Snapchat works well with youunger people. But using it as an organisation? How would that work?

by Richard Ecclestone

Hi.  I know that there are many Social Media Managers out there who are toying with the idea of using Snapchat as a mass communication tool... and so I thought it may prove useful to share my own experience of using the platform for West Midlands Police back in 2014 (I was their Social Media Champion until mid-2015).

In July 2014 I was responsible for setting up the 'World's First' snapchat account for a law enforcement agency - gaining widespread praise, scorn, and interest from variety of media and tech outlets in the process! (Daily MailThe Next Web,ITV, etc. 

So, lets start by answering the obvious question... why on earth would a police force be interested in using Snapchat?

Well, the answer to that is quite simple... We already had more than 250,000 followers across our Facebook and Twitter channels, but we simply weren't reaching out to 'the kids'. Our analytics showed that only the tiniest percentage of our followers were 13-17-years-old - and attempts to encourage younger audiences to follow us on Facebook / Twitter were simply deemed 'uncool'.

The setting up of our own channel all started thanks to a visit to Corporate Communications from a group of 15-year-olds who were on work experience.

Rather than getting them to do the usual mundane work experience tasks - photocopying, paper sifting etc - I decided to make use of them by firing off some questions about our social media channels.

A quick show of hands revealed that less than half of them were on Twitter, with not many more using Facebook.

When I asked them what social media platforms they actually used on a daily basis, they came back with three - Snapchat, Whatsapp and Instagram.

At this point in 2014, Snapchat was pretty much lambasted in the media due to its 'disposable' photo technique - with tales of abuse and improper usage being printed on a regular basis by the national press. It was also before Snapchat Discover had been announced.

This is why, after speaking with the youngsters about how snapchat could work for WMP, I was expecting my bosses to say 'Thanks, but no thanks' while missing out on a fantastic opportunity to grow.

However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my boss at the time - the lovely Keiley Gartland - was all for the project, and asked me to set up the channel and a communications plan asap.

Within 2 days we were ready to go... the Snapchat channel 'WestMidsPolice' was set up and a decision was made on the content that we were to release.

With the channel being used by young people, we decided to predominantly use 'exciting' imagery such as that gained from the police helicopter, GoPro footage, drug raids and pictures of the police dogs in action.

The channel was also used to share images of 'high-risk' missing young people in the hope that the messages would be shared widely in schools.

A conscious decision was made to steer clear of 'patronising' crime prevention advice as we did not want to be speaking 'at' the audience but 'to' them... although my favourite news article about the account's initial posts included something along the lines of... "The messaging is clearly coming from a well intentioned Dad" which was true, but made us think about and adapt the language we were using  

Images were posted to the channel as part of 'Snapchat Stories' - which ensured that every image was seen for a minimum of 10 seconds and lasted for 24 hours before being deleted.

The launch of the channel proved extremely popular, with more than 1,500 people signing up for updates in the first 24 hours. And better still, they were almost all under 20-years of age judging by their profile pictures.

With a number of articles appearing in the national media - and a great piece from Matt Navarra's team proving popular on tech website 'The NextWeb' - we soon had even more followers (4,000+) building a healthy audience with whom we could reach with important messaging.

The Snapchat analytics were also useful, as we saw a massive percentage of followers open each updated (at least 1,000 youngsters were opening each post).

At this point, we had 'friend requests' coming in left, right and centre, and after a couple of days deliberating and thinking about the risks involved, we decided to connect with everybody who sent requests in the hope that two-way communication and trust would be further increased. This again proved successful as we had a couple of queries and information relating to a missing person sent our way.

I'm pleased to say that the channel was a success for West Midlands Police, and I can honestly say we received no dodgy images, nude photos or abuse. I believe it is still being used but not on a regular basis  

So... If you are looking to engage with younger audiences - who will one day be future professionals - and have messaging and content that will appeal to them, I would strongly recommend taking time to scope out the possibilities on Snapchat.

Any and all feedback welcome!

Richard Ecclestone is social media manager at Wesleyan. He blogs on LinkedIn where this was first published.

Picture credit.