Geofilters Are ‘Snapping’ Users Into Participation

October 14, 2016       Andy Segedin      

Social media was identified early on as a key component to making Red Nose Day, a decades-old British institution, a success stateside. The U.S. team, Comic Relief Inc., piloted a few strategies shortly before the 2015 launch, according to Mitch Hansen, digital director. In the lead-up to Year Two, the U.S. team buckled down and dived-in deeper with its social media strategy.

“Accessibility, fun and owning the day -that’s our strategy,” Hansen said. “How are people using the platform and how can we make sure what we do on that platform will be the most exciting thing they see that day?”

That strategy included using geofilters and lenses on Snapchat, a platform that allows for users to build photo and video stories that last for 24 hours. Geofilters, according to Hansen, enable users to place a location-specific image over their video or photo. Lenses involve animation. Red Nose Day’s lens, for instance, enabled users to have red noses fall from the sky if they raised their eyebrows while using the platform.

Participants were invited to share their images through social media in the lead up to the May 26 event and participants, in addition to using Snapchat, saved their photos and videos. They posted them on other platforms including Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Celebrity supporters were used to help create awareness by using the filters and lens.

Walgreens, retail partner of Red Nose Day, used a different strategy. Hansen said stores across the country were both selling red noses and collecting donations. Partnering with Snapchat, Walgreens established geofilters within 100 yards of any store so that if a user were to use Snapchat in the radius, the person would see Red Nose Day among the filters.

Hansen said the hope is that the filters could have spurred individuals to make a donation or buy a nose this year and that those individuals eventually become more active in their support in the years to come.

“This kind of thing is really important for us,” Hansen said. “It allows people who support us to have actual fun with a relevant piece of creative from Red Nose Day…I hear about this thing called Red Nose Day and I swipe left and there it is.”

Hansen said that he is not at liberty to disclose the number of impressions Red Nose Day collected with Snapchat, but said that Red Nose Day saw engagement “explode” in comparison to 2015. As Red Nose Day’s future is mapped out, Hansen said that he envisions social and digital leading the way with plenty of room for growth. Online donations, for instance, still tend to be desktop-based. Hansen sees geofilters as a means of convincing audiences to cross the line into mobile and social.

“What do we have to do as people in the digital space to get our audiences and supporters over the line…that’s where geofilters will really, really matter,” he said. “How do we go from swiping left to getting people to engage more immediately?”

Snapchat launched in 2011 and gained early traction among high schoolers who liked the idea of images being deleted right after being sent, according to Caroline Avakian, managing partner at Socialbrite, a social media consultancy. The story feature came around in 2014, at which point it became more popular among nonprofit organizations. Snapchat’s thin analytics will continue to be a big drawback for data-driven nonprofits, but a growing user demographic and viewing rates make the platform appealing. Some content viewing rates for Snapchat have been as high as 90 percent, said Avakian.

Service-based organizations have been among the early adopters of using geofilters, often using them to show where their staff and volunteers are working, according to Avakian. Museums and conservation organizations, too, have taken advantage of the technology by using filters to attract younger patrons and share field work, respectively.

Snapchat geofilters are most commonly used as an educational tool as opposed to a means of fundraising. “I feel there is room to expand, but doing so requires an understanding that there will be no immediate payoff and this is all in an experimental phase currently,” said Avakian via an email.

Snapcash has been developed as a new way for users to exchange money within the platform’s chat feature. Such a development could be a gateway for nonprofit fundraising, Avakian said. Donations for uses is also a possibility. (RED), in 2015, partnered with Snapchat for World AIDS Day and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated $3 for each selfie taken with the special geofilters, reaching the target of $3 million.

A geofilter was used during a charity masquerade benefitting Imprint City, an arts and community nonprofit in San Francisco, Calif. Imprint City chose to go back to the well, using a geofilter for its Bayview Live Festival, according to Tyra Fennell, co-founder and executive director.

Imprint City, entering its second year, is looking to expand through its events, Fennell said. That requires strategic partners, such as selecting bands with social media clout when booking a music festival. Encouraging millennials through platforms such as Snapchat, and making content more interactive with geofiltering, is another way for attendees to promote events and organizational brand.

“Unless you’re a dinosaur, I don’t know any organization that doesn’t use social media to promote,” Fennell said.

Attracting younger supporters is where Snapchat comes in. Bayview, the part of San Francisco where Imprint City is located, is at a crossroads, Fennell said, and has some negative stereotypes associated with it. Imprint City hopes to turn the area into an arts district and will rely on millennials and college students, who might be more open minded, to take a chance on the area. Facebook tends to attract Gen Xers and older audiences, Fennell explained, with Snapchat as a more likely means of both attracting young people and enabling young supporters to spread the word.

Snapchat’s appeal among a younger audience has made it an emerging tool among universities. The University of Michigan (UM) was one of the first schools to sign up with a Snapchat account and strategized around it, according to Nikki Sunstrum, director of social media.

UM signed on in February 2014 and created filters for four quadrants of the campus. Sunstrum and her team have since added filters for Welcome Week, commencement and other special events. Different accounts within the university are active at various times. Athletics, such as the football team, tend to be most active during game days. The Arts and Culture departments tend to be most active on Fridays.

In addition to using Snapchat and geofilters for special events, UM’s team has used the platform for everything from introducing the new university president to teaming with head football coach Jim Harbaugh to instruct students on how to safely celebrate game days to working with public safety on an active shooter drill told though a Snapchat story. UM staffers save Snapchat stories and chronicle them on YouTube.

Thin analytics are an identified weakness. Leaders at the platform don’t even tally total followers, finding the statistic unimportant, Sunstrum said. UM’s primary objective with Snapchat, she said, is engaging, educating and promoting among students, with Facebook as a more likely venue for donors and parents.

Snapchat’s primary demographic was ages 18 to 25 when the university signed on in 2014. That has since expanded to 12 to 35. Sunstrum predicts more schools will be using Snapchat and geofilters in the years to come. Early on in UM’s usage, Sunstrum was fielding calls from universities across the world regarding UM’s Snapchat strategy. “I do see people adding accounts more and more,” Sunstrum said. “What they do with them is what the ultimate question will be.”

Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, first engaged with Snapchat in November 2015 as the school hosted a Democratic presidential primary debate, according to Niki Smith, digital media strategist. University staff snapped around campus and posted videos of interviews with guests, such as actor Justin Long and ice-cream magnates Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield.

The school purchased its first filter this past March as Des Moines hosted the state high school basketball championships. The filter featured a bulldog, the school’s mascot, with a foam finger and the message that Drake was the players’ biggest fan. The strategy was repeated at the state high school track meet and at the Iowa State Fair. In general, Drake has identified Snapchat as a tool for attracting prospective students and deployed filters where a large number of high schoolers will be congregated, according to Smith.

Smith conceded that the thin analytics associated with Snapchat creates challenges as analytics are often used to justify decisions. “That’s my personal struggle with Snapchat,” she said. “But, people are crazy for it.”

While Smith can’t tell how many people are following Drake’s account, she does get figures in terms of how many people might see a filter -the number sometimes eclipsing 1,000 views for a filter that generally costs $5 for a few hours. Certain locations such as malls and even Drake’s own stadium cost premium prices to establish a filter, she said.

Thinking about whether an event should be accompanied with a Snapchat geofilter is now part of the university’s social media strategy. While there might be fundraising potential around the platform, Smith said that the primary audience and benefit remains in attracting and educating young people.

“If I’m thinking revenue generating, I don’t think that I’m going to convince them to give money with a Snapchat filter…I just don’t think the audience is there. That being said, I do think we catch [prospective donors] at bigger events like the Iowa State Fair,” said Smith. “Like most social media, our objective is not ROI. It’s return on objective. It’s about being excited to be a bulldog.

  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Drake University
  • geofilters
  • Imprint City
  • Red Nose Day
  • Socialbrite
  • University of Michigan
  • Walgreens