Oh Snap! Everything You Need to Know About Using Snapchat for HIV

Content From: HIV.govPublished: December 12, 20175 min read


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Around the world, more than 2.8 billion peopleExit Disclaimer — or 37% of the world's population — use social media, and its use crosses many demographic differences. Data show that, in the U.S., “gender, income, and education level have little impact on whether an individual has adopted social networking as an activity. Age does remain a factor — younger internet users tend to be more likely to engage in social networking overall, and adopt specific social platforms.” 

Snapchat, along with Instagram and Facebook, is a popular channel among U.S. youth, which could make it part of an outreach strategy for delivering HIV resources and information. If you’re curious about using Snapchat for HIV communications, but unsure where to start, this post is for you. Here are some things you should consider when thinking about Snapchat.

Create Personalized Content
Snapchat is a mobile app that enables users to share “snaps” (photos or short videos) that are only visible for 24 hours, so there is a brief and unique quality to the content. The app also provides opportunities to personalize each piece of content.

“Snapchat is synonymous with fun, fast, low-threshold, personal content,” says Mary-Jayne Trainor, Social Media Lead at Philips Health Systems North America.

The personalization of content is one of Snapchat’s defining elements. Users can draw over and add text to their snaps, and select fun filters, without opening up a separate editing app. They can also choose from a catalogue of stickers and animations (like mustaches, cowboy hats, or dog ears) to superimpose on the images. 

Reach Young People
Because of its popularity among U.S. youth, Snapchat could be a strategic marketing tool for organizations looking to target younger audiences. Snapchat “provides reliable access to the preteen, teen, and young adult demographic, as well as the older millennials” says Trainor.

Some recent stats and trends from a Omnicore articleExit Disclaimer show that:

  • 71% of Snapchat users are under 34 years old.
  • 45% of Snapchat users are aged 18-24.
  • 30% of US millennial internet users access Snapchat regularly.
  • People under the age of 25 use Snapchat for 40 minutes on average every day.
  • More than 400 million Snapchat stories are created per day.
  • More than 20,000 photos are shared on Snapchat every second.

Given that HIV affects youth in particular, as 13- to 25-year-olds accounted for 22% of new diagnoses in 2015, Snapchat may be an effective channel to not only provide information to youth, but also to engage them in HIV prevention, care, and treatment.

Make Use of Geofilters
“The major benefit offered by Snapchat that is not offered on other platforms is the ability to create a custom filter for use by anyone in a specific geographic area,” says Vincent Myers, Communications and Outreach Specialist at the Simons Foundation. 

A geofilter is a special location-based graphic overlay, meaning that geofilters are different depending on a user’s location. Myers recently created one of these geofilters to build awareness of his organization’s autism research initiative. The geofilter (pictured below) was available to the attendees of a 2017 Autism Walk. Snapchat users at the starting line and in the booth areas were encouraged to use it on their snaps.

Example of a Geo-filter linked to an Autism Walk


Consider a Custom Geofilter
Snapchat offers free and paid options for geofilters. Through Snapchat, you can submit your customized artwork free of charge, as long as it does not contain a brand or organizational logo. The Snapchat team will then decide whether to approve it based on other filters that are available in that area. If you want to include an organization’s brand or logo, costs may be associated. 

If you’re thinking of creating a geofilter, keep in mind the following Snapchat Geofilter GuidelinesExit Disclaimer:


  • All graphics used must be 100% original.
  • No logos or trademarks.
  • No photographs.
  • No hashtags.
  • Be creative and make it visually compelling.
  • Don’t cover up too much of the screen.
  • Make sure it’s relevant to the location and something that people will want to use.

Share Unique Content
Content that is only available on Snapchat - not simply repurposed from other platforms - performs best on the channel. Because snaps have shorter “lives” than content on other platforms, it may be best to use Snapchat to promote material that is relevant today, but might not be relevant tomorrow. For example, content from community events and awareness days make compelling “real time” content.

Myers also believes that using Snapchat can help increase transparency and trust by taking people “behind the scenes of the organization’s work.” On Snapchat, an organization might offer the public a glimpse into situations that it might not show on other social media platforms.

We know that subjects related to healthcare and public health are often serious in nature, so considering using Snapchat for more cheerful content. A health center, for instance, might post updates on Facebook that are more factual and stories on Snapchat that are more comical. Be creative, be authentic, and don’t be afraid to embrace the humor when appropriate.

Remember Your Audience
Before you spend time learning to use the platform, consider surveying your population to learn if they currently use Snapchat. If your target audience isn’t familiar with the platform, it may not be the best channel for reaching and engaging them.

Learn from Others
If you’re interested in learning more tips on setting up your Snapchat profile, this Hootsuite blog postExit Disclaimer provides an easy guide for all Snapchat beginners. Also, check out this post about a recent World AIDS Day project. Lastly, if you’d like to learn more about using any of the social media channels more effectively, visit our Virtual Office Hours, where you can schedule a free, 45-minute virtual coaching session with a member of the HIV.gov team.

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