Sascha Barboza (“Sascha Fitness”), a Venezuelan fitness and nutrition coach, has 1.7 million Instagram followers. One of her most recent posts? A vegan pancake breakfast forming the word “vote” and the date “December 6” reminding her followers of Venezuelan elections. The picture exudes bright colors as the organic peanut butter and the sugar-free strawberry jam complement each other in perfect composition. But only Barboza’s Snapchat followers know that, to achieve that perfect picture, a lot of chaotic cooking took place in her black and white marble kitchen.
“I’m into the healthy lifestyle so I follow her because I want to know how she cooks and how she does her workouts,” says Valeria Briceño, who follows Barboza on Snapchat. “Snapchat is more intimate. You see celebrities as if they were your friends. Sasha Fitness likes to say that her Snapchat is a reality show; she posts everything that is happening in her life at the moment.”
Snapchat was released in 2011 by developers Bobby Murphy and Evan Spiegel. Today, the app has more than 100 million daily active users, and, according to the app’s website, the number is still growing. According to the U.S. Census, more than 60 percent of smartphone users aged 13 to 34 use Snapchat, accounting for over 5 billion video views every day. With such a broad reach into the most avid media consumers, it was just a matter of time until celebrities and public figures began using the app as a new way to reach their fan base.
“It’s different than Instagram because tons of people follow celebrities there and you don’t know if the picture was taken in that moment or a week ago,” says University of Miami junior Stephanie Berra, who follows celebrities like Viner and actor Josh Peck on Snapchat. “And Twitter is just words. Snapchat is more real and more live.”
Waking up in beautiful Nairobi and feeding majestic giraffes through white French windows seems like a dream. But for those who follow actress Shay Mitchell on Snapchat, it’s routine. Like Mitchell, many celebrities use the app to give fans a sneak peek behind their fabulous lives. Another popular Snapchat user, Kylie Jenner, has established a massive following, becoming the most viewed celebrity on the entire app.
While Jenner might be a controversial socialite, making news for dating 25-year-old rapper Tyga when she was 17 and using lip fillers at a young age, even those who are not her fans can’t help but to follow her. For senior Chidera Anugwom, Jenner’s Snapchat stories have come in quite handy before a night out.
“Kylie Jenner posts a lot of make up tutorials on Snapchat,” Anugwom says. “I’m not her biggest fan, but her makeup is always on point so I like watching how she does it.”
Even though Anugwom still prefers Instagram for keeping up with celebrities’ lives, she was quick to say that, when Hollywood stars know how to master Snapchat, watching their stories is more exciting and fulfilling.
“If you’re good at Snapchat, use Snapchat,” says Anugwom. “If it’s someone like Michael B. Jordan, please snap me your day. I need to know where you are at all times because I love you!”
Snapchat gives users a direct connection into celebrities’ lives. Ariana Grande’s followers can see the Grammy-nominated singer cracking jokes with her friends in a gigantic hotel room while she’s on tour. Bachelor and Bachelorette fans can follow up with Kaitlin Bristowe and her fiancé Shawn Booth post-reality show as they play Super Mario and take their Golden Retriever Doodle for a walk. And even Nick Jonas devotees can go on a helicopter ride with the 23-year-old singer, watching as he overlooks an illuminated New York City at night.
But why do people feel the need to keep up with their celebrity crushes every moment? According to Jan Boehmer, a professor of Journalism at the University of Miami’s School of Communication, following celebrities on Snapchat follows a pattern that social scientists call “Parasocial Relationships.” The theory that, once people establish an online connection with a public figure or persona, they are more likely to believe that they have a connection in real life, even if this relationship is one-sided.
“When Snapchat started, you would just send a picture to one person in particular, and I think people still have that in the back of their minds,” Boehmer says. “When a celebrity sends out a snap, even though it was meant for a lot of followers, it feels like this message on your phone is very much personalized for you. And you can verify it’s them rather than an automated Tweet that was sent out by management about something that happened weeks ago.”
Boehmer has been investigating social media since 2011. Although research on Snapchat is limited because the app is so new, he says it is evident that the app is popular amongst the younger generation.
“By now everybody knows that everyone is on Facebook and, for Snapchat, it feels more like a personal thing, especially for the younger generation,” Boehmer says. “Your parents are not on Snapchat, they are on Facebook.”
And with the booming growth of the multibillion dollar app, it was not surprising to see public figures taking advantage of the story feature to interact with their fans.
For 22-year-old Eddie Sanchez, seeing his favorite DJs Rebecca and Fiona right in the palm of his hand, is an experience no other social media platform can give him.
“It’s as live as it can be,” Sanchez says. “It’s not FaceTime live, but it happens within the 24 hour period, which is the life of the story. And it’s also a way to remember that the artists are human too and they live normal lives, so when they post things like “I’m stuck in traffic” or “I’m gonna go eat” it’s cool to see that your idols are normal.”
The app also prevents celebrity followers from falling into the pitfall of fake profiles. Berra, for instance, was heartbroken to discover that an alleged Friends reunion, announced from a fake Jennifer Aniston page, was just a rumor.
“There’s always fake Facebook pages or Twitter profiles and sometimes you can’t tell because they have thousands of followers and likes,” Berra says. “You don’t run into that problem with Snapchat because you are actually seeing the person talk and holding their own phone, so you don’t run into any scams.”
Other than not being scammed, what can come out of these one-sided relationships? Well according to Boehmer, following a celebrity on Snapchat can mean more than just clicking through their stories.
“Parasocial interactions are so important,” Boehmer says. “They make the users value themselves more because they have this relationship with this celebrity, so it makes them feel good and what makes them feel good is a motivator to keep using the app.”
So next time you see Kylie Jenner pout her plump red lips in your iPhone 6 screen, it’s okay to think that you are looking at a close friend. You are not the only one that feels like a part of the Kardashian clan.