Is Snapchat the Newest Social Advocacy Tool?

by John Haughey // May 08, 2017 Uncategorized

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In case you thought Snapchat was for frivolous youngsters – and not your serious advocacy campaign targeting legislation or regulations – keep this in mind.

At least 53 members of Congress, including 24 U.S. Senators, have Snapchat accounts, as does, the White House, NASA, the Peace Corps, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Department of the Interior and an ever-expanding number of state, county and local governments.

Here’s why you might need to consider it too.

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According to The Statistics Portal (, 200 million people worldwide have Snapchat accounts, including 57 million Americans. In fact, more than 41 percent of 18-34 year-old Americans have Snapchat accounts, making it an ideal platform for engaging Millennials as well as Generation Z, the growing post-Millennial generation also referred to as the iGeneration, Plurals or Homeland Generation.

But before you say “I told you it was all the kids on there” make no mistake: Snapchat is the fastest-growing social media platform in the U.S. and is increasingly being used by older people, with about 15 percent of American smartphone users over 35 reportedly signed on, according to The Statistics Portal.


Created in 2011 by Stanford University graduate students, Snapchat is essentially a messaging service available on smartphones that emphasizes creative visuals more than almost any other social media messenger platform does. Once opened, a “snap” stays on screen no longer than 10 seconds. The disappearing messages and its smiling mascot, Ghostface Chillah, initially made it a favored platform for teenagers to share selfies, receive selfies, trade selfies, compare selfies and comment on selfies.

Then it got serious:

In 2013, the app was updated to include ‘Snapchat Stories,’ which allows users to build chains of shared content that can be viewed by connections an unlimited number of times over a 24-hour period.

In 2014, Snapchat added ‘Snapcash,’ a tool that allows people to transfer money through the app. This addition made Snapchat suddenly a potentially useful platform for fundraising.

In 2015, ‘Snapchat Discover’ was launched, enabling “editorial partners,” such as CNN, National Geographic, The Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, ESPN, CNN, Vice and Yahoo News to share video narratives that remain viewable for 24 hours after being posted.

In 2016, Snapchat introduced ’Snapchat Memories,’ which makes older, disappeared content appear again, should a user want to recover long lost “snaps.”


Snapchat is different from other social media because it offers direct exchanges between snappers and their connections. Because the app displays who is snapping, and who is snapping back, accounts are difficult to be ghost-managed by staff the way Twitter feeds or Facebook pages can be. Therefore, participants’ level of involvement in Snapchat is more intensive than it is with other social media platforms.

Snapchat Chief Strategy Officer Imran Khan said in 2016 that more than two-thirds of Snapchat users create daily content, with the average person spending 25 to 30 minutes in the app.

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Integrating Snapchat into a social media campaign requires little extra effort other than simply sending association members, advocacy groups, or anyone else you wish to enlist, the recipients’ Snapchat code. As of May 1, there were 24 senators and 29 representatives signed onto Snapchat.

“Snaps” can include a personal story, photos, meme, emojis, whatever you like. One limitation is, unlike Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other platforms, “snaps” cannot share URLs linking to content or YouTube videos.

Snapchat can be particularly effective in amplifying events before, and as, they occur through its ‘On Demand’ and ‘Community’ geofilters, which are overlays only accessible by users signed into a specific community, or who are at certain locations, such as along a march route or at a fundraiser. This app not only draws advocates to happenings, but can entice, engage and educate passersby, and anyone they, in turn, are snapping with.


The World Wildlife Fund, PETA, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Oceana, Greenpeace, Human Rights Campaign and Charity Water are among advocacy groups that maintain a strong Snapchat presence.

Here are five examples of how Snapchat has been used to amplify social media messaging:

Screen Shot 2017-05-08 at 2.20.33 PM#LastSelfie, a campaign by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), used Snapchat’s disappearing message feature to poignantly bring awareness to endangered animals at risk of disappearing from Earth. The disappearing photos of disappearing animals won a 2015 Webby Award as the year’s “People’s Choice” best viral campaign.

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#WeWontGoBack, by Planned Parenthood, used Snapchat to bolster its messaging on other platforms, using geofilters to draw advocates to marches and rallies across the nation. Participants were encouraged to photograph the protests and themselves, and send them as “snaps” to Congressional members.

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#ExxonKnew, orchestrated by an organic ad hoc alliance of dozens of advocacy groups, including the Center for International Environmental Law, Greenpeace USA, Public Citizen and the Union of Concerned Scientists, the campaign maintains Exxon has known “the truth” about climate change for decades. Snapchat’s geofilter feature rallied thousands of protesters to surround Exxon’s 2016 annual shareholders meeting in downtown Dallas.

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#HiddenHeroes, sponsored by the Elizabeth Dole Foundation with support from Comcast NBC Universal, this effort used Snapchat to augment messaging on its website and other social media to create an online community to support of military caregivers. The campaign generated more than 80 million social media impressions within weeks of launching.

Screen Shot 2017-05-08 at 2.36.45 PM#WeDC, sponsored by The Washington DC Economic Partnership (WDCEP), was a “micro-campaign using Snapchat specifically to promote the District as an attractive business location during the 2016 South by Southwest (SXSW®) Conference in Austin, Texas. #WeDC was the fifth-highest trending hashtag and @WDCEP was a seventh-ranked influencer at SXSW.

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