Is it time to switch to Snapchat?

From ‘sexting app’ to marketing giant… Hannah Vickers finds out how Snapchat became your university’s new top recruitment tool

Universities have long known that social media is key when communicating with students in the 21st century. Marketing managers realised that they had to get down with the kids and dutifully got to grips with facebook and twitter, working hard to keep up with the changing times. But as soon as they’d got comfortable with posting and poking and sharing and tweeting, students started turning away from traditional social networks.

Snapchat, once dismissed as the ‘sexting app’ and used primarily by teenagers drawn to the privacy that the transient messages gave them, is now becoming the top social media platform for undergraduate students.

Almost half (45%) of the nearly 200 million active users are 18-24 and 77% are university students. That is a lot of potential new students for universities to engage with. Snapchat works differently to traditional social media; any content created, be it a photo (snap) or a message (chat), automatically vanishes within 10 seconds of you opening it. With Instagram-like filters, gifs and stickers users can add to snaps, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular with young people. It also gives teens the perfect ‘do not disturb’ sign on their social life – photos and messages disappear within 10 seconds, meaning that they can keep their social life away from parents’ prying eyes.

People want to be entertained and with the filters, stickers and doodles you’ve got a whole toolbox of entertainment on Snapchat, you just need to know how to use them

Alistair Prosser, Bioengineering student at the University of Sheffield started using Snapchat because everyone else was on it, but he soon got hooked. “It’s a refreshing way of talking to people and sharing photos,” he says. Alice Caudwell, who studies nursing at Brighton University, agrees. 

“It’s a quick and easy way to see what your friends are up to, keep in touch, share funny pictures and continue to progress with our ‘stalkerish’ new habits that social media has brought about. I like the idea of being able to share the things I enjoy with my friends,” she explains.

It’s clear that, if you’re looking to engage with the 18-24 year old demographic, Snapchat is the place to be. It allows universities to communicate with students in a less formal way and, because interaction is instant and collaborative, it makes for a much more dynamic experience. With the introduction of the ‘Stories’ feature, allowing users to share collections of snaps with followers for 24 hours, Snapchat became an even more viable tool for universities.

While the US is leading the way in Snapchat campaigns, UK universities are increasingly embracing the app. Newcastle University was one of the first UK institutions to adopt Snapchat after seeing the success rates US institutions were having. 

Matt Horne, Newcastle University’s Digital Marketing and Social Media Officer, said that they couldn’t find any UK university on Snapchat but decided to go for it anyway. The risk paid off. “We’ve been more than happy with the results we’ve had. From feedback sent to us by followers on the app, to the stats we’ve been able to collect. We’ve even had people sharing our snaps on other social channels saying it’s inspiring them to study to get to Newcastle, which is nice,” he said.

“It’s been by far one of the most successful platforms we’ve launched from scratch. We saw our followers grow, with purely organic promotion, quicker than any other social channel. Engagement levels are on a par with our established channels and audience retention is huge.”

Robert Fowles, Digital Marketing Manager at the University of Derby says that Snapchat allows universities to engage in the moment with students. “The Snapchat platform is about being in the here and now, where context, honesty and transparency drives engagement in a way that traditional campaigns might struggle to achieve. Drawing out genuine emotion in communications can be both a pro and a con. You’ve got to be prepared for honest, and very public, responses.” 

How to make Snapchat work for you

There are two main ways for universities to interact with students, according to academic librarian and blogger, Paige Alfonzo: Campus Life – giving prospective students a tour of the facilities in a far more interactive way than a prospectus could – and Media Reuse – replying to and resharing students’ snaps. 

Today’s student communicates in a very different way and universities need to adapt to survive, says Stephen Morgan, Co-Founder of digital transformation business, Squiz. 

He says that the trick is in showing your brand to people, rather than telling them about it.  “University websites tend to be text heavy, but students today are more visual – think of images posted to Instagram and tweets of 140 characters, as well as Snapchat’s video and photo posts,” he said.

Stephen says that universities have to be aware of their target audience when creating content. “They must realise that customer experience is key when it comes to maintaining current relationships with students and building new ones. And that experience must be designed with the user in mind.” 

Matt Horne has a few tips for marketing managers new to the world of Snapchat. “You need to make sure your content is what your audience wants. On Snapchat straight up marketing messages aren’t going to go down well. People want to be entertained and with the filters, stickers and doodles you’ve got a whole toolbox of entertainment on Snapchat, you just need to know how to use them,” he said.

Expand your snap into a story

Matt says that the best way to make the most out of Snapchat is to embrace the app’s ‘Stories’ function. And, if you’ve got a campaign to roll out, start your stories with the serious marketing message before moving onto the more lighthearted content.

Promote and engage

Snapchat may be the next big thing, but no social network is an island. Promote your snaps across other social media platforms.

“Snapchat isn’t the most user friendly app for adding people you don’t already have in your phone’s contact book,” warns Matt. But you can get around this by promoting your Snapchat account across your other social media platforms, using your snapcode along with your username to make it easy for people to find you.

Matt says that it’s important to keep it fun, like Tennessee Wesleyan College did when it started its Snapchat chapter by sending prospective students on a scavenger hunt during an orientation day.

“Engagement is key, and the nature of Snapchat is intimacy. If you get a snap asking a question or showing off someone’s love for your brand – you should reply in kind.”

It’s been by far one of the most successful platforms we’ve launched from scratch. We saw our followers grow, with purely organic promotion, quicker than any other social channel

Don’t overthink your snaps

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that Snapchat is all about the moment. Keep it simple and natural. Snapchat works like conversation: communication is instantaneous and short lived. 

“The whole USP of Snapchat is its ephemeral nature and the immediacy of content,” writes Matt. “People use it to send quick snaps of what they’re doing right now.” To make your snaps effective and engaging, they need to be light, in the moment, and not too carefully thought out.