Public Relations is a Snap: How Brands are Using Snapchat to Cultivate Relationships

This summary post appears courtesy of the study’s authors Dr. Chris Wilson and Dr. Pamela Brubaker at Brigham Young University. This post is a preview based on the preliminary findings presented at the International PR Research Conference on March 11, 2017. The full study and official results will  be released in the next few months. Any questions or comments can be directed to IPR Communications Manager, Sarah Jackson, to relay to the authors.

Communication professionals have become enamored with ephemeral social media like Snapchat; however, little academic research has addressed it. The aim of this study is to understand how brands are using ephemeral social channels while “looking back” to the existing literature on relationship management, social media engagement, and visual communication. 

Snapchat is the most authentic social network by design. The Brigham Young University School of Communications examined Snapchat managers’ communication strategies to see how they are capturing a large share of the millennial market through Snapchat’s engagement, with a reported 150 million active users daily.

Companies are now mainly using Snapchat to break news, introduce new products and connect with audiences for public relations purposes. Traditionally, Snapchat was used to share pictures and videos, Snapchat’s ephemeral and story-telling visual content is now being used by companies to better connect with their audiences. Brands are also using Snapchat’s storytelling and interactive features to engage millennials. Snapchat has been so successful with this approach that other social media, such as Instagram and Facebook, are adopting these Snapchat-like features to better engage with their audiences.

Preliminary Findings:

-Industry experts predict that Snapchat use among the younger demographic with increase by 13.6% in 2017.

-Brands are targeting a younger audience, because they will later become customers with spending power.

-Because Snapchat is perceived as more transparent and authentic, it allows brands to be more real with their audiences.

-Snapchat generates engagement so that users do the work by spreading the word.

-Most snapchat content is opportunistic, not strategic.

-Common tactics used to spread content that seem to be the most effective include working with influencers, creating ads, posting organically and creating geofilters.


Snapchat is growing as a content hub. Snapchat managers predict that in the future, users will go on Snapchat not only to see pictures and connect with friends, but also to see original, high-quality content. Moreover, big brands will start to use shows on Snapchat.

Right now, Snapchat’s measure of success is compared to “how public relations used to be before digital.” Snapchat has a disadvantage in comparison to Instagram, because Instagram gives more analytics. However, Snapchat mangers foresee analytic features similar to Instagram in the future.


The purpose of this study was to seek how and why Snapchat is being used by brands for public relations purposes. Researchers will be conducting in-depth interviews with 25-30 Snapchat managers working for brands that have been recognized for their success using Snapchat. The interviews will then be analyzed to identify patterns within the participants’ responses.

The interview guide was pretested with three Snapchat experts: one works for a Fortune 500 travel company, and the other two work for public relations/digital marketing agencies that use Snapchat services for their clients. Interviews are still being conducted and the official results will be released in the coming months.

Jamie Honowitz is a public relations student at the University of Florida and Media Coordinator at The Agency at UF. Follow her on Twitter @jamiehonowitz__



Posted in [Research Library], New Technology / Social Media.

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