After Facebook and Instagram, 18-25 year-old consumers spend the most time on Snapchat - and social media marketers should take notice if they want to keep up with younger buyers.

It would be a mistake to dismiss social media channels like Snapchat as a fad or niche network. The platform is the third most popular social network among young adults, according to ComScore research. If social media marketing is all about reaching audiences where they’re active and delivering content there, it might be time for brands to lay off the skepticism, pick up a smartphone and snap some pictures.

Facebook is still at the top of the heap, with 75.6 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds counted as active users. In second place is Instagram, with 43.1 percent penetration. Snapchat isn’t far behind with 32.9 percent of the demographic, and it beats out Twitter (23.8 percent) and Pinterest (17.8 percent). In total, Snapchat has been used by over 50 percent of 18-24-year-olds, compared to only 20 percent of 25-34 year-olds and 8 percent of people over the age of 35.

Snapchat has been used by over 50 percent of 18-24-year-olds, compared to only 20 percent of 25-34 year-olds and 8 percent of people over the age of 35.

Reaching young consumers the way they want

OK – Not every brand should be scrambling to set up a Snapchat account – unless they specifically cater to young consumers. But it’s worth keeping an eye on the network, as well as understanding what makes it so special among a certain group of consumers, to the extent it outperforms Twitter and Pinterest.

  • User-generated content: As Brafton reported, young people find media created by others like them to be more influential, memorable and trustworthy. Snapchat is a haven for UGC, and even the branded messages that do come through are often personable, looking and feeling like user-generated content.

  • Interactivity: Snapchat content often goes beyond simple pictures and text. It usually includes calls to action that transcend everyday activities. For example, frozen yogurt chain 16 Handles had users snap pictures of themselves at local shops in exchange for discounted products.

  • Evolution: It’s easy to come off as overly promotional on some social networks because it’s easy to automate posts. Snapchat, on the other hand, is ephemeral and constantly evolving. Most users can spot inauthentic connections a mile away and will quickly unfollow anyone who clearly doesn’t understand how to use the network.

So what should brands do to acclimate themselves to this kind of communication? First, it’s helpful to check out successful social media marketing campaigns on the channel. For example, McDonald’s took the plunge in 2014 and has been reaping the benefits ever since. Snapchat messages are usually funny, short and to the point. Being successful comes down to understanding your audience, and businesses that want to connect with younger consumer demographics on these channels need to forego anything too commercial in favor of content that resonates with their customers.

Alex Butzbach is a Marketing Writer at Brafton. He studied Communications at Boston College, and after a brief stint teaching English in Japan, he entered the world of content marketing. When he isn't writing and researching, he can be found on a bike somewhere in Metro Boston.