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Don’t Hold Your Breath Just Yet for Snapchat Monetization

  |  July 25, 2014   |  Comments

The popular platform has new and rumored features, but marketers say it needs to roll out more tracking capabilities before it can legitimately claim a seat at the social network ad table.

Snapchat is no doubt a popular platform among young consumers, and its new features, brand partnerships, and rumored innovations are also potentially good for that crowd.

In recent weeks, for example, Snapchat rolled out its geofilters feature for Los Angeles and New York, which allows those users to add stickers from brands like SoulCycle and Disneyland based on their location.

Snapchat has also reportedly filed trademarks for electronic payment processing technology. The platform, however, did not respond to a request for comment from ClickZ.

And on July 17, Snapchat had the esteemed honor of serving as the vehicle through which MTV announced its 2014 VMA nominees.

So does any of this mean Snapchat is growing up and on the verge of becoming a real advertising powerhouse on par with major social networks?

According to Maura Tuohy, director of social media at creative marketing agency Eleven, geofilters are an interesting move and will increase stickiness, but "without the analytics to support engagement and post-photo behavior, it's still a lukewarm proposition for brands."

She expects to see additional brands playing around with the feature, adding, "It would be nice to see some advanced API hacks to enable geo-competitions or location-based games."

For her part, Esha Shah, manager of mobile strategy and innovation at mobile agency Fetch, says the filters and brand partnerships equal "quite possibly...the most organic and non-intrusive form of advertising out there."

That's because Snapchat users actively share details about specific moments of their lives.

"It only makes sense for Snapchat to equip users with the tools to help them share their current moments in the best way," Shah says. "So when a branded filter is added into the mix, there is not much pushback, as this is exactly what the user wants. On the other end of it, brands are satisfied as well, since they are able to push their name out to the user base in a more controlled way - through the filters they have created with Snapchat."

And Travis Freeman, vice president of social media strategy at media and digital marketing communications company Dentsu Aegis Network, sees mobile payment app Venmo's success as a good sign for any potential payment processing functionality from Snapchat.

He envisions retail brands combining Snapchat's geofilters and instantaneous buying options around specific store locations. He also notes potential for flash sales at events like music festivals.

"The key will be to keep this simple and streamlined - no multiple sizing or color options - in order to activate key, in-the-moment, sales-driving opportunities to highly coveted younger Millennials," he says.

But these potential applications, like previous efforts from brands like Wet Seal, Taco Bell, and HBO's Girls, have something of a fatal flaw: They are short-lived and hard to track, Tuohy notes. And the very nature of the platform means brands lose out on content longevity, spontaneous discovery, and searchability, which are all things brands want with social media content.

It's also impossible for brands to benchmark how their competitors are performing or what content they are posting unless they blog about it elsewhere. That makes it even more difficult to entice brands, Tuohy says.

And, at the end of the day, this adds up to a long road to monetization.

If the platform does want brand dollars, it will need to build more public and visual follower metrics, Tuohy says.

It will also need major feature releases and analytics or new measurement API partners, she says.

Shah agrees that the secret to Snapchat's success lies in tracking and attribution, which have "proven to be a constant challenge for the app due to the nature of its functionality."

But Shah says Snapchat is on the right track to sustaining its popularity and eventually monetizing it.

"I have faith in the application...they have a lot of tricks up their sleeve," she adds.

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Lisa Lacy

In addition to ClickZ and Search Engine Watch, Lisa's work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Luxury Spot, LearnVest, MarthaStewart.com, GoodHousekeeping.com, amNewYork, and The Wall Street Journal. She's a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism.

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