A Guide to Snapchat for People Who Don’t Get Snapchat



Snapchat is fun, and millions use it to stay in touch and share their lives with one another every day. It has an unearned reputation for being difficult to use, but it’s not, after you get the basics. Once you’re in and have a few friends to share with, it’s easy. If you don’t have anyone to show you, you don’t get it, or you’re just wondering what the fuss is about, let us help.

Let’s approach this from an angle you may already be familiar with: A slide show. We know, slide shows are boring. Stick with us, this one’s worth it.

There are plenty of reasons to use Snapchat — sharing with friends and disappearing messages and video for starters. These are the reasons I use Snapchat, I can’t speak for you. But I will say there are a lot of dogs, and they’re very adorable.

Speaking of “that filter that makes you pretty,” here are some examples. You can try them both, but the important thing to remember is that they’re each lovely. If you’re a purist, feel free to go without, of course.

Before we get too deep into specific features and filters, let’s take a look at Snapchat’s home screen: You know, the first thing you see when you open the app. Here’s a quick rundown of what you’ll see, and what everything does.

One thing about Snapchat people both love and hate is that it’s not terribly obvious what any of those buttons do. I’m sure someone, somewhere will judge you if you forget what the three-dot-thing in the bottom right is, but we won’t. And remember, even if you do forget, just tap it and you’ll see what it does. It won’t hurt.

If you swipe right on the main screen, you’ll see your messages. For most people — especially beginners — this screen will be empty, save for a courtesy message from the Snapchat staff designed to make you feel less lonely (and also as a way to promote updates and new features).

You may not know it, but the colors actually do mean something — they’re designed to clue you in to what type of message you’ve received before you open it. Nothing more embarrassing than tapping a new message in a quiet room thinking it’s a photo only to have a video to autoplay at max volume, right? Now that’ll never be you.

Also, did you know that Snapchat automatically lets you know when someone’s read your message? It’s true, and they don’t have a choice in the matter. Just keep an eye on the arrow next to their name.

O.K., so that’s your inbox, but the stories screen is where you’ll find the action (public, anyway). To get there, you swipe left on the home screen or tap those three dots on the lower right. It’s where everyone you follow on Snapchat posts their public stories, available for anyone to view for 24 hours.

You can also use this view to review the snaps you have made publicly available to everyone who follows you. Perfect for checking out how many people have viewed your posts, make sure you’re going mega-viral, or to delete that drunk snap you meant to keep private but posted to the world.

You can even drill down and see specifically who has viewed your snaps. That’s right — your followers can’t hide from you. If they do the creepy thing and try to take a screenshot, you’ll see that too, along with who it is so you can call them out accordingly.

O.K., so that’s the tour. Ready to take some snaps?

Like the camera app on your phone, you press the circle at the bottom of the screen to take a picture. To take a video, hold it down. Snapchat defaults to the front-facing camera here, so don’t be surprised if you’re looking at your own face when you get to this screen. You’ve been warned!

Once you have your photo or video ready, you can add some text or one of those cool bar captions, or you can even jazz it up by making the text colorful. Try it out, and play with it. You can always remove it and start over or just post it without any of that nonsense.

If you really want to personalize it, you can add emoji or stickers, draw directly on the image, duplicate images — whatever you want. Be warned though, go crazy and have fun, but there are diminishing returns: You probably don’t want to add too much at once.

Oh, you can also add filters to your photos — you didn’t forget that Snapchat has photo filters, did you? Swipe left or right to try them out. If you want to try out Snapchat’s face filters, keep the camera on your face and tap on it. You have to use the front-facing camera to get them though. You’ve seen these before, we’re willing to bet — you can make yourself look like a dog, a cat or a fox; you can squish your face down flat — the works. Some of the face filters even tweak your voice when you take a video!

When you’re all done, tap that blue arrow to send your finished snap to the world.

When you do tap that blue arrow, this is what you’ll see. You have the choice to post your snap to “my story,” which means “everyone who follows me publicly,” or to specific Snapchat friends or groups you’re a part of. Choose wisely!

Speaking of which, you can create groups of friends for semiprivate snap conversations. Think of them like group texts, just with all the other benefits of Snapchat videos and photos. Plus, it’s a great way to share with people you want seeing something you snap, but not the whole world at large.

There’s still a lot under the hood here, but these are the basics when it comes to using Snapchat effectively — or understanding how other people use it. Give it a try yourself. Despite being difficult to get into, once you’ve used it a few times to share with the world (or with your friends), you’ll get why it’s so popular, and you may even fall in love with it. Just remember, because it’s gone in 24 hours doesn’t mean it never happened, and always think before you snap — especially to the public.


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