Snapchat ‘Storytellers’ finally pairs creators with advertisers

Snapchat is arriving very late to the game of courting influencers. Now it hopes to boost ad spend by connecting businesses with its top independent creators, but it won’t take a cut of deals it helps arrange. Today Snap Inc. launches its “Snapchat Storytellers” pilot program that will introduce brands to five of the app’s most popular content makers, including Mplatco, Cyrene Q and Shonduras. They’ll star in ads for Stories and Discover or provide creative direction to brands with their expertise, gleaned from gathering audiences of millions over the past few years, in exchange for cash. Top creators can often earn tens of thousands of dollars or more for deals with brands.

The program is late but a smart move for Snapchat, as it needs to educate businesses about how to make great Stories ads. These often require stylish vertical video that’s a big creative jump from the tiny photo, link and text ads many are accustomed to, or even the pithy landscape videos they’ve learned to make for YouTube or Facebook. If creators can help brands make great-looking ads that perform well, those businesses will be more likely to spend a lot more on Snapchat.

That’s critical for the public company, which lost $385 million last quarter and missed its revenue estimate by $14 million when it brought in $230 million. With Facebook’s Snapchat Stories clones from Instagram and WhatsApp depressing Snap’s user growth rate to a measly 2.9 percent (its lowest rate ever), the company will have to figure out how to squeeze more dollars out of each user it already has. If it can’t do that with better ad creative and performance, it will be forced to rely on annoying unskippable Stories ads, which it rolled out to more businesses yesterday.

Meanwhile, if Snap extends the program to more creators, it could be a good way to help them monetize and stay loyal to the platform. YouTube has long offered ad revenue shares and Facebook’s ad breaks let creators insert commercials into their videos for a cut of the money. Both are experimenting with subscription patronage and tipping options to help creators earn money. Facebook recently launched its Brand Collabs manager that offers an entire search engine of creators that brands can sort by audience demographics.

But Snapchat still doesn’t have any of these options, and its Storytellers program looks half-hearted in comparison. As the social media influencer space matures, many creators are sick of giving away their content for free, and will bring their best work to whichever network helps get them paid.

Still, Snap will take a relatively hands-off approach in terms of how deals between brands and creators are struck. It’s not going to take a cut, nor will creators get locked into exclusivity contracts with Snap or the businesses. Basically, Snap is adding the five creators that include Geeohsnap and Georgio Copter to its Creative Partners list alongside ad agencies and creative studios. If advertisers express interest in a creator, Snap will make an introduction, then leave them to work out the deal.

It’s dumbfounding that Snapchat waited this long to launch this program, and it didn’t even come up with it. It was the endearingly weird former Vine star Shonduras that suggested Snapchat build the program during its first Creators Summit back in May. That shows how out of touch with the creator community Snap was until now. If it can’t grow its user count quickly, it should be doing everything it can to keep creators and advertisers from straying to Facebook’s Stories platforms with a lot more users.

[Correction: Nicholas Megalis made “Gummy Money,” not Shonduras.]