A Guide to Snapchat (for the Over 16s)

By Becca Caddy on at

When the creepy little Snapchat ghost first came scuttling into our lives a few years ago, its image became synonymous with sexting, sexting and an avalanche of dick pics.

Like Ariana Grande and loom bands, those of us over 25 quickly wrote off the custard-coloured pervert and the digital Red Light District to which he was gatekeeper as a no-go zone. A sordid pastime we were all well above thank you very much. A form of communication we refused to even slightly understand that was only acceptable for the “young-uns” – and anyone who had a really hard time getting laid.

But over time, something unexpected has happened. The tween brothel that Snapchat once was has cleaned up its act. It looks like it genuinely wasn’t destined to be the next Chatroulette after all. People are now using it to take selfies with their mates, keep in touch with relatives, and replace text messaging – even celebs and brands are on board for fan interaction.

Lynx getting in on the act. Image via the Guardian

When it comes to the saucy side of Snapchatting, you’re right in thinking a nude photo should self destruct, but so should a load of other potential pictures: not because they’re dirty and could end up on a revenge porn site if they don’t, but because they’re so transient in nature. Sure it’s great to see your family sharing snaps, and your baby cousin got an ice cream and OMG isn’t she cute. But you’re never really going look at that again, right? It doesn’t need to continue existing. In that respect, Snapchat has slotted in nicely to its new role within the photo app ecosystem.

But it’s not just the ephemeral nature of snaps that makes it good, but the way you can send them to more than one person of your choosing. It’s much more personal than Instagram where you share selfies with the globe, but more narcissistic than a private message. We’re in the age of Kim K after all.

It’s come a long way, my friends. In fact there’s hardly one dick in sight (and should be even fewer in future after recent 'cyber flashing' debacle). As if maybe we’ve reached a time in civilisation where we only see dicks when we actually want to and they’re not forced onto our screens at any given opportunity. What a time to be alive.

So in celebration, let’s do away with our pretentious attitude towards it and embrace the not-so-slimy little Snapchat ghost with open arms. Here’s how:

Snapping Up Snapchat

1. Before we begin, let’s make sure you’ve ticked off the basics. You’ll need to download Snapchat (if you don’t know what the icon looks like you clearly haven’t been paying attention to all the lame ghost references. Try harder).

2. Then open it up. I know, I know, this guide is going to be ground-breaking.

3. This is when you can create your free account. You’ll only need to hand over a few bits of personal information, so it shouldn’t be too difficult.

4. From there you can choose a username. Snapchat will suggest some obvious ones, like your name, but if you want something more fun then go for it. If you want something more filthy, head back to the intro and realise we’re all about clean Snapchatting now, OK?

5. You’ll then have to fill in your phone number and confirm all of that with a verification code. Mine didn’t send for a while, so be patient. It’s not like those selfies are going anywhere. Oh no wait, they totally are.

While you’re waiting for that verification code you’ll be asked to carry out a series of tasks, like “can you see a ghost in these photos?” It seems like you’ve entered some kind of mad Halloween universe. But it’s just an air quotes fun air quotes way of making verification less painless. Or something.

6. Snapchat will then help you find friends by looking through your address book. From here you can pick and choose which you want as your Snapchat friends.

Tip: People love to moan about social media, don’t they? They say they hate it when people do this or other people do that. But the baffling thing is, THEY CHOSE TO FOLLOW THEM. It’s like hitting yourself in the face continuously and wondering where the hell you got that headache from. Do yourself a favour and don’t add people who are likely to really piss you off from the start.

7. You’re done! You’re done! Well, you’re all set up. Now let’s talk you through some of the particularly ground-breaking stuff you can do here.

Systems are Go

8. To begin with, you should see your face. That’s right, the app is so geared up for selfies the screen is ALWAYS your face to start. You can swizzle this round with the button in the top right hand corner. If you want to take a photo of something really boring and just, like, totally not your face.

Selfies are the go-to snap. Image credits: Shemazing(L)/Bridget Cullinan(R)

9. The ghost in the middle at the top is where you can add your image, look at who added you, add more people and view your friends list. What’s very cool is that little square where it says “Tap to add selfie” becomes your Snapcode. If you meet someone out and about and want them to be your friend they can just scan that and you’re Snapchat buddies. Although we don’t recommend that should be your opening line.

There’s also a little red cog up there in the top right-hand corner. That’s for more advanced settings, like changing your number, email address and how you get notifications.

Tip: If you’re concerned with privacy and tweaking stuff, have a nosy round the settings. You can control who sends your snaps and who sees your stories (these are set to My Friends by default, but go and check anyway). WHAT’S MORE if you hit Additional Services > Manage you’ll find a bunch of cool features, like how to enable Filters, Special Text and Power Save Mode.

10. Let’s head back to that selfie main screen, shall we? That can be found in the top left-hand corner, where there's a simple flash on and off button. That'll be obvious to many, but we’re catering for the oldies here, which in Snapchat years is anything from 17 to 90.

11. So the number in the bottom left-hand corner of that screen is snaps that friends have sent you. Oh and we’ve stumbled upon the first weird Snapchat word you might not know about here: 'snaps'. They’re the rather unimaginatively named product of this app. So whether we’re talking selfie, image, text, audio, whatever – it’s a snap.

Tip: To see snaps others have sent you, head to the bottom left-hand of the screen and click. If there’s a filled in icon next to someone’s name then you haven’t looked at their snap yet and can by clicking on it. If there’s an empty shape, you’ve seen it already.

12. Now here’s the clever Snapchatty bit of it all. To see a snap you MUST keep your finger on it. Once you move your finger, the snap disappears. And if you’re quick enough to take a screenshot (which you can totally do) the person who sent you it WILL be notified.

Taking the Pics

13. Let’s start snapping shall we! Head to the main camera screen and take a photo by tapping on the big take photo button. To record a video, tap and hold. But remember, you’ve only got ten seconds.

Tip: Although we’re sure plenty of people use Snapchat to overly pose and filter the shit out of their face like they do elsewhere, a lot of people tend to think of Snapchat as a bit more real and a bit more instantaneous. So save your duck face for Instagram.

14. Now you can add a caption if you’re feeling rather poetic. Just tap anywhere on the screen and the words you write will appear in a bar over the photo when anyone views your snap.

Tip: To get a caption to appear on a few lines instead of one you need to open up the notes in your phone and create a blank caption (yes it’s totally not worth the effort). Make sure the caption is however many spaces you want. Then paste that into your caption and add in your text.

15. You’ll also notice there’s a pencil tool in the top right hand corner. That’s what you can use for, I dunno, erm… arrows, scrawling words or loads of lovely love hearts? Get as creative as you like.

You can go pretty far with Snapchat's drawing tools. Image credit: Snapchatguy

16. Now at this stage you can swipe left and you’ll see your photo will change as different filters are added onto it. Then you get times and stickers to choose from as well to spice up your snap.

17. The little number in the bottom left hand corner will allow you to set how long your recipients should view it for.

18. Once you’re done hit the little vibrating arrow thing in the bottom right hand corner. Now you can decide who sees it. You can select just one person or everyone in your friend list. There’s no limit on how many people in your friend list can see your selfie. Magical, right?

19. After it’s been sent you’ll be able to view when the recipient(s) have watched it by whether the icon next to their name is coloured-in or not.

20. OMG CONGRATS YOU’VE TOTEZ SENT YOUR FIRST SNAP!!!!

Story Time

The greatest story ever told. Image credit: chilulu.tumblr.com

21. Now let’s tackle stories. Yep, there’s not just snaps here. Stories are a thing too. Stories are posted to your feed and you and your friends can view them for a whole 24 hours.

22. To create a story, you take a photo or video and then instead of pressing the little arrow in the bottom right you press the little plus sign to the left of it. This will save it as a story. So it’s like a snap that lasts a bit longer. “Take a story, it’ll last longer!” LOLOLOL.

23. AND it’s not even just about the snaps and the stories. If Facebook Messenger, Viber, SMS, WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram Messenger weren’t all enough you can now chat to people from within Snapchat. Just head back to your friend list and right swipe on someone’s name. Then you can begin chatting.

24. What’s actually pretty damn cool is that if you’re both online at the same time, the chat button will turn blue. This means you can have a live video chat.

And you’re done. You’ve snapped. You’re storied. You’ve chatted. You’re likely to suddenly feel more young and free. You’ll catch a few seconds of a Taylor Swift song while walking down the street and suddenly it’ll all start to make a bit more sense.

Or you’ll realise you weren’t missing out on anything at all and you’ll delete it once you’ve come up with a few snarky jokes about the way it works and how you never even wanted it anyway. Which is definitely not what I’ve just gone and done. Ahem.