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Why has decided to go on Snapchat (and the lessons to be drawn from its doing so)

The Government’s digital communication has been changing over the last two years. Moving away from simple dissemination of government information via a portal site, it has progressively gone over to the notion of “general public” government media based on major presence on dissemination networks (Twitter and Facebook) and, more recently, a strategy of distributing content on networks with strong user potential… and strong “enclosure”. This transition, from a website paradigm ( to a wider social brand paradigm (gouvernementfr, the government’s username on most social networks) is actively accompanied by the stepping up of government presence on Instagram and the opening of a Snapchat account.

To be or not to be (on a network)

Why Snapchat? We were one of the very first public institutions in the world to make use of ephemeral messaging. The initial decision was taken in early 2016, on the occasion of an online awareness-raising campaign on conspiracy theories, after the app had been subjected to the questions we always ask when considering possible deployment on a new network:

  1. Is it mature enough? (numbers of users and stability in terms of technology and use)
  2. Does it enable deployment of “massified” communication, or at least a message to be sent to a large number of users at the same time?
  3. Does it cover a specific target audience for our communications (young people, in this particular case)? Does it enable greater interactivity with its internauts?
  4. Last but not least, does it seem to be sustainable (at digital technology level)?

As the answers to all the above questions were positive, and following a few months’ observation period, we opened a Snapchat account on 4 February this year. After a few weeks spent getting into our stride, we achieved stable operating levels, expressed by publication of an average of one or two “stories” (Snapchat’s public format) a week, bearing on news items and/or government communication campaigns underway. A wide range of subjects have been tackled so far, from public health and safety to education to commemoration, always including a call to action to our subscribers, to donate blood, for example (you can find all the government’s “stories” on Dailymotion and YouTube).

A spot of fresh air

There are a few lessons to be learned so far:

  • Along with other users, we have observed a tendency towards saturation and slowdown of older social networks. Congestion, due to increasing numbers of senders becoming ever more proficient in such networks’ use and communicating on them with ever increasing frequency, makes emergence of a communication more difficult as well as blunting internauts’ attentional capacities. In contrast, Snapchat, being a relative newcomer and also because of the distinctiveness of its functionalities, provides new, fresher and above all more uncluttered ground for communication. This enables setup of more efficient “service-based” interactions than is possible on other networks: each government “story” on practical issues therefore provides an opportunity to answer internauts’ questions, with a much higher interaction/subscriber ratio than we have observed on other networks.
  • Snapchat’s unclutteredness is typical of emerging networks: each of its predecessors once enjoyed the same state of grace, when it had already become popular but was yet to be invaded by “trolls” and polemics. It is also due to Snapchat’s enclosed nature, which neither fosters nor facilitates “viralization” of a piece of information, in the sense we have become accustomed to for social media (retransmission in a click: retweet, Facebook “share”, etc.). Communications posted on Snapchat are less easily accessible than elsewhere, require greater effort to access (Snapcode add, exact name of account, etc.) and are less observed. Snapchat is therefore a good place to try out new ways of communicating (emojis, filters, etc.) before considering using them on more viral and “transparent” networks. It is also a platform whose users have fewer reservations on showing videos with less sophisticated production values, as rough-and-ready live images are very much in tune with Snapchat’s standards.
  • Even though recent updates of the application (features enabling snaps to be saved and images loaded in other than real time) bring it progressively closer to older networks, and even though, reciprocally, some of its functionalities have been copied by other platforms, the type of ephemeral messaging that Snapchat enables remains very different from the rest of the social web, both as regards uses (the reign of the filter) and user experience, deliberately designed to distinguish it from existing applications. It forces us to rethink digital communication and break free of over-optimised shackles that end up standardising all web senders (accompanying each tweet or Facebook post with the same-sized header photos, etc.). The impossibility, until very recently, of loading pre-created visuals on to the app led us to resort to a form of “do it yourself” (stop-motion, photographs of manual montages, etc.) sometimes more authentic and attractive to internauts than over-polished productions.
  • over-polished productions.

When network rhymes with “Oulipo

To sum up, Snapchat provides useful, interesting and as yet “unsedimented” terrain for experiment, presaging certain aspects of the social web’s very near future (if only because it imposes them as standard practice through sheer strength of subscriber numbers), and to which the admission fee – in all senses of the term – is currently low. Its sometimes disconcerting functionalities can be used Oulipo fashion, as so many creative constraints, to de-standardise digital communication and test out such major trends as live video with less risk involved. When all is said and done, the difficulty (for the moment) of obtaining clear statistics from it, even on its own number of subscribers (position taken by the American company) provides a good pretext for getting away for a while from simple analytic management of digital communication, which often ends up leading to repetition of what already exists.


Romain Pigenel


P.S. As part of the #GénérationApprentis campaign, we used Snapchat today to follow an apprentice graphic artist’s work-morning live: you can view the resulting report-style “story” here.

22 july 2016 / Resources
Portrait de Romain Pigenel
Romain Pigenel