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Should your university SnapChat?

Colleges follow a new generation of students on this visual mobile-messaging platform.
University Business, March 2015
Karine Joly says SnapChat may be a useful recruiting tool for colleges and universities.
Karine Joly says SnapChat may be a useful recruiting tool for colleges and universities.

You’ve tamed Twitter, made inroads with Instagram and finessed Facebook.

Now you can take a break from keeping up with the social networking habits of college students, right?

Think again.

While a few colleges are still trying to grasp the intricacies of the top social platforms, early adopters have been exploring other platforms for communications and marketing.

Among the many hopefuls, SnapChat has started to get real traction on college campuses.

Launched in 2011, SnapChat was designed as a visual mobile-messaging platform for friends. In a world where every online move is tracked and traceable, the ephemeral character of “snaps”—photos, short videos and text disappearing in a matter of seconds once viewed—was a welcome change for teens in search of a new digital hang-out, away from parents and teachers.

Last June, SnapChat launched “Stories,” a series of snaps that last for 24 hours and are widely viewable. Then SnapChat piloted a geo-restricted version with “Campus Stories” on a few campuses. In January, the company introduced “Discover” to showcase content from selected publishers.

Growing use

A survey of 1,650 self-identified “influential” college students found that 77 percent used SnapChat daily. That single data point was enough to get discussions about the platform started at a number of universities.

Another survey of 7,000 high school seniors showed that SnapChat was the most popular social network after YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.

Yet, according to another survey of 1,611 high school seniors conducted in October and November 2014 by Chegg and Uversity, SnapChat might not be ripe for admissions prime time with only 21 percent using it for college research, about twice less than Instagram and Twitter.

But the network may be more than a fad. If one out of five high school seniors use SnapChat for college research, it’s probably worth exploring—as long as your school is already doing a good job on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

Testing the water

In January 2014, the University of Houston was among the first institutions to report using SnapChat. A few others have followed suit.

Nikki Sunstrum, director of social media at the University of Michigan, says the goal of using SnapChat was to engage the target demographic in a thriving space that organically cultivates creativity and community development. Michigan’s account now has more than 5,000 followers, stories with 3,500 views, and at least 20 unsolicited snaps sent daily to the school.

The University of New Hampshire, says Jason Boucher, social media manager, “wanted to create engagement that spanned beyond just comments.” It can be challenging to elicit engagement from students on Facebook, but it seems to come naturally on SnapChat.

Students have used the Campus Stories geofilter created by the school without much prompting. The overlay filter lets them show their school pride while sharing with their network of SnapChat friends. “This helps UNH extend its reach across social media and promote the school,” he explains.

At Miami University, Kelly Bennett, manager of social media and marketing strategy, has been using SnapChat to promote events. Bennett creates regular stories at the beginning of the week and posts snaps of event flyers. The students following the account can save the ones they find the most interesting.

Personal touch

SnapChat has also been used to increase engagement with admitted students. At West Virginia University, University of Nebraska–Lincoln and Eastern Kentucky University, snaps are sent to congratulate newly admitted students, providing a visual and personal touch at this crucial time in the recruiting cycle.

Approximately one-third of students screenshot EKU’s snaps and share them socially, says Beth Brashears, digital media recruitment specialist. She also sends snaps to admitted high school students who have opted in to receive mobile messages.

Clearly, SnapChat has the makings of a useful social media tool for higher ed—if enough schools adopt it before the “next big thing” comes along.

Karine Joly is the web editor behind www.collegewebeditor.com, a blog about higher ed web marketing, public relations and technologies. She is also the founder of www.higheredexperts.com.

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