A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

Portrait of Snapchat as a Profitable Business: How Snapchat Shook Stigmas and Molded a Competitive Business Model

At first glance, Snapchat seemed like a one-off novelty app. The self-destructing image-sharing app was cheeky, secretive, and short-form, not to mention convenient for teens looking for a new way to message their friends and migrate from overpopulated Facebook profiles. Regardless of it’s snowballing popularity, tech analysts and users alike never truly considered Snapchat as a competitive social network. But 2014 was a big year for Snapchat: through launching new features like Stories and Discover, Snapchat was able to not only gain traction as a profitable social network, but finally assert itself as one that’s here to stay.

My Experiences with Snapchat

It’s safe to say that Snapchat is one of the most polarizing forms of social media available. The first time I downloaded Snapchat back in 2012, I was uninterested in the idea of using it as much as I used Tumblr or Twitter. The concept was simple: take a picture (or video), choose how long you wanted the message to be available, select a friend, and send. The message would make its way to your friend and as soon as the time was up, the picture disappeared, hence the app’s quirky ghost logo.

Although I had many friends that were frequent users, the idea of sending disappearing messages and videos to friends seemed only fractionally more convenient than actually texting them. In fact, I could only think of a handful of reasons why I would ever need to send a message that would be instantly disposed of. And, as a reluctant and reserved college freshman, the reasons weren’t quite my speed. I begrudgingly kept the app on my phone, until one of their newest features catapulted Snapchat to becoming one of my favorite, most frequently used apps.

The Evolution of Stories

My Snapchat account was like a surprising little secret few knew that I even deigned to keep on my phone. But that was until Snapchat launched Stories: the new feature which allowed me to create a narrative of my day in pictures and videos that I could broadcast to all of my friends through simply tagging my story. It’s like a daily, super-informal YouTube channel, showing videos for a limited-time (24 hours or less) and exclusively to my closest friends.

Not only did Stories make it possible for me to publish content that was both personal and mundane without the burden of permanent archival I experienced on Twitter and Instagram, but it also gave me a peek into the exciting lives of my closest friends. Girls I went to high school with would post stories which were hundreds of seconds long (or, in Snapchat time, eternities), and were somehow just as entertaining and satisfying as the brief, sarcastic stories of introverted coders I met in computer labs around campus.

Most importantly, Stories finally gave me a reason to add more friends and check the app daily to see what was going on in their lives. It transformed Snapchat from being used for dirty little secrets to keeping up with close friends from all walks of life.

Stories stood as a landmark for the development and growth of Snapchat as a business; by offering other businesses advertising placement as stories in the newsfeeds of every Snapchat user, the company was able to reportedly charge as much as a whopping $750,000 for 24 hour story placement (comparatively, ESPN asks for around $408,000 to advertise during Monday Night Football).
Although the company had yet to capture meaningful analytics about the quality and reach of their ads, companies like McDonalds and Samsung still bit at the chance to reach Snapchat’s strong user demographic of over 100 million monthly active users. This helped to prove that Snapchat was well on its way to becoming an unstoppable force in the world of social networking.

The Significance of Discover

In light of the overwhelming success of the Stories feature on Snapchat, the company recently announced and launched it’s newest and potentially most profitable feature: Discover. Snapchat Discover allows users to view short-form media on dedicated channels within the app. Companies ranging from CNN to MTV to even Cosmopolitan Magazine all have dedicated channels through which they can host anything from commercials for upcoming shows to DIY tutorials and behind-the-scenes photoshoot footage. Even Katie Couric now hosts part of her Yahoo! news segments via the company’s Discover channel on Snapchat.

Discover is important because it serves as Snapchat’s first big foire into the world of in-app advertising. While offering Stories to companies served as a palate-cleanser in getting a hesitant audience used to seeing ads on their favorite social network, Discover is the main course, providing a new and different way to view news and entertainment commentaries in a short, accessible format.
It gives a more isolated foundation through which the company can fine-tune its analytics than the current, seemingly copy-paste view counts used in standard, non-discover stories. Plus, it’s a fun to use, beautifully designed way for users to access content from some of their favorite television channels and print magazines.

Additionally, Discover will serve as a convenient platform for companies looking to boost the visibility of videos made solely for online and mobile consumption, like those of Katie Couric’s aforementioned Yahoo! news segments and skits and outtakes from shows on channels like Comedy Central. As these channel buyers continue to create content more tailored to use in Discover, Snapchat becomes an increasingly influential stakeholder in the ever-changing realm of mobile media.

What’s Next for Snapchat

After being an underdog among social networks, Snapchat is finally establishing itself as a company which should be taken seriously. Just over a year ago, the tech world watched in awe as creator Evan Spiegel turned down a $3 billion offer from Facebook to buy out the messaging app completely. Now, after releasing such innovative and creative solutions to in-app advertising and content publishing, the company has been valued at around $10 billion and has successfully raised just under $500 million from excited investors.

For a company criticized for having lacked a clear business model just over a year ago, Snapchat has fought back by offering one of the most realistic and directly profitable solutions to putting the “media” back in social media. By improving their analytics and continuing to justify their channel and ad placement price, Snapchat will continue to be the unignorable yellow ghost on all of our devices.

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What is a Google Grant and how can you make it work for your non-profit?

AdWords is Google’s main source of revenue and a huge percentage of the roughly $50 billion Google earned in advertising in 2013. If I use Google to find reputable charities fighting poverty in San Francisco, my first result will likely be an ad that looks like this:

If you are a non-profit, Google makes this ad space totally accessible to you… for free. Through its Grants program, Google allots up to $10,000/ month in AdWords money to worthy non-profits to raise awareness for their cause. This tool can be an incredible asset to your organization, but the Grants are underutilized and often mismanaged.

We’re here to show you how you can leverage this tool to promote your organization, build email lists, advertise events, recruit volunteers, and much more.

What you need

To qualify for a grant, there are only two things your organization needs: 501(c)(3) status and a website with strong content.

To get a grant, all your organization needs to do is join the Google for Nonprofits program and fill out a short application. You’ll be asked a few questions about your organization’s mission and how AdWords will help you to achieve your goals. The application only takes about an hour and, in most cases, you’ll find out if you’re approved within a few days.

About Google AdWords

AdWords is a very extensive program that allows an experienced user to achieve a level of specification that is impossible in more traditional advertising mediums. It is also a program that can take some time to fully understand.

Here is the basic terminology to get you started:

  • Keyword – A search term for which your ad will appear for
  • Impressions – The number of screens on which your ad appears
  • Clicks – The number of people who click on your ad
  • Cost Per Click – The amount of money it costs every time someone clicks on your ad
  • Quality Score – A 1-10 rating that determines the quality of your ad and the likelihood it will be displayed

“Average Cost-Per-Click” or CPC is of paramount importance to a Grant recipient. An account is only charged when a person clicks on an ad. The more competitive the ad space, the more expensive the CPC.  For example, the Cost-Per-Click for the keyword “Insurance” tops out at $54.91. The maximum amount a Google Grant recipient can bid is $2.00, meaning the CPC cannot exceed $2.00.


This is important. Yes, Google is giving away $10,000 a month. But, Google is still a business, and it has created rules to protect its own revenue at the disadvantage of non-profits utilizing the Grant system.

Non-profits typically use significantly less coveted and expensive Keywords, but the $2.00 limit will still affect your campaign.

Actually spending the allotted budget can be challenging. In fact, the average Google Grant campaign spends just $300 a month, 3% of the entire budget.

You want to be spending as much of your grant as possible. At the end of the day the cost of the campaign is reflected by the amount of people clicking on your ads. If you’re not spending all of your budget, you are missing opportunities to advertise your website. Since it’s not your money, there is no disadvantage to exploring every angle to ensure you’re getting as many clicks as possible.

Overcoming Challenges

The best way to get the most out of a $2.00 maximum bid is with a high Quality Score.  Your Quality Score is affected by your Click-Through-Rate or CTR (the percentage of people who click on your ad), the relevance of your keywords and ad text, as well as a positive landing page experience (the page a person goes to when they click on an ad).

A high Quality Score means your ads will be given a more favorable ad spot, which can significantly lower the cost of your ad. For example, a Quality Score of 10 reduces your CPC by 50%, while a Quality Score of 1 increases your CPC by 400%.

To maximize your quality score, develop a mission for your campaign. Are you hoping to attract volunteers, solicit donations, or just draw attention to your site? Of course, you can do all three and much more, but you need to make sure your website’s content reflects whatever is written on your ads. Your content will have a huge impact on your Quality Score. If the content in your landing page is focused on recruiting volunteers for your cause, your ad text and keywords should focus on volunteers and only volunteers.

You should be maximizing the content you have by creating unique ads and keywords to focus on different pages. This will improve your quality score as your ads will be more relevant and the click-through rate will likely be higher. A classic mistake is to create a few general ads with a ton of keywords, setting the landing page as the home page and hoping for the best.  This means you are failing to capitalize on your content, and also not promoting any specific part of your organization.

If this strategy is implemented and your campaign is still not able to meet its budget, the alternative is to create more content for your website and tailor ads to new pages. This also has the added benefit of improving your sites’ organic search results. But this strategy is time consuming and expensive, and should only be done if a company is very serious about optimizing their web presence.

Final Thoughts

The most important thing to keep in mind is that there is no silver bullet. You’re not going to create a campaign, think of brilliant ads and keywords, spend your $10,000 a month, and bask in your dramatically increased site traffic on your first try. Ad Words is difficult to master, and a great campaign takes time, understanding and constant tweaking. Remember these last words as you embark on your Google Grants Campaign:

  • Your campaign will only be as good as your content.
  • Quality Score is king
  • An acceptable landing page is required for Google to send users to your site.
  • You need enticing ad text to attract people to your ads. Remember, a low Click-Through-Rate will lower your quality score.

Five Great Campaign Websites from the 2014 Election Cycle

Having worked in digital politics in a previous life, I observe elections these days with mixed feelings from a safe distance.

Working for political campaigns is hard, stressful and often demoralizing.  The long hours rewarded with below market pay.  But the highs are pretty high.  When you are working on a political campaign it is your whole life for a time.  The small victories, like watching the money come in after sending a good fundraising email, are often nearly as sweet as winning the election.  It is both completely awful and exhilarating at the same time.

Knowing how hard campaign staffers and consultants worked during the 2014 election cycle, I wanted to acknowledge some of the great work digital teams did this cycle.  So, without further throat clearing, here are the five best campaign websites I came across this cycle.

(1) Ed Gillespie (R-VA)

Mark Warner edged out Ed Gillespie in the Virginia Senate race, but I think Gillespie had a slightly better website.  I like the use of photography and the site’s responsiveness is a step above the default behavior you’ll get from most HTML frameworks.

My only compliant about the homepage is the video, which feels like something that wasn’t planned for in the original design and got thrown in at some point.


The entire navigation system is nicely implemented.  I particularly like the Take Action bar on the left that encourages users to volunteer, donate, share or sign up for the email list.  It is unique and nicely implemented.


Like just about every campaign this cycle, the Gillespie team  had a look at the Obama donate page.  The layout and functional of the Gillespie donate page is pretty much identical to the Obama version.



(2) Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

The Mitch McConell site features a giant background video at the top of every page that references Lincoln, coal miners, Kentucky, soldiers, McConnell and AMERICA.  I’ve made an animated gif of part of the background video below, but you should visit the site to see the full piece.


While I’m not sure it belongs on every page, I appreciate the boldness of the approach.

(3) Alison Lundergan Grimes (D-KY)

While it lacks the trippy background video, the site of McConnell’s opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes is probably better overall.  Great use of photography and the whole site is just solid.


I particularly like the collapsed state of the navigation bar and the way the Get Email Updates and Support the Campaign call to actions stay fixed on the screen as you scroll down the page.


(4) Nathan Deal (R-GA)

The Deal campaign basically ran back their site design from 2010, going with bold photography and minimal text.  It still works.


The site works just as well on mobile as it does on desktop.  I particularly like the the mobile version of their menu.


(5) Chris Coons (D-DE)

The Coons campaign site features bold photography and a unique icon-based navigation system.


As with the Gillespie campaign, Coons donation provider Act Blue had a look at the Obama donation page.


What were your favorite sites from the 2014 cycle?

Complete Brick Factory Card Set

This Summer we’ve been posting mock baseball cards of our employees on our Facebook page.  We’ve done this partly as a way to introduce our awesome staff to folks, and partly to amuse ourselves.  You can check out the complete set below.  Enjoy, and follow us on Facebook for more weird stuff like this.


Social Ads

Navigating Social Advertising

12 years ago, Friendster debuted.
Since then, the number of social networks has exploded.
And in the past few years, so too have the opportunities for social advertising: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+.

It can be a little overwhelming.

Americans spend 37 minutes each day on social media, so social ads are a great opportunity to help you connect with your audience. But should you be using them? And which platforms should you put money into? How do you keep from getting bogged down in all your options? And how do you get the results you want?


So what is social advertising:

It’s advertising. It’s on a social networking site.
You’re paying to reach people who don’t already follow/like/whatever you.

For a lot of companies, social ads are part of the overall digital advertising strategy which might include Google AdWords and a few well-placed banner ads. (Yup, banner ads are coming back. Maybe.) But if you’re not advertising on social yet, there are a few key reasons to consider it:

  • Many social ads don’t look like ads.
    As a society, we’re flooded with advertising, so we’ve trained ourselves to tune the noise out. Automatically, we don’t pay attention to most solicitations. But social platforms have found a way to get through your filter and make you take a second look.
    Many ads are either carefully crafted to look like content or are actual content from your pages. Take the Levis Instagram ad below. If it didn’t have the “sponsored” icon, it would look like just another Instagram post in your feed.
    Levis Instagram Ad
  • You have many different ways to target your audience.
    Geotargeting, or serving your ads to users based on their geographic location, revolutionized advertising and made digital far more efficient than print for many marketers. In the last five years we’ve seen it used in video, display, and search ads.
    However, social took targeting even further so you can really hone in on your target audience. Social networks have access to information beyond location so, depending on the platform, you can target by gender, age, interests, behavior, and more. On Twitter, you can even target anyone who follows your competitors.
    Twitter Targeting

But, as we said, there are a lot of different social networks to advertise on. Should you be on any? Should you be on them all? Or maybe just a select few?

First you have to consider:

  1. What is the goal of your ad?
    Do you want more people on your organization’s page? Then you should put money into ads where you have a strong presence and strong content. (What’s the point of having followers if they have nothing to follow?) Are you trying to get people to go to your website? Ad types with strong calls-to-action are best for this.
  2. What resources do you have?
    First, images. The old adage is true; a picture is worth a thousand words. And all the big sites, even Twitter, have become more image-centric as of late. But images that work on Pinterest don’t always work on Facebook. Do you want to use a large photo? An infographic? An animated GIF?
    Second, your (rough) budget. Can you throw $40 at this? Or $4,000? Or $400,000?
  3. Where is your audience?
    Trying to sell to women who make a lot of money? You should be on Pinterest. Urban millenials? Instagram.

Once you have answered those questions, take a look at what’s out there and see what matches up.