Snapchat has not traditionally been known for helping influencers grow their brands or creating rising-star news anchors.
But since Snapchat launched Shows in August of 2016, a growing number of young journalists have been making a name for themselves on the platform. Snapchat users are acutely aware of an NBC anchor named Savannah—but not the one who hosts the Today show.
Savannah Sellers and Gadi Schwartz, the hosts of NBC’s Stay Tuned, Erin Lim, host of E! News’ The Rundown, and Elle Duncan, one of the hosts of ESPN’s Sportscenter on Snapchat, have all amassed a dedicated legion of followers who tune in by the millions to watch them daily.
Those viewership numbers would put them in the same league as their network counterparts.
Most Snapchat users are there to keep up with their close friends or family, and there’s an intimacy to the platform that traditional one-way news broadcasts don’t have.
Young fans of the shows, ranging in age from 18 to 22, said it’s their affinity for the hosts that make them tune into the news broadcasts, where they’ll get news on everything from the latest school shooting, to a sports upset, to Taylor Swift’s latest boyfriend.
Snapchat users have made hosts like Erin Lim part of their social circle.
Lim, host of E! News’ show The Rundown, said her viewers treat her more like an informed friend than a news anchor. “People say, ‘I feel like you’re already my best friend,’” she said. “‘I feel like I know you.’”
That friendship dynamic is why impersonal, repurposed news footage shoved into a two-minute show just doesn’t work.
CNN learned this lesson the hard way. After awkwardly trying to launch a show in 2017 that consisted mainly of rehashed videos from TV and interjections from TV anchors, the company canceled its show in December.
According to Savannah Sellers, co-host of NBC’s Snapchat show, the key to garnering a dedicated audience is creating custom programming that feels at home on the platform—and not necessarily on TV.
Although this is technically her first hosting gig, she said she approaches the news completely differently from when she was a field producer for the network. Especially in the way she speaks to the audience.
“When I’m on, it’s just Savannah telling the news. It’s not Savannah, the broadcaster telling the story,” she said.
She said she and her co-host, Gadi Schwartz, try to keep the show as short and tight as possible, since social media attention spans are limited.
They also speak in a much more conversational tone and never revert to traditional “anchor voice.”
Elle Duncan, host of ESPN’s Sportscenter on Snapchat, straddles both worlds. On the days she’s not hosting Sportscenter on Snapchat, she hosts the show on traditional TV.
She said the way she and her team select stories for Snapchat is much different from traditional broadcasting. They try to be funnier, more conversational, and use a lot of lists. It is, after all, the internet.
All journalists said hosting Snapchat shows has given them a level of fame that none were prepared for.
They regularly get recognized by hordes of teens—or even in Uber rides.
Schwartz, who began his career as a traditional TV correspondent for NBC News, was shocked at how quickly his profile rose just from appearing on the app.
“More people know me from Snapchat than the Today show,” he said.
Sellers agreed. She said she’s received far more widespread attention from teenagers around the country begging her to explain how she got her job.
For teenagers who consume news via social media on mobile, Sellers is the closest thing they have to Barbara Walters. They send her and her co-host hundreds of questions and thoughts on the news each day.
Sellers and Schwartz said they always try to respond to the flood of fan mail and are heartened to be speaking to a new generation of young people who, with some luck, will remain interested in the news.
“I’m 26 years old,” Sellers said, “and it’s exciting to think about all the 13- to 24-year-old kids—this young audience—that feels like they’re growing up with me.”
Staking your celebrity to the continued success of an app can, of course, be volatile.
Snapchat has publicly struggled since going public last March and has begun to roll out a full-scale redesign of the app that could affect these shows’ viewerships.
But to Sellers, Schwartz, Lim, and Duncan, what they’ve learned about how to speak to a new generation of people who read the news has been worth it—even if Shows fizzles.
“I don’t know that our audience will ever translate to TV,” Sellers said. “Maybe this age goes from watching me on Snapchat to recognizing me on YouTube. This job has made me realize all the possibilities out there for journalists. No one really knows what news or TV is going to look like soon.”
Lim thinks once the dust settles on the web, Shows is “only going to be on the up.”
“Everything is volatile right now, even bitcoin, and everyone is still so obsessed with that,” she said.