There’s a new social-media darling in town and it’s one small business owners need to know about (inserted “shocked” and “overwhelmed” emojis here).
    Its name is Snapchat – familiar enough to most, although if you’re anything like the typical bridal salon owner, that’s about where your knowledge ends. After all, this mobile photo and video-sharing platform – represented by a small white ghost logo positioned against a bright yellow background – hasn’t really taken off in the bridal industry yet. However salons that do use it – and increasingly there are more of them – tout its effectiveness and high enjoyment factor, among other benefits.
    Meanwhile Snapchat continues to explode in popularity, currently boasting 100 million daily active users who send an estimated 700 million photos and watch more than 8 billion videos per day. These numbers make Snapchat the third most popular social app for all age groups, trailing only Facebook and Instagram. And amongst teens it is actually the most popular, according to a recent study by Piper Jaffray.
    There’s no doubt about it: knowing Snapchat is important these days if you own a bridal business. After all 77 percent of Snapchat users fall into the 34 and under (aka bride or prom girl) category. And if you want to be successful you must engage with your customers where they’re at.
    And increasingly anymore, Snapchat seems to be “where they’re at.”

Nuts and Bolts:
Snapchat 101
    The first thing you need to know is that Snapchat isn’t a social-media website you join, like Facebook or Twitter, but rather a mobile app that you download to your smartphone (think: Instagram). At its core this app allows you to send videos and pictures – called “snaps” – to friends, which self-destruct after 1 to 10 seconds of viewing them.
    One important point: Those snaps aren’t actually lost forever. In 2014 the Federal Trade Commission pointed out – and Snapchat was forced to concede in a settlement – that because the deletion feature only functions in the official Snapchat app, yet third-party apps can log into the service, some snaps exist indefinitely. As well recipients can take a screen shot of any snap, preserving it this way.
    But while snaps might not be lost forever, they can definitely be doctored up. The app includes a selection of fun editing tools, such as filters, special text and the ability to draw on photos or videos, which can add artistic touches to your snaps.
    Snapchat also boasts a messaging feature similar to Facebook, which allows you to chat with friends via text or even live video. Its most popular feature by far, however, is Stories. These are groups of images or videos that remain available to recipients for 24 hours, instead of disappearing after the standard 10 seconds. Stories can be viewed repeatedly until the time limit is up; afterward, they disappear.
    And Snapchat is continuously working to offer new features. A little more than a year ago it added its Discover platform, which is comprised of 20 channels from top publishers including CNN, People and ESPN that are refreshed everyday.

Ephemeral Messaging:
What’s the Appeal?
    When Snapchat first appeared on the scene in September 2011, critics labeled it primarily a “sexting” app. Teens, sick of their parents following their every move on Facebook and increasingly aware that risqué social-media posts could come back to haunt them, were attracted to the notion that messages sent via this app disappeared quickly.
    Or so the story went.
    In reality, Snapchat’s ephemeral messaging has always held a much broader appeal.
    For starters, it’s casual and relatable with much less pressure to “perform.” On Snapchat you don’t have to worry about taking perfect photos, or writing detailed captions, or tagging anyone. It’s a more authentic means of communication, which allows people to highlight their personalities and let their guards down.
    “Kleinfeld Bridal likes Snapchat because it’s the opposite of Instagram,” says Samantha Roberts, social-media strategist for the store, which began using Snapchat in April 2015. “Instagram is a perfectly curated place to show off professional photos and we do not want to post too much on this platform. Snapchat gives us the ability to strategically upload as many videos and photos as we would like.”
    Another benefit: you command 100-percent of your audience’s attention for the length of your content’s life. Unlike other social networks it doesn’t matter when you post on Snapchat; your snaps never get buried in a busy timeline. Rather, they remain unopened until your followers have time to view them.
    That said, there are downsides to this platform, too. For starters, Snapchat doesn’t keep detailed analytics or showcase how many followers you have; instead it gives you a score, which is a sum of the messages you send and receive. This can be frustrating for storeowners looking to concretely measure the platform’s effectiveness.
    Additionally, Snapchat doesn’t use hashtags, making it challenging to build an audience or search for content. As a result you must take a proactive, somewhat grassroots approach: tell customers you’re on Snapchat (many salons post their Snapchat handle in other social-media bios), then continuously give brides and prom girls a compelling reason to follow you.
    Finally, Snapchat isn’t the best platform to use if your primary goal is to drive customers back to your website.
    “There are no click-throughs,” Roberts says.  “If you’re looking for traffic it’s better to use Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.”

The Bridal World Has
Been Slow To Get Onboard
    Despite Snapchat’s burgeoning popularity, the reality is that most bridal salons aren’t participating, at least not yet. An informal VOWS survey found that only 19 percent have a Snapchat presence; of those that do use the app a majority have joined in the past six months.
    The main reason can be summed up in one word: time.
    “I don’t believe customers currently expect businesses to be active on Snapchat like they do for Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest,” says Kelly Leggett, general manager and director of marketing at Little White Dress Bridal Shop in Denver. “Given that there is not an unlimited amount of time to spend on social media, our current strategy is to do well on the forms of social media that are most effective for our business, rather than to spread ourselves too thin.” 
    It’s a sentiment echoed by many storeowners, who also site confusion over how to use the app as well as its primarily younger audience as reasons for abstaining.
    “I also worry there may be a limit to how much I invade a bride’s personal lifestyle,” adds Laurie Robertson, owner of The Bridal Suite of Louisville in Louisville, Ky.
    Yet many storeowners concede that Snapchat is something they’re keeping their eyes on moving forward, particularly when it comes to prom. Approximately 30 percent of the retailers surveyed who are not currently on Snapchat said they will likely join by next prom season.
    In the meantime those who already use it, like Roberts, are hooked.
    “Brides, customers and followers love the Kleinfeld Snapchat!”she says. “The Kleinfeld audience engages stories daily by snapping photos of their inspiration and tweeting what they liked. . . Snapshat is another place to connect with customers, future brides and showcase the hottest dresses in bridal fashion!”
    And it’s not just bridal salons flocking to this app. Many manufacturers including Mon Cheri (“moncheribridals”) and Allure Bridals (“allurebridals”) have also established a Snapchat presence.
    So, too, have some of the consumer bridal publications.
    “Snapchat is an invaluable resource for Bridal Guide because it’s the most intimate form of communication that we have with our brides,” says Jim Duhe, VP/associate publisher.
    Bridal Guide Magazine (“bridalguide” on Snapchat) uses the Stories feature to give brides an exclusive backstage pass to the hottest bridal runway shows and events, Duhe says, adding that unlike other social platforms, Snapchat allows the magazine to add on to an existing “story” and package its content using a diverse mix of videos and photos.
    “So we’re able to capture the graceful movement of a gown or the dazzling sparkle of an engagement ring in a hyper-personal way,” he says. “Brides are clamoring for wedding inspiration optimized for the mobile experience, which is where they already devote a significant portion of time communicating with loved ones and reading up on the latest trends.”
    Indeed, as time goes on, Snapchat is poised to continue growing in popularity. For that reason alone, it’s worthwhile to learn about this platform and maybe even try it out. While the reality of “there’s only so much time in a day” definitely exists, when a site receives this much attention and growth in such a short timeframe, it’s definitely worth noticing. That’s not to say you must join – it’s always better to maintain quality over quantity. At the very least, however, it’s worth thinking about.
    “Register your username and give it a shot. . . it’s very useful during bridal market,” Roberts says. “Social media should be experimented with; there’s no perfect way to do (it). This is a hot platform to play with and see if it works for your brand.”

Oh Snap!

Nine ideas for using Snapchat

1. Send out a promo code in a snap, instructing customers to screenshot it and bring it in for a special treat. Bonus: You’ll get an idea of exactly how effective your Snapchat reach is.
2. Draw on your snaps to catch the viewer’s eye. Circle a standout dress feature, create an arrow pointing out something you’d like to call attention to, add hearts to a look you adore. Trendy and fun!
3. Give a sneak preview. For example, snap out a photo of a dress recently purchased at market with the caption “Coming soon!”
4. Provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse of your salon. Create a story illustrating something a bride isn’t usually privy to: display windows being changed, your market journey, a staff meeting or a typical busy Saturday.
5. Create valuable tutorials. This is another great way to use Snapchat’s “stories” feature. Showcase four or five key steps in a certain process such as creating a particular wedding-day hairstyle or making the most of a bridal appointment.
6. Conduct one-question interviews. They can be with a key designer, a popular employee or even a satisfied customer. Add a fun caption then send out the video to your followers!
7. Ask brides for their wedding pictures or videos, and send out snaps featuring them. It’s a great way to showcase your product in use!
8. Share commentary. This could be a cool tip from an industry leader or your opinion about a recent event. Regardless brides will find it interesting because you’re the expert.
9. Interact. This last one is most important and applies to all forms of social media. When customers send you snaps, read them (they can tell if you have!) and reply if appropriate. Also, don’t hesitate to add or follow them back. Doing so reinforces their importance and helps create a sense of community by making them feel valued by and connected to your salon.

Snapchat Lingo

Another social-media app, more jargon to learn! Here are a few of the most common Snapchat terms. You’ll be an expert in no time!

Geofilter: a special overlay designed to communicate the “where and when” of a snap in a fun way. Snapchat offers free community Geofilters that anyone can use; you can also pay to create custom Geofilters. You might, for example, buy a Business Geofilter to promote your bridal salon or an upcoming trunk show or sale.

Snapstreak: refers to the fact that you and a friend have snapped each other within 24 hours for more than one consecutive day. Represented by a “fire” emoji  with a number next to it depicting how many days you’ve been on a snapstreak. If that streak is about to end, an hourglass emoji  will appear. Send a snap to keep it going!

Friend Emojis: a private feature that only you can see. Little emojis appear next to your friends’ names depicting your relationship with them. For example, a gold heart  means you are best friends who send the most snaps to each other and a baby face  means you just became friends. Friend emojis change over time based on how you interact with people. Also they can be customized but not disabled.