Avoid the 3 Snapchat sins I see far too often (even from professional news organizations)

Snapchat is booming and news companies are taking phones into the world and making Snapchat stories — great stories, but also unwatchable and annoying stories. Avoid some common mistakes, and make your Snaps great:

  1. Get a microphone. I’ve seen Snap stories from major news outlets with audio too quiet to hear and so much background noise it’s painful. They make microphones for phones. Get one.

The Rode Videomic Me (~$65 at Amazon, affiliate link) does a great job knocking down the kind of background noise I’ve seen ruin Snaps from horse races, car races, festivals, and parties.

Watch the first part of this video for a demo and see what a difference it makes. (I don’t know why at some points the video goes blank, but you can still hear the audio through the whole thing and hear the difference with and without a mic):

If you’re an individual just getting started, I understand if you don’t want to pay for a mic, but news outlets should pony up. Today. Don’t cover another loud political rally without one. Please.

2. Give people time to read. If you put text on a still image, give people time to read it. (New York Times, I’m talking to you. I want to read what you write in your fascinating Snaps, but it takes more than 2 seconds.)

Once your create your image, you can change how long it stays on the screen. It defaults to 2 seconds, which is not long enough to read most text.

Tap that “2” in the bottom left corner and you get the option to make the image last longer in your story. It goes up to 10 seconds.

Five seconds is usually long enough for the text I put on the screen, but don’t worry about leaving it up too long. It’s easy for readers to advance to the next image — just one tap anywhere on the screen. I’d much rather tap a slow story forward than have the story advance every time I’m halfway through a sentence. #frustrating.

3. Don’t say “Snap us” if you don’t follow people back. I don’t care at all if you follow me back, but if you don’t, I can’t Snap you — so stop asking me to. (See below for an important clarification!)

As SuperSnapper VC Mark Suster recently said (on Twitter), “Snapchat sucks for large audience 2-way engagement.” It quickly becomes unmanageable if you have even 100 followers sending you private Snaps.

If you want feedback on your Snaps, put your Twitter handle or Facebook address on the screen and ask people to respond there. Mic and the Washington Post are usually good about this, and here’s an example from yesterday’s Verge channel:

If you want people to acknowledge a specific image (for example, to let you know if they like an image or if you want them to vote on something), ask people to take a screenshot of the image. Snapchat tells you the number of people who have taken a screenshot of your image, and it tells you who they are.

A couple of months ago, I asked people to screenshot images to vote for their preferred plural of “Batman,” and it worked nicely. The purple numbers are how many people watched that segment, and the green numbers are how many people took a screenshot of that segment to vote:

To see the username of each person who voted, click on the green number, and you get a list.

Please, stop saying “Snap us” when we can’t. I hear this on multiple Snapchat stories every day.

4. Use a remote control. This is just a bonus tip. It’s not a mistake to not use a remote, but using one can make Snapping easier when you’re making Snaps alone, especially when you’re also using a mic. Since you don’t have to hold down the button on the screen, it’s easier to look natural and take shots from different angles.

A few companies make these Bluetooth camera shutter remotes. This is the one I use — it was cheap and it works well. (CamKix Bluetooth Camera Shutter Remote, $7 at Amazon, affiliate link)

IMPORTANT UPDATE TO “DON’T SAY ‘SNAP ME’ ”

H/T to Barbara Kolbe Baker who gives social media advice in “Snaps by the Pond” on Snapchat and reminded me of something I forgot!

You can make your account open so people can message you even if you don’t follow them, but they can’t message you directly from your story.

If someone follows you, you see “chat” at the bottom of the story and can message directly by swiping up:

Swipe up to message people who follow you.

If an account is “open,” you have to go to your friends list, tap on the account name, and then tap on the messaging icon. It’s not obvious or in your face like “chat” is, so you should probably at least occasionally remind people that they can message you that way.

As far as I can tell, you only know whether someone’s account is open after you try to send them a message. You’ll always see the messaging icon and get a chat screen when you tap it. Only after you try to send a message will you know whether it’s possible. (Quora has a decent page about what happens after you click “send.”)

Open your account by going into your settings and selecting “everyone” instead of “my friends” under “contact”:

I forgot because right after I started using Snapchat, a friend opened her account to all messages and got a dick-pic from a stranger in less than a minute, so I thought, “Never gonna do that,” and put it out of my mind.

One of the things I adore about Snapchat compared to other places I’ve posted videos is that I don’t get vile comments from strangers because I only follow media companies and people I know.

Since this is a setting though, if you don’t want to leave your account open all the time, you could still ask for feedback, open your account to messages, and then close it again when you’re finished.

If you found these tips helpful, please click the heart below or share the page with other people who will also find them helpful.

Also, what are your best Snapchat tips?

Mignon Fogarty is better known as Grammar Girl and is also the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the chair of media entrepreneurship at the Reynolds School of Journalism.

Follow her on Snapchat at http://snapchat.com/add/thatgrammargirl or with this Snapcode: