August 07, 2014

Oh, Snap! A Q&A With’s Snapchat Strategists

Bryce Mathias, as snapchatted to Megan O’Neil.

A central tenet at, an organization that spurs young people to action on various causes, is to meet its audience of 2.5-million members where they already spend their time. These days, 13- to 25-year-olds are on Snapchat, an app which allows users to send visual messages that disappear within seconds of being viewed.

So in November, the nonprofit anointed a "snapmaster" and started incorporating Snapchat into its marketing efforts. Now, what those at DoSomething call their "choose your own adventure" Snapchat stories are driving engagement in the nonprofit’s campaigns. This week, for example, the organization’s Snapchat followers will receive daily challenges via the app for a campaign DoSomething has dubbed "The Hunt." (To track the campaign live, you can follow DoSomething on Snapchat.)

In a conversation with The Chronicle, DoSomething’s snapmaster, Bryce Mathias, 25, and Colleen Wormsley, 23, a marketing associate, talked conversion rates, audience development, and dressing up as Cupid.

What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the discussion.

How big is your Snapchat audience, and how do you assess engagement?

Bryce: We have at least 5,000 followers, and it’s growing daily. We have to contact Snapchat to get our following—you can’t see how many people friend you within the app. On average, we receive 380 unique snaps a day. Then it just depends on my bandwidth how many of those I can actually respond to one-to-one.

The open rate is about 100 percent. There is no actual way to track the analytics on that, but with Snapchat, the open rate is extremely high because you are not able to see what the photo is or have any context of what kind of message you have until you actually open it.

Through the "choose your own adventure" stories, we actually have members text in so we can track their conversions to our campaigns, and our conversion rate from Snapchat is 55 percent.

What are you trying to accomplish with Snapchat?

Colleen: We have been getting our young people to take action on different causes by doing interactive Snapchat stories.

We ran a campaign in February called Love Letters where we got young people to make Valentine’s Day cards for homebound seniors. Bryce was dressed up as Cupid and made a Snapchat story explaining that he was going to go out and deliver Valentine’s Day cards by bike, ice skates, or on foot in Central Park. The story said, "Hey, there are three options of how he will deliver cards. Text in to choose which option you want him to do."

That day, we made a Snapchat story showing "You chose for him to go outside and deliver the cards." So we showed our users that is what he actually did.

Snapchat messaging draws largely on users’ existing contact lists. How do you build an audience knowing that you must be sought out?

Bryce: We have pretty robust social media, so we started off by promoting it there. When it came to the challenges, a lot of that is, "Show your friends." The language we would use was "Get your friends involved to vote."

Beyond that, we have gotten involved with YouTube and Vine celebrities. There is a musician that we love to work with, Ryan Beatty, who has a really robust Twitter following. We gave him our Snapchat for a day and he tweeted, "Hey, if you Snapchat me at this particular username"—which is ours—"I will snap you back." That was a huge bump to our user list.

Bryce, in the Valentine’s Day campaign, you appeared dressed as Cupid, wearing what might be described as a diaper. How do you draw the line on what’s appropriate?

Bryce: That is certainly a fine line.

Before I came to DoSomething, I was a male model. I really love to play off of that world. It is about not taking yourself seriously, especially when you are dealing with young people. Nobody wants some male model snapchatting them and saying, "Hey look at my beautiful blue steel face." It is all about, "Let’s dump a bunch of clothes on this guy" or "Let’s get him to put wings on and go out into the snow."

We are looking to push the limits. We are looking to be silly and ridiculous and we ask ourselves how much we can do every day, but we always ground it in taking action on a cause. We have a lot of people here who do remind us that while we are having fun we are doing it for a purpose.

What advice would you give to other nonprofits on using Snapchat?

Colleen: Remember the audience. Snapchat makes so much sense for because it is reaching young people and that’s whom we are catering to.

If your organization is trying to reach moms who are 32 to 55, it might not be the best medium. Also, there are a lot of other really cool different mediums out there that we are experimenting with.

We just started using Kik recently, which is another new messaging platform we have seen tremendous success with so far. We are featured on their promoted chats.

Send an e-mail to Megan O’Neil.