"What is Snapchat?"

The judgmental guide of a know-it-all

Words: Talya Galasko | Illustrations: Amber Rose Pretorius

Whenever I post something on social media, I like to think of the wise commentary once offered by Aziz Ansari on a podcast episode of the Freakonomics series:

“Take, like, your nightly or morning browse of the Internet, right? Your Facebook feed, Instagram feed, Twitter, whatever. Okay, if someone every morning was like, I’m gonna print this and give you a bound copy of all this stuff you read so you don’t have to use the Internet. You can just get a bound copy of it. Would you read that book? No! You’d be like, this book sucks. There’s a link to some article about a horse that found its owner somehow. It’s not that interesting.”

I’d be lying if I said I follow the value of only posting worthwhile stuff on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, strictly. And even if I did, somehow somewhere someone would visit the archives and find photos of me zapping the Vodacom sign on Instagram or confessing heartbreak in French on Twitter.

Fortunately, however, I can say that 80% of the time I uphold this value when it comes to Snapchat, which is why I was asked to write this piece on the what, why, when and how of Snapchat. It’s also because I’ve been termed “the queen of Snapchat” on several occasions – for my hilarious, content-driven style that is not subject to opinion but merely fact. And actually probably it’s because I sit near our blog editor, Dylan Muhlenberg, who doesn’t quote unquote “understand the SnapChat,” and believes it to be a problem shared by many 25+year-olds alike.

So come along.

What is Snapchat?

Snapchat is a multimedia messaging app used to share moments with followers. You can take a photo or a video, apply a filter, add a caption or doodle, and then send it to a friend or add it to your story to share with your followers. The catch is that photos posted to Snapchat only last momentarily. If you send a snap to a friend, it will disappear after a couple of seconds and if you post it to your story, it will live there for only 24 hours before vanishing as well.

The idea began as part of prototype for a course three Stanford University students were enrolled in, which can really make a person think about the sorts of mickey arts n crafts projects they’ve had to do while at school. Anyhow, fellow students at Stanford apparently went gaga over the idea of an instant-and-disappearing photo-messaging service and it’s not tough to think why:


Oh. Did I just say that alone?

What newcomers mostly don’t know is that in the early days, Snapchat didn’t include the story feature – making the moment-sharing far more personal and way less feedy. The introduction of the story feature re-launched Snapchat as a multimedia platform through which users could really document their daily lives and share moments in-the-now.

Since, Snapchat has really gone befok on the additional features and they now include a geotagging function, filters, and face-mapping toggles that convert users into anything from a dog, to a cowboy, to a rainbow-vomiting, wide-eyed version of themselves. There’s also a selection of stories from CNN, DailyMail, People and WWE Raw (why not, I say!) so you can keep up to date on the latest news/gossip/Stone Cold Steve Austin developments.


Who uses it?

Anyone – from your friends to celebrities, to fashion labels and magazines.

Why should I use it?

Because it’s the best! Haha, kidding, imagine that was all I said.

I really do believe that there’s no such thing as an archetype specifically suited to Snapchat. Sure, some folks definitely know how to use the app better than others and maintain a consistent 80/20 good shit/bullshit ratio, but that shouldn’t stop you from signing up and giving it a try. 

If you want to a) send photos/videos of what you are doing to your friends, b) document some of your day and share it with your followers and c) look like a dog/panda from time to time, you should join Snapchat.

When should I use it?

First things first: decide on your brand. If Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are the feed-style equivalent of your morning paper, try to treat Snapchat as a mini-series complement. Decide on your genre (mine being humour/documentary) and give yourself a 20% leeway to deviate. I’m not in the business of turning anyone into a Snapchat star, but most successful accounts generally give their followers something specific. For example, man_repeller provides insight into the underworld of a fashion blogger, DJ Khaled offers meaningless life and exercise-related advice, EVERLANE engages their customers in the behind-the-scenes making of their product, and so on and so forth.

If, at the end of the day, you download all your Snapchats, turn them into the film and are left with 30% caffe latte pics, 40% dog selfies and 30% drunk-induced sing-alongs at the club – all I’m saying is you’re not doing it right. Also, your nipple is out in Snap 13, Janet.

Secondly try asking yourself, “Would the world continue if I didn’t post this?” Not everything needs to be I-M-P-O-R-T-A-N-T, but since Snapchat doesn’t allow for ‘like’/‘❤’ functions, there’s really no way of telling how well/bad you’re doing. Just use your discretion, okay? Nobody wants to watch your lip-sync the new Beyoncé lyrics for 70 seconds. I already signed up to Tidal, so just chill Janet.

How do I use it?

Rule number 1: be genuine

This is definitely a rule that should be applied to all your social media accounts, but I can’t tackle yogagirlxo’s nude-filled Instagram page with the corresponding bio “she believed she could so she did,” all in one day. 

I believe that being genuine is the first key to using Snapchat. It’s so easy to sell a picture of what you want your life to look like on Instagram and Facebook, and sometimes Snapchat will be your only refuge from a seriously pretentious online reality – because it’s completely in-the-now. If you’re about to hit the party and you’re looking fine, we don’t need a snap of you with your three paralytic friends squinting alongside the caption “me n my girls.” Just upload a pic of you and caption it “peng” okay, that’s enough. We know that’s what you’re saying in the first place anyways, Janet.

Rule number 2 : decide on your genre with an 80/20 split

If you’re not channeling National Geographic I really don’t want a photo of the mountain in the morning and a video of the sunset in the evening every day.

Rule number 3 : know when enough is enough

Have you ever heard of the expression HTBTATT (had to be there at the time). I know that Nora en Pure at Shimmy Beach Club was great. In fact I got it after the first 30 seconds' worth. Also, you’re smoking that cigarette backwards, Janet.

Rule number 4 : you are not a dog, I repeat, you are not dog.

Enough is enough.

Rule number 5 : contextualise

I know that it’s hilarious that Bob from the office is piling into the donuts again behind the water cooler but I don’t know who Bob is. From my perspective, all I’m seeing is some curly-headed guy eating donuts and now I want a donut and I hate you, Janet. 

Rule number 6 : have fun

But please double check your story before you go to bed. It’s easier to hit “add to story” than you realise. Especially when you’re sending nudes. Or so a friend told me.