How are world leaders using Snapchat?

A portrait of the Snapchat logo in Ventura, California December 21, 2013.

Snapchat is becoming popular among government figures. Image: REUTERS/Eric Thayer

Matthias Lüfkens
Managing Director, Digital, Burson-Marsteller
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Snapchat is the fastest growing social media platform and, according to the latest statistics, almost two thirds of its users are aged between 13 and 24 years old, making it the ultimate platform to reach young audiences. It therefore comes as no surprise that government leaders are starting to set up accounts on the platform to reach out to future leaders.

Snapchat is unique because it doesn’t indicate the number of followers, nor the number of views, of each post, which disappear after 24 hours. It is also a ‘safe’ social network for governments, as users cannot publically comment or criticize other users’ posts or profiles. Younger Snapchat users seem to prefer the social network for its easy-to-use, real-time messaging experience and its playful filters and features.

For government officials and institutions, it offers a new form of casual communications and linear storytelling. According to Burson-Marsteller’s research, 16 heads of state and international organizations have set up official profiles on Snapchat. Our team identified four presidents, three governments, two foreign ministries and one foreign minister who are active on the platform, as well as six international organizations, namely the European Council (EUCouncil), the French government (GouvernmentFR) and French President François HollandeFR, Argentinian President MauricioMacri, the Irish government (MerrionStreet) and Irish President Michael Higgins (PresidentIRL), the U.S. StateDept, the UKForeignOffice, and the WhiteHouse. International organizations active on Snapchat worth following are the United-Nations and the UNGeneva. UNICEF, the World Economic Forum (weforum) and the European Parliament europarl and ESA, the eurospaceagency.

Using Snapchat

Using Snapchat is fairly easy with its intuitive design and swiping options. Initially, the social media platform was used to share pictures and videos, which could be personalized by adding a caption limited to 80 characters or by scribbling on your post in freehand.

The most unique feature of the social media platform is the time limit on the images and videos you send. Users are only able to see your snaps for a maximum of 10 seconds, after that they will simply disappear. Replays are only possible once a day in most countries.

If you want your message to be shown to all of your contacts, you can post a snap to your ‘story’, which can be viewed by your followers an unlimited amount of times within 24 hours.

The photo screen is the default screen. Swipe upwards to find your friends and contacts, swipe left to chat and swipe right to see the stories of the people you follow and swipe right again to the ‘Discover’ tab with 18 publishers, including Buzzfeed, CNN and Mashable, producing tailor-made content for the platform..

Currently, there is no publically available list of government Snapchat users. If the organization is not in your contacts you will have to know the Snapchat handle or you can scan its ‘snapcode’ if it has advertised its handle on other social media sites or embedded a link on its website.

Interestingly, you cannot see how many followers a Snapchatter has. You will only be able to see the ‘Snapchat score,” which indicates a user’s level of activity, if that user follows you. And finally, you cannot like or publically comment on snaps from other users. The only way to engage with a Snapchatter is by replying privately to his or her snaps.

Some governments, such as the Polish Prime Minister (PremierRP), seem to have reserved their Snapchat handles but are not active and lack an official avatar. Snapchat does not yet verify its users, but the social media platform is planning to roll out verified accounts in the near future.

Recently Snapchat has gained huge interest through the introduction of lenses – in seconds your face can be transformed into a bunny rabbit, or you can vomit rainbows. Companies can now sponsor lenses; a recent example is the new Batman lens for the new Batman vs. Superman video.

Despite its limitations some governments have discovered Snapchat to be a formidable broadcasting tool to target a decidedly younger audience, either by chronicling the public activities of their leaders or to raise the level of public engagement at selected events. International organizations, particularly UNICEF and the European Parliament, use Snapchat to engage with their followers, often reposting their snaps. And the numbers are impressive: the UK Foreign Office reports an engagement rate of more than 60% (Snap views in comparison to followers) and a 90% completion rate (last snap views minus first snap views) of its stories.

As part of its late March 2016 updated designed to position Snapchat as a rival to Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger, the platform introduced Chat 2.0. The new feature enhances your chat experience and allows you to video chat easily, send audio notes and chat messages. This is certainly a platform to keep eye on for the future.

Who snapped first?

A snapchat picture of a staircase inside the UK Foreign Office.
Image: Twiplomacy

The UK Foreign Office was the first foreign office to open a Snapchat account, on September 17, 2015, for the Rugby World Cup launch party and ahead of the annual Foreign Office Open House. Snapchat is a useful tool to connect users at an event and in the same location. The Foreign Office designed a virtual tour on Snapchat and asked Snapchatters on site to contribute their posts to the story. According to the Foreign Office blog, 300 new connections were made on Snapchat over that weekend alone.

The UK Foreign Office advertises its snapchat account.
Image: Twiplomacy

The U.S. State Department set up a Snapchat channel specifically for the COP21 conference in December 2015 in Paris, and John Kerry did his first Snapchat statement on the Mashable Snapchat account. The State Department is currently soft launching the social network at select public events.

The United-Nations Snapchat account was fairly active during COP21 UN climate conference, which was also featured as a special story with support by Snapchat staff on the ground. Watch the Snapchat video of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon meeting Leonardo DiCaprio at COP21.

A snapchat showing the inside of the White House.
Image: Twiplomacy

The White House started its Snapchat journey on January 11, 2016 to give its followers a behind-the-scenes look at the U.S. President’s final State of the Union address. In March 2016, the White House interns took over the account and created a story about their work to attract younger talent. In April 2016, the European Parliament ran a similar story promoting traineeships in Brussels.

A snapchat showing a 'day in the life of a White House intern'.
Image: Twiplomacy

In true Irish fashion, the government at MerrionStreet celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with a picture of the government building on Merrion Street lit in green. The government in Dublin celebrated the military parade for the centenary of Easter Rising on its Snapchat account, but also expressed condolences after the terrorist attacks in Brussels and flew the flag at half-mast in memory of the victims.

The Irish government snapchats, showing St Patrick's day celebrations and condolences for the terrorist attacks in Brussels.
Image: Twiplomacy

Snapchat being mainly used by a young audience, governments have adapted their messages to cater to the future leaders with more playful stories. The White House’s annual Easter egg roll was featured prominently on its Snapchat account, including pictures of President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama reading to their guests as well as children running around the White House lawn.

A snapchat of the annual White House Easter egg roll.
Image: Twiplomacy

The celebration of International Women’s Day featured on the profiles of many. The UK Foreign Office asked its followers who their ‘Wonder Women’ were and the White House celebrated the one-year anniversary of the First Lady’s philanthropic foundation Let Girls Learn. The event, which was celebrated by many different initiatives, was documented by the White House’s Snapchat account.

A snapchat of International Women's day celebration.
Image: Twiplomacy

Snapping State Visits

A snapchat of the Argentinan President's daily meetings.
Image: Twiplomacy

Argentinian President (MauricioMacri) started his Snapchat communication during the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to Buenos Aires on March 23, 2016. The presidential snapchat story started with the decoration and security measures all the way through to the official state dinner in the evening.

 Snapchat: Barack Obama visits Argentina.
Image: Twiplomacy

Snapchat even published a public story titled ‘Obama Visits Argentina’ which any users could add their snaps to. The White House contributed several snaps including a picture of ‘the Beast on the move’ in Buenos Aires, referring to Barack Obama’s armored car and a picture of the Casa Rosada, Argentina’s pink equivalent to the White House.

Since the Obama visit to Argentina, Mauricio Macri’s social media team has been chronicling the daily activities of the president, with numerous behind the scenes snaps of his travels including a video selfie on his plane, a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and a close-up of the earpiece of his security staff.

A snapchat of Mauricio Marci's security guard.
Image: Twiplomacy

Despite sub-optimal picture and video quality on Snapchat world leaders are happy to try out the social network. The social media team of the Elysée Palace chronicles all of the public engagements of French President François Hollande (HollandeFR), including his trips to French Polynesia and Argentina, and the President often pauses for the now obligatory selfies with his fans.

A snapchat of Iceland's foreign minister.
Image: Twiplomacy

Iceland’s Foreign Minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson (GBSveinsson) became the first Foreign Minister to use Snapchat during his visit to India in April 2016 where the team posted pictures of his official meetings in landscape format, which is probably not the best format for Snapchat as it requires viewers need to turn their mobile device sideways.

A snapchat of Iceland's foreign minister taking a selfie.
Image: Twiplomacy

Engaging Your Audience

A snapchat showing the European Parliament.
Image: Twiplomacy

UNICEF and the European Parliament probably make the best use of the platform, directly interacting and engaging with their followers, often asking them to send their snaps and reposting the best ones.

The European Parliament (Europarl) social media team regularly shares the weekly agenda of the parliament during its plenary sessions and, every Friday, there is a weekly wrap of the week’s key highlights. The European Parliament also engages with its followers, reposting their snaps and thanking them for their contributions.

UNICEF is probably the best at Snapchat storytelling. The UN organization recently posted a series of Snapchat stories about life in Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, which hardly leave the viewer indifferent.

UNICEF uses snapchat show how it has provided 3 million people with access to safe water.
Image: Twiplomacy
Children in Yemen carrying water containers.
Image: Twiplomacy

Snapchat Geo-Filters

Snapchat of geo-filters for the Lourve and a football game.
Image: Twiplomacy

Snapchat allows users to add their own geo-filters. The social media team of the Elysée Palace overlaid the official Louvre Museum filter on the video of the Dutch Royal couple to the Paris landmark. The French Presidency has since designed its own official custom-made Elysée geofilter.

The White House used the official Superbowl geo-filter on a picture of Barack Obama throwing a football into the White House gardens and the U.S. State Department created its own geo-filter for Foggy Bottom, State Department’s nickname as did the UK Foreign Office.

A geo-filter for Foggy Bottom.
Image: Twiplomacy
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