It seems like Snapchat can do no wrong. In a less than a week the social video and picture messaging application has become has become the darling of the Middle East. After sparking a twitter outcry throughout the region by launching a Tel Aviv live story, Snapchat have since launched stories dedicated to West Bank, and just yesterday “Our Mecca” on Laylat Al Qadar which Muslims believe to be the night that Allah (God) first revealed the teaching of the Qur’an to Prophet Muhammed through the angel Gabriel.
For those who don’t know much about the fastest growing social media platform, Snapchat originally grew to fame with users over the simple fact that once someone opened your video or picture message it disappeared after you viewed it, you couldn’t save it, come back and see it later, it was gone. However they have since shifted strategies slightly and added a ‘story element’. A story allows a user to capture pictures and videos over the course of the day and upload them into their personal story which remains on the user’s profile for 24 hours.
More recently it is Snapchat’s “Live” stories that have captured the attention of the world. Snapchat regularly announces that they are dedicating a story to a city. Users that live in that city can then upload pictures into a dedicated city story which might have the chance of being viewed by millions of Snapchatters around the world. Snapchat then curate a story based on the submissions that gives the world a unique view of a city through the eyes of it’s citizens, again this story lasts for 24 hours.
The “Live” stories are pretty remarkable and give you a feeling that you are getting a unique and authentic view of a city and how people live their lives. Even my parents who don’t have Snapchat were locked on to my phone, taking in the views and beauty of a city they had never visited, licking their lips at the traditional dishes people displayed as they sat down for lunch, and chuckling at the random silly person that seems to show up in every city story.
Now I use the word authentic for a reason. The stories are real, unfiltered, in the moment and truly give you a sense like you a right there, which is what is important here. People have come to realize the power of Snapchat stories in giving citizens and residents an opportunity tell their side of the story, and nobody needs that opportunity today more than the Middle East.
The Middle East has been constantly plagued by the media’s focus on all that is wrong with this part of the world, which many times has nothing to do with the broader, more wide spread, identities and ideologies. Yet those traditional media stories are easier to sell to a western audience and fit into a certain narrative the media is trying to push.
Snapchat have essentially cut out the middle men in the story telling business. It allows people in the Middle East the chance to reach lives around the world directly, to tell our story without someone playing with the words or the camera angle to show a different or manufactured side of our story. It is a fair and even chance to tell the world how things really are, and that is all we have ever asked for.
Humans are much more engaged when they are being talked with, rather than being talked to, and I would argue that the recent Snapchat stories from the Middle East have done more to change perceptions of the region than any network or organization could. It’s the simplicity and truth behind each individual’s message that connects us.
Another point worth mentioning is that companies can learn a lot from Snapchat, especially when it comes to listening to their customers. It is important to point out that requests for a West Bank and Mecca story went viral on twitter before it even got announced that the story would appear on Snapchat.
Snapchat understood that people of the Middle East were passionate and wanted their moment to share that passion with the world, to tell our story the way we want it to be heard. More importantly to let the world know that a small group in black uniforms, wearing face masks that terrorize all in their path, do not speak for the people, the region, or our religion. That we have dreams of happiness, love, peace, and prosperity, just like every other place in the world.
Snapchat took a model of social media that was all about being able to come back and experience things, with Facebook your pictures are always there, with twitter your posts and messages are always there. With Snapchat at some point in 24 hours everything disappears, we need to present, to experience it, to capture those moments once and make them special, because that is what life is all about, making those moments count. It seems like Snapchat are staying true to that strategy with the Middle East, giving us a chance to change the way things are, to change the way the world views us, to make these moments count.