With Snapchat growing more popular by the day, many parents (and bloggers) are joining the service to “see what all the fuss is about”. And more than a few of them are left scratching their heads.
Since I myself struggled when I joined, I decided to write this guide as a helpful companion to those of us who have joined or are considering joining, but are finding the whole experience a bit confusing.
Snapchat has been designed for young people who aren’t yet used to the conventions of classic “User Experience” – some people think it might even be purposefully UN-user-friendly in an attempt to become off putting to “grown ups” and squares like me.
Snapchat defies convention – both metaphorically and literally. If Snapchat ever starts selling stuff, they wouldn’t use a shopping basket or a trolley as their “basket” button – they’d probably use a yacht. That’s the sort of app this is.
But for all my grumpiness and moaning, there are plenty of reasons to love Snapchat – and lots of legitimate reasons to join. But WHY is a post for another day – let’s look at HOW first…
Once you’ve got the app installed, you’ll need to signup for an account. This stage is relatively straightforward, and (currently) the only stage where they offer up tool tips. You’ll need to pick a username (you can change the ‘display name’ later, much like Twitter), password, provide your DOB and phone number. Pretty simple.
Customise your profile
Unlike most social apps these days, there’s no web/desktop version, so making your profile photo distinctive will help your friends to be sure it’s you when they add you. Profile photos are all given a Snapchat ghost border, and can be a series of photos or selfies, which are semi-animated together to make your avatar.
Edit your profile
Once you’re done with the setup process, you can edit your profile at any time by swiping DOWN from the main screen. The main screen in the case of snapchat – the one it always goes to by default – is the camera viewfinder. When you swipe down you get to your main profile page. From here to can see who has added you, find friends, see your “trophies” and click the gear wheel icon to edit your settings. The settings screen is fairly self-explanatory.
At this stage it’s worth pointing out that swiping is key to snapchat. Swiping up, down, left and right from the home screen will get you everywhere you need to go – and back again. If in doubt, swipe around and you should eventually find your way home.
Unlike many social apps, snapchat is essentially “invite only” when it comes to adding my friends. With the exception of contacts in your address book, you need to know a friend’s username to add them – so unless you publicise your username somewhere, you should only be found by people who know your username or phone number.
Taking a photo
From the camera screen you can create a snap – this can be a photo (single tap) or video (press and hold). Tapping the swirly-box icon in the top-right switches to reverse-facing camera, for all those important selfies. Pressing an area of the screen pre-photo will focus the camera on that area. You can even zoom using the classic pinch-stretch motion.
Editing a photo/video
Once you have taken your snap, you can do lots of things to it before sending. Hitting the “T” allows a layer of text – hitting T a second time allows you to switch fonts or change colours.
Filters and layers
Swiping left or right on your editable photo gives you a range of effects, including filters, geo-specific text layers, a clock, a speedometer, the temperature and occasionally other stuff.
Clicking the pencil on the top-right allows you to draw onto the picture in a basic Paint-esque way.
The unassuming square with the upturned corner is a link to your emoji screen. Add as many as you like, drag them around, make them bigger or smaller, you can even rotate them. Top tip: the cloud emoji can be substitute for a speech bubble.
The little sort-of stopwatch-looking icon at bottom-left lets you adjust how long your snap displays for. If you care about that sort of thing.
Save your snap for later
The down-facing arrow + line is a way to save your complete snap for later. Hitting this saves a copy of your snap to your phone camera roll, which you can then use on other platforms.
Like photos, videos can be edited using the above functions. In addition, the left/right swipe includes the ability to speed-up, slow-down and even reverse your videos.
One of the most popular features of snapchat, this is also one of the hardest to find. All you need to do is point the camera at a human face, touch-and-hold the screen on the nose (or thereabouts) and a little grid should appear. Snapchat has now mapped your face, and a little carousel of filters pops up – including the famous face-swap one at the far-right. Once you’ve picked one you like, you can snap a photo or video in the same way as above.
Sending your snap
Once you’re done editing and finalising your snap, you can either press the little box with a plus in to add it to your “Story”, or click the arrow at bottom-right to select recipients. From the next screen you can once again choose to add the snap to your story, and/or select recipients to send it to.
Seemingly a fairly new feature, your “Story” is presumably a response to critics. Adding snaps here allows any of your friends to see them for up to 24 hours. Unlike individual snaps sent to friends, they can be rewatched multiple times.
Clicking on the three little dots next to your “My Story” link allows you to see who has viewed each of your snaps – a handy way to see how much of your audience you are reaching.
Outside of taking a snap, a swipe to the right from the home screen takes you to the ‘Stories’ page. From here you can see public updates from everyone you follow, as well as local stories based on your location.
Your story vs snaps
When I first joined, I sent all my snaps to my Story as well as all of my friends. Evidently this is frowned-upon by some, presumably because they are having to view the same content twice – once when you send it to them, then again when Shapchat prompts them to view your story updates.
Accepted wisdom seems to be that you should treat snaps like Twitter. If you want everyone to see it, put it in your Story. If your update is specific to certain people only, send it to them – a bit like an @ of DM in Twitter.
One of the most-debated (tenuous pun intended) features is the ability to take a screenshot of another person’s snaps – essentially subverting the once-private nature of a snap. Whilst this is certainly possible, the sender of the snap WILL get a notification that you’ve done so – and may react accordingly. My advice is to avoid, unless of course you have permission.
Presumably in an effort to compete with WhatsApp and other chat apps, Snapchat’s chat function – accessed by swiping left from the home screen – seems to be changing most regularly. It works in much the way you would expect, though chat message disappear quite quickly, and you can also send photos or videos during the chat.
Swiping right twice from the home screen gets you to the discover tab – a place where selected brands (many of whom spend an awful lot of money to be there) can share content with you in enhanced snaps. I won’t dwell much on this area, as it certainly isn’t crucial to many people’s enjoyment of snapchat. Just do me a favours and stay away from the Daily Mail section!
So there we have it – that’s my beginnger’s guide to snapchat. If I’ve missed any cunning features or shortcuts, please let me know in the comments or on twitter!