How to create Snapchat stories

“The audience does not want to rotate.” Former CNN photojournalist Bethany Swain says that’s why she’s changed her mind about vertical video and no longer preaches the gospel of horizontal for all media. “Play to the platform,” she says. For Snapchat, for example, that means shooting with your phone held in a vertical position.

Snapchat has more daily users than Twitter, attracts a younger audience (users are mostly under 26) and is mobile only. Swain, who now teaches at the University of Maryland, says most of her students use Snapchat at least once a day.

Why is it so popular? There’s no “posting pressure,” says Swain. Unlike Facebook, which regularly reminds users of what they posted years before, a Snapchat is automatically deleted after 24 hours so the content doesn’t have to be the best. It’s also designed to be used with filters and emojis, which is how younger users like to communicate. The app is immediate and designed to be social. “Chat” is what Snapchat is all about.

Telling a Snapchat story requires careful planning, Swain says. Story elements are posted in real time, so there’s no going back to add text or effects or to insert a “snap” earlier in a sequence. What else to keep in mind?

1. Framing. Think ahead about what text you will add to your scene. Snapchat makes it easy to add “geotags” like date, time or temperature, as well as captions that can be typed or handwritten along with arrows or other graphics. Shots need to be framed to allow for any other elements you plan to add.

2. Sequencing. Just as in a video story, Snapchat stories should have a beginning, middle and end, and should avoid jump cuts. Because you build the story in real time, you have to remember what you’ve posted and make sure the next element works with the one before it.

3. Editing. Snapchat stories may include stills and video, each of which can last for up to 10 seconds, but the producer doesn’t control story pacing. The viewer does. Be aware that a viewer can click through a story at his or her own speed, advancing when ready or going back to see the story again from the start.

Here’s an example of a student assignment for one of Swain’s classes.

Two other tips from Swain:
Battery drain is a real problem with Snapchat. Make sure you have access to external power. And be sure to save your Snapchat story within 24 hours. The evanescent nature of the app is part of its appeal but if you’ve created something you’re proud of, make sure to download it before it’s gone. If you’re teaching Snapchat as a storytelling tool, do what Swain does: Have students save their projects and upload them to Twitter with a dedicated hashtag.

Earlier this year, Snapchat added a feature that allows you to create “custom stories” for a pre-selected audience. Remember to do that before you start.

Now the big question: Will Snapchat even be around a year from now? When Instagram added “stories,” including functions like embedded links and tagging that don’t exist on Snapchat, some analysts saw it as the beginning of the end for Snapchat. Its growth stalled and its user base fell behind Instagram.

But don’t write its obituary yet. New research finds that Snapchat is more popular than ever among American teenagers. “All of us long to be on SnapChat,” says Dennis Powell of ABC News. “It reaches the youngest audience and they may follow your brand as they get older.”