As campaigns start making decisions about where their digital dollars are best spent this year, the value of Snapchat in 2018 remains an open question. The biggest unknowns, according to digital strategists C&E spoke to, are whether use of the platform will increase given expanded ad options, and whether Instagram and Facebook Stories will ultimately prove more appealing for campaigns.
There’s general agreement among digital strategists that Snapchat’s geofilters and native advertising channels can play valuable, if small, roles this year. The electoral playing field has expanded ahead of the midterms with a national political environment that’s encouraging for many Democratic House challengers who will be looking to expand the electorate in November.
In a year with tangible signs of energetic youth activism on the left, Democratic digital strategist Cheryl Hori said it’s incumbent upon campaigns to put serious effort and resources into activating a more politically engaged millennial generation, placing Snapchat in that mix.
“It’s great for exposure and name recognition and building that visibility,” she said of the platform. Though Hori, who served as deputy digital director of the pro-Clinton Super PAC Priorities USA Action in 2016, conceded it still isn’t a must for digital spend.
“It’s definitely something that if you have limited resources or limited capacity, I would not put a lot of time into,” she said.
During the 2016 presidential cycle, Snapchat was partly a way for campaigns to signal they were forward-thinking on the digital front and serious about engaging the 18-to-34-year-old demographic, which makes up 41 percent of the platform’s user base.
The campaigns at the top of the ballot in ‘16 did spend on Snapchat—both the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump campaigns dedicated digital ad dollars to the platform and utilized the app’s geo-filter tools, and Bernie Sanders used it extensively to reach young voters during his campaign for the Democratic nomination.
While the diversity of targeting options on Snapchat doesn’t rival Facebook, the sheer size of its user base was reason enough for many digital strategists to argue the platform demanded the attention of political campaigns in 2016 and ’17. That coupled with the increased engagement generated by shorter video content, gives it weight in 2018.
One major challenge for Snapchat, several digital strategists pointed out, is that competition from Facebook when it comes to ad options and reach. Between Instagram Stories and Facebook Stories, which is now another vehicle for ads on the platform, the reach easily surpasses that of Snapchat, which has some 191 million daily active users. Snapchat did not respond to an interview request for this article.
“The user base, the data: it’s hard to compete with that,” Dean Petrone, president of the Republican digital media firm Go BIG Media, said of Facebook, “They’ve done a good job of taking over market share that previously belonged to Snapchat.”
Another major question on the Republican side of the aisle for ’18 is whether Snapchat makes much sense at all given the nature of the party’s midterm electorate.
“If you look at where 2018 is going to be fought—congressional races and running against red-state democrats in the Senate, it is not going to be a battle for millennials,” said Tom Newhouse, a Republican digital strategist with Convergence Media and the former digital director at the NRCC. “Snapchat ad placement is going to be pretty close to zero.”
Andy Amsler, the director of advertising and advocacy at the Democratic firm Mothership Strategies, said he expects Snapchat to continue to be in the firm’s GOTV toolkit in 2018. Amsler helped lead digital strategy for Doug Jones’s campaign in one of the most high-profile special elections of 2017. In Alabama, the campaign utilized Snapchat’s targeted audience filters to reach younger Democratic voters.
“The Snapchat geofilter option was a great solution for honing in on the younger African-American demographic, without advertising to the more conservative voters that surrounded them,” said Amsler, whose firm targeted by zip code and DMA. “They took our message, personalized it, and then broadcasted it out to their friends and their networks.”
For Democratic strategist Beth Becker, the answer on Snapchat’s usefulness lies somewhere in the middle.
“Give the Snapchat account to college kids who are supporting them,” Becker advises Democratic campaigns. “Let them use Snapchat to talk about why they’re supporting that candidate.”
Becker contends that although Snapchat is more likely to remain a minor player, it continues to be a worthwhile supplemental and authentic channel “to show a side of the candidate that nobody’s going to see anywhere else [with] behind the scenes content.”