash came with the launch of Our Story in July 2014. With Our Story, Snapchat users at a certain event (within a geographically defined area) submit their videos and photos to Snapchat. The company curates those snaps into a montage that can be seen by everyone on Snapchat. Our Story has been used for a variety of events from the Electric Daisy Carnival to the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro to Diwali festivities in India.

Also in July 2014, the company released geofilters for New York City and Los Angeles that users can incorporate into their photos and videos based on their locations.

In October 2014, the company announced its first paid advertisement for the horror film Ouija in the “Recent Updates” section of the app. The move is likely a part of Snapchat Discovery, the company’s product for advertising that is rumored to be launching in November. More information has leaked about this new product [see full presentation deck, below]. According to Digiday, the paid advertising section will either be called Discovery or Discover, and will allow media companies, such as Comedy Central, Buzzfeed, and National Geographic, to serve content to Snapchat users.

These companies would be able to include ads of which Snapchat will take a portion of the revenue.  There is also another rumor that advertisers will be able to sponsor Our Story live events with an introductory snap from their accounts and to include snaps with the company logos within the Our Story.

Snapchat is a Medium for Sharing Travel Experiences…

In addition to using the app to document their daily lives, Snapchat users are leveraging the app to share aspects of their travels. Andrew Cunningham, Community Lead at the digital advertising agency Huge Inc, explains that “Snapchat is definitely becoming a go-to outlet for slice-of-life, unrefined moments from travel and vacation. This is especially true for video, which is the easiest to share without the social pressure of validation/likes to go along with it.”

The travel industry lends itself naturally to Snapchat due to the industry’s visual nature and the prevalence of sharing travel content. The fit between the two is likely to increase thanks to the Our Story feature, which is useful for mega-events, and the app’s geofiltering ability, which allows users to broadcast their locations.

…That May Not Be a Fit for Every Brand

Before starting on Snapchat, though, travel marketers need to evaluate whether or not the app fits with their brands and target consumers, especially since its audience skews young. Additionally, marketers need to determine how the app fits into their overall digital strategies and if there are sufficient resources to maintain meaningful presence on the platform, whether it’s organic or paid.

Even if Snapchat is a good fit for a well-resourced brand, there are drawbacks to the app.  It is very difficult for users to find brands to follow on Snapchat, and many users don’t know it’s possible to do so. It requires cross promotion of the brand’s Snapchat handle in other media to build an audience. Since the app collects only a user’s age, phone contacts and email address, its advertising targeting capabilities are limited compared with those of other platforms that collect much more user information, and the toolset for analyzing the limited data is not very intuitive. It is highly likely that Snapchat may look to know more about its users and improve its analytics tools in order to meet the needs of advertisers, especially as it rolls out more paid advertising opportunities.

A Variety of Tactics for Brands

Snapchat as a branding tool is still a blank canvas for marketers.  For those ready to experiment, Abraham Ritchie, Social Media Manager for Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, advises that marketers figure out how Snapchat fits with the brand’s personality and use that voice to have fun on the app.

One of the ways that brands are experimenting is through driving engagement. For example, Disneyland featured a Story that focused on its Halloween decorations and asked its followers to send it snaps focused on Halloween. The submissions were curated into a new Story for Disneyland the next day.

Other tactics include posting behind the scenes content that is not available elsewhere and/or providing teasers about upcoming initiatives. Aer Lingus combined both in a Story that showed pictures of a photo shoot for its onboard shopping magazine, Boutique, with a teaser announcing a new collection for the following week.

Others are using the app for promotions. For example, GrubHub used its Story to unveil a promotional code underneath a pizza for a limited-time discount.

Snapchat is Not Going Away

Snapchat is still an emerging social platform with all of the obstacles that entails, but it has a core audience that is young, global and engaged. It is no surprise, then, that Disneyland and Walt Disney World are consistently active in the app. But in a surprise move, Marriott announced a deal with the production company, Naritiv, to produce Stories on Snapchat at the end of October 2014. The Stories will feature influencers, such as Casey Neistat and Mike Platco and support the Marriott brand’s ad campaign, Travel Brilliantly.

Even if Snapchat is not a good fit for all travel brands or resources aren’t available to manage a meaningful presence in the app organically, the travel industry should be monitoring Snapchat’s evolution. Additionally, the evolution of its paid advertising product may mean more opportunities for the industry, especially sponsoring Our Story for travel’s most important mega-events.

More importantly, though, Generation Y and Z are now becoming accustomed to communicating mainly in photos and videos, quickly and instantly. And with the Our Story feature, they are watching live events from the perspective of the attendees—not mass media. This behavior is likely to influence how brands are able to engage effectively with these travelers as they age, even if they age out of using Snapchat itself.

Snapchat business deck

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Photo Credit: Disneyland is already experimenting with Snapchat. Walt Disney Resorts / Facebook