How publishers are using Snapchat’s curated stories tool for breaking news and more

As reports emerged of the fire at Notre Dame cathedral, CNN’s social discovery team turned to Snapchat to see what photos and videos they could find from the scene as it unfolded. On Monday, CNN’s Snapchat edition featured 16 videos showing different perspectives of the fire at Notre Dame. The team also added text and graphics to describe the scene, such as the fact the cathedral draws 13 million visitors a year.

“What was so key for Notre Dame is we got it up really quickly. We knew it would be such a story [for] this audience that so key on visuals,” said Justin Lear, director of social discovery at CNN.

CNN is one of about two dozen companies that has access to Snapchat’s Curated Our Stories, a product released last September where media outlets can search for public posts on Snapchat and curate them for a themed edition on Snapchat Discover. While CNN declined to reveal specific viewership numbers for its Notre Dame story, it said its various editions range from 5 million to 20 million viewers.

Snap from CNN’s recent story on Notre Dame

Since its launch last September, Snapchat’s Our Stories have offered publishers a new and easy way to participate in the platform, participants say. In fact, the product brought CNN, which had shut down its original publisher edition turned Snapchat Show in December 2017, back to Discover. More than 60 percent of its total audience is under age 25, said Ashley Codianni, executive producer of social and emerging media.

“CNN is synonymous with breaking news; it’s important to provide that to every audience and on the platforms that they’re on. It is a worthwhile endeavor for us participate because of that under 25 audience and, generally speaking, if we didn’t see the benefit of audience engagement or the audience at all we wouldn’t invest the time,” Codianni said.

The editions are all ad-supported, sold through Snap’s sales team, with revenue sharing back to the publisher. And with content sourced and supplied by Snapchat’s platform, the effort can also be more cost-efficient. Discover partners like Bleacher Report, which quietly stopped producing its daily edition on Snapchat as of December, had hired an 11-person team for their channel back in 2016. Meanwhile, CNN doesn’t tout a specific number of people working on their edition. The company pulls from Lear’s social team, which works across Twitter and other platforms. CNN’s previous editions had required support from designers and animators along with writers and editors. Another one of the tool’s launch partners Wave, a sports media company, has just one person dedicated to its stories channel.

Curated Our Stories are not just for breaking news moments. CNN has created weekend editions titled “5 things you can’t miss from this week” and editions around tech, luxury and style. Other partners use the tool for comedic or lifestyle content. Wave creates themed editions around particular activities such as shouting “Kobe” when throwing something into a trash can.

Wave creates seven to 10 editions across its stories channel and its publisher edition. The publisher views its success not just by the viewership numbers but the subscribers they gain from stories. One of Wave’s “Workout Warriors” stories garnered 47.3 million total views, 4.53 million unique views and 86,400 subscribers, according to Wave. An edition on “Flips” received 35.2 million total views, 3.4 million unique views and 100,300 subscribers.

“Wave has serialized all these segments across a wide array of topics and categories, essentially content verticals in the traditional sense but focused in a way that Snapchat audiences really love,” said Brian Verne, CEO of Wave.

Launch partner iHeartRadio also focuses on cultural moments. While the team initially thought they would use Curated Our Stories to expand their live events coverage on Snapchat, iHeartRadio changed their strategy to trending cultural moments, said Ina Burke, iHeartMedia’s vp of original content.

“We quickly learned that Our Stories works best when you are commenting on a trending or popular event or narrative, and consistently putting up stories to engage the audience. Our best stories are commentary on trending topics — Nipsy Hussle passing, ‘Us’ trailer, Kardashian love triangle — and stories that are popular topics on the platform including wedding dances and singles dropping,” Burke said.

Now, iHeartRadio produces about five stories a week along with its main publisher edition. Recent stories include “We Celebrate the Life & Music of Selena” and “Happy Birthday to the ‘Despacito’ King.” So far, its original publisher edition receives the most views. But Burke said the team hopes that the stories format will grow over time.

Not every participating publisher has been satisfied with the Curated Our Stories experience. One participant, who requested anonymity, said they stopped using it because the search functionality was proving to be difficult and that they didn’t feel comfortable using the posts without explicit permission.

Indeed, publishers are not able to see who submitted the public posts and therefore cannot communicate with them. That’s quite different to the sourcing publishers can do on Twitter or on Instagram. But despite the lack of attribution or communication, other participants said it’s an important and profitable storytelling tool.

“Today’s consumer prefers the notion of creator-led forums, not the legacy model of talking-heads dictating what the news of the day should be. This [product] allows us to tap into a world of UGC content, see what topics people are creating around and tell stories driven by this user base and reflective of these trends,” Verne said.