5 Reasons to Wait on Snapchat

One of my main responsibilities at the church where I work is to oversee our social media strategy. Sometimes that means evaluating new networks that are starting to trend and figuring out whether our church should join the service. One of those networks has been Snapchat.

So we've waited, and Snapchat has exploded, with over 100 million active users.

Let that number sink in. That's more than 12 New York Cities worth of people. 

But after a lot of thought, our church still hasn't joined Snapchat. We are however, experimenting with it for our student ministries. But for the main church account, we haven't joined. And I have no plans to. Not everyone agrees with me (source, source).

No doubt, Snapchat is a great indicator of where social networks are headed, and it has a lot of lessons to teach us about better engaging with the millennial generation. And it's huge, valued at $15 billion, and it's user base is growing quickly. For businesses and advertisers, it could be an amazing platform.

So why hasn't our church signed-up for an account? 

Here are my reasons why some organizations and churches might want to hit the pause button before jumping on Snapchat. 

1. Snapchat Content Is Weird

Whereas on most social networks - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram - you can prepare content, Snapchat is all about what is happening in the moment. You can't really prepare the content or schedule when you're going to publish posts. And that limits what you can actually do with it. It's the difference between sending a video of a song playing on the radio and sending someone a link to stream the song on Youtube. Most social media posts are about directing you to content you'll like - Snapchat is an end game. There is no next step. No other content you can link to or reference, and the post disappears once a person has seen it (just like an actual conversation). 

The problem with that isn't just that Snapchat is more difficult for an organization to implement (though it definitely is). The main problem is that, for many organizations, the live, here-is-what-is-happening-right-here-right-now format simply won't work for them. Imagine trying to run marketing at a non-profit that writes litigation against mountaintop removal. The only kind of posts you could snap would be an office full of cubicles and typing. It will take a full-time social media person who can think through Snapchat creativity to make it work.

On the other hand, Darrel Girardier from Brentwood Baptist recently made a great point on his podcast about the need for ministries to begin to build communities where the people are going - online. That is way more than just making resources available on a website- this is about actual digital community. In that case, if you're organization's goal involves creating a community - bringing people together - then Snapchat could work for you. With some work (quite a bit more than other social networks), churches and non-profits, for example, may find Snapchat to be great at engaging in a day-to-day digital conversation with their audience. I can see Darrel's argument as it applies here.

2. Discoverability is Impossible 

As mentioned above, Snapchat does a great job connecting people, not necessarily organizations. One of the reasons is that there is basically no way to discover others on Snapchat. You can't see other's followers (or who they follow). There are no suggested people for you to follow. All that means people have to really seek you out on Snapchat to find you. You're going to have to use your other social media accounts to direct people to your Snapchat. Lame. 

On the other hand, you can be sure that the people who chose to follow you are interested in your posts. 

3. Users are Very Young

Here are some things to know about the Snapchat audience (source). 

  • 71% of users are under the age of 34
  • 45% of users are between 18-24
  • 30% of millennials use Snapchat regular 
  • 70% of users are women

These are likely to change with time and it is worth keeping an eye on. If your organization looks to regularly engage a younger audience online, Snapchat may help you do that. 

Currently, we're figuring out Snapchat for our middle school, high school, and college ministries. We have accounts for those, but even with that audience, we've had to set rules on how we use Snapchat and how to produce content for it.

For an adult or male audience, my personal opinion is that adoption will be slow. Millennials who have grown up in the internet are much more interested in moment-to-moment digital conversations with their friends than adults. The people who are using Snapchat have formed their social habits through apps and web browsers, whereas older people are less familiar and less comfortable with digital social interaction.

4. Other Networks are Better

As of right now, Facebook has well over a billion active users, Twitter and Instagram have half a billion, and all the faults I've listed about Snapchat, these other services are great at. When we're talking about people finding and sharing content online, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are far more effective than Snapchat. Again, however, not for all demographics.

5. Yes, It Can Be Used for Sexting

Snapchat is best known for it's usage as a sexting tool. Ask any student leader or pastor - students use Snapchat to send naked photos all the time. It's the reason it was created in the first place (to sexually exploit college girls), and it does this job well for people who'd like to do that. Of course, not everyone is using Snapchat for sexting and the argument "the tool is not the problem" is a valid one here.

Somethings to note, and I'm going to be very blunt here. First, Snapchat doesn't foster the discovery of porn very well. Someone you follow has to specifically send you a "Snap" with explicit images in order for you to see them (or they have to post them to their story). In other words, whereas Snapchat is bad for churches in that it makes discovery very difficult, that some difficulty is actually good at keeping you from seeing porn from strangers. It's very much like texting. You're unlikely (though not exempt) to get an unwarranted and explicit text from a stranger. Same with Snapchat. The difference with Snapchat is that the evidence (seemingly) disappears after a few seconds.

To be honest, if a person is looking for porn, all social networks have it, and Instagram (not Snapchat) is one of the easiest ways to find it.

So that's a lot. But in summary, yes, Snapchat can be used in evil ways. So can all social networks. Enter into these areas with prayer, pay attention to one another's hearts, and set rules for how your church uses social networks for accountability.

I'm not saying "No"

Ok, yes I am. "No," for now. I like the idea of a social network that is as in-the-moment as Snapchat. I like the idea of bringing a part of our small group community to an online platform. I like the idea of reaching people (students especially) who are hurting and need the Gospel. 

But for our main church, will wait and see what becomes of this young social network. 

And maybe, in the meantime, Snapchat can make a user-interface that isn't unintuitive garbage. 

Time will tell.

Jared Belcher

Knoxville, TN, USA