Employers Are Using Snapchat to Reach Generation Z

By Natalie Kroc Jul 25, 2017
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​After just four weeks of running a series of ads that prompted Snapchat users to swipe to the McDonald's careers page, the fast food chain has received 35 percent more job applications as compared to this time last year, according to Jez Langhorn, the senior director in human resources at McDonald's USA, in Oak Brook, Ill.

The "Snaplications" video story campaign ran from June 13 through July 9 as part of a push to hire 250,000 employees nationwide this summer. More than half of those new hires in company-owned restaurants are expected to be between the ages of 16 and 24. Langhorn said he has seen how his own kids, ages 18 and 21, "are always on their phone, always on Snapchat. We're talking to candidates where they are."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: How to Target Passive Job Seekers]

Now is the time for employers to get on Snapchat, "rather than three years down the line," emphasized Tom Borgerding, CEO and president of Campus Media Group in Minneapolis, which advises companies on brand marketing to high school and college students. Just by establishing a Snapchat presence, an organization can stand out to Generation Z, whose oldest members are starting to join the workforce. "Clients will ask me how they can reach Gen Z on Facebook," Borgerding said. "First off, don't use Facebook."

That's because Facebook and, to a lesser extent, Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) are not considered to be the social media platforms that Generation Z prefers. "Snapchat is to Gen Z what Facebook is to Gen X," said Carmen Collins, social media lead for the talent brand team at global technology company Cisco. Members of Generation Z may have a Facebook account, but "they use it to share photos with their parents and grandparents," she said.

Instagram is often considered the platform of Millennials; although Generation Z also uses it, as a group they tend to be wary of the overly polished—and Instagram's available enhancements and editing tools can make casual pictures resemble those from a professional photo shoot. "We have to go where they go, and that's why we got on Snapchat," Collins said.

Snaps Lead to Applications

Snapchat is fun, quirky and spontaneous; users take photos and videos and embellish them with special lenses, graphics, doodles and sound effects. "Snaps" have traditionally been 10 seconds long and could be viewed only twice before disappearing 24 hours after being posted, although now there is a "save" option. A Snapchat story is a series of snaps posted over multiple hours and connected by a theme. A story disappears 24 hours after no new snaps have been added to it.   

From the limited-time aspect to lenses that show users with dog noses or with lasers shooting out of their eyes, plus features like facial swapping and voice-changing effects, Snapchat radiates an unpolished vibe. Perhaps because of these somewhat wild attributes—compared to the more-conventional posts that populate Facebook and the often carefully filtered photos on Instagram—many employers have been hesitant to add Snapchat to their social media repertoire.

With 166 million daily users and another 300 million monthly users, Snapchat trails Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn in pure numbers. But Snapchat skews young: Digital marketing company Omnicore found that 71 percent of monthly Snapchat users are under 34 years old, and 45 percent are in the 18-24 age range.

Applying for a Job in a Snap

Snapchat users were able to view a 10-second video story of a McDonald's employee talking about why the fast-food chain was a good place to work and then were prompted to swipe up to connect with the McDonald's careers site, where they could view current vacancies at nearby locations and fill out a job application.

"We're always looking for innovative ways to connect with potential applicants," Langhorn said. "Being in places where young people are—on their phones and on Snapchat—it feels like it's the place for us to be."

He said that while McDonald's is very metrics-driven and is still in the process of evaluating the data, right now the company considers the Snaplications campaign to have been very successful and is contemplating doing it again in September.

Though applying for a job through such a process—by watching a video and then swiping—may seem overly casual. "I think candidates very often see a job and apply on a whim. On LinkedIn, this is often already how it's done [by clicking 'Easy Apply']," pointed out Angela Copeland, a Memphis, Tenn.-based career coach. 

The Snaplications initiative was inspired by the success of a similar campaign undertaken in April by McDonald's in Australia. The Aussie version was more creative: Snapchat users could download a special lens that showed them in the McDonald's uniform. They then sent a snap to the company explaining why they wanted to work there.

"We tend to focus on assessing [applicants'] attitudes and enthusiasm—characteristics we think can be easily captured in a 10-second snap," a McDonald's Australia spokeswoman said. "It doesn't replace the formal application process, which will still include the usual face-to-face interview; it's simply the first step in applying for a job with us."

While this approach certainly wouldn't work for every job, Borgerding said, it could make sense for customer service-oriented or sales roles.

"When you think about the research that has been done on first impressions, it typically takes less than 10 seconds to make a first impression," Copeland said. By having job applicants send in a snap, "it's almost like they captured that first impression."

Employer Branding 'the Snapchat Way'

"Our goal on any social media channel is to make personal connections with talent," Collins said. Cisco has social media accounts on all the major platforms, but each is tailored. For its Snapchat account, "We had to do it 'the Snapchat way': raw, authentic, facial lenses, make it goofy. It's not expected to be polished."

When Cisco started its Snapchat account a little over a year ago, it knew it wanted to bring on employees who had already established themselves as brand ambassadors—that is, they were already posting about Cisco on other social media sites. The group started with 20 members and is now about 75 strong. Each day, one person will take over Cisco's Snapchat account and post about 10 snaps as a story. "I know the theme of what they're posting, but I don't know what they're going to post," Collins said. "I could say 'Make a snap about this,' but that takes away the authenticity of it."

Mostly they snap about what it's like to work at Cisco, whether focusing on a special event or just going out to lunch on a Tuesday. Sometimes they mark certain days, such as "Star Wars" Day on May 4. It could be a series about "a day in the life" of an employee or giving a behind-the-scenes tour at the company. Some of Cisco's most popular Snapchat stories have been those where an engineer takes over for the day, uses funny lenses and "talks about geeky stuff—those do really well, which is understandable, given our audience," Collins said.

The members of the Snapchat group follow three policies: the general corporate social media policy, which all Cisco employees sign but is re-signed by anyone who joins the Snapchat group; a no-sharing-of-the-password policy so the account stays secure; and what Collins calls the "Would you show it to your mama?" policy. For example, she has been asked if photos that include alcohol can be posted. In these cases, Collins said, there are two questions to consider: Is it authentic? Would it be OK to show your mother? If the answer to both of those questions is yes, then it's good to post. 

6 Snapchat Tips

Borgerding and Collins had this advice for employers looking to start a Snapchat presence:

  1. Consider your audience. Does it make sense for your organization? Often people are attracted to the "shiny new thing," Collins said, but for an employer to be on Snapchat, it needs a reason to be there.
  2. Use your young employees, even your interns. Cisco does: "They're native Snapchatters," Collins explained. "They know how to use the lenses, how to draw, how to do all the fun, quirky stuff Snapchat lets you do." They also know how to talk to their peers. Borgerding, who is a member of Generation X, said that while the people driving the Snapchat strategy can certainly be older, it's a good idea if those who are posting the snaps are on the young side. "Otherwise, it would be like me trying to use all the cool Gen Z language: 'How big is your squad? How are you adulting these days?' It just doesn't sound right."
  3. Post regularly. Aim for at least weekly, Borgerding said, but make sure your snaps are "fun and something people want to see—or they will just unfollow you." Cisco tries to post a snap story every day.  
  4. Feel free to post about things happening in the world that are not directly related to your company. Borgerding said it's OK if an organization posts "We love the newborn baby giraffe at the zoo!" or "Our employee Sarah just ran a marathon!" All the content doesn't need to be created by the employer; instead, it can reflect the values of the organization and celebrate the people who work there.
  5. Don't be too concerned about metrics. It can be difficult and time-consuming to get metrics on Snapchat. Cisco hires an outside analytics company, but organizations can instead "think of it more as an employer branding tool than a measurement on a specific ROI [return on investment] basis," Borgerding said.
  6. Learn to let go. "I never thought I'd be giving the keys to a social media channel to people not trained [in corporate messaging]," Collins said. At first, it was "very scary," she admitted. But "you have to be willing to let go of some of the control to get the authenticity. It has been an experiment in trust that has paid off."

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