The LACMA is on Snapchat – What is Snapchat?

snapchat-bratThese days the museum world is all buzzing with news about Snapchat. And I know what you are going to say now: “Snapchat? What are you talking about?We just finished reading hundred of pages of your ebook and I never came across this ‘Snapchat’.” You are right, Snapchat is not in our ebook, it does not feature among the must-have social networks and it is – in fact – very little known in Italy or to the majority of people who are over 18.

So why the talking? Because a little over a month ago LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, has decided to be a pioneer and opened an account on Snapchat.

Snapchat belongs to the new generation of social networks: it can only be accessed on smartphones and its users are usually very young. Surveys have established that 43% of the young people between 12 and 22 years of age uses the app at least once a day, allowing Snapchat to rank fourth – after Facebook, YouTube and Instagram – in the list of the most used social networks by the class of 2014. That is, those 18 years old who seem so hard to get interested in museums, least get involved with them on the internet.

The base function of Snapchat is to share photos, videos and modified images with followers and friends. Videos can only be 10 seconds long, and images can be modified adding filters, captions or sketches drawn by touching the screen. What is really unique to Snapchat, though, is that each content only lasts 10 seconds – just the right amount of time for the receiver to see it and, if he or she is quick enough, to screenshot it. A snap! and it’s gone. No second chances given.

Its immediacy and ‘carpe diem’ feeling might be the reason behind its ability to attract younger crowds. But I feel the need to be straightforward at this point, and warn all the museums out there that are considering opening an account: the 10 seconds rule is also the reason why Snapchat ranks first when it comes to ‘sexting’.

That cleared, a second interesting function of Snapchat consists in what they call ‘Stories’: a chance to create compilations of snaps and leave them visible for 24 hours. Snapchat admitted that this feature turned out to actually be even more popular than the 10 seconds snaps – no one can resist a good story, apparently. A very good example might be that of this artist, who manages the Snapchat profiles of brands such as @WaltDisneyWorld for work and experiments the many possibilities of this platform in his free time. What he does is the best proof that there is more to Snapchat than teenage hormones.

And what is the take in this for museums? The younger crowds, as some museums, like LACMA, have already discovered. As Maritza Yoes, social media manager at LACMA, recently stated: “LACMA’s interest in Snapchat stems from our enthusiasm for experiential approaches to social media. Not only is Snapchat a great way to reach a younger audience, but it also provides us with a platform for play – a place where we can create stories and experiences around the museum, our collection, and our staff. Our audience wants to be a part of something. They want to connect to us and to each other, and Snapchat provides us with a direct link to an incredibly interested and excited audience.” Follow @lacma_museum on Snapchat and you’ll know what she means.

LACMA led the way and now other museums are joining the Snapchat community. In the United States, there are the San Francisco MOMA (which apparently joined Snapchat a year ago but only uses it occasionally); the Blanton Museum of Austin (@blantonmsueum), the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art (@mcachicago); the Georgia Museum of Art (@georgiamuseum). In Europe, you’ll find the Horniman Museum of London (@hornimanmuseum), a brand-new user, but we are sure many more will soon join.

Our advice to Italian museums on joining Snapchat? Don’t jump into it without careful pondering. Unlike Facebook, Snapchat requires a more thoroughly planning of contents and much more creativity. Teenagers are hard to please, and a message going straight to your users’ inbox is far more invasive than a post showing up in some news feed. Moreover, you will also be receiving videos and photos from your followers, and they might now always show your galleries, so to say.

To conclude, if you have a full-time social media manager working for you, if you think your museum has plenty of “young, easy” contents to share, if teenagers are your target and you have been trying to reach out to them for a while now, then do it: join Snapchat (and watch this tutorial first). But if you said ‘no’ to even one of the previous statements, then we are afraid that Snapchat won’t really be your thing. Stick to your garden of social networks and cultivate it in ease: you are not ready yet for a twisting tornado of snaps.

Translated by @roryinla