Culture from the Inside Out

How Bobby Blanchard Runs Texas Tribune’s Award-Winning Snapchat Account Blanchard offers up some of his Snapchat secrets and strategic advice on how to engage your audience

As a brand, it’s kind of hard to take Snapchat seriously. With all its face-warping goofiness, cartooney geofilters, not to mention its shady start as a private teen messaging platform, the app seems to be a young man’s game. But Snapchat’s demographic and reach is growing — and fast. Last June, the app boasted more daily users than Twitter, and it has recently entered the wearables market with Spectacles (they’re literally dropping “vending bots” full of them across the nation). As the app continues to grow and innovate, individuals, businesses and brands need to start listening.

One brand that is listening is the Texas Tribune – a digital-first, nonpartisan media organization located in Austin, Texas. With social media efforts led by Bobby Blanchard, the Tribune has created some of the most powerful Snapchat stories in journalism. As the Tribune’s Social Media Manager, Blanchard considers Snapchat to be an exciting new medium for storytelling and finds it to be very effective in the company’s overall social strategy.

Todd Wiseman

Because the Tribune’s primary focus is Texas politics, government and legislation, Blanchard is in a unique position to effectively communicate hard-hitting and often deeply impactful stories on an ephemeral, playful platform. This can be tricky. While other sites like Facebook and Twitter lend themselves to news and updates, Snapchat is another animal. It’s not nearly as public as other platforms. Snaps expire. But most challenging, it’s saturated with youngsters. According to Blanchard, these exact factors are what make Snapchat so special and engaging.

“I see value in Snapchat because it’s a great mechanism for engagement and talking with people. I’ve created quizzes for articles and even gotten a few story tips from regular Joes and Jans that follow us,” said Blanchard.

While many news organizations are trying to reach teens and twenty-somethings, Snapchat offers a refreshing way to encounter all types of information – including news. Blanchard has experimented with interesting and fun ways to engage his followers on this platform. One prime example of this is Blanchard’s strategic snaps covering the 50th anniversary of the UT Tower Shooting for which the Tribune won an Austin Chronicle award for ‘Best Snapchat Game.’ The snapchat story consisted of archival footage, old photos and text that told the story in real-time. Because the sniper shooting lasted about 90 minutes, the Tribune was able to push out snaps up to the minute of when they happened 50 years ago.

Blanchard has also helped plan and implement other innovative Snapchat stories. Several months ago, for example, he released a list of 20+ schools in Texas still named after Confederate figures, and users could tap through at their leisure. Blanchard also makes use of the Chat feature to message users for voting or student loan callouts. Because Snapchat started as a personal messaging service, response rate is relatively high, and users are generally polite.

“Believe it or not, the conversation – most of the time – is respectful. When talking about policy and talking about issues, I can’t think of a time when people have trolled us or have been critical like other social sites,” said Blanchard.

Because Snapchat has really set itself apart from other social media sites, Blanchard says, “Not every story can be told on Snapchat. If you’re going to use it well, you have to think of it strategically.” Blanchard offered up some of his Snapchat secrets and strategic advice:

An example of a Snapchat quiz by the Texas Tribune

Snaps Are Meant To Be Short: In a nutshell, snaps should be…snappy! Blanchard says that most of the time, long and complicated topics don’t do as well. Those are probably best meant for websites and other social media. If you do plan on rolling out a more complicated story on Snapchat, be sure that each slide is easy to consume. In the UT sniper example above, you’ll notice each snap was strategic and easily digestible.

Be Original: Snapchat content should never be directly shoveled from Twitter, Facebook or other social channels. With unique features like drawing tools, geofilters and face-warping options, Snapchat content should be native to its platform. Make it personal. According to Blanchard, “If you don’t make content with a Snapchat audience in mind, you’re not going to get the engagement you want.” If Snapchat art intimidates you, don’t worry; you don’t have to be creative with a stylus. Blanchard doesn’t do much drawing. Often he will edit images in Photoshop, and then upload them to Memories.

Develop A Strategy: While Blanchard enjoys creating in-depth stories as much as he can, he says Twitter and Facebook are still his primary social outlets. This is mainly because Snapchat currently does not offer a seamless way for brands to point to their websites and news articles. However, Blanchard encourages organizations and brands to dedicate time to truly understand Snapchat and how their audiences might interact in a new way on this new platform.

As more and more people turn to the internet to find and follow news, Snapchat is continuing to prove itself as a viable and innovative source for storytelling. If you’ve never used the app, or you’re looking for a younger demographic, Snapchat might just be the site for you and your story.

Jon Zmikly

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