Staying in Touch + Snapchat Group Chats

When I ask people what they think of Snapchat, they seem to either love it or hate it — with not a whole lot of feelings in between. Those that love it and use it every day are usually part of a younger age-group (< 25), but there are certainly many exceptions (including myself!). Then there are those that hate it. And this group is much more interesting to me. More often than not, people that tell me they HATE Snapchat (strong!) feel that way because they a) have never actually used it but are sold on the stereotype that its primary use case is sharing inappropriate photos, or b) they HAVE tried it, got confused and frustrated with it, and never opened the app again. I’m not here to sway group a, but I think I can help group b. Now I’m not saying I have the power to turn a hater into a lover, or that you should use Snapchat at all. But maybe there’s a small chance that some of the haters would like the app more if someone took to the time to explain the interface and show them a couple of cool features that can’t be found in other apps (or at least aren’t done as well in other apps).

Enter, TIRL!

Before we jump in, it’s important to note that during Snap’s recent earnings call, its CEO (Evan Spiegel) announced that there could be big changes coming to the app — including a total redesign of the app’s interface. When I say interface I mean the design and layout of the app…the way it looks…feels…and the screens and menus you interact with when you use it. While I think an interface redesign makes sense, it obviously all depends on the execution. We’ve all seen apps make changes that ended up making the app WORSE. Will Snapchat’s new design make the interface more intuitive to use? Given how often Snapchat’s current interface leaves users (especially new ones) scratching their heads, we can only hope.

On the flip side, some have argued that the interface is DELIBERATELY confusing — which is possible. But it’s hard to tell if this was a decision made on the front-end or just a way to quiet critics of the end product. I understand that Snapchat’s original target was a younger audience that tends to be willing to invest more time to figure out new technology. However, appealing to teens and young adults has come at the expense of alienating slightly older (or less tech-savvy) users who might ALSO love Snapchat but just can’t wrap their heads around it. With user growth slowing and Instagram Stories gaining steam, Snapchat now faces the challenge of making its app more appealing to a wider audience without alienating its core user base. Look, I am a Snapchat lover in her 30’s and I use the app regularly. I even try to convince many of my 30-something friends to use it too. But oftentimes it feels like trying to explain Snapchat to even a highly intelligent, relatively tech-savvy friend is like trying to explain quantum physics to a third grader. So deliberate or not, I don’t think it’s a great ongoing strategy. So while I find it hard to believe Snapchat won’t figure it out, I do think it’s now or never for our lovable little Ghostface Chillah.

Why do I mention all of this? Well, I was planning to do a comprehensive Snapchat post, and include everything from a 101 to a deeper dive into Snapchat’s lesser known (but awesome) features. Instead, since a significant redesign may be coming as soon as December 4th (according to this article), I decided to stick to a simpler post for now. I’ll give you a brief overview of the interface and show you how to send a Snap, and then talk about one feature that I love and use often (Snapchat Group Chats). Even if the layout and design of the interface changes, I don’t see this feature going away — so it feels like a safe topic to cover. Interestingly, there is also some discussion on Reddit around whether the redesign is actually going to be that drastic or if it will be a bunch of small, insignificant changes. Only time will tell.

If/when Snapchat rolls out its new design, I’ll finish the bigger Snapchat post that I’ve been holding onto for a while, and make sure everything is updated so all of the content is relevant.

Navigating Snapchat’s Interface

This certainly isn’t an original thought, but I think the biggest reason a lot of people never give Snapchat a try, or try it and give up after a few days, is that it’s confusing. It does get less confusing over time, but the learning curve is admittedly steep. The biggest source of confusion is the layout and design of the app, and figuring out how in the heck you actually do or find anything. In order to get a person to use an app, this is the one thing that just needs to make sense. Do you see the irony? A poor, ugly, or confusing interface is an immediate turn-off, and there are plenty of examples of bad ones all over the internet — websites, apps, even Twitter — so many of them suffer from unintuitive and confusing layouts and incorporate overly vague design elements. To be fair to Twitter, the company really has tried to address this in recent years, and I would say they’ve made decent progress. Now if we could just get a handle on the folks that inhabit Twitter. But I digress. For Snapchat, a sloppy interface has likely been a huge barrier to turning casual users into loyal addicts — especially when your main competitor (Instagram Stories) has virtually all of the same features and a more obvious and more intuitive interface.

So how can I make navigating Snapchat a little easier for you? Well, I think explaining its three main screens is a good place to start. There ARE more than three screens within Snapchat, but let’s focus on these for now.

171112 TIRL - Snapchat 101 (three main screens)

Far Left Screenshot: Chat + Direct Snaps — These are Snaps that are sent to you directly (vs. a Snap that you view in someone’s story); can be photos or videos; chats are also found here (can be 1:1 chats or group chats). The icons next to each person’s name (and the colors of the icons) can also be confusing. This will help clarify. And also reinforce Snapchat’s problem.

Middle Screenshot: Camera Screen — This is considered Snapchat’s Home screen; when you open the app, it opens to this screen. There are several icons on this screen that could cause (more) confusion. Starting at top left — the little face (or ghost) takes you to your Profile screen where you can add and view friends (screenshot below); a Search bar (covered in my next Snapchat post), a camera flash icon to turn it on or off; an icon that will flip the camera from facing outward to selfie mode. Starting at bottom left — a little chat bubble that will take you to the Chat + Direct Snaps screen (tapping it is the same as swiping right); the camera button (tap once to take a photo, hold down to take a video); underneath the camera button is another small circle that takes you to the Memories section of the app (covered in my next Snapchat post); a triangle made up of three dots that will take you to the Stories screen (tapping it is the same as swiping left).

Far Right Screenshot: Stories — This is where you’ll find your Snapchat Story + all of your friends’ Snapchat Stories. Your Snapchat Story is a compilation of Snaps that you have posted to one big ongoing Story over the last 24 hours. Think of it as stitching together a bunch of different photos and videos to tell the story of your day. Each Snap is a part of your Story for 24 hours (unless you delete it). I will talk a little bit more about Stories in my next Snapchat post. You’ll also find some professional content created by news outlets, magazines, TV networks, or other online publishers (examples: Cosmopolitan Magazine, Buzzfeed, MTV).

*Helpful advice: if you ever get “lost” within the app, just tap the camera button to go back to the Home screen — this button is present on almost every screen within Snapchat.

Snapchat uses a lot of icons and gestures that aren’t clear or easily understood the first few times you use the app. Don’t panic! While there are some elements of Snapchat that are hard to understand, at the same time, understanding them is unimportant to the basic usability of the app. I do think understanding some of the less obvious or “hidden” features makes Snapchat more enjoyable, but that comes in time if you stick with it long enough.

I’ll go into more detail about Snapchat’s other screens, menus, and features in my next Snapchat post, but if this has piqued your interest enough that you want to learn more NOW, this article shows the diagrams that Snapchat included in its IPO filing and details what every menu, icon, and gesture does. I give them credit. Although it’s easy to see why the interface gets labeled “confusing”, these diagrams show that Snapchat put thought into the layout of the app and every single one of the app’s features. So there’s that.

Creating a Snap

I’ve always described Snapchatting as a form of “visual texting”. You’ve heard the phrase, “A picture is worth 1,000 words,” right? Well, I think this is where Snapchat really shines. You can send photos and short little videos to express your thoughts in ways that words alone simply can’t. You can also send what I like to call “throwaway photos” that won’t clog up your camera roll and suck up your phone’s memory. Let’s face it, we all take photos of really dumb things. But sometimes a dumb photo gets my point across better than a text explaining what I saw. So while I want to share those photos with my friends, I don’t necessarily want to keep those photos forever. Snapchat’s ephemeral nature is perfect for this because everything “disappears”. There ARE several ways to save Snaps, both as a sender and receiver, but that’s for the next post as well. Also, as a general rule (I’m looking at you high schoolers, college kids, and political candidates), don’t assume ANYTHING you send or post is gone forever.

After you take a Snap (photo or video), you’ll see this screen

Group Chat

Now that I’ve given you a little bit of a Snapchat overview, let’s dig into one of my favorite Snapchat features: Group Chats. I know that there is a seemingly endless number of ways to chat/text with a group of friends from a mobile device. There’s Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, iMessage, and GroupMe to name a few. But I’m going to throw one more option into the mix that I think you should consider: Snapchat. I have group chats that live in almost all of the apps I mentioned above, but I’ve found that the chats that are the most fun and engaging are happening on Snapchat. For all the flak that Snapchat gets, its biggest selling point is that it’s just plain ol’ fun (for people of any age!). You can, of course, send simple texts back and forth like you would in any other chat app, but you can also send photos and videos that incorporate all of Snapchat’s coolest and most unique features. I have one set up with my Family (including my parents, who are most definitely over the age of 25), and one with my Stanford Tennis friends (who might like to think they’re still 25). You can send Snaps to the group, post photos and videos from your camera roll, send voice notes, and send video notes. The only major downside is that the content disappears after 24 hours. But how often do you really go back and read old texts from a group chat? If they were that memorable you probably screenshotted them anyways. So while Snapchat isn’t perfect, the group chat feature has definitely been a huge hit.

What You Need to Know

  • Max number of friends in a group chat = 32
  • To create a group chat, open the Chat/Direct Snap screen and tap on the New Chat icon. Then, pick a few friends, and tap the blue Chat button (screenshots below).
  • You can only add people to a group if you’re both friends on Snapchat.
  • To send snaps directly to a group after taking a snap, tap the send button, and choose a group in the “Send To” screen (similar to how you’d send a snap to individual friends).
  • Everyone in the group will be able to see that you sent the snap, as well as who’s read it.
  • Group chat Snaps disappear after 24 hours.
  • You CAN save photos that are sent to the group from someone’s camera roll, as well as text (see screenshot below).

Now What?!

If you’ve made it this far, here’s what I recommend:

  1. Create an account, or log into your account if you already have one.
  2. Text a couple of your friends and see if any of them have a Snapchat account. If they do, get their username and add them so you have someone to practice with. If you don’t have any friends with an account, add me (likesdonuts) or any of the fun accounts listed below.
  3. Take a few minutes to explore the layout of the app and the various screens and menus — if you get stuck, scroll back up and revisit my screenshots.
  4. Take a Snap — play around with the drawing feature, adding emojis, or using the lenses.
  5. Send a Snap — send to a friend, or just post to your Snapchat Story!
  6. Rinse and repeat until you start to feel more comfortable.
  7. Don’t get fixated on small things you see in the app that don’t seem to make any sense. Snapchat has a lot of these things. There are things I still don’t totally understand. But most of them won’t affect your ability to use and enjoy the app. You can always explore those things later!
  8. If you can find enough friends that have Snapchat, create a Group Chat and try using it for a couple of weeks.
  9. If after all this you still don’t feel like Snapchat is for you, then at least you’ve given it a try. There’s always Instagram Stories — or a good book 🙂

So that’s all I’m going to share for now (I say that like this was a short post), but stay tuned for a much deeper dive into Snapchat next month. I know that even after reading this post, many of you won’t be sold on Snapchat, and the app will still be a little (or a lot) confusing and intimidating. But like I said, start slow. Add a friend(s) and send a couple of Snaps. Practice adding text, emojis, and Geofilters. Give the lenses a shot. Have fun with it. Because after all, the thing that Snapchat still has over all of the other social media apps is a fun factor that is simply unmatched. Good luck — and Snap me anytime!


People to Follow/Add

  • GaryVee (garyvee) — business/entrepreneur advice
  • Ross Smith (pillowsweat) — fun/silly content
  • Serena Williams (serenaunmatched) — professional tennis player
  • Mashable (mashable) — tech publication
  • TechCrunch (techcrunch) — tech publication
  • Chicago Blackhawks (nhlblackhawks) — NHL hockey team (lots of other teams use Snapchat too, just Google them!)
  • Oper Americano (operamericano) — she draws all kinds of cool things on her Snaps
  • CyreneQ (cyreneq) — another amazing Snapchat artist
  • The White House (whitehouse)
  • Taco Bell (tacobell) — one of the OG Snapchat brands
  • Warby Parker (warbyparker) — they do ALL social media well
  • Shaun McBride (shonduras) — awesome Snapchat storyteller
  • Tons of Companies/Brands have Snapchat, so get to Google’n!


Some additional articles about the potential Snapchat redesign:

Group Chat Information from Snapchat’s Website 




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