In the first and second parts in this series I covered different types of stories and the different tools in Snapchat. In this extract from the ebook Snapchat for Journalists I cover narrative techniques in Snapchat, including the importance of variety and thinking about beginnings, middles and endings.
Snapchat Stories: variety is key
The best stories tend to mix both images and video, have more than one person, and employ a range of different techniques.
Just as you wouldn’t write a news story which employed a quote-quote-quote structure (you might instead choose fact-quote-background), stories are more engaging when you switch from one type of content to another.
One technique, for example, is to use a still image with a caption to introduce a speaker, before moving on to a video clip of that speaker.
Another is to use video to show the ‘journey’ to a place (sped up if you need to compress time) before cutting to images showing more detail – the equivalent of the ‘establishing shot’ in broadcast.
You might also switch from text-led snaps to those which are more sticker- or image-led.
Beginnings, middles and endings: planning ahead
It is easy to underestimate the narrative demands of Snapchat Stories: unlike simpler social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Vine and Instagram, Snapchat Stories represent a series of editorial decisions about juxtaposition and sequence.
Because the images and video must all be filmed within the app, there is no opportunity for editing sequence (although you can delete snaps from a story altogether), and you cannot edit snaps after they have been created.
It makes a big difference if you think ahead about the story that you are telling, and the order elements might need to come in.
For example, how does your story start? If you are reporting a story of a journey, you might need to think about where you need to take or film the ‘establishing shot’ or video of the journey’s start.
In the middle, if you are interviewing someone on video and want an ‘introducing’ snap, you need to remember to take the still image of them and caption that first, before filming the video itself.
If you are going to be doing pieces to camera, how can you break those up?
And finally, when is your story ready to end? And how do you end it? You might do a ‘summing up’ piece to camera, or a final shot with a caption telling users where they can find out more (remember that URLs are not clickable, so you need a short and memorable one using Bit.ly or better still a Twitter username or hashtag).
Remember that you can only do one Snapchat story every 24 hours: if you start reporting a new story it will be tagged on the end of what you have already reported. That can still work: The Huffington Post Snapchat account have done this. Their trick was to use a different presenter for the second story before reverting to the usual presenters for a third, clearly signalling the change in story.
If you want to start a new story before an old one has disappeared a more brutal option is to delete all the snaps from your current story and then start your new one. You will probably want to download it first (see a future post on how to do this).
It is well worth storyboarding your Snapchat story to make sure you’re going to be able to get the right elements, in the right order.
What stories does Snapchat suit best?
Snapchat suits planned events particularly well: there are often lots of visuals and lots of people to speak to, and events take place in a natural order that doesn’t require a lot of thought regarding sequence.
It is also often used for behind-the-scenes stories, where a journalist or colleague talks through the workings of a story or updates the user as they travel in pursuit of it. Again, this doesn’t require a lot of planning and it suits the informality of the platform.
For the same reason, similar opinion- and personality-led content such as thought pieces and advice pieces is quite common. The key here is how you can bring wit and verve to the story: if you are doing nothing more than reading out the day’s news and pointing a phone at a computer screen, that’s pretty dull.