Custom Snapchat Geofilters: How They Work, and How They Will Affect Business

Yesterday while browsing the #IS6621 feed, a headline from @BobbyGooch3 caught my attention:

“Snapchat Opens Geofilters So Anyone Can Submit Location-Based Artwork”

As most of you know, the office I work in here at Boston College is in charge of all of the official social media accounts for the university. And while I work closely in helping with campaigns and ideas, and consult as a consumer here and there, there are other staff members who take on the brunt of the social media work. One person manages the Twitter feed and it’s persona. Another monitors Facebook and Instagram. And along with the help of our great #BC360 student interns the BC Social pages can thrive without much assistance.

But what you might not know, is that Snapchat is a completely different animal. This has been my pet project since Day 1. I pitched the idea of creating a university account to engage with students after I saw brands had begun to do so successfully. I thought it would be fun, and a creative way to interact in an informal way that other platforms couldn’t. But I had to sell the idea of this inherently silly platform to people who had never even used it, and create a full launch campaign for the first day before it was even approved. But it was, and it became my responsibility, my personal phone became BCSnap HQ, and I immediately started brainstorming ideas to help it take off.

Since the launch, we’ve done a couple successful campaigns and giveaways, and gotten plenty of positive feedback. But the analytics are still dicey, and worse yet people were still occasionally asking, “Whats the point?” Admittedly, the adoption rate for Snapchat was still yet to be seen.  That is, until yesterday, when Snapchat evolved the platform, and so did we.

article-2677304-1F5180C300000578-784_306x549sc8After I saw Bobby’s tweet and the TechCrunch article, I knew that this was a unique opportunity for the university. For those of you who don’t know, Geofilters are filters that Snapchat offers only within a certain geographic area. So if you were at College GameDay at South Carolina and took a Snap, you could scroll to the right for a unique filter only available to you and the other people in the stadium.  They were cool, exclusive, and were being used primarily for huge (paid) events like GameDay and New York Fashion Week.

But by opening them up to the public to submit, Snapchat has created an entirely new way for businesses to use Snapchat, and I wanted BC to be at the front of the universities utilizing it.

Their instructions were simple, and they provided a template users could use to create their design. I opened Illustrator, and went to work putting everything else to the side. I eventually came up with a filter we liked enough, uploaded it to the Snapchat website, chose the geographic location to make it available, and waited for their approval. I didn’t know if it would take days, weeks, or get approved at all.

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 1.26.48 PM

But just thirty minutes later, we began getting Snaps from excited students that their school had its own unique, filter. They send them to friends at other schools, and add them to their Story for everyone to see. Prospective students and jealous alums were snapping as well, all in awe of the fact that BC has something that no other university did. As of the time of positing this blog, the WeAreBC Story featuring the new filter had been viewed over 900 times. And then it crept onto other platforms, even getting a RT from the official Snapchat account to it’s 434,000+ followers.


So that was exciting (and self promotional), but all of this made me wonder about the future of Snapchat for business. It’s been discussed in the class through posts and presentations, but this is a new wrinkle where Snapchat can begin create revenue. Imagine if Gillette Stadium had it’s own filter for every Patriots game. Or if Taylor Swift could have one for each city on her worldwide tour. These are huge businesses, huge events, and would all be willing to pay to give their fans a unique experience, and one they could hand design.

But on a smaller scale, consumer businesses that have created their own cultures could use this to promote their brand, and get people talking on social about their stores.  Like a Starbucks filter, for example, that promoted new lattes or gave special discounts. Or companies like SoulCycle and DisneyLand, who have apparently already gotten on board with the Geofilter craze. Consumers support businesses who understand them and speak their language. And so if the consumers are on Snapchat, it makes sense for businesses to be there too.

Professor Kane has discussed how just having one little feature can propel a business to the front of the pack. At the beginning, all Snapchat had was the fact that the photos disappeared after a few seconds, but that proved to be a huge differentiator.  They turned down a rumored $3-4 billion offer from Facebook, which many people thought was simply crazy or arrogant or both.  But if they keep evolving on the fly with ideas as good as the newly minted Snapcash and branded geofilters, they’re going to become harder and harder for brands to ignore. They already have a massive active user base and a ridiculous amount of data on a highly sought after demographic. Once the money starts coming in from other brands, the possibilities for Snapchat are endless, and that valuation may not be as crazy as most people originally thought.

snapchat geofilters


  1. I still think Snapchat was silly to turn down the money, but that’s just me. I also thought Facebook should have sold out at $2b, but then again the MySpace guys are still laughing all the way to the bank, despite the failed platform. Anyway, this reminds me of a “digital postcard.” I do think it could lead to micropayments and “official” event photos (DIY). Actually a pretty good idea in my book, and I’m glad you’ve had success with it. The danger for brands, though, is people misappropriating the filters in inappropriate ways, which could lead to unflattering brand images.

  2. Great blog post Mike! One thing that organizations need to be wary of with geofilters is to make sure they don’t alienate some of their community. I also work at BC on the Newton Campus and I noticed that we don’t have access to the “We Are BC” geofilter. A significant number of undergrads are located on Newton, and I’m sure they would appreciate the ability to access the geofilter anytime they are on campus, regardless of which location. Also I’m sure a lot of BC Law students would love to use this new feature. That ends my shameless plug for the geofilter on Newton.

    I really enjoyed your blog post and the potential business takeaways for using the geofilter. I also foresee a potential business opportunity for a design firm to create custom location based geofilters for brands.

    1. I don’t know if this will make you feel better or worse but…a Newton filter was actually discussed! We were working so quickly though, that we just wanted to get one out there first and test the waters with one that’s more universal to the overall BC “brand” that is Gasson Hall. But if this one continues to get usage, the possibilities around campus are endless, and we’ll make sure not to leave Newton behind!

  3. Great read! I’m not big into Snapchat and was unfamiliar with geofilters, so this was a great lesson. I agree that making the geofilters public creates significant branding opportunities for businesses. When consumers share their branded Snaps, it’s essentially free marketing. I think it’s also more effective – friends receiving the Snaps would be more likely to become a consumer too if they saw their friend having a great experience.

    You did a great job with the BC geofilter design!

  4. Hey Michael, great post! I really love how you have just run with BC’s snapchat account. I think it is really creating buzz around campus, and reaching even further than you could have ever imagined. Your strategy to stay on top of the innovation with the geo-filter has truly captured the attention of current and prospective students as well as alumni. Even Snapchat appreciates it! I think it is a great image for our school to have as it reflects our motto of “Ever to Excel.” You have proved fearless in facing the unknown.

    I agree that these geo-filters certainly add a new layer to the business that offers much potential to the platform. This feature is far more relevant to Snapchat’s attempt at SnapCash and I think the geo-filters will certainly be the thing to take hold. Your statement: “consumers support businesses who understand them and speak their language,” really resonated with me and I think that is the next hurdle businesses must overcome. They need to learn how to speak the language faster than they ever had to before. I personally loved that Macy’s made one for the Thanksgiving day parade! It was a new way to experience the parade that I wanted to be a part of. While the line of native advertising is a delicate balance, I am excited to see what brands will be able to do it best!

  5. alliemanning · ·

    Michael, awesome post! So cool that you were able to be a part of this new Geofilter phase of SnapChat, especially here at BC. I was downtown yesterday when the GeoFilter was first released and my friends were going nuts. Really cool that we have an exclusive, BC only feature that sets us apart from other schools. Maybe there could be a design contest for the next GeoFilter?!

    Really liked your emphasis of Professor Kane’s point that one little feature can propel a business to the front of the pack. I think SnapChat is doing a great job with this, as just this one GeoFilter for BC has already created a huge conversation. All of my friends at other schools are jealous and want one for themselves! I know you said that the story announcing it was viewed over 900 times, but I was wondering, has your office seen a spike in following on SnapChat or any other social media since this release yesterday?

    Thanks for sharing, really excited to see where this goes!

  6. Great post, I was a little behind on the Geofilters and was curious where these custom BC snaps were coming from. Congratulations on the success so far, I’m sure you’ll continue to be a valuable asset for BC’s Social campaign. These Geofilters certainly offer a lot of value to businesses. I was skeptical as well about the true value of Snapchat, and although Snapcash wasn’t enough to win me over, I’m sold with this seemingly simple addition to the app. I’m curious as to what the restrictions are regarding who can create these filters and how large of an area they can cover. It seems like there could be a threat of flooding the app with too many geofilters in some areas of high concentration.

  7. So I had never heard of Geofilters before, but this seems to make a ton of sense! As someone that gets a little “nervous” about posting / tweeting to a large audience, I wonder if Gofilters make people feel more comfortable posting things and generally engaging with the app.? Furthermore, what I think is especially interesting about Geofilters is their ability to create a sense of “community”. As we’ve learned, people have a tendency to want to be part of something bigger than themselves, and this seems like a great way to do that. Finally, at BC in particular, not only can I see this helping from a recruiting standpoint (as mentioned in the post) but I can also see it as being great for school spirit, too!

    Really great post.

  8. Great job on the BC geofilter! I love it. Your ideas for how they could be used at sporting events, concerts, etc. were great. To Ryan’s point, I wonder if there will be any limits on number of geofilters are available in a given location. I also see much more appeal to having 2-3 filters to choose from instead of searching through a ton.

  9. Good job, Mike. I’ve always been very bullish on Snapchat and efforts like this confirm my belief. Snapchat has been able to open a new realm of the social communications map with ephemeral messages and they will continue to financially benefit from this. The incredibly simplistic ideas of filters is a fantastic way to monetize in a way people genuinely love.

  10. Wow I am so impressed! Once the geofilter appeared on people’s snapchat, it was all everyone at BC was talking about and my snapchat app was flooded with people using the filter! To be honest, I was bragging to my roommates that I knew the people behind the design and inspiration for the snapchat geofilter – so cool. I am also impressed how quickly you were able to submit the filter design and how quickly snapchat approved and released it. The geofilter definitely sets BC’s social media apart from other schools, which is great for not only current students but also prospective students as well. But I can also see a limitation in there being too many geofilters to choose from, I think what makes the geofilter feature so attractive is that is pretty exclusive. It is definitely an exciting feeling when you see a geofilter come up on your snapchat! I did not know businesses were already taking advantage of this and I love the SoulCycle and Disneyland filters. Having a geofilter for your business is a smart marketing move for sure. Hopefully snapchat can figure out how to control the geofilter feature to make it an exclusive feature for businesses and I can see this really taking off. Thanks for sharing and thanks for the awesome geofilter design!

  11. Great job with the Snapchat campaign at BC, Mike. I don’t use Snapchat, but the original article was intriguing, and it’s cool to see it used at BC. And good job of tying it back to the business implications. Liked the discussion of where it may be headed in the future, and will be interesting to see what opportunities (and limitations) it has.

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