What Snapchat's ad API means for advertisers and Snapchat

Snapchat, as Digiday reported earlier this week, is taking steps to build an ads API, which will introduce automation and sophistication to ad buying there.

It also means more ads, and a more concerted focus on commercialization for the messaging app. CEO Evan Spiegel has gone from openly skeptical of advertising, if not downright opposed, to seemingly recognizing the only way to riches is going to be mass advertising.

Now, advertising at scale and backed by data is in the cards. When Instagram launched its API, it had to navigate concerns about ruining the user experience and allowing too many low-quality ads, and Snapchat will now face a similar dance.

An API, or application programming interface, can dramatically change the ad fortunes of a given platform, according to the experts. Here’s how one could work for Snapchat and introduce more order for advertisers and more marketing for users.

Friendly to brands, publishers and advertisers
Technology platforms help brands and publishers manage their content, see what works and what doesn’t, and adjust. That kind of feedback is important to encourage more marketers to test out the platform, and post their videos there. “An API would help measure performance of content on Snapchat, get better insights into the type of people who are watching, where they’re located,” said Nick Cicero, CEO of Delmondo, an agency specializing in Snapchat analytics and influencers. “It would also enable brands to create more content with influencers.”

Risk of turning off users
The point of an API is to open it to third parties who then give their advertising clients a way to buy on the platform while they are also buying on all the other platforms. So that means more advertisers but also more concern about quality control with the possibility that too many bad ads run, diminishing user enjoyment. This is why an API or any new technological tools from Snapchat will be carefully developed and likely limited in scope for some time. Platforms like Pinterest have developed more closed APIs, open only to select few companies, according to Noah Brier, CEO of Percolate. “Part of the the reason platforms approach it that way is they have to ensure that doesn’t happen,” Brier said. “You open up to a limited number so you can really control for all the factors you want to control, including the user experience.”

Benchmarks for success
One of the keys to any successful API is  analytics, a sore spot for Snapchat and its young ad business. Early advertisers were concerned that videos weren’t being viewed for long enough, and there is no great way to quickly report back on certain key metrics. An API turns over some of the measuring to the technology partners. “Better technology allows companies to streamline analytics and build better tools to measure the impact of campaigns,” said Justin Rezvani, CEO of TheAmplify, an agency focused on Instagram, Snapchat and influencers. “Brands will spend more money there.”

Data concerns
Of course, one of Snapchat’s main selling points with users entails its combination of anonymous users and disappearing messages. The company has been strident about not building profiles on users to creepily advertise to them. As the reality sinks in about the need for a viable business, more targeting and data capabilities follow. Technology partners are able to bring their own data to an API — email lists and other customer information — to serve ads against.

Better produced content
An API indirectly opens a platform to more brands, advertisers and publishers because of a mindset shift, Brier said. “Look at when Instagram opened up more advertising and you saw a lot more brands as a result of that decision, but not because of the API,” Brier said. “Sometimes these things go hand in hand.” With more content producers, technology can help them understand how best to create for Snapchat. APIs help define “what it means to create quality content on them,” Brier said.

New tools for discovery
Snapchat also needs to improve the mechanism for discovering accounts on the app. Right now for a Web celebrity, publisher or brand to be found, they need to promote the exact account name outside Snapchat. Better search and discover functionality would point people to better content and give the producers more exposure. “People are hungry to see more content,” Rezvani said. “If there’s an intuitive way to follow people and promote accounts, that’s what’s going to win.”