What ~ insert extremely mundane thing~ are you?!

February 15, 2020

If you follow me on Instagram, then you know I love a good AR filter. Instagram Stories have answered all my deepest and darkest questions. What Northcote Plaza store am I? What electronic genre am I?! What Disney Princess am I?!!! (The bakery, tech house and I didn’t get Mulan so who cares.)

Facebook’s Spark AR filters have actually been around since 2017 (under the boring moniker Camera Effects Platform), but were only available as a beta product for certain profiles. At Facebook’s 2019 F8 conference, the tech giant announced that the AR creation platform would be available for anyone to use.

If this is all gibberish to you… let me rewind.

What is AR, and more specifically Spark AR?

Augmented reality is a type of tech that integrates computer generated perceptual information (i.e. things you can see, hear, feel) into actual reality. Not to be confused with virtual reality which is not integrated with actual reality at all, and replaces it.

Spark AR is just Facebook’s own tool that helps anyone create AR filters. It’s designed to be super simple, and require zero programming knowledge to set up. Some design and everyday logic helps greatly though.

AR is not limited to Facebook though. TikTok have some pretty hectic AR filters, as does Snapchat. Most mobiles these days have the tech built into their native photo apps too.

So what makes Facebook’s Spark AR so special?

Two things.

  1. Anyone can create a filter. You don’t need a degree or a million hours of design/coding skills. The barrier is low and that’s marvellous. This has led to heaps of really unique and niche filters to service all markets and interests. (The reverse of this can be seen with technology that has a really high barrier to learn/access, and these products are generally shaped by its creators and not its users. Leading to one-sided products that lack perspective.)
  2. It’s viral AF. It fits in so seamlessly with the Stories platform to make them fun and easy to consume, share and use.

So how do I make a Spark AR filter?

Download Spark AR Studio. Their site has an entire tutorial section, but there’s also over 100K YouTube video tutorials. This one is pretty good for ‘which XYZ’ are you filters, and here’s one on how to put weird shit on your face.

Confused and have questions, or want to show off your sick 🤙 skills? The Spark AR Community Facebook Group has 55K members, plus a cool mentorship program if you’d like one-on-one help from a pro.

What do I need to keep in mind to make a really good Spark AR filter?

As with literally every marketing exercise, understand what you’re trying to achieve here. The goal of an AR filter is adoption, not directly selling tickets or driving traffic. To be really clear, here is your ideal user journey:

Sees the filter in the wild > hits try > plays around with it > posts it on their Stories > someone else sees it in the wild. Rinse and repeat.

With this in mind:

  • It needs to be easy to understand. What does your filter do? If that’s not clear, people who would like it might not use it because they think its purpose is something else. People who do try it realise it’s not what they thought, and won’t post it.
  • It needs to be so easy to use. If it’s glitchy or has a very small window where it works (especially with filters that interact with the environment and not just your face) then people won’t use it.
  • It needs to be captivating. Is it interesting, funny, amusing, (appropriately) shocking or novel? Most everyday social media users actually have a social media strategy, even if it’s not formalised. (Ask any Gen Zer. They’ll claim to not have a social media approach, but will be able to tell you their content pillars, posting frequencies, their style guide and comment reply policy.) If it isn’t interesting, it won’t meet most people’s unwritten posting rules.
  • Do not tack on other marketing goals here. This is about virality and brand awareness. Don’t make some weird filter to get people to go to your ticketing site or stream your album on Spotify. Don’t brand your filter from corner to corner with logos, URLs and QR codes. They won’t get approved, and even if it did, it doesn’t fit into our AR filter user journey and won’t get shared.

And what should I not do?

You can find their full policy here, but here’s a shorter list of key things to avoid:

  • Anything that a standard social media platform would disapprove. Swearing, nudity, sexually suggestive content, gambling, discrimination and excessive violence. (Funnily enough, violent filters are okay as long as the violence isn’t ‘excessive’.)
  • More than one logo on screen at a time.
  • Spam.
  • Alcohol, drugs and weed. Even if you have a medical marijuana prescription from your doctor.
  • No links, QR codes or URLs. (Besides your main goal is to keep viewers on Instagram.)
  • No hashtags. (I find this one interesting. If you can figure out why, please let me know.)

Okay, I’ve created a really great Spark AR filter. How do I get people using it?

For some bonkers reason, there is no library of Spark AR filters that you can currently search. The Spark AR filter catalogue only allows browsing at this point in time, so discovery from here is very low.

Your distribution plan should be like this:

  1. Use it yourself, so your followers try or save the filter themselves.
  2. Seed it out to other key users. This includes media outlets (perhaps you can book this as part of your publisher deal), artists on your lineup, brands you work with, staff, venues, collaborators, friends or influencers.
  3. Re-share other users using your filter as Instagram Stories. Maybe create a permanent Stories highlight with all of these somewhat permanently. (Obviously they need to tag you. This one only works for promotional filters tied back to celebs, artists and brands because no one is going to tag some random teenager in Adelaide who’s created a filter.)
  4. Or use the filter on other humans using your own profile. You could film fans, punters, people at your venue/festival/gig or complete strangers on the street with the filter, obviously with their permission.
  5. Post on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Stories, Twitter, your blog, wherever). Tell people to go to your profile and hit the filter tab (under your Story highlights, the section where you toggle between your pictures, IGTV and photos you’ve been tagged in). This is the only way to find specific filters at the moment. Screenshot below.

Now go forth and create more Spark AR filters so I can to answer the deep philosophical questions about my identity that keep me up at night. Or just a Disney Princess filter that will finally tell me I am Mulan.

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