The way I use my Instagram handle is similar in design to the way our mothers used their photo albums. While scrolling through my photo stream (or the streams of my friends), I see a highly curated story of a life as captured through the most flattering possible lens.

If Instagram is the thoughtfully staged, well lit, perfect representation of a moment, consider Snapchat a silly face made in a mundane instant of everyday life. But marketers should know — there’s nothing silly about it.

Snapchat offers real-time connection with fleeting images, allowing users more freedom of expression. It’s a way to escape the curated content of other social platforms, and with a close circle of trusted followers, users don’t worry about broadcasting a perfect lifestyle.

There is also no expectation for engagement as the platform doesn’t contain an option for likes, shares or comments. Snapchat invites users to be real and show their true selves with more casual and everyday communication. (My thirteen-year-old daughter and her friends use Snapchat to send funny faces while sitting in study hall, in the car, or any other point of rest during their day.)

Snapchat is a noncommittal way to connect, but also truly intimate. By sharing the commonplace, users experience an ambient awareness of each other’s lives. Another interest aspect is that it’s not necessarily used to expand your social circle. Snapchat is primarily used to connect with those with whom you are already close (and perhaps to follow influencers you admire).

Without the easily available engagement metrics of a Pinterest or a Twitter, some marketers have dismissed Snapchat as a communications vehicle. However, there is a huge opportunity for lifestyle brands, especially those that appeal to the younger millennial or Gen Z demographic.

Snapchat is designed for mobile viewing, and as a result for teens who exclusively communicate via mobile. By decreasing image size and solving the text message delay teens so frequently lament, Snapchat has won their attention with a more instantaneous back and forth conversation.

Email also feels antiquated to this demographic, making Snapchat’s notification feature a valuable interruption into a user’s day. (Parents of teens will relate to this. I always have to text or Snapchat my daughter to alert her to an email in her inbox. For most teens, email serves just two functions; tracking of ecommerce orders and sending messages to teachers.)

Discover is Snapchat’s first foray into the marketing arena with publications beginning to experiment with digestible content that disappears after 24 hours. Those that offer short, fun anecdotes or are driven by celebrity news are shining.

Others are still finding their way, as evidenced through long, feature recipes that offer no ability to save or print and are therefore rendered useless. Marketers need to take into account the attention span of their audience and the lifespan of their content before engaging.

More and more brands are joining Snapchat and disseminating short form content. Those with loyal teen audiences will thrive by relating to their consumer’s lifestyle in real time, as well as with promotions that display a sense of urgency or limited time offer. This audience has come to expect content that caters directly to them and is a necessity to receive any form of ongoing interaction.

But how do brands succeed in reaching new audiences on a platform where users are only talking to each other? It is one thing to develop an identity and hope that your fan base finds you, but for those seeking increased awareness, consider bringing in an ace.

There is an opportunity for brands to sponsor an influencer with an existing following. With so much trust between influencers and their audiences, the right influencer with the right brand will speak volumes to a targeted following. Go where your audience is already engaged to relate to your core demographic and form new connections among like-minded individuals.

Snapchat also provides brands with an easy avenue to experiment for those not ready to embark with a fully integrated marketing communications plan. Pull back the curtain and don’t be afraid to show your true self, the real you, the behind-the-scenes production and preparation. After all, everyone can relate to a silly face.

Danielle Wiley is the CEO of Sway Group, a leading content marketing agency with more than 75,000 influencers in its network.  

Image courtesy of focal point / Shutterstock.com.

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