Snapchat wants to make sure Discover stays PG-13

To make itself attractive to advertisers ahead of its anticipated initial public offering, Snapchat is solving problems the market may not think exists. On Monday, the platform gave the New York Times a story about imposing stricter editorial guidelines on publishers creating content for Snapchat Discover, including a ban on images that are questionable, or risqué, or that provide no editorial value, as well as a requirement that news stories’ facts be properly vetted and verified. It also announced it would be launching a tool that would will allow publishers to restrict access to content based on a user’s age.

Yet both moves may be solutions in want of a problem. While a small number of Snapchat’s Discover publishers lean heavily on titillating or sexually oriented content, few have made it a staple. Instead, the chief issues advertisers have with Snapchat remain the high cost of its inventory and a lack of audience data.

“I wouldn’t say it was out of hand,” said Torrey Taralli, the head of paid social at mobile media agency Fetch. “I think they [Snapchat] were exposed to that happening in the future, and it seems like they are taking steps to correct this so that it doesn’t become a major problem.”

The lack of bad behavior stems from a number of things, including the very close relationships Snapchat cultivates with its Discover publishers. But the biggest one may be what those publishers have already observed from their audiences on the platform. “We’d kind of always known it was supposed to be a very PG-13 audience,” said Rawan Eewshah, the deputy editor of Complex’s Snapchat Discover channel.

If a Discover publisher like Complex wanted to sell itself with sex or other provocative topics on Discover, it wouldn’t be hard. The millennial male-focused publisher, which mostly uses Discover to repackage content from its archives, is not above sharing stories with headlines like “Porn Stars Tell the World How They Really Feel About Facials” on its site and other social channels.

And on other platforms like Instagram, Complex is not above laddish moves like posting photos of girls in bikinis (or less). Yet on Snapchat, paradoxically, it sees less appeal in selling itself to users with sex. “It’s not how I want the brand to be represented,” Eewshah said.

Even though Snapchat first made its way into the popular imagination as the place where teenagers sent naked pictures to one another, that buttoned-up sentiment likely echoes across much of Discover. Scan the list of publishers that are currently part of it, and you’ll find just a handful of publishers that could conceivably trade in sex stories. Those that can do so in a way that’s on brand. For Cosmopolitan and The Daily Mail, they are staples; for Vice and BuzzFeed, they’re an occasional ingredient; for The Economist, less so.

This push to make Discover as hospitable as possible comes with Snapchat still looking to assuage advertiser concerns about the lack of audience data it provides to advertisers, with some likening the platform’s lack of specific audience breakdowns to a “black hole.”

“Brands are asking, ‘Is my audience really there?’” said Thomas Rankin, the co-founder and CEO of social analytics firm Dash Hudson. Those same advertisers, Rankin said, are worried about cost: Snapchat inventory is “too expensive” for most brands, he said.

Hovering over all of Snapchat’s new guidelines is the specter of fake news, a term that has gone from lightning rod to nearly meaninglessness in the last two months. While it hasn’t yet cost massive platforms like Facebook any money, some media buyers deem fake news to be brand-unsafe, making it something Snapchat would be keen to strike preemptively. “We certainly think that Snapchat taking these steps is timely,” said Maricris Tsigarida, a business development manager at M&C Saatchi Mobile.

What these tight guidelines do to the rest of Discover’s content remains unclear. “It’s our opinion that the industry as a whole should be cautious when regulation gives editorial control directly to the platform,” Tsigarida added. “It would be prudent to first see what those exact guidelines will be for publishers.”

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