Snap To It: The Time is Now for Universities to Get on Board with Snapchat
By: R.J. Tallarida Jr.
Vice President for University Advancement
Mar 16, 2016
By December 2015, I could no longer ignore the buzz surrounding the social media platform Snapchat. Everywhere I turned, there were statistics showing how increasingly powerful this platform — which Mark Zuckerberg unsuccessfully tried to buy for $3 billion in November 2013 — was becoming for businesses, organizations and higher education institutions.
Over the past four months, as I have become a regular user of Snapchat and have started to better understand its potential, I am convinced this platform is the “real deal” — a powerful social media reality that is not going away. Therefore, the time is now for colleges and universities to harness the unique features of this communication tool as we seek to engage some of our institution’s most critical audiences.
Snap Into Reality
Unlike popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Snapchat was created to offer a unique visual experience where users share content through photos and videos that last for 10 seconds at a time. More recent developments of Snapchat, including “stories” which last for 24 hours and a “chat” feature, have broadened the platform’s appeal and viability as a tool to engage audiences.
According to Pew Research Center, 74 percent of U.S. adults use social networking sites. And while some view Snapchat as merely a social media fad, its usage data paints a very different picture. Digital marketing agency, Omnicore, calculates 100 million active users are generating 7 billion video views each day, with 71 percent of those users being under the age of 34. Although not a lot of higher education institutions are actively using Snapchat, its core audience is overwhelmingly on the platform, with 77 percent of traditional-age students using Snapchat on a daily basis.
The data is clear — universities should not only consider Snapchat’s powerful ability to grab an audience with content that is entirely user-generated, but also capitalize on its potential as a story-telling mechanism as it has already captured the attention of the majority of our targeted demographic.
Snaps are Engaging
Colleges and universities across the nation have social media and communications teams actively working to identify the most effective ways to engage their core audiences. Snapchat’s ability to tell stories is precisely what makes it a fun and useful way to meaningfully engage with these audiences — including prospective students, current students and alumni.
Utilizing Snapchat as a communication strategy keeps current and prospective students as well as alumni engaged with content that can be silly, educational, lighthearted and entirely unique compared to other platforms. It emphasizes a completely different method of promoting events, activities and general news, and offers a tremendous opportunity to build and maintain genuine relationships with our audiences — and to make an impact.
Our university just completed its second annual Day of Giving campaign, with a goal to get 500 donors to make a gift within a 24-hour period. We spent our entire digital marketing budget on Facebook’s advertising platform to boost our content via short video promotions and teasers. We concluded the day with over 1,200 donors and raised over $86,000.
Although it would be difficult to explicitly measure, another contributor to the day’s success was our utilization of Snapchat. I am certain this platform played a significant role in helping engage our students and alumni. As our student center buzzed with energy, members of our alumni engagement team, students, employees and myself, snapped all day, sharing photos, clips and stories.
Just as prospective students want to know what’s happening on campus, so too do our alumni. From promoting events, to hosting giveaways, showcasing campus happenings and building brand awareness, higher education institutions need to realize the tremendous ability Snapchat has to engage our most important audiences.
Why Snapchat Works
When Snapchat was created in 2011, it ran against all of its social media counterparts. As social media marketing expert and entrepreneur, Gary Vaynerchuk, aptly described, “The way Snapchat works is much closer to how we communicate face to face than any other social network. … When we talk to each other, passing in the halls or just living out our lives, those moments disappear. Snapchat emulates that behavior and psychology.”
Businesses and organizations should utilize Snapchat’s potential as a brand-marketing tool exactly because of this psychological emulation. Content is constantly new and refreshing, with “temporary” photos and stories that offer a sense of privacy, freedom, creativity and individuality not offered on other social media platforms.
Snapchat’s most recent features include the addition of Stories and Discover. You can swipe right to chat with your friends, swipe left to send a “snap,” and now, instead of only having a 10 second photo or video to share, you can upload images to your personal “story” that is then visible to all of your followers for up to 24 hours.
Via Discover, Snapchat allows users to receive content provided by top media companies including ESPN, Vox, National Geographic, BuzzFeed, MTV, CNN, Cosmopolitan and Comedy Central. Through Discover, these big-name brands are afforded an unrivaled level of attention from the 25-and-under demographic to view their content and news on a daily basis.
While some colleges and universities are slowly beginning to test the waters with Snapchat, one of the country’s most prestigious universities is utilizing the platform in creative and meaningful ways. Ryan Maguire, social media strategist at Princeton University, stated that their team devised a way to promote the institution’s presence on Snapchat to a larger audience using student-generated content.
“We started a ‘Snapchat Saturday’ as a way to preserve and celebrate the creativity of the Princeton community by sharing their snaps in a weekly photo gallery on the university’s Facebook page. Soon after [this launched] we were inundated with fun and creative submissions that gave us an interesting glimpse into students’ lives.”
The interactive and creative nature of Snapchat presents the opportunity for students to tell their own stories, providing their institution with new and original content. The app offers additional features including geo-filters. These special overlays communicate the “where and when” of a snap in a fun way, and allow students to share their snaps not only with fellow students but also with people outside the institution, increasing brand awareness.
The Time is Now
Fittingly, I wrote this article while on a train to New York City for a trip I had been anticipating for months — an opportunity to see bestselling author and entrepreneur, Gary Vaynerchuk, who declared 2016 as the “Year of Snapchat.”
Universities are competing in an increasingly noisy environment, making the value of a person’s attention immeasurable. Technology and all forms of communication are constantly evolving, so if we consider communicating with our audiences a priority, we must be willing to take the necessary steps and adopt the necessary tools. Like stepping out of our comfort zone and boarding a train somewhere new, we must learn from the experts, inspire our colleagues and evolve together.
As is true with all new social media platforms and communication tools, education is key. By researching successful Snapchat “best practices” at organizations including higher education institutions and developing measurable goals and objectives, we can confidently and strategically add Snapchat to our marketing and communication methods.
To meet our students and alumni where they are, we must know where they are coming from. By developing the visual storytelling and content they are seeking, we can provide value both for them as well as our organizations. Snapchat works, and if institutions fail to utilize what works, they may miss the opportunity to creatively and genuinely share what differentiates their institution among the landscape of higher education.
R.J Tallarida Jr. is the Vice President for University Advancement at Rowan University located in Glassboro, New Jersey.
Follow him on Snapchat, rjtru11 and Twitter @RJTallarida
 Pew Research Center. “Social Networking Fact Sheet.” December 27, 2013.http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/social-networking-fact-sheet/
 Aslam, Salman. “SnapChat by the Numbers: Stats, Demographics, & Fun Facts.” Omnicore Digital Marketing Agency. October 7, 2015.http://www.omnicoreagency.com/snapchat-statistics/
 Vaynerchuk, Gary. “The Snap Generation: A Guide To SnapChat’s History.” January 15, 2016. http://www.garyvaynerchuk.com/the-snap-generation-a-guide-to-snapchats-history/
 Maguire, Ryan. “Snap Into SnapChat.” CASE Currents. March 2016. 36.