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Inside the Newest Snapchat Megatrend

Geofilters are the new hashtags

Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

If you are even a perfunctory Snapchat user, you know about geofilters. Upon entering a new location — an airport, a city, a park, maybe even a party — open the app and swipe past the beauty filter, and forsake the Selfie Lenses. There you will find the illustrated overlays known as geofilters. Pasadena has one for the Rose Bowl; Virgin America’s puts you in the window of its plane. A geofilter is wielded by users as proof of place. It’s a FOMO-inducing feature — the best kind to have if you’re a social media platform.

It’s long been treasured by users, but now an entire cottage industry is cropping up around geofilters: freelance designers and small companies exist entirely to create geofilters, and to help you do it, too. A custom geofilter is the new custom hashtag: Your event, office, party, or fraternity better have one. And given that they aren’t free to submit, the geofilter community is happily lining Snapchat’s pockets.

There are two types of geofilters: community filters and on-demand filters. Community filters pop up when you step into a new city, onto a college campus, into a park, or even a neighborhood. They generally cover a larger area and stick around forever. On-demand filters are typically used for events, including weddings, birthday parties, concerts. Those cover less space and last a shorter period of time, but are also much easier to submit and get approved.

According to Dane Gonzalez, a designer who specializes in hand lettering and custom logo work and has been designing custom Snapchat geofilters for a year, Snapchat is far more strict with community geofilters than on-demand ones. “[Community geofilters] are permanent; they represent a larger community, not just a few people like on-demand filters do,” he says.

Rejection of a geofilter design can come for a number of reasons: a wrong file type, a design that covers too much of the screen, or, in the case of a community filter, a filter that’s simply not terribly relevant to the location. And sometimes, the design just isn’t up to par.

Gonzalez’s first geofilter, designed for his hometown of Hanford, California, was rejected by Snapchat twice before it made the cut. His next geofilter was rejected only once, and since then, the process has gotten easier for him. Most custom geofilter requests he gets are for birthdays and weddings. Recently, he designed a geofilter for a going-away party; a girl was seeing her boyfriend off. “It was kind of cool to be a part of that [emotional experience],” says Gonzalez. He isn’t the only one getting in on the act.

A simple Twitter or Fiverr (or Etsy … or Facebook) search for “custom, snapchat, geofilters, designers” yields plenty of freelancers advertising their skills. One of those is full-time brand consultant and freelance geofilter designer Joshua Scarver, who began creating geofilters after noticing one for his hometown and remembered what Gary Vaynerchuck had written about their marketing potential. Scarver talked to his fiancée — a designer — about creating one together, and he now advocates clients use them for their events and venues.

“We charge between $50 to $75 per geofilter design,” he says, though sometimes clients need multiple filters for different venues or events, and they work out a package deal. On average, the process takes 48–72 hours, though simple jobs can have a one-day turnaround.

While the geofilter market is heating up for designers, if you’re going it alone, you probably won’t be able to turn it into a full-time gig. Gonzalez, a relative veteran in the solo geofilter designer space, says it’s still a side hustle. “I’m still figuring out what the market is, how much people are willing to pay,” he says. “I’ve had some that cost a few hundred dollars and some around $60-$80, at the low end.”

Generally, it comes down to the Snapchat submission fee and how much time Gonzalez devotes to a project. He says he generally gets two to three requests a week that become jobs. But lately, business is picking up.

“It’s a volume game; there aren’t high-profit margins because you can only charge so much — you can’t really charge $1,000 for a geofilter,” he says. “It’s a good in-between job.”

But there is a way to turn this side gig into a full-time project: hire designers, create a workflow, bring in clients, and have a full-fledged system to process requests, payment, and submissions. It’s exactly what Daniel Wyb and Brennen Belich have done. The duo recently launched Pepperfilters, a platform where anyone can use the drag-and-drop interface to create a design and then pay the company to turn it into a file the user can then submit to Snapchat — or pay a little more to have Pepperfilters take care of the whole shebang for them.

<em>Via Pepperfilters</em>
Via Pepperfilters

The platform also functions as a marketplace for artists who want to create and sell their designs. “Each designer will make about $2 per sale of their design, which is a nice way to get passive income if you’re a designer,” says Wyb. “That’s the main goal, a community and marketplace for geofilter designers.”

Wyb and Belich said they’re considering an acquisition offer for Pepperfilters.

Geofilters for Snapchat, created by app-development agency Jakt, is a mobile app that lets users create geofilters from their phones. You can either use the app’s designs and icons to make your own geofilter and then go through the submission process yourself or request that Jakt design and submit it (at a higher cost), or request a custom design made from scratch by one of the company’s designers. A custom filter generally costs about $30, but that cost is dependent on the how large the area it covers is and how long it will run. A bonus: Your first Geofilter for Snapchat design is free — after that, they cost as little as $1.99.

The app launched about six weeks ago, and it’s already received thousands of custom requests. “If you think about the cost to build the app, I don’t think we’ve made our money back yet,” says Jakt account manager Sasha Aurand, who also designs some custom geofilters. “But it’s been wildly successful.” She says she spends about four hours a day creating custom filters.

“It’s an amazing opportunity if you can do it correctly,” Aurand says. And doing it correctly can be hard: Part of the reason these services and designers offer to navigate the submission and upload process is that it can be a bit of minefield. Certain locations — like malls or Manhattan — cost more money; you can’t reference alcohol, brands, or drugs; your design can’t take up too much of the screen; designs can’t be photo-realistic; filters cannot use full names — just first names or last names. Basically, “you keep things super PG,” Aurand says.

Freelance geofilter designer Scarver also offers the option to take on the submission process so that a client doesn’t have to deal with Snapchat at all — he says that rejections come from including elements such as the @ symbol, a hashtag, or a .com. “Think of it from a Snapchat user’s perspective,” he says. “KISS — Keep It Simple, Snapchatter.”

Way back, before Snapchat opened up the geofilter process, the company recruited designers to create the first batches of community filters. One of those designers was Angie Son, who says the entire process was fairly simple: She signed a submission agreement saying Snapchat could modify her design and use it as they please — and that Snapchat was not obligated to compensate her. The document also mandated that she wouldn’t violate or infringe on patented, copyrighted, or trademarked designs, an interesting stipulation given the company’s fraught history of allegations regarding its Selfie Lenses.

Additionally, Snapchat wanted filters to “stray away from photo-real styles,” Son says. “They wanted things to be more illustrative and quirky because users like filters that are engaging and fun to use.”

Unfortunately, the job wasn’t as fun as the filters. In her first call with Snapchat, Son was told “it’s something that can be designed by putting in a few hours after my regular work hours, so I thought it wasn’t going to be a big deal. I ended up spending over 14–16 hours designing the typography, illustration, and other elements.” For her work, Son received a one-time payment of $100 for the entire geofilter kit she created. “[It] just wasn’t worth my time and effort when I could be making five times that working for other studios and agencies.” Son told Snapchat that while she enjoyed the work, she felt “severely underpaid.”

The company still does some recruiting for community-filter designers. Gonzalez says Snapchat has reached out to him. “The last one I created, they [sent a] note that says something like, ‘Hey your design is great, you should submit some for these areas,’” he says. He didn’t take Snapchat up on the offer, though: It didn’t appear the job would include compensation.

Alleged poor payment isn’t the only complaint about geofilters. The beauty of Snapchat’s geofilters is that anyone can make one … and the bane of Snapchat’s geofilters is that anyone can make one. Since Snapchat opened up access to designers this past February, the interest has been incredible. (Previously, community filters were open to outside designers, but this expansion meant that anyone could create one for a party or business.)

Chico State learned this last year — before filters were even totally open — when an unfortunate geofilter popped up for Snapchat users on its campus: a red Solo-style cup geofilter. The overlay showed up whenever users would take a snap on campus and swipe through the available options.

While some students laughed at the filter, others didn’t like the insinuation that their college was a party school. But it raised the issue that Chico State really had no choice about the filter — it was designed and sent in by an unknown user, without approval from anyone associated with Chico State. The only approval needed came from Snapchat.

While a geofilter isn’t official in the way that a verified Twitter or Facebook account is, it certainly feels that way. Anyone can swoop in and put their own stamp on your school, your restaurant, your home, or even your office — which is what a very nice developer did for us at The Ringer.

In May, in the weeks leading up to our official launch, an eager and talented fan named Jehangir Hafiz sent us an email. He’d created a geofilter for The Ringer. He didn’t ask us, so it’s not like we could give input on the design that anyone near the premises of our offices could swipe and see — but it did have our logo. Because of that, it certainly felt very official; anyone who didn’t know it wasn’t created by our team could easily assume it was. What if we didn’t want our location publicized? (This wasn’t the case, of course, and we thought the filter was cute; we used it. It was very nice of Hafiz!) not everyone is so happy to have their location outed via Snapchat swiping, or to have their branding used with an unapproved design.

<em>Via Molly McHugh</em>
Via Molly McHugh

In fact, geofilters have been positioned as a means to troll. With a little dedication, you could create an unflattering filter, assign it to your enemy’s location, and revel in the subtle shade. You can’t get away with anything too graphic or aggressive, so that filter blaring “Fuck Brandon!” surrounded by poop emoji likely won’t become a reality. But there are plenty of other ways to slyly mock a person, institution, or event. Can you imagine swiping through Snapchat filters at someone’s wedding and seeing a filter made by an ex pop up? It wouldn’t be difficult to pull off. (There’s already an entire site dedicated to wedding geofilters.)

“I am sure there will be a courageous person who specializes in prank geofilters and become very successful cornering the market on it,” says Scarver, who says he hasn’t taken such a job, and doesn’t plan on doing so. Gonzalez says he’s had a few requests for jobs that “just don’t feel right,” and hasn’t taken any of them either.

Others think the wild west of geofilters has only just begun.

“It seems, right now, Snapchat likes people who work on city, university, and landmark filters,” Scarver says. “But I am sure one day, some college student will sneak [in] a keg or shot for a private-party geofilter and [it] somehow ends up being found by someone who is not an attendee, and it gets screenshotted and some kids potentially get busted and more explicit rules will come in.”

Pepperfilters cofounder Belich says the company recently had to reject a filter. “[It was] for the pride parade. … It was just, like, every penis-like emoji that you can imagine and the person’s name who submitted it was ‘pussy,’ and so [the filter read] ‘pussy’s first pride’ and there were eggplants everywhere.”

I got a direct “oh, yes” when I asked Aurand of Geofilters for Snapchat if she had rejected any requests. Recently, a user created their own and asked the creators to handle the upload process. When the company reviewed the submission, they found a filter full of AK-47s and the phrase “welcome to my trap house.” Another rejected filter featured Hot Cheetos and Hennessy. Aurand declined to submit both. “I had to email back and say that you know, maybe making a filter full of guns and tying it to a location — your house — isn’t a good idea.”

But for the most part, these design requests aren’t so troubling. Aurand remembers one she made for a beach wedding — the sand transformed into a dress. Another was for a dive bar. “They had something like 80 uses of the filter and something like 100,000 views,” she says. “People see that and they think That looks like fun, I’m going to go there.”

But her most meaningful might have been the geofilters she made for an amputee-veterans triathlon. “They had, like, 10 different filters for the event,” she says. She didn’t attend the event of course — most designers can’t fly around the country to use their own creations. But still, she felt a connection. “It was nice to do something to give back.”

An earlier version of this piece misattributed the following quote to Pepperfilters cofounder Daniel Wyb: “[It was] for the pride parade. … It was just, like, every penis-like emoji that you can imagine and the person’s name who submitted it was ‘pussy,’ and so [the filter read] ‘pussy’s first pride’ and there were eggplants everywhere.” The quote was by the company’s other cofounder, Brennen Belich