Reading Time: 6 minutes

Social media marketing has become a necessary resource in the realm of student recruitment but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a constant challenge to stay on top of the latest trends. It sometimes seems like a giant game of tag, chasing students and prospects to the next hot platform for a chance to communicate with them. We wrote recently about widely reported findings that teens are flocking away from Facebook, citing privacy concerns and the “uncoolness” of parents liking their posts. One emerging social media contender that has won significant enthusiasm among the 13-25 demographic is photo messaging app, Snapchat, currently top of the free Apple App chart.

social media marketingSource

It might still be most famous for rejecting Facebook’s $3 billion acquisition offer, but unlike the 400 million messages its users exchange every day, this mobile app shows no signs of going away any time soon. The major appeal of Snapchat is that sent photos and micro-videos “self-destruct” one to ten seconds after being viewed (determined by the sender), thereby eliminating the potential long-term consequences of incriminating photos later being seen by parents, teachers, employers, etc. The popular app’s creators, Stanford students Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, maintain that it wasn’t created to “make sexting safer”, as commonly alleged, but to avoid the tiresome de-tagging of embarrassing or compromising party pictures. Research by MediaSmarts confirms that teens are not only wary of unflattering photos being used against them in job interviews, but also of the “drama” of asking friends to take down such posts on Facebook.

Recent market research from Sumpto suggests three-quarters of college students on social media use Snapchat every day. Admissions marketers might be even more impressed by the study’s findings that nearly half of college-age respondents said they would open a Snap from a brand they’d never heard of, compared to 73% expressing willingness to open one from a familiar brand. While that study’s participants are self-identified social media users in the U.S., predispositioned to giveaways from brands, it does come at a time when big brands like McDonald’s are adopting Snapchat to market to youth.

Make your story snappy

The company seems eager to find a viable revenue model as it enters its third year, and provides a business development team to help brands get started. It already has access to users’ personal information, such as age and location, that can potentially be leveraged for targeted messaging in the future. The “My Story” feature, launched last fall, will likely be of most interest for colleges and universities. It allows users to combine a series of image or video “snaps” in chronological order to tell a story, promoting the message universally to all their followers. Snaps can be accentuated with art and text, using the “doodle” function. Each integrated snap expires after 24 hours, so the story grows progressively smaller throughout the day until vanishing when the last snap’s time limit finally elapses.

Here’s a very quick tutorial:


YouTube video

So far, most colleges on Snapchat use it primarily to promote their athletics departments, providing behind-the-scenes game day snaps to increase student attendance at football games or generating school spirit by asking fans to send in snaps. Earlier this year, the University of Houston became one of the first to launch a general account with strategic goals “as a reflection of how the University is always looking forward and embracing cutting edge technologies,” according to Jessica Brand, UH social media manager. T-shirt giveaways on Cougar Red Fridays are previewed on Snapchat, while students are reciprocating by sending snaps that offer insights into their day-to-day activities on campus.

The tool is helping the school reach new audiences that may not be connected through LinkedIn or Facebook, and recent stats indicate between 60 and 80 percent of followers are accessing its snaps. “They’re actually going through our ‘snaps’ and viewing the shared content,” enthuses social media coordinator, Kimberly Davis. “We’re not always able to reach such a high percentage using other social media tools. It’s great to know that our messages are being read. Whether it’s sharing fun items like Cougar Red Friday giveaways or information related to parking or campus happenings, it’s proving to be an effective communication tool.”


Snapchat Student Recruitment Strategies

In this fast-paced world, services like Snapchat that can quickly, easily and succinctly transmit messages have an intuitive appeal, but best practices are still emerging regarding its marketing potential. While teens appreciate it for letting them express their silly side through “selfies” without having to worry about crafting a formal online identity, schools can develop their brand identity by consistently posting pictures that demonstrate the diverse aspects of their campus, gaining the attention and admiration of trendy students.

1. Leverage other networks & provide an inside look at campus life

A good first step is to announce and promote your Snapchat feed on your other social networks and then begin posting pictures to accumulate a following – perhaps an inside look at campus, insights into programs and extracurricular activities or quick news tidbits. Due to the vastly more ephemeral nature of Snapchat compared to other social media networks, the timing of posts is particularly important to engage the highest possible number of followers. Offering a daily snap at a certain time will develop expectation among your followers and increased interaction for education lead generation.

2. Generate excitement with exclusive previews

Snapchat can be a great tool for creating a perception of exclusivity, such as providing sneak previews of a new building or logo design. The student demographic takes pride in being trendspotters, being the first to break news to their followers, and the tease of a brief snap (or a strategically timed series of snaps) might be enough to ignite a wave of excitement that propels a story to go viral. Companies like McDonald’s, for example, have successfully introduced a new product and launch date with exclusive and interactive touch points throughout the day, concluding their Snapchat Story with a request for friends to follow them on Twitter.

3. Offer discounts or other incentives

Some pundits observe that the introduction of ads that risk infringing on the fun social elements that initially brought the service popularity could be its downfall. Facebook has experienced some backlash since targeted ads began cluttering newsfeeds and privacy advocates have recently asked U.S. regulators to halt its $19 billion acquisition of messaging service WhatsApp until there is a clearer understanding of how the company plans to exploit the personal data of the latter’s 450 million users. That being said, studies have shown a majority of users responding positively to promotions, discounts and coupons sent via Snapchat in exchange for customer loyalty. Vanishing snaps can give new meaning to “limited time offers” for university bookstore discounts, athletics tickets or even enrolment referral bonuses for admissions departments. The key is keeping the tone fun and in the spirit of Snapchat spontaneity.

4. Encourage creative submissions

One of the best marketing applications of Snapchat is to call on the creative skills of your followers by inspiring submissions for contests or job postings. A 10 second Snapchat video is a creative opportunity to accept pitches for brainstorming ideas or some portion of a job interview. Keep in mind that after the brief time limit expires it would be impossible to reassess submissions, so it might be more of a PR stunt than sustainably viable tool. Photo or micro-video contests can be effectively carried out with Snapchat, cross-promoted with other social media channels, capitalizing on timely events like a big game or graduation ceremonies. Consider playing up the fleeting moments by providing incentives for “the first 25 who send us a snap of…” or run a campus scavenger hunt based on a series of clues that encourage interaction.

snapchat example


When it was first revealed that teens were fleeing Facebook in favour of mobile apps like Snapchat, many found it interesting but assumed that it wouldn’t be useful for marketing initiatives. However, creative brands have already found success by taking advantage of the uniquely temporary, casual nature of the platform. Consider enlisting the help of students that specialize in “snapsterpieces” that will make your audience laugh with ridiculous doodles on pictures, or other quirky flourishes that challenge preconceptions and capture attentions of the younger demographic.

As social media networks wax and wane in popularity, seek to develop strategies for fluidly reallocating resources to make the most of what is hot right now, as Snapchat certainly is. Admissions departments may be wary of another new platform to divert their precious time but it is always advisable to understand what your prospects are currently interested in and regularly freshen up your marketing mix to better appeal to them. Don’t be afraid to try new social media marketing tools even if you are unsuccessful at your first attempt so that your campaigns are thriving when other institutions are eventually forced to hop on the bandwagon.

Has your school attempted to engage with students via Snapchat?