There’s no denying that 2014 was the year of ephemeral messaging. Snapchat, probably the best known platform of its kind, reached 100 million monthly active users with 700 million snaps being sent every day. These statistics are even more impressive when you consider that, a little over three years ago, Snapchat didn’t even exist! While Snapchat is the most famous ephemeral platform, we’ve seen an abundance of other similar messaging services appear on the scene, including Wickr, Blink and Facebook’s Slingshot – albeit with varying degrees of success.
Given the popularity of the likes of Snapchat, it isn’t surprising that the marketing community began to experiment, distributing short-term content with a view to reaching an ever-growing audience. One of the world’s most recognisable brands, McDonalds, took to the platform in February for the US launch of a new burger, while other brands and publishers, from Audi to Mashable, have also toyed with creating self-destructing content in a bid to extend their communities.
The buzz around these platforms is undeniable, one only needs to search on Google to see hundreds of thousands of results – but as a tool for the communications expert, will ephemeral messaging services go the distance or will they, like the messages they enable, disappear after the first view? Despite the buzz, in reality only 1% of communications professionals currently use ephemeral messaging as a tool to communicate about their brands. Furthermore 85% have no plans to use them in 2015, according to website socialmediaexaminer.com. So why is something that is being discussed at such lengths, not being used to the same extent?
The difficulty with using self-destructing messages for marketing is the exact thing that makes them popular in the first place – messages cannot be tracked. While marketers can see their message has been viewed, they have no real way of knowing within the app if the content resonated with the viewer. If the message is a video, it’s difficult to ascertain if the full duration has been watched and thus, if the entire message has been communicated. As marketers are pushed more and more to demonstrate the return on investment for social media activity, they can’t afford to essentially shout into the abyss with no tested way of demonstrating return. Many will argue that if a campaign appeals to the audience, they’ll save it and share it by posting to other networks. However, this in itself means that an ephemeral campaign may not be deemed as a success until its content becomes permanent – defeating the whole spirit of ephemerality in the first place.
Then there is the reputation of the platforms to deal with. Many associate Snapchat and its cohorts with “sexting” or other risqué behaviours. This instantly raises a barrier for more “family friendly” brands – which cannot risk, or do not want, such close associations with a “sexting app”. Not to mention the privacy concerns. The numerous hacking scandals within Snapchat’s short history are also a deterrent for brands.
That’s not to say that this kind of communication is going away. The phenomenon has undeniably changed the way we think about communicating and with platforms like Wickr – an encrypted, ephemeral messaging service, gaining popularity among the business community, the evolution of ephemeral media looks set to continue. However, whether there is a future for these types of platforms as marketing aids remains to be seen and by 2016, for the marketers at least, it could be a case of ephemeral by name, ephemeral by nature.