Snapchat-iquette, from the eyes of Millennials

By Alison Hillhouse,  MTV Insights

While Instagram feeds have been infiltrated by parents and grandparents, the world of Snapchat is still largely Millennial territory. Gen Xers and Boomers frequently ask us to decode Snapchat – why is it so popular? What does it entail beyond a constant barrage of selfies? 

First, Snapchat is much more than “just another app.” It lives in a unique sweet-spot for Millennials, providing a new level of intimacy while at the same time preserving a certain distance. The easiest way to think about it is falling somewhere between “real life conversation” and everyday social media feeds, which has interesting implications as to how Millennials are changing the way they communicate today.

We’ll explain more, but first, a tutorial:

Snapchat 101 – the basic mechanics: You snap a photo or short video, send it to your friend(s) and once they’ve opened, it dissolves within a few seconds… never to be seen again. You can also easily subvert the system with your phone’s “screen grab” function, and hold onto friends’ images forever (or at least until you lose your phone).

The new “Stories” feature allows you to create a public, daily feed of your activities, with photos/videos lasting a full 24 hours for friends to peruse. Some users are in love with it, some are already annoyed. As Hayley, 19 notes, “‘My Stories’ has become kind of annoying, like Facebook, where people post everything like ‘I just went to the nail salon.’”  Some also feel this function is more polished and planned than regular Snapchat, with people “trying too hard to show they are having fun at a party.”

So what do people Snapchat?

Snapchats tend to be selfies (usually awkward) or photos of “random” things accompanied by equally random captions.  One teen drew a face on a photo of an orange, and sent it along with the caption, “You are a good person.” A few teens talked about photos of themselves collapsed over homework with pained captions.  Caitlin, 22, snuck a photo of a guy with a puggle in his man-purse for her puggle-loving sister. And if you are in the heat of a Snapchat convo and can’t think of a good image to accompany what you need to say, you simply take a photo of your thigh or bedroom wall.   Artistic, well-thought-out photos are left to Instagram, where content is  more “official.”


The “Snapchat-iquette”

  1. Snapchat your crush first, text later. A group Snapchat is often an ice-breaker to one-on-one Snapchats, which are icebreakers to texting (where more “real” conversation happens). “It’s kind-of weird to text someone random, but you can Snapchat someone random and it’s seen as friendly,” Ellen, 19, explained.
  2. Don’t overdo selfies to people who aren’t your best friends.
  3. Selfies are best if they are raw, funny and awkward … unless to your crush. Millennials tell us about adjusting lighting, hair and makeup. Kayla, 17, says she used to spend eight minutes getting ready for a Snapchat to her now-boyfriend.
  4. Don’t send too many Snaps in a day, especially to a crush. You’ll look stalkerish.  One panelist capped it at “5 per day.”
  5. Be careful when you open videos in public. You have no idea what they contain.
  6. Don’t open a Snapchat immediately – again, this depends on the desired relationship you are looking to cultivate.  N/A if it’s your best friend. Definitely important if it’s your crush.
  7. Snapchat can offer a great opp to get status updates on exes, crushes and exes’ crushes. One college student notes, “I see my exes watching ‘My Story,’ which creeps me out, but is also flattering.”
  8. If you are out with other friends and Snapchatting, make sure not to send to an uninvited friend.

Why is it working?

Many reasons — the most interesting is that it’s actually a very personal form of communication. Millennials are looking for more intimate, “face-to-face” interaction in a world that’s increasingly virtual. The intimate, impromptu selfies make you “feel like you are just talking to someone.” But, Millennials also tell us that it simultaneously provides a bit of welcomed distance.

Snapchat also offers authentic, unpolished glimpses into someone’s life (or at least the impression of this… as noted above, sometimes shots are staged).

It lets you be lazy. You don’t have to think of something substantive to say or consider how it’s going to be interpreted. Snapchat helps you understand tonality much quicker than texting.  A teen said “A ‘hey’ over text can be really loaded, but if you see it over Snapchat with a photo you can tell that it’s a friendly ‘hey.’”  

And, it can even be highly resourceful. Sonali, 19, says, “Two of my friends who live on opposite sides of the country planned an entire vacation to Canada together solely through Snapchat!”

With all of the above, it’s no wonder that Gen Xers and Boomers are trying to understand what SnapChat is and why it’s so popular. The easiest way to sum it up – it’s personal, but not too personal. Welcome to the future of communication.



By Alison Hillhouse,  MTV Insights

Drake wannabees, Japan-o-philes and Asian Gangsters certainly aren’t cliques you would’ve found in high school 20 years ago. And a “nerd” might have been more monolithically caricatured as Screech from Saved by the Bell… instead of today’s breed of nerds that run the gamut from anime players to orch dorks to even “popular nerds.” 

 While cliques are a timeless high school institution, MTV Insights has found that cliques have morphed to reflect the increasingly diverse, unique and fluid nature of the Millennial generation. We had high schoolers in our nationwide MTV Creative Lab (hosted by Ypulse) diagram their high school cliques. And here’s what we saw….

 #1 Micro-cliquing

While some of the clique infrastructure of yesteryear continues to hold true—there are still groupings like “alternative” “nerds” and “popular”—these overarching classifications have splintered into micro-cliques that highlight the unique personas of today’s youth.

 At one New Jersey high school, “alt kids” are fragmented into hipsters (“non-conformists”), emo-scene (“depressed hipsters”) and “alts-in-training” (“still deciding which sub clique to belong to”). Honors kids are known for their different academic inclinations, including “nouveau honors” who have just entered the honors scene and are figuring out how to sub-specialize.

Clique diagrammers were also adamant that there were many micro-cliques of nerds, and not surprisingly, 81% of Millennials agree “there are different types of nerds – weird nerds and cool nerds.”

A map of “50 shades of nerd”:

Another high-schooler segmented out her school by where groups sat at lunch hour. She pointed out the nuances in tech types including programmers, gamers and techies… and even fine-sliced “band nerds” and “orch dorks” as distinct cliques (both who lunch together in the Fine Arts Hallway.)

#2 Cross-cliquing

Although cliques have fragmented and specialized, there’s a new fluidity to cliques – 6 in 10 Millennials agree “At my school, it wouldn’t be uncommon for an athlete and a nerd to be friends.” Millennials told stories of cliques coming together for creative collaborations, like “techies” and “rockers” fixing a guitar pedal together.

 It’s also desirable to be connected to multiple cliques for diversification and inspiration – 7 in 10 Millennials identify with being a “floater.” DJs are the ultimate “cross-cliquers,” according to many… particularly given that EDM is such a universally appealing music, bringing together jocks, hipsters and “scene” kids. 

 But it’s not to say high school is one big happy family – clique clashes occur, such as those between “plastic cheerleaders” and “scene girls who side shave their hair.”  This elaborate diagram of guy cliques shows both inter-clique fluidity and clashes:

#3 Techno-cliquing

 No longer are high schoolers left with just hallway gossip and school functions to get a glimpse into the lives of other cliques – social media offers a 24/7 voyeuristic view into the inner-workings of every clique.

Cliques have an unofficial code of FB posting… of which others are hyper-aware.  The artsy kids share poetic thoughts and photos of themselves looking distant and aloof. Popular girls paint an image of a perpetual party, including “highly edited photos that poorly conceal how intoxicated they were” and “photos of themselves in yoga pants plastered to butt, super short shorts.”

 And imagine what it’s like now that The Stoners have iPhone access?! Tech has given birth to #highdea and #stonerproblems… and helped spurn the virality of YouTube stoner sensation - Cows & Cows & Cows. Check it out… you’ll be mesmerized for what seems like hours. 

And as for the sub-species of “Drake Wannabees” … “he tries to be sensitive and tough, fails at both and is completely self-involved, annoyingly uses ‘YOLO’ and ‘Swag’ any chance he gets.”

More clique maps: