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Higher education and Snapchat

Teens and young adults use a variety of real-time, casual apps to communicate with one another. Brands are taking note and adapting their marketing efforts.

Snapchat, an instantaneous image messaging app that has been around since 2011, has particularly broken into mainstream global usage.*

Snapchat offers several advertisement functionalities. High-profile brands often publish sponsored content on Snapchat Discover, create their own temporary geotags, filters, and lenses, and post live content in certain cities and for events. However, these advertising avenues have expensive up-front costs. Ads range from around $50,000 to $700,000 per day.

Universities without a massive advertising budget may not feel justified in spending so much for a temporary promotion. Higher education marketers have scratched the surface of Snapchat’s capabilities, and only need some creativity to get their message out without a paid advertising approach. A number of higher education institutions already enjoy a variety of content to engage and connect the student body, but face a major geographical limitation in that they do not extend beyond campus borders.**

So how can universities proactively reach out to potential applicants and prospective students who are still in high school, but live outside the campus bubble?

Step 1

Download the Snapchat app and create a university account. The whole process takes only a few minutes and is free. Pick a relevant username, as it is your primary identifier. MIT uses mitstudents for a student-driven account, for example, while Colorado State University’s username is the all-encompassing ColoradoStateU.

Step 2

Promote the account on your university website, other social media platforms, and at outreach events to build an audience. Website and social media mentions will attract current students and university stakeholders, and can gain you a strong base of followers who are already affiliated with the school. Directly mention the account at outreach events to personally get in touch with potential applicants who are curious about what it’s like to be a university student, before they ever make the commitment to apply or enroll. Snapchat is an especially helpful tool for students who will not be able to make campus visits in-person, so connect with students where they are.

Step 3

Post stories regularly. Educational content like student and faculty research initiatives, award ceremonies, and even bits from innovative speakers tell high schoolers a lot about how they would grow academically at your university. Student organizations’ initiatives and university-sponsored social events and competitions represent bustling activities around campus, and appeal to both current and prospective students. University of Michigan’s College of Engineering, for example, regularly documents updates on its robotics projects on its story. Your marketing or communications team simply needs to attend and document events to reach your audience, and show them the community they can join and projects they can embark on as students.

Step 4

Hire reliable and engaging student ambassadors to periodically take over your Snapchat account. Give your ambassadors a password to access the account for a set duration of time, let them post creative content during their slot, and change the password again at the end of their session. Student-driven stories put high schoolers immediately in the shoes of a college student, and give information about your university in a genuine and relaxed atmosphere. Bonus points if students who are studying abroad pitch in!

Step 5

Promote outreach events on your story designed specifically for potential applicants and prospective students, and then publish content during the events. Even if the events are less frequent than your regular story content, they offer a more robust opportunity for students to engage with you. Maintaining a lighthearted, inclusive, and exciting tone is helpful for students to proactively join you in your specialized events.

Step 6

Host Q&A sessions during application periods and after students are accepted to your school. This is a great time for current students, faculty members, staff, or even alumni to interact with potential applicants and prospective students in a casual format. Ask users to submit questions to the account via Snaps and respond on your story. It sparks a real-time connection and simultaneously builds a collection of helpful information on your story that followers can continue to look at for the next day.

With a deep breath and a couple of small steps, you can leverage Snapchat to effectively engage student prospects outside your campus geography using one of their preferred methods of communication. Happy Snapping.

*A quick breakdown of how Snapchat accounts work: Users send Snaps — photos and videos that can be decorated with text, graphics, filters, and drawings and last up to 10 seconds before disappearing — to one or more friends. Users also post Snaps to their story, which last for 24 hours before disappearing and may be viewed by all friends. Younger demographics are especially attracted to the app for its visuals, creativity, informal tone, and fluid, impermanent content. With 100 million total daily users, 71% of Snapchatters are under 25 years old, and 60% of the high school class of 2015 uses the app daily.

**A number of institutions currently leverage university-oriented geotags, which graphically describe students’ locations and appear toward the bottom of users’ Snaps. Some universities even own campus stories, and encourage students to submit exciting tidbits of campus life to the campus’ communal story for Snapchatters in the area to see.

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