The demystifying guide to social AR

Augmented reality (AR) experiences, like Snapchat Lenses and Instagram Effects, have become bread and butter to social media users. Highly popular, they provide an incredibly effective way of reaching customers on social channels. This explains why social AR should be a fundamental marketing consideration for any business that wants to grow its customer base.

The problem is, that although social AR platforms are now simple and intuitive to use, many businesses don’t know where to start when it comes developing an AR lens that will draw in customers. So, as an antidote to the densely worded AR guides and forums, this article offers an easy-to-digest overview of social AR’s gloriously creative possibilities.

To create an AR experience that will ignite across social channels, the core idea has to be highly sharable. Users are motivated to engage with and share an AR experience when it makes them look cool, makes someone laugh, helps them express something or be part of a cultural moment.

Although it’s possible to let users augment their environment with digital layers that surprise and delight, giving users an opportunity to manipulate their face offers even more entertainment while tapping into selfie culture. So face manipulation is often the key to creating highly shareable social AR content.

Once you’ve cracked a killer idea that neatly aligns with your business, it’s time to work out where the experience will ‘live’: Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram? Or should it be web? Or an app?

After these fundamental decisions have been made, it’s time to look at ‘elements’ – the basic building blocks of an AR experience. Elements fall into different categories, ranging from facemasks to 3D portals. And it’s these elements that hold the potential for highly shareable experiences.

There are many different ways to augment a face. From duplicating features to creating masks, distorting elements, changing colours and textures, adding 2D or 3D attachments, giphy stickers and animations, sprites, environment particles, overlays and integrating photorealistic make-up shaders; the possibilities are constantly increasing with regular platform updates.

If you really want to go to town, additional layers can be added to make the experience even more interactive: freeze frames, score counting, portals, geo-location, two-player gaming, pulling in user data, audio, body tracking and painting the sky… these are great ways of attracting users to the lens.

Although some AR experiences begin instantly without any user interaction, the more engaging ones give users agency over the lens. Gestures that control an AR experience are called ‘triggers’. A trigger could be a simple facial movement, or it could involve interaction with the screen.

Other triggers include: open mouth, smile, drag, raised eyebrows and blowing kisses. The type of trigger that’s best suited to the AR experience largely depends on which type of AR element is being used. For example, triggers involving facial expressions are best for facial manipulation elements.

Another consideration that may hold businesses back from creating social AR is thinking that it takes too long to create an AR lens. Depending on its complexity, a decent experience can be created in as little as a week, providing it uses basic elements like facemasks. But more elaborate builds – those entailing portals, games and dynamic lenses – will require up to six weeks.

Now that the basic principles have been outlined, there’s no excuse not to start leveraging AR to grow your business’s social presence. Crucially, though, there’s more to social AR than just raising brand awareness. When done right, social AR can move beyond driving awareness to driving sales. Just Eat, for example, reports that its recent Snapchat AR lens generated an order rate of 10%. This, clearly, is an impressive ROI… and one that your business could benefit from too.

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