As it turns out, a moving target doesn’t have to be hard to hit. Savvy colleges and universities that understand this have amped up their mobile outreach on highly visual social media platforms, such as Pinterest and Instagram.
Now a relatively new outlet is attracting some serious attention.
Snapchat, which allows people to send picture-based messages that vanish in 10 seconds or fewer, has built up a base that is particularly ripe for the higher education market. In fact, the app has even gone so far as to develop a special feature just for colleges and universities.
If you’re curious about working this popular platform into the overall social media strategy of your school, here’s what you need to know to ace Snapchat 101.
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Students <3 Snapchat
The first thing to know about Snapchat is that students at your school are probably already using it. According to research by Sumpto, a marketing company specializing in social media for this demographic, as much as 77 percent of college students use Snapchat every day. And it’s not just a pointless exercise in selfies; 37 percent of the study respondents cited “creativity” as their main use of the app. “Keeping in touch” and “easier than texting” were reasons for 27 percent and 23 percent, respectively.
Why is the platform such a hit?
“Snapchat is immediate, personal, and reaches the student where you can find them most: on their phone,” Brittany Shope, web coordinator at Tennessee Wesleyan College and curator of TWC_Snaps, told USA Today.
Snaps are also personal. They can be sent to multiple people, but they’re still a direct form of communication. It’s more individual than a post to Facebook or Twitter but more lighthearted than an email. It’s an ideal way to interact with the upcoming generation of college students.
How Schools Snap
Several schools have been experimenting with how Snapchat can better serve students.
Tennessee Wesleyan College has focused many of its efforts on improving student life, such as putting it to work in its orientation program with a “Where’s Wesley” scavenger hunt. Shope also explained that the school uses it to share updates about events and activities on campus.
Other schools are using Snapchat to bolster their recruitment efforts. Administrators for Eastern Washington University and the University of Kansas talked to Time about using Snaps to communicate with young athletes interested in joining their teams.
— EWU Athletics (@EWUAthletics) February 12, 2015
Our Campus Story
To better serve the college community, Snapchat launched Our Campus Story in October with a very limited rollout of just four schools. This specialized version of the more general Our Story feature allows people within the geographic bounds of participating college campuses to see stories shared at and about that location.
It appears to be a work in progress. Since those beta tests, Snapchat has both popped up and vanished all together on several campuses. At least two schools lost access after about a month of Snapchatting with the feature. That could be because Snapchat is still figuring out the best way to both monitor Snaps for appropriate content or because it’s looking for a way to monetize this service.
Other schools have been added to the roster, so it’s likely that this feature will continue rolling out slowly and under Snapchat’s watchful eye. The company hasn’t made much information available yet about how to get access, so interested schools may need to contact Snapchat directly.
Tips for All Schools
The good news is you don’t have to wait for Our Campus Story to come to your school to get started. Interest in Snapchat among college students and administrators suggests both are searching for new ways to build community.
If you’re interested in what the initial response might be from your students, members of University of Michigan’s social media team shared a blog post about how they launched Snapchat. They asked themselves many of the most important questions about how the network would fit into the school’s existing social strategy, what type of content they would share, and whether they had the resources to dedicate to the platform.
UMich’s quick success – more than 1,100 followers in one week – happened before the launch of the Our Campus Story feature, proving that the extra tool isn’t necessary to kick off your Snapchat use. It also shows that the tool can scale to a bigger university, provided you do indeed have the resources to manage it.
To make Snapchat a part of your school’s social plan, take the same steps you would for any new network. As UMich did, consider how it will work with your existing strategy, team, and students. It may not be a fit for everyone. Since it’s a direct communication tool, you’ll want to make sure Snapchat also falls within the bounds of acceptable interactions between administration and students. Review your school’s policies for digital communication thoroughly before introducing Snapchat into the fold.
For those colleges that do launch a Snapchat channel, remember the big percentage of those students who value the creativity the platform allows. Keep that in mind as you craft a strategy and bring all the imagination and innovation that you can to this network.