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Hearing The Music (On Snapchat): Discovery, Stories, And How To Connect

Allegra Rosenberg |
March 13, 2015 | 12:11 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Snapchat's new Discover feature offers a one-stop shop for branded content. (Allegra Rosenberg / Neon Tommy)
Snapchat's new Discover feature offers a one-stop shop for branded content. (Allegra Rosenberg / Neon Tommy)

In late January 2015, the social media app Snapchat launched a new service it dubbed “Discover.”

Previously, Snapchat’s “story” feature had allowed users to see the public feeds of their friends, but Discover went a step further by establishing an official one-stop-shop for the “stories” of brands and media outlets like Cosmopolitan, Vice, and ESPN.

Going against the grain of Snapchat’s long-held aesthetic of visual & tactile ephemerality and allowing users to browse free of time restrictions, the Discover feature promised to let brands easily promote their content to Snapchat’s millions of impressionable, youthful users.

Most of the Discover stories are simply the same content that might appear on the brand’s website, like news stories or preview clips, but Warner Music Group—the sole music-only brand selected to be one of the twelve featured at Discover’s launch—is unique in its approach.

One of the “Big Three,” the WMG empire, with its dozens of subsidiary labels and artists like Jason Derulo, Ed Sheeran, and Bruno Mars, has access to a third of mainstream popular music, and uses its Snapchat platform to promote not one single outlet or genre, but dozens of different artists across their properties. And their content is as creative as it is diverse, with trivia, timelines, and exclusives engineered specifically for the Snapchat platform. It’s charmingly "flick-through-able," and on an app with 30 million monthly active users, definitely reaches many eyes.

One of the reasons the Discover service is a fascinating and engaging step forward in Snapchat’s strategy is because for most of the brands featured, it offers an immersive respite from disruptive advertisement. You can read a People magazine article without obnoxious banners on Discover, and you can watch a Vice video without pop-ups.

Because the content is the advertisement, sponsored and featured on a non-native platform such as it is, it becomes immersively unnoticeable and therefore far preferable to the ad-heaped native-web content consumption that most of the cultural internet is predicated on. Scrolling through a Yahoo article on Snapchat is an experience as distant as you can get from navigating their notoriously ad-heavy site as you can get without hopping to Tumblr (a Yahoo-owned subsidiary).

READ MORE: Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel: Listen And 'Focus On The Feeling'

But WMG is not a content publisher in the vein of Vice or People: it is the only brand featured on the service that is in the business of selling a product directly to consumers (in this case, music), and so its content is comparatively far more invasive than that of its close neighbors on the 4x3 array of the Discover screen.

Where National Geographic’s Discover features are educational and CNN’s are informative, WMG’s are more akin to YouTube pre-roll ads or the movie theater quizzes they put on before the trailers begin. Sure, they’re cute, and but whereas a user might enjoy getting their daily news from the streamlined and banner-free Daily Mail Discover sub-app, that same user would, for the same reasons, probably not voluntarily subject themselves to WMG’s relentlessly quirky and overt promotion a few grid-spots over.

But music promotion on Snapchat isn’t entirely a lost cause. In fact, far from it.

Though the explicitly branded Discover feature might only be appealing for its simplified newsfeeds, individual artists are taking advantage of the more personal nature of Snapchat Stories to create a unique relationship with their fans. On the opposite end of the social outreach spectrum from Discover’s corporate-committee content are the freely visible Stories of musical icons across genres, from EDM god Calvin Harris to Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo.

The up-close-and-personal nature of these glimpses into celebrity life creates the human connection that WMG fails to enact, and the word-of-mouth success of these public Snapchat profiles draws a sharp contrast to the minimal viral presence of Discover, which rarely engenders the same kind of “oh my god, they’re talking to ME!” gut fan reaction that a seemingly personal and hand-crafted Story can effortlessly cause.

Snapchat is a platform built on truth and transparency, with its screenshot-alerting features designed to prevent breaches of trust, and so public figures who embrace that kind of transparency with daily-life Snapchats prime themselves to be far more embraced by the desirable teenage user demographic than brands who offer just a shinier version of the same-old, same-old promotional frenzy that internet users are bombarded with everywhere else on the web. 

READ MORE: Snapchat Introduces Money Transferring Service Snapcash

Of course, this can apply to all celebrities, but it is musicians in particular who have to work hard to create an appealing yet real image that can coexist and supplement with their creative work.

In our celebrity-centric culture, many famous actors and actresses are known mostly for their personas, with their work in movies and television playing second fiddle. But apart from your tabloid fodder Justin Biebers, Taylor Swifts, and top-40 success stories, a lot of music listeners don’t know much about their favorite voices behind the radio, so Snapchat can be a powerful tool to reach audiences and introduce them to the full-featured personal brand of a particular lesser-known artist or band.

Artists who are distant are mysterious are easily dismissed these days—it’s all about engagement, and musicians and bands who do a great job of engaging their fans personally and honestly have an instant advantage, image-wise. Facebook has become mandatorily business-only, Twitter, Vine and Instagram are increasingly wastelands of sponsored and management-crafted content, and Tumblr has never been quite effectively utilized by branded outsiders to its close-knit community, but Snapchat offers the perfect mix of personality and immediacy to create valuable bonds between fan and creator.

In an industry like the world of commercial music where authenticity is a hot commodity, getting Snapchat right can mean the difference between an unknown face in the crowded field and a famous face on a glowing screen.

Contact Staff Reporter Allegra Rosenberg here and follow her on Twitter here.



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