What Snapchat is and how to use it for journalism

As with many social platforms, Snapchat began as a way for friends to share things. The USP of Snapchat is that those things disappear after 10 seconds.

But – again like most other big social apps – Snapchat has grown into a storytelling platform, and professional news organisations and others are distributing their content on it.

Quickstart guide to using Snapchat

This how-it-works summary is taken direct from Snapchat’s own Getting Started support material


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Snaps are picture or video messages taken and shared with friends on Snapchat in real-time.

Snaps can be viewed for up to 10 seconds, depending on the amount of time the user chooses.

Snapchatters can choose to have their photo or video saved in their phone’s photo gallery or just sent to friends.

By default, Snaps disappear from the screen once they are viewed – unless your friend decides to keep it, such as with a screenshot or separate camera. Snaps are meant to make conversation more spontaneous, visual and fun!”


Stories string Snaps together to create a narrative that lasts for 24 hours.

To create a Story, a user chooses to add their Snaps to their Story.

Depending on their privacy settings, the photos and videos added to a Story can be viewed by either all Snapchatters, just the user’s friends, or a customized group.

Stories honour the true nature of storytelling – in sequential order with a beginning, middle and end.”

Viewing stories

Stories are a fun way to keep up with friends. Each Story is a compilation of Snaps that a friend has posted to their Story over the course of one 24-hour period. Each Snap in a Story disappears after 24 hours. You can view a friend’s story as many times as you’d like before it disappears. Follow the below steps to view a Story.

  1. Swipe left on the camera screen to see the Stories screen.
  2. Scroll down to the Recent Updates header.
  3. Tap a friend’s name to view their Story.

The outer ring of the circle represents how much time is left in the current Snap. The ring will disappear as you are viewing the Snap, indicating how much time you have left to view it!

The inner circle represents how much time is left in the Story. The inner circle will disappear as you are viewing the Snaps in a Story, indicating how much time remains in the Story. 

Tap to skip to the next Snap in the Story, or swipe down to exit the Story.”

Featured Our Stories will appear in the ‘Live’ section of your Stories screen until the event is over.

Live stories

Live Stories are a curated stream of user-submitted Snaps from various locations and events. Users who have their location services on at the same event location will be given the option to contribute Snaps to the Live Story. The end result is a Story told from a community perspective with lots of different points of view. ”

Story Explorer

Story Explorer lets you dive deeper into a moment in a Story you like.

Just swipe up on a Snap you like to view similar Snaps that were also submitted to the Story. Now you can experience that touchdown from different vantage points in the stadium, or watch that runway strut from many different angles. To return to the Story, just swipe down, or tap the circular icon in the top-right corner of the screen. “

Posting stories

To post a story,  tap the + icon on the bottom of the screen (and if it is your first time, confirm that you want to post the Story). The snap will be added to your story.

So if you are covering an event, you can build up a report about it by stringing your individual Snaps into a story.

Official stories

This is Snapchat bringing professional journalists into the fold.

At present this facility is being rolled out to a small number of Snapchatters including Vice, MailOnline, Buzzfeed and Mashable, but more are likely to follow.

You can see their icons under the Discover sub-heading on the stories screen.

Storytelling on the platform

If you go into any of the official snapchatters’ content you’ll find a picture, video or Gif -dominated landing screen and then an invitation to Read or watch, by swiping up, to bring you through to the full story, which can be in text, video or a combination of text, video and Gifs.

So, you swipe left to get into a story, swipe up to read or view it, and swipe right to get out of it.

So what is Snapchat?

It’s a delivery mechanism or platform for content, not so much a new way of telling stories.

Therefore, traditional news and information content providers take to it very easily

So on Vice, for example, when I researched this, content included a video on gun control and a text and stills-based piece on weird stuff that can happen at the office party.

The MailOnline had a piece on the new Star Wars movie headlined the Hype Awakens. The text-based content that followed was pretty much in the MailOnline style of very long headline and many images within a text story.

There are also sponsored channels containing brand journalism or advertising content, eg Primark has one called Refinery 29 which has the sort of listical content you see on Buzzfeed.