Reaching students in a snap

Recently, Snapchat – a photo and video social media platform – surpassed Instagram and Tumblr as the fastest growing social media app for smartphones, with an estimated 200 million Snapchat users, the vast majority of whom are aged 25 or younger, and with 77% of US college students reportedly using Snapchat on a daily basis.

Does this mean that colleges and universities should consider using Snapchat as part of their communication and marketing efforts? Some already do.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has reported that US colleges and universities are using Snapchat to interact with three primary audiences: current students; prospective student-athletes; and prospective students. Of these three groups, it appears the majority of universities use Snapchat to interact and connect with current students.

Tyler Thomas, a social media specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, or UNL, said his school uses Snapchat to promote campus events, world events, contests, giveaways and to build one-on-one relationships.

“We have seen great growth in our Snapchat community and expect that Snapchat will become more of a priority in the months ahead,” he said.

Thomas said Snapchat was an effective tool because it allowed for quick bursts of content that could be shared in a number of ways, including drawings, graphics and videos.

The University of Houston has also adopted Snapchat, although like UNL, Houston’s primary audience is current students. Jessica Brand, the university’s social media manager, said Houston adopted the app because its user-base was in line with the school’s key demographics.

“We continued to read articles about the growing popularity of the app, and eventually decided we should have a presence there as the university continues to find new ways to engage with our audience,” she said.

High school students

Brand said Houston did not exclusively use Snapchat to reach prospective students, but that did not mean high school students were not benefiting from the university’s efforts.

“We have not done direct recruiting via Snapchat, but we do tend to share first-hand footage of campus events, which gives prospective students a taste of what it might look like to be here, to be a student, and to be involved,” she said.

Kyle Bruce, assistant director of communication for Eastern Washington University Athletics, said his school decided to use Snapchat after it analysed data on their other social media platforms and realised they were lacking in awareness.

“We decided the best thing for our brand was to create a Snapchat account that would cater specifically to student promotions and awareness around athletic events,” he said.

In addition to drumming up awareness for events, he said the app was growing among athletic programmes: “Snapchat is becoming more and more of a recruiting tool in athletics – different sport programmes are using it to communicate with prospective student-athletes,” Bruce said.

“Our account isn’t geared to this primarily, but we showcase what the game day atmosphere is like, which may help attract prospective student-athletes and students in general.”


A few universities are already actively using Snapchat to reach prospective students. Among these are Tennessee Wesleyan College and the University of Michigan. Tennessee was an early adopter of Snapchat and among the school’s first acts was to create a scavenger hunt for prospective students attending an orientation day in which the school showed its followers images of its mascot.

At the time, the school told USA Today it used the app because it connected with students in a way that was different from other communication mediums.

“Snapchat is immediate, personal and reaches the student where you can find them most: on their phone,” said Brittany Shope, the school’s web coordinator, who has since left the college. “To reach out via a smartphone application like Snapchat as opposed to students’ e-mails makes the student feel like the college has taken extra steps to get in touch with them.”

Bridgett Raper, director of marketing and communications at Tennessee Wesleyan College, said her school’s Snapchat campaign was short-lived, but that they were planning to investigate potential opportunities.

Michigan launched its Snapchat in February last year as a result of both campus research and professional statistical analysis. Nikki Sunstrum, director of social media, said the university found that 77% of its core student population was using the app regularly, and that about 70% were interested in engaging with known brands in the environment.

She said the bulk of activity on Snapchat was to engage current students, but that occasionally it triggers inquiries from prospective students.

Sunstrum said that this year the university planned to collaborate with entities across its campus, including promotion and storytelling for individual schools and organisations and event coverage.

Codes of conduct

Given Snapchat’s increased prominence in the social media landscape, colleges and universities have a unique opportunity to reach and engage current and prospective students.

But there are dangers to consider when evaluating the platform, such as the potential that students will interact with the account in ways that are inappropriate or go against universities’ codes of conduct.

A recent USA Today article covers this threat in detail, noting that Snapchat had its own community guidelines and frequently shuts down contact based on violations of its standards.

However, with proper measures in place, the opportunity may prove to be a fruitful step forward for colleges seeking to be more connected to current and future student bodies – and it might disappear in a “snap” if they don’t act soon.

Abi Mandelbaum is co-founder and chief executive officer of YouVisit, a technology company that develops virtual tours and virtual reality content for a variety of industries, including education, hospitality, real estate, travel and leisure and many others.