Some digital consultants on both sides of the aisle remain cautious about investing ad dollars in Snapchat despite marketers’ optimism regarding its potential, and last week’s blockbuster IPO.
The company’s stock, listed on the New York Stock Exchange as Snap Inc., has been on an impressive run since it went public last week. But the question for those who work in digital politics is whether the value is really there for campaigns. And if so, is it enough to justify diverting significant dollars from more proven digital channels such as Facebook, Twitter or Google?
“You don’t know who’s watching your video,” said Beth Becker, a digital consultant who works with Democrats. “Impressions by themselves are pretty meaningless.”
During the 2016 cycle, campaigns used the platform’s paid filters and native posts to help document their events, such as campaign kickoffs. But with President Trump dominating news coverage with his Twitter feed, the content generated on Snapchat wasn’t influential. Now with the company’s IPO, there’s a greater focus on its ad offerings.
Snapchat recently enabled targeting with third-party data, and offered marketers the ability to bid on engagement with their ads, in addition to buying views. But users’ interactions with Snapchat ads average three seconds, and Becker said they don’t allow the same voter-file-email targeting that Facebook and others offer.
“We keep hearing that it’s going to be the next big thing, but [Snapchat] doesn’t provide an avenue for data,” Becker said. “It’s great for relationship building, but it’s more like a broadcast TV channel than a social media channel, in terms of conversation.”
GOP digital consultant Phillip Stutts agreed with Becker that Snapchat can help a candidate build a relationship with supporters by showing them “authentic user-generated content.” But Stutts is more bullish on its advertising potential.
“People obviously crave what Snap offers, and campaigns would be wise to take advantage of Snap's expanding market share among a younger voter base, particularly if Snap is able to leverage all of those user data points into actionable microtargeting capabilities the way Facebook has, for example,” he said.
“Snapchat is still a small piece of the political campaign's digital pie (if a piece at all), but the success of their IPO gives heft to the hype.”
Even with the IPO, the challenge for Snap when it comes to attracting political ad dollars this cycle could be one of timing. Midterm elections are famous for their older electorates, while Snap’s strength is the younger demographic of its 158 million daily users.
Between now and Election Day 2018, that could certainly change. Facebook eventually gained adoption by older users and Snapchat is now experiencing dramatic growth. In an SEC filing Feb. 2, the company said it grew its user base by 48 percent from 2015-2016.
Now, some digital firms used Snap’s IPO to highlight their own work on the platform. Targeted Victory tweeted out a video highlighting some of the filters the firm has created for clients. And other firms have been talking up Snap for the past couple of years. Harris Media CEO Vincent Harris, in interviews and a February 2016 Medium post, noted that he diverted money to the platform for Rand Paul’s presidential campaign.
After the IPO, Harris told C&E in an email that he still believes that Snapchat “is undoubtedly a power platform for political campaigns to utilize and reach voters.”
“Its native advertising units such as filters, allow campaigns to integrate voters directly into their message and turn supporters into billboards,” Harris said. “Snapchat has come a long way in the last year in their political offerings and ability to utilize data partners. Most large scale campaigns should include a line up for the platform, and depending on where voters transition their time to, that number could quickly rise as the cycle continues on.”