Snapchat lays the groundwork to court celebrities

In its latest move to become a full-fledged media platform, Snapchat is eyeing celebrities.

The app already has mainstream stars including Justin Bieber and Kylie Jenner among its users. One industry executive was told by Snapchat that it’s putting a big focus on making celebrities more active. Another observer, Rob Gregory, chief revenue officer at WhoSay, a social platform for stars, said Snapchat is “aggressively courting celebrities with a big C and small C. Everybody knows that’s where the millennials are and the celebrity audience is. The Snapchat audience is so enthusiastic and engaged with that content, this is a natural move for them.”

A Snapchat spokesperson declined to comment, but observers said they wouldn’t be surprised to see the app introduce features that make it easier to discover celebrities there.

It’s understandable that Snapchat would look for new ways to keep users on the app, and celebrities are a natural place to go. The disappearing-message app popular with teens is already highlighting articles and videos from publishers including CNN and the Daily Mail, through its Discover feature. It has sought to bring live sports to the platform. It has also enlisted YouTube and Vine stars to create a series for the app.

Platforms have long relied on celebrity users to draw in users. Facebook introduced its Mentions app, which stars could use to interact with fans. Both it and Twitter have “verified” accounts to validate famous people. Reddit has cultivated them through its Ask Me Anything Q&As, and its recent user revolt was precipitated, in part, by moves the platform is making to make celebrities regular users of reddit.

Celebrities come with built-in fan bases, which in turn have ready-made appeal with advertisers wanting to benefit from their popularity to reach potential customers. For established stars, the personal, unvarnished feel of Snapchat is a way to compete with the rise of social media personalities, said Eric Dahan, CEO of Instabrand, which connects brands and influencers. “It gives them a backstory they can’t share with other mediums. If you think about Instagram, it’s usually images, and they tend to be more manicured. Snapchat really allows celebrities to give a backstory. It makes celebrities more attainable.”

Snapchat has some characteristics that could limit its appeal, though. It doesn’t provide links out, which can make it hard for users to quantify its impact. As with any channel, the question is how much to invest, especially when the content disappears.

Snapchat is courting brand advertisers with 10-second interstitial ads designed to run between articles and videos in its Discover feature (although their interruptive nature has gotten mixed reviews from agencies.) But celebrity content lends itself more to sponsored posts or product placement. Snapchat seems to be heading in that direction. It has created its own form of native advertising — letting advertisers create their own geofilters, “stickers” that users can create and lay over their Snapchat photo to identify their location. And it teamed up with Daily Mail and WPP to create a new agency, Truffle Pig, to chase the dollars flowing to branded content-style ads.

Still, the app’s ephemeral nature also is a potential hindrance to brands working with personalities there.

“It’s very, very manual and very high touch,” said Ted Murphy, CEO of Izea, a startup that connects influencers with brands. I think one of the biggest challenges is having the content disappear. Even with a Vine video, there’s something to send the client at the end of a campaign. With Snapchat it’s, ‘Trust us, it appeared, and it was great.’”

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