Snapchat: The Newest Higher Ed Communication Tool

By Katie Wiederman | May 02, 2014

First there was Facebook, then Twitter, and now Snapchat. This messaging app has taken the mobile social media scene by storm and isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Snapchat even stunned much of the tech community in 2013 when it turned down a $3 billion cash acquisition offer from Facebook.

Snapchat is a photo/video sharing app that allows you to “snap” a photo or video and send it to a list of friends. What sets it apart from your run-of-the-mill text message is that the photo/video messages are set with a timer — the message lasts for 1-10 seconds and then disappears. You can also add text or drawings to the image, or use the “stories” feature to string together several snaps and build a narrative.

Because of the coy nature of a disappearing image and the app’s explosive use amongst preteens and teenagers, there’s been some inevitable controversy and misuse around Snapchat. But just like other social media outlets, when used and managed properly, it can be an effective communication tool for your brand.

Benefits of using Snapchat in Higher Education

1. Shows Your University Keeps up with Trends

Snapchat may be just another trendy social media app, but a new study claims 77% of college students use Snapchat daily. Thus far, only a handful of universities are using Snapchat to promote themselves, which means they’re missing out on a prime medium to reach their target audience. By being active on Snapchat, it shows your institution is in touch with its constituents.

2. Builds Brand Engagement

Our friends at the University of Houston (UH) were one of the first schools to utilize the app. Within the first month, they had collected 695 followers. Jessica Brand, the UH social media manager, said the university started using the app because they are “always looking forward and embracing cutting edge technologies.” One way UH effectively used Snapchat was to announce giveaways by snapping pictures of the campus locations where they would be handing out t-shirts and prizes. Using the app in this manner helped to engage students through social media channels they’re already active on. Additionally, it encouraged students to reciprocate—students started sending their own snaps back to the UH account offering insight into their day-to-day campus activities.

How to Use It

1. Giveaways

Like UH, you can use the app to give away cool stuff. UH gives away t-shirts for their “Cougar Red Fridays” in which the students all wear red.

2. Event Promotion

A few universities have used Snapchat to get students pumped up for big games, like the NCAA tournament. TIME Magazine found Kansas University used Snapchat to give students a backstage peek at what it’s like to be a student athlete. Their social team snapped a photo of the athletes in the locker room before the Big 12 tournament. This is a cool way to show students and non-students intimate details of big events while getting them excited for the big game.

3. Marketing

Snapchat is a great way to showcase what’s happening around campus, which can cater to current students as well as prospective students. Eastern Washington University (EWU) has seen great success since utilizing Snapchat to showcase campus events. Chris Syme worked with EWU and summed up their success with this statement: “Number of users alone does not reflect engagement, but EWU experienced such high engagement with Snapchat that we thought it was worth being there.”

What does it all mean?

Snapchat is just like every other communication tool — it can be misused. However, when used properly, it can be a useful and fun way to grow engagement at your institution. The key is to have a strategy in place. With no strategy, there will be no results. If you’re planning to implement Snapchat into your social media plan, make sure to do your research, learn from best practices, and put measurable goals in place.

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