Snapchat 101: Because You Can't Afford To Not Get It

As the human ear ages, it loses its ability to hear high-pitched sound frequencies (above 15–16 kHz) through a condition known as presbycusis that starts at 18 years old. There’s an old trick that's fun for kids of playing a sound at a higher and higher frequency until just they are smiling and laughing and the rest of us can't hear a thing. It's fun because for once it's the adults that don't get it.
Thus too is the fun of Snapchat—mostly the adults don't get it. But in the online business landscape we can't afford to not get it, because we have customers in the age demographic who use it religiously.
(As an aside, you need to get over the idea that it’s a “sexting app.” The vast majority of the Internet is used for porn in some fashion so Snapchat will have its share too, just like YouTube, Tumblr, Facebook, FaceTime, and Skype. So get over it. You need to learn Snapchat for all the rest of what it is.)

But since Snapchat uses the frequency above your hearing range it’s nearly impossible to “get” without help or real self-imposed immersion. It took me ages. But now I'm here to show you the way. (Though if you already get Snapchat, please forward this post to your friends who keep asking you why you use that damn app all the time!) Let's get started...


Main Areas of Snapchat
Mostly what you probably know about Snapchat is that it’s used as a messaging app for 1–1 or 1-many photo + text + scribbling messages. It is highly unlikely you will use it this way as a novice. As you get more expert, you'll see some huge benefits of this, but for now, please move past this use case , which is how younger folks use Snapchat.
The second part of Snapchat is “stories.” This is where you can see a 24-hour compilation of photos and/or videos from a person’s account. This is your sweet spot if you’re new. The beauty of Stories is that it has a very similar feel to the products you already know like Twitter and FB. Why? Because I am not so narcissistic at 37 to want to take a photo of myself and send it out to the inboxes of 200 friends in hopes they want to see my current look, but if I put photos or videos into a “story” then people can choose to view it or not, so it feels less intrusive. It’s more like writing a Tweet vs. sending a Direct Message (DM) on Twitter, which feels more intimate and intrusive, or an FB post vs. a Private Message. Stories are the place to find your sea legs. 

The third part of Snapchat is “live stories,” which are awesome. They are either the local, geo-coded area you’re in or a world event. Right now mine shows Bacon!, because who doesn’t love bacon, and “Nascar Talladega.” Think of this area almost like “Twitter Moments.” When the Paris massacre was happening, I found this to be the single best source to get a quick sense of what was going on on the ground by everybody who was Snapping from Paris. It really was better than FB, Twitter or any news site.

The fourth part is “discover” and this is the professional media part of Snapchat that you barely knew existed but younger folks certainly know about. It has Vice, Tastemade, Vox, ESPN, Comedy Central, BuzzFeed and more.

The final part of Snapchat, for now, is the most hidden and is a lot of fun, which is the secret part of Snapchat where you can take photos or videos of people with rainbows coming out of their mouths or do the “head swap” that you probably saw in the press. For now, avoid this until you grok the basics, which as a reminder is STORIES.

Snapchat’s navigation is through “swiping”, but there are also breadcrumb clues of how to navigate by clicking (for novices).

The starting screen every time is the camera. This is the high-pitched dog whistle designed to keep old people out and keep the platform cool and hip for young people, ensuring they can use Snapchat without mom and dad wanting to send Snaps to their friends or snoop on them. It’s ironic, because while Twitter is busy trying to simplify its product for newbies, Snapchat is trying to do the exact opposite. It’s worth pondering.
Open Snapchat. Look at the top of your screen in the middle and you’ll see the Snapchat ghost. If you click on that, it will take you to your personal home page on Snapchat. If it’s just white, nothing has changed. If it’s a white ghost with a yellow box around it you have new followers. You can click on the ghost to “navigate up,” or when you get better at Snapchat you’ll simply “swipe down,” but both actions take you to your home screen.
Here you should see your ghost (which you can personalize or add a picture to) in the middle. That’s how others will see you when they search for you. You can change your name if you want to be called something else in the app. Below your name (and that of others) is a number, and it took me for freaking ever to figure out WTF this was. It’s your Snapchat “score”—which is just a measure of how much you actually engage in the app. If you send and receive a ton of private messages to others your score will be high, and if you don’t, it won’t. Don’t worry about this. But if you DO see somebody with a high score then you can assume they’re a power user — at least worth knowing. 

When you’re new to Snapchat you need to add some friends, so click on that button. If you add from your Address Book, you'll see who you know who's actually downloaded the app and may or may not use it. And you can also add by user name (mine is woodshedagency). From here you can share out your user name  by clicking the “Share Username” button, which lets you text, email, Tweet, FB or just copy your user name to send to others.
Ok, so here’s how most newbies get forked. Now I’m on the “Add Friends” page and I have no idea how to “get back” or wherever I’m actually supposed to go next. Fear not. Follow the breadcrumb. If you look in the top left you’ll see an arrow which is guiding you what to do next (or when you become a pro you’ll know to swipe right). You’re back at your personal home page.
Click on the top right tool button and you’ll see your settings with your user name, birth date, email account, etc. This is where you also control whether any user can send you a Snap (think text or photo message) or just friends. This will say whether anybody can view your stories or just friends. Beyond some basics don’t yet worry about settings. You can play around more with it once you grok the app.
Breadcrumb nav top left and you’re back at your user page. While there is more you can do on this page it’s not important for now. Look for the breadcrumb nav out, which is at the bottom center. If you click it you are back at the “home screen” which is for you to take a photo or video. Pro users will “swipe up.”
For now, you’re not going to take a photo or video but I’ll come back to that. Remember Snapchat is about swiping for quick nav with breadcrumb nav clues for novices. If you look at the bottom of your screen you’ll see buttons in each bottom corner. If you click on the bottom right it’s the same as “swipe left” and if you click in the bottom left it’s the same as “swipe right.” 
Let me tell you that as a beginner all the real stuff will come from swiping left (clicking the bottom right). Try that now. If you swiped left you’re on the stories page. Here you’ll see recent stories from people you follow. Some regular VC or tech people putting out stories include me, Justin Kan, Gary Vaynerchuk, Chris Sacca and several others. Probably the best-known person now on Snapchat is Dj Khaled. He’s worth following for now if for no other reason than he’s prolific so you can see how people use stories. Frankly, the more tech equivalent and easier understood by you is probably Gary V.
But when you hear everybody talking about “key” or using the key symbol that’s Dj Khaled. Or when you hear people saying, “They don’t want you to have…” that’s Khaled, too. As in, “They don’t want you to have a nice beautiful breakfast. But you gotta have it” or “They don’t want you to be healthy. But get on the treadmill.”
My thinking? They don’t want you to use Snapchat. Use Snapchat. Trust me. Stick with it the same way you “didn’t get” Twitter in 2007 when you signed up but by 2009 you were using it effortlessly.
When you’re watching a story, it will be either text or video. It could be one photo/video or twenty in a row. I have been using it like a short video blog where I’ll take a topic and put out 10–15, 10-second videos on topics like fundraising, social media, PR, or just “a day in the life of a crowdfunder.” Sometimes I interview friends with interesting expertise. The beauty of the medium is the time constraint—which is not unlike the beauty of Twitter's character constraint—because each video is only 10 seconds, it forces you to get to the point.
While you’re watching if you want to “fast forward” you simply click on the photo or video, and it skips to the next segment. So if I shot fifteen short videos and you click on number 8 it will skip the remainder of that video and go to 9. If you want to cancel out of the entire story, simply scroll down, and it will take you back to the main stories page.
Swipe left again (or if you look in the top right corner you’ll see the reminder breadcrumb nav with the “Discover logo” that you can press to take you to the Discover page). Here you’ll see the professional and curated content. Yes, this is where your kids or nieces and nephews are reading the news and watching comedy. Click on Tastemade — one of my favorite channels. It’s the millennial version of The Food Network. It takes a while to figure out the nav of Discover, but once you do it’s a fun way to consume media. You may not be in the age demographic to want to watch media like this, but if you're in a job that requires you to understand the future of media and tech products you should at least force yourself to “get it” before moving on.
You swipe left to see more videos or swipe right to go back to the last video. To watch a video or read a story (if it’s text) you scroll up. Now you’re watching Snapchat media videos that you barely knew even existed. Still think Snapchat is just for sexting? Scroll down to get out of that video, down again to get back to the main Discover page and if you forget what to do you can see the breadcrumb nav in the left as a guide to remind you to swipe right (or click on that nav) and you’re back to stories.
Swipe right again and you’re back to the camera.

Sending Messages
Ok. Now you have the basics. But there is more.
Swipe right from the home screen (the photo/video taking screen) and you’ll see your messages if you have any. It’s impossible to know what do to as a newbie, so let me run through it for you.
If you have a blue solid square, it’s a text message sent to you. It could be a group message or just for you. Snapchat doesn’t tell you that, which is a product flaw they need to fix. If you see a red square, it’s a photo that was sent to you. If it’s purple, it’s a video that has audio so it’s a warning that you need to turn on your sound before clicking on it (or that you shouldn’t open it if you’re in a public setting where volume is inappropriate).
If you have any blue messages here, you can swipe right on them to read the message. Be careful. Once you come back to this message in the future, it’s gone. Remember — it’s an ephemeral network. The beauty is that you can send a message to a person that disappears, unlike a normal text. Call this an “advanced use case.” But you can read this message and reply by typing and then hitting “send” in the bottom right. If you type and then hit the yellow button in the middle, it will add your text to a picture of yourself. Don’t do that for now if you’re a newbie :)
Once done look at the top nav for breadcrumb clues. If you click the hamburger in the top left corner, it will show you more details about the person who sent you the message. It’s where to go to follow somebody or to block them if they sent you something inappropriate.
Once you’re read a message the person who sent it will be able to know. They also can know if you never read it. It’s also important for you to know that if you ever take a screen grab of any message (text, photo, story, whatever) the person who created that message is alerted. It’s ok to take a screen grab (it’s even considered a sign of flattery within Snapchat etiquette) but just know that people will know.
To send somebody a message click on the top left nav of the messages screen, search for a name, click on their user name, and it will put you in the messages screen. There are several hidden features here (like sending files from your phone), but I’ll save those until you’re an expert.

My guess is that you’ll want to be a lurker for a while and consume media before producing your own stories, and you probably should learn the basics of sending texts, photos and videos to a few friends before publishing stories, but let me at least tell you how.
The first thing you do is shoot video or a photo on the home screen. You can shoot in front of you or click the top right nav to go into selfie mode. As an experiment just take a photo — I promise it won’t get sent anywhere.
Now you see a static image. If you click the top left “x” it will cancel the image (or video) so you can retake it. Look at the top right. You can type text over it by hitting the T or add an emoticon by hitting the palette left of the T. If you click the crayon to the right of the T you can draw/scribble on the photo.
Look at the bottom left. The number tells you how long that photo will appear before disappearing in your story or in your personal message to friends. You can set it between 1–10 seconds. Immediately to the right is a bit of magic. It’s the ability to save the photo or video to your camera roll WITHOUT it being saved in Snapchat or being sent to friends. This is a very useful feature once you’re an expert. I won’t elaborate now.
Immediately to the right of the local save is the “add to stories” button. This is a short cut to save your photo/video to a story. Click on this — you can still go back. I promise! It usually gives you the ability to add to “my story” or to a local geo-coded story (mine shows “Our LA Local Story”). If you want to “publish” you click on the chevron in the bottom right, so don’t click that if you don’t want to publish. You can click the top left “x” to bail out. But this is the quick way to send something to a story.
Here’s the really, really nice thing about stories. You can publish a photo, and you don’t feel like you’re spamming anybody. Either they decide to watch your story, or they don’t! It’s like Twitter or FB that way. No consumer will feel bothered by the fact that you published this. Some will see it; some won’t. It will be live for 24 hours and then disappear. Or you can delete it if you want to take it down.
Cancel out and then take another photo. This time instead of hitting the “add to stories” tab click on the bottom right chevron. Now you see all the people in you’ve added on Snapchat whom you can send messages to. If you click on the square to the right of their name, it will prompt you to send them the photo or video in their private messages area. If you click on many people, it will send it to all of them but not like a “group message” more like a 1-to-many message. In fact, they won’t necessarily know you sent it to multiple people. And from this screen, you can also publish to your own personal story.

Stories For the Advanced
Now let’s pretend you’re a ninja and sending out Stories. If you swipe left from the home page (which remember is where you take photos / videos), then you’ll see “My Story” with all of your contributions over the past 24 hours.

To the right My Story, you see three dots in a column. If you click on that it shows you all of your individual photos and videos and shows you how many times each has been seen or snapped. I’m showing you mine right now. See each of these videos has been seen between by between 5-10 people. It tells me what time I uploaded, so I know what time this part of the story will disappear.
I can click on the eyeball and it tells me exactly who watched my video and who snapped it. That’s pretty cool! Swipe down to get back to your stories page. And if you see a little down arrow to the right of your My Story and click it then it saves your entire story to your local camera roll. Thus, I’ve saved all of my Snapstorm to my local camera roll and uploaded them to Dropbox. So I’ll be publishing them in the future on a more permanent location. For now, I’m enjoying the fact that if people want to see them, they need to tune in daily.

@@You can follow me on Snapchat by searching in the app for woodshedagency.@@ I do regular “Snapstorms” of content around topics of interest to small businesses, entrepreneurs, crowdfunders, and VCs. This morning I’m going to talk about crowdfunding and why it has such a high failure rate. 
Give Snapchat a try and I know you'll see that it's the most important tool for media to come along since Twitter, FB, YouTube and Netflix.