Will Snapchat’s Context Cards change the game?

The mobile-first platform has added a new feature that some in the industry say might distinguish it from competitors.
snapchat social video

A new tool for Snapchat users wasn’t designed with ads in mind, but those who’ve watched the social platform’s fortunes ebb and flow say Context Cards are a step in the right direction.

Context Cards were introduced Oct. 10. They allow users to add additional features to their posts including reviews, maps and even options to hail a ride with services like Uber or Lyft. A user can flag that they’re visiting a new restaurant with a Card, for example, and people viewing that post will be able to see its menu, read reviews, make a reservation  with a partner such as Open Table or view other content from affiliated partners.

The Cards, however, are not currently available as an ad unit.

Two years ago, it was hard to have a conversation about social advertising without talking about Snapchat, with its disappearing photos and elaborate Stories posts.  With a relatively healthy influencer community, brands such as Samsung and Taco Bell were eager to work with creators on the platform.

But things seem a little quieter for Snap (the new name for the app’s parent company) since its IPO. Its user growth and revenues are slowing. Representatives from the agency and influencer marketing worlds have told MiC that brands are generally less excited about Snapchat and now seem to think of it as only a “nice-to-have” (in the words of Influicity founder Jonathan Davids), especially following Instagram’s introduction of a near-identical “story” feature in 2016.

However, Jed Schneiderman, founder and CEO of Tapped Mobile, said that even though the Cards themselves can’t be monetized, the primary currency for Snap here is location data.

“What most brands are trying to do is figure out consumer journey mapping,” he said. Through Context Cards “I can see that someone’s at a certain location every evening.”

Schneiderman acknowledged that the check-in concept is nothing new. Foursquare was launched in 2009, and brought the check-in concept mainstream (Foursquare partnered with Snap on the launch of Context Cards). But Schneiderman said Snap’s model may give users more incentive to use the service.

“Foursquare’s business was really a location play, and there was kind of inadequate utility for consumers,” he said. “You check in, you’d become a mayor of a location, and nothing would happen. This has much more utility.”

He said the data from the Cards might be most useful to food brands, alcohol and some CPG brands. Citing data from Snap, Schneiderman pointed out that 81% of the platform’s users post while at parties, 80% while in restaurants and 67% at shopping malls. “Directionally, what we believe is that location is a proxy for intent,” he said.

Sean McConnell, managing director of biddable media at MediaCom Canada, agreed that the Cards seem like an obvious (and much-needed) data play. At some point, he theorized, Snapchat “will have their own engine that will be able to monetize the Cards with sponsored listings or something similar.”

(Snapchat declined requests to comment, only reiterating that the Cards are not currently an ad offering.)

McConnell believes Snapchat still needs to step up its measurability capabilities. “They are coming, but up until now, we’ve been operating in somewhat of a black box. Our biggest roadblock is still asking, ‘what is this actually doing for the brand?’”

He said the Context Cards may be the introduction of more granular data to use, but reporting and measuring the effectiveness of ads will help prove Snapchat’s value more.

Discoverability is another concern among brands, which McConnell said the Cards will likely help. Jonathan Davids, founder and CEO of influencer marketing firm Influicity, agreed poor discoverability has keep Snapchat in that “nice-to-have” category, rather than the “must-have” group with Instagram and YouTube.

“I think they need to do much more stuff like [Context Cards],” he said. “There needs to be a much richer selection of content and influencers that I can discover and more data-driven discovery. They’ve done that on the professional side with publishers like Vice, but having an array of content creators I can follow, that’s what made YouTube and Instagram what it was.”

Davids said the obvious next step to please advertisers would be providing analytics for the Context Cards. “It gives them a sense of what kind of content their audience is engaging with,” he said.