Here’s how to use Snapchat (and how not to use Snapchat)

October 1, 2014
Category: Uncategorized

One packed session from ONA14 was Mobile Bootcamp: Snapchat. Masuma Ahuja, digital editor of The Washington Post, led the session on the social tool that doesn’t drive traffic to stories. Instead, it helps reporters and news organizations build and be part of communities.

Before we get any further, a quick primer on Snapchat: Here are the basics on getting started (and what all those icons mean.)

Now, let’s start with how not to use Snapchat:

— Don’t think it’s like anything else.

“It’s not Twitter, it’s not Instagram,” Ahuja said.

Instead, people have to accept an invitation from you, and you then become part of their selected group.

“I think of it as building a community there,” Ahuja said. “They treat us as their weird friend who talks about politics.”

On Instagram, she said, you can see you’re one of 20,000.

“It feels a lot more personal because it’s connected directly to you. You’re part of this little circle that’s everyone’s friends and you. It’s a place where they’re already having conversations, so why not go there instead of expecting them to come to us?”

— Don’t try to sound like a news organization.

“We tried at the beginning not to sound like Snapchat,” Ahuja said.

Snapchat has a voice, so be authentic, she said. You can learn what that voice is from playing around with Snapchat.

Here are a few news orgs that have captured that authentic voice:

The Washington Post:

Post Local used Snapchat and a weather feature to take snow selfies for Cold Snaps: Photos from the snow storm.


As a news organization, Mashable has done a good job looking and sounding like Snapchat, Ahuja said. Mashable also uses Snapchat as a reporting tool. Here’s a beginners’ guide to Snapchat from Mashable, and a piece about curated snaps from the World Cup final.


NPR asked users to send sad snaps, capitalizing on the love of the selfie and curating them for a blog post.

“People like to take selfies,” Ahuja said, “you can do smart things with selfies.”

Here are a few things you should do:

Bite-sized is better.

Keep it short.

“If they’re not engaged in the first two seconds, they’re going to move on.”

Snap back.

“Engage,” Ahuja said. “If someone sends you a snap, they think of you as a real person.”

Think visually.

The Washington Post asked readers what they wanted to see from the archives and sent snaps from those requests.

Be transparent.

If you’re asking people to send snaps of specific things, let them know you’re planning on curating and using them.

Here’s a video with Ahuja from ONA14 on Snapchat: