About an hour before Apple's Fall event got underway on Wednesday, I signed into BuzzFeed's Snapchat account, took a deep breath and began filming. My opening scene, a quick video of my hand grabbing an apple at a local grocery, took about five takes to get right. I picked up an ugly apple on the first try. On the second, I missed the apple completely while trying to film and grab it simultaneously. On the third, my hand appeared monstrously large after a close encounter with the camera. Delete. Delete. Delete. By the time I published a "good take" to officially kick off my Snapchat Story, I was running late.
Such early stumbles were to be expected. This was my first time reporting on a newsworthy event via Snapchat (unless you count my friend Jasmine's wedding), and, as an Apple event first-timer, I wasn't really sure what to expect after publishing that first video. Still, the experience and the response turned out pretty positive in the end, and I learned a lot in the process, including:
Snapchat can be a great platform to cover live events.
One of the advantages of reporting with Snapchat is that the platform lets you stitch together a series of video clips and photos into a single, cohesive video called a "Story." These videos are published clip by clip on Snapchat's "Stories" tab in increments of 10 seconds or less. Publishing on Snapchat therefore gave me an opportunity to immediately churn out "live" video coverage of Apple's event without making viewers sit through a two-hourlong live stream. The completed story lasted a little over seven minutes — a "longform" piece of video content, as one viewer put it — but it was something that showed viewers the essence of the event, as it was happening, without making them sit through the boring parts. People watching my Snapchat Story could bite off chunks of it as it was posted, getting the updates nearly in real time, or watch the whole thing in one sitting once the event was over. Snapchat's new format seems especially suited for fast-unfolding live events, such as Apple's this week.
The video isn't going to be perfect. Deal with it.
As a tool for editing video, Snapchat is very limited — and that's great. When you post on Snapchat, you're creating raw video, not the "Mona Lisa," so accept that it won't be perfect. In a few instances, my timing was a bit off, something I couldn't fix since there's no option within Snapchat to trim clips. But it didn't matter because the video I was posting was meant to be an authentic, raw, first-person look at an event that's important to a lot of people but one that few get to see in real life. People are willing to trade off production quality to get that type of video quickly on their phones. And that's what I was trying to deliver.
Snapchat video often has a second life outside of Snapchat.
But spreading content from Snapchat to other platforms isn’t foolproof.
Downloading short clips from Snapchat and posting them to Twitter during the event was easy and effective, but I ran into issues when I tried to be more ambitious. At the end of the event, I downloaded the entire video of my Snapchat Story and published it to Facebook. When I downloaded the video to my phone though, the audio on the saved video was a bit delayed and some text I overlaid on top of the videos became obscured. I downloaded the video twice and experienced the same problems both times. Downloading a video should be easy, but what I ended up with wasn't the finished product I published to Snapchat itself. This was a bit of a letdown.
Your feedback disappears.
As I was filming the story, a bunch of comments flooded in via Snapchat's chat function, but the second I navigated away from them, they were gone forever. This makes responding to people pretty difficult. There was no way I could reply to everyone during the event, and that may have been frustrating for some folks. My advice: Read all the comments at the end. On top of those comments, I was also able to see a view count for each video in my Snapchat Story and a screenshot count. Those metrics were a pretty useful gauge of my Story's performance, and in the end I judged my results based on how many people watched the story all the way through. That number was much higher than I expected.
After filming a sign-off video outside of the event hall, I took one last look at the app, paused for a moment, and signed out. The experience wasn't perfect, but it doesn't need to be. Raw video is a good reflection of raw experience, and Snapchat's almost stupidly simple means of broadcasting that experience provided an easy way to publish a quick, fun, and authentic view from the ground.
Alex Kantrowitz is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. He reports on social and communications.
Contact Alex Kantrowitz at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.