The Complete Guide to Snapchat

Snapchat is the latest platform taking the social media world by storm.

Since its launch in September 2011, Snapchat has shown incredible growth. The Ghost now boasts over 100 million daily active users and 7 billion video views, daily. Even The Whitehouse has joined in.

And with consumer attention comes ad dollars, with many major brands turning to Snapchat as a way to connect with their audience. Gatorade is one of the brands getting involved; they ran a sponsored Lense during the Super Bowl and generated over 100 million views.

So how can you get in on the action? And how can you use Snapchat to grow your business?

This post will give you the lowdown on Snapchat, from the basics of how it works to five super-actionable tips for brands and businesses from marketer, Everette Taylor.

Ready? Let’s get started 

What is Snapchat?

In a social media age where saving and preserving moments has become the norm, Snapchat found a way to go against the grain.

With Snapchat, every moment is temporary. What’s shared is rarely saved. It’s about in-the-moment connections.

In its rawest form, Snapchat enables us to share temporary, self-destructing photos, videos, and messages (also known as ‘Snaps’). Images and videos will last anywhere from one to ten seconds, and users can embellish each Snap with captions, drawings, and filters.

Once a Snap has been viewed, it’s gone forever.

Though the temporary nature of Snapchat may sound a little strange, when you think about how we interact with each other day-to-day, Snapchat mimics that behavior closer than any other social network, as Gary Vaynerchuk explains:

The way Snapchat works is much closer to how we communicate face to face than any other social network. What I mean by this is that: when we talk to each other, passing in the halls or just living out our lives, those moments disappear. Snapchat emulates that behavior and psychology.

Sidenote: The infamous ghost in Snapchat’s logo is named Ghostface Chillah, based on Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan.

Snapchat 101: Everything You Need to Know About Getting Started With Snapchat

So we’ve covered a little about what Snapchat is, but how exactly does Snapchat work? Let’s dive into some of the main features and frequently asked questions.

Snaps, Stories, and Chat

What’s a Snap?

Snap is the word used to describe disappearing photos and videos – the main functionality of the app. When you send a Snap to a friend, you can make it last anywhere between one to ten seconds and then once it’s been viewed, the Snap will disappear.

What’s a Story?

A Story is a collection of Snaps played one after the other. Stories, unlike Snaps sent to individual friends, can be viewed by anyone who follows you. Stories last up to 24 hours after being posted and people who follow you can re-watch stories as many times as they like.

Pro Tip: When you’re watching a Snapchat story, you can reply to a particular photo or video by swiping up from the bottom of the screen.

How Does Chat Work?

Snapchat also has a Chat feature, to start a conversation with someone just swipe right on their name from your recent Snaps page. Like Snaps, Chat messages disappear once you’ve read them.

You can find out more about how Chat works in the below video:

Lenses and Filters

Whether you want to add an Instagram-style image filter or add a monocle or mustache to your selfie, Lenses and Filters are fantastic, and fun, ways enhance your Snaps.


Launched in September 2015, Lenses are a fun way to augment your snaps.

Lenses are usually funny or goofy animations that are overlaid on top of your selfie and around 10 million snaps use Lenses every day.

Snapchat explains how Lenses work on their blog:

When you’re using the camera to take a selfie, just press and hold on your face to activate Lenses. You can play with Lenses before taking a Snap — just select one from the row at the bottom and follow the on-screen instructions!

Here’s an example Lens:

Sponsored Lenses 

To achieve long-term success, any social network must figure out their monetization strategy.

Initially, Snapchat experimented with sponsored ‘brand stories’ and a Lens store. However, for now, they seem to have settled on sponsored Lenses as their primary revenue stream.

Around a month after releasing Lenses, Snapchat debuted their first sponsored Lens in partnership with Twentieth Century Fox, who used the Lens to promote the release of The Peanuts Movie.

Since the first sponsored Lens, many brands have tested the water. One uber-successful example is Gatorade’s sponsored Super Bowl Lens which generated over 100 million views over SuperBowl weekend – that’s almost as many views as the game got live in TV (111.9 million).

Snapchat reportedly sells these sponsorships for between $450,000 and $750,000 per day.


Much like other social networks, Snapchat allows you to enhance your content with filters. To view the filters available to you swipe right after recording a video or taking a picture.

Pro Tip: You can add multiple filters to an image by holding a finger on the screen once you have one filter selected and continuing to swipe.


Geofilters are unique overlays for Snaps that can only be accessed in certain locations. Here’s an example from Monterrey, Mexico:

Creating a Geofilter

Anyone can submit their own geofilter, and Snapchat encourages artists and designers to use this these filters to bring their own style to the Snapchat community.

Here are Snapchat’s recommendations for geofilter submissions:

  • Filters must be submitted as a web-optimized, transparent PNG
  • Your PNG should have a width of 1080 pixels and a height of 1920 pixels
  • Your PNG must be under 300KB in size

Sponsored geofilters are currently being rolled out with a few selected brand partners and are working on launching a broader geofilters product later this year.

To learn more about geofilters and how to submit your own, visit the Snapchat website.

On-Demand Geofilters

Snapchat has now introduced a third type of geofilter. On-demand geofilters enable anyone to pay Snapchat have their own, unique geofilter available in a specific location for a set amount of time.

As TechCrunch report:

The minimum size for these geofilters is 5,000 square feet (enough to cover an office building) and the minimum amount of time the geofilter can exist is 30 minutes. On the other side of the spectrum, users can spread their on-demand geofilters as far as 5,000,000 square feet.

The turnaround time for review is about a day, and pricing starts at $5.

This is hugely exciting and could open up a wealth of opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses to use Snapchat as a marketing channel.

Imagine you run a restaurant, you could create a filter to celebrate a new dish and make it available in your town. Or a local cinema could run a geofilter for a new movie coming out. The possibilities here are endless. 

Find out more about on-demand filters here.

Discover: Snapchat’s Media Destination

In January 2015, Snapchat launched Discover, “a new way to explore Stories from different editorial teams.”

Discover launched with 11 top media companies such as ESPN, The Bleacher Report, CNN and Vice. Discover put these brands in a prime position to grab the attention of Snapchat’s young audience.

Here’s how Discover works:

How to Add Friends

There are a number of ways to add friends on Snapchat. The first thing you need to do is tap the ghost icon  displayed at the top of the camera screen and select the ‘Add Friends’ option.

From the ‘Add Friends’ screen you can add other accounts by Username, from your address book, by Snapcode or Nearby.

Add by Username

If you know the username of the account you’d like to add, just type their username in the ‘Add by Username’ field and then tap on the ‘+’ button to connect with them.

Add From Address Book

This option will enable you to search the contact on your phone to see who is already on Snapchat. From here, you can also send an SMS invite to anyone who isn’t currently on Snapchat.

Add by Snapcode

A Snapcode works just like a QR code and you can add friends  by scanning their Snapcode using your smartphone. You can scan a Snapcode directly from someone else’s Snapchat app, or scan it from a photo you’ve received via email or IM. 

To scan a photo that includes a Snapcode, you just have to tap on  ‘Add Friends’ > ‘Add by Snapcode’ > ‘Photos.’

Add Nearby

Nearby is a location-based feature, enabling you to search and connect with other Snapchatters who are in the same area as you. Tap on ‘Add Friends’ > ‘Add Nearby’ and Snapchat will find nearby users.

Sharing Your Username

Snapchat has also released a way to share your username publicly and allow people to connect with you.

To do this, tap on ‘Add Friends’ > ‘Share username.’ This will then generate a link for you that will look something like this If you share this link with someone, they can then add you on Snapchat (this works really smoothly on mobile, on desktop your URL will link to a Snapchat download page).

What Do the Emojis Next to Friends Mean?

If you check your Friends list on Snapchat, you may notice emojis next to some of your contacts, for example, a  or a .

Each of these emojis means something different, and they change over time based on how you interact with that friend. These emojis are private and will only ever be seen by anyone other than you.

Here’s a breakdown of what each emoji means:

  • Gold Star  – Someone has replayed this person’s snaps in the past 24 hours.
  • Yellow Heart  – You are #1 best friends with each other. You send the most snaps to this person, and they send the most snaps to you.
  • Red Heart ️ – You have been #1 best friends with each other for two weeks straight.
  • Pink Hearts  – You have been #1 best friends with each other for two months straight.
  • Baby  – You just became friends with this person.
  • Face With Sunglasses  – One of your best friends is one of their best friends. You send a lot of snaps to someone they also send a lot of snaps to.
  • Grimacing Face  – Your #1 best friend is their #1 best friend. You send the most snaps to the same person that they do.
  • Smirking Face  – You are one of their best friends…but they are not a best friend of yours. You don’t send them many snaps, but they send you a lot.
  • Smiling Face  – Another best friend of yours. You send this person a lot of snaps. Not your #1 best friend but they are up there.
  • Fire – You are on a Snapstreak! You have snapped this person every day, and they have snapped you back. Increases with the number of consecutive days.
  • Hundred – 100 Day Snapstreak. The 100 emoji appears next to the fire when you snap back and forth with someone for one hundred days in a row.

Verified Account Emojis

If a story is shared by a verified account (usually reserved for well-known public figures, major brands and celebrities), you’ll see a custom emoji next to their name, so you know they’re the real deal!

Emojis for official stories vary from person to person. For example,  the basketball emoji   appears next to official NBA stories, Calvin Harris’ stories are accompanied by a tiger, and DJ Khaled uses the key emoji .

5 Top Tips for Brands on Snapchat

To bring you the best, most actionable Snapchat tips, I teamed up with Everette Taylor, who gave me the lowdown on how to use Snapchat to deliver value for your business.

1. Bring Value Through Variety of Content

With Snapchat, you have to bring value with every piece of content you share, Taylor explains:

Take a minute and think about most of the Snapchat stories you see and how similar the content is. The fact is, for most originality on Snapchat is lacking. That’s the case for many social media platforms but can be the most apparent on Snapchat due to the nature of the app. That’s the cue to step your game up.

The best way to bring value to users on Snapchat is by providing a variety of content that your users will either find entertaining or helpful information. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and take risks. Monotony =loss of interest.

It’s also important to keep Snapchat’s user base in mind when it comes to content creation – 45% of Snapchat users are under 25.

The point is to be fun, creative and experiment. Remember the audience on Snapchat tends to skew to be a lot younger. If users know what to expect from you, they will be a lot less likely to click on your stories which means fewer impressions for you or your brand. Take to time to strategize a marketing strategy for your Snapchat like you would any other channel or funnel.

In the early days of TV and Radio, if you missed a show, it wasn’t on again. There were no DVRs or on-demand services. Snapchat is much the same, once your story has been live for 24 hours, it’s gone forever.

To keep your content interesting and engaging, you could create a schedule to give your audience an expectation of what’s coming up:

Create custom content, for example having “Motivation Mondays” where you offer inspirational quotes or highlight inspirational stories/people or “Tasty Tuesdays” where you cook a new recipe or review a new restaurant. Whatever you do, just have fun!

2. Create Your Own Snapchat KPIs

Measuring your performance on social media can be a tough task at times, especially on some of the newer platforms. And currently, there aren’t any public ways to get analytics or data around your Snapchat account.

So when it comes to measurement on Snapchat, Taylor advises that “a little ingenuity is needed.” 

First thing you want to figure out is VPS, Views Per Snap. In my opinion, this is the “one metric that matters” when it comes to Snapchat. The best way to do this is to calculate the average views for your Snapchat videos each day and record that number in a spreadsheet. You can then start to track the progress of your views daily and begin to set goals.

Alongside Views Per Snap, Taylor also recommends tracking followers and screenshots:

If you have the time and the patience to manually count, you can calculate new follower metrics and figure out your follow rate – daily, weekly, monthly and even annually. This allows you to set acquisition goals as well.

One of the most useful KPIs I’ve come up with screenshots. This shows that people found whatever you posted highly entertaining or valuable.

This leads nicely to the next tip…

3. Make Sure Users Anticipate Important Messages

One of the biggest barriers to entry for brands on Snapchat is figuring out how Snapchat can directly have value for their brand. One of the best ways is to give important messages and announcements on your Snapchat.

If you’re delivering an important message on Snapchat, for example, sharing a URL you’d like your followers to visit, asking them to screenshot it can be an excellent way to drive action.

When it comes to screenshots, Taylor advises giving your followers some warning of what’s coming up:

You have to be smart about how you go about this. You have to make users anticipate something is coming before it comes. Let users know that you’re about to announce something important before you do so or prompt them by saying “Screenshot the next snap.” Yep, it’s that simple and can be highly effective.

4. Use Other Social Media to Promote Snapchat

Snapchat doesn’t have a public friends feed or a mechanic that will show people who their friends are viewing and engaging with your content. As such, a great way to build your audience is through your pre-existing followers on other networks, Taylor explained:

One thing I admire about Vine and YouTube influencers is the way they are able to shift their audience to other social media platforms. It’s an impactful tactic if done well. It requires you to be using other social media platforms to promote your Snapchat.

One of the most effective ways to do this is by scheduling posts on Buffer to promote your Snapchat throughout the week. Some platform-specific tips include: making your profile picture of Facebook and Twitter your Snapchat QR code, setting up a pinned tweet on Twitter and pinned post on Facebook promoting your Snapchat, and setting up automated direct messages on Twitter along with a value proposition for people to follow you on Snapchat, etc.

Taylor also recommends taking screenshots from your Snapchat pictures and videos and sharing these on other social networks:

Taking your interesting Snapchat pictures/videos and posting them on other social media platforms with your Snapchat handle is super effective. I’ve found this the most effective on Twitter and Instagram. Also if you’re doing something fun or exciting, you can tell people to follow you to see more. For example, “I’m at *insert event* – follow my Snapchat to check out my adventures.”

Here’s another example of Pepsi promoting their Snapchat lens on Facebook.

5. Create Your Own Content to Promote Your Snapchat

Creating Snapchat-focused content outside of Snapchat is a great way to promote your account:

Many people, such as growth expert Morgan Brown, and others have realized that one of the best ways to promote your Snapchat brand is to create your own content about Snapchat. This can be lists of best people to follow, best practices and tips, case studies, etc.

If the content is solid, people will share it, and there will be a lot more brand awareness for your Snapchat. Making lists is probably the best way to go about it, this will give you a distribution by influencers who will promote your content in reciprocation.

You can also use your Snapcode, Snapchat username, and profile URL within your content as a way to drive new followers:

A bonus tip with this that I haven’t seen any brands using….yet. Use a Snapchat icon on your content, websites, and emails. Snapchat now has a new feature where you can copy a link where people can add you on Snapchat. Including these icons on your content, emails, website, and other forms of content could be helpful in building your audience.

4 Snapchat Accounts to Follow (And What Makes Them Great)

One of the toughest things about getting started on a new social network can be knowing who to follow and learn from. With this in mind, I’d love to share a few Snapchat accounts that are rocking it right now:

Vaynermedia (@vaynermedia)

What they Snap: The Vaynermedia Snapchat account takes followers behind the scenes at the agency and into a day in the life of one of the team members.

Why it works: Snapchat is an amazing way to show the human side of a business and the people behind the brand. By sharing a day in the life on Snapchat, Vaynermedia can build stronger, more authentic relationships with their followers.

Gary Vaynerchuck believes there are two real wins of this approach to Snapchat: “it boosts the internal morale within the agency and connects people across offices and two it makes my employees true practitioners of their craft,” he explained on his Youtube show.

NBA (@nba)

What they Snap: Behind the scenes content from games, game previews, TV schedules (so you always know what you can watch), and much more.

Why it works: Sports fans love to get behind the scenes and Snapchat is the perfect way for the NBA to share authentic, behind the scenes content from events fans would never normally have access to.

Casey Neistat (@caseyneistat)

What he Snaps: Casey Neistat is a well-known Youtuber and filmmaker. Neistat’s Snapchat Stories are super-engaging and feel like vlogs as he invites his followers to follow along as his day unfolds.

Why it works: Neistat’s Snapchat stories are authentic. He lets each story build up naturally, too. Instead of jumping right in at the climax of a story, or the most exciting part of his day, he’ll build it up as his Story progresses.

DJ Khaled (@djkhaled305)

What he Snaps: DJ Khaled is the king of Snapchat! Throughout his Stories, Khaled entertains his followers by sharing his “keys to success”.

Why it works: DJ Khaled is a huge hit on Snapchat because he lets his personality shine through in his Snaps. He also delivers content based on a set theme, ‘success.’ This means his followers know what to expect when they start viewing one of his Stories.

Sidenote: DJ Khaled’s account became legendary when he shared a Story about being lost at sea on a jet ski.

Bonus: 5 More People and Brands to Follow

  • Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee)
  • Eva Longoria (@realevalongoria)
  • Product Hunt (@producthuntteam)
  • Major League Soccer (@mls)
  • Lewis Howes (@lewis_howes)

We’re on Snapchat too, you can connect with us by adding the username ‘buffersnaps’or by scanning the Snapcode below:

Over to You

I hope you found this post useful and discovered a few new Snapchat features and tricks.

I’d love to send a huge shoutout to Everette Taylor for sharing his awesome tips with us – we’ll be sure to implement some of these in our Snapchat strategy.

You can follow Everette on Snapchat, his username is ‘everettetaylor’ or click this link from a mobile device to add him directly.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Snapchat. Do you actively use the app? Have you tried using it from a brand perspective? Any tips or tricks you’d like to share?

Please feel free to add your thoughts and experiences in the comments below – I’m excited to jump in and join the conversation.


This post originally appeared on Buffer, and is re-published with permission.

Image Credits

Featured Image: Image by The Buffer Team
In-post Photos: Images by Ash Read