Snapchat on Campus: Not Just for Students Any More

by on Jan 06, 2016

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The social media universe keeps expanding, beyond the ground-breaking networks like Facebook and Twitter to newer communities like Instagram or Pinterest. In our research for the upcoming Alumni Monitor Report exploring colleges’ and universities’ use of Twitter, we noticed a few prominent institutions – including Boston University, Duke, Georgetown, Princeton and University of Virginia – referring audiences to their official Snapchat accounts.

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It’s no surprise why schools are starting to pay attention to Snapchat. In November, Snapchat reported 6 billion video views every day. By a vast majority, users are young. According to Business Insider, 71% are under age 25 – a demographic full of college students and recent grads. That said, as seems to be the eventual course of every social network, there’s reason to believe it’s catching on among older (and more lucrative) users as well.

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Major brands outside of the educational sphere have been experimenting with Snapchat as a new customer engagement channel. For example, McDonald’s expanded the reach of their endorsements with behind-the-scenes videos from commercial shoots. The NBA has also produced Snapchat “stories” showing more intimate perspectives on events like All-Star weekend, Finals, and Draft. (Coincidentally, both campaigns have featured LeBron James.) These types of images and videos build a strong sense of authenticity, an elusive attribute in the marketing world. Snapchat can also help avoid embarrassing social media fiascos since its content disappears and lacks public commenting.

Snapchat’s unique features as a communication channel also entail challenges for any commercial or academic institution. Because content must be captured by the app in real time, users cannot import or reuse content the way they can across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Despite Snapchat’s high user numbers, the audience for a single profile will be much more exclusive – only those actively choosing to follow the account and selected to receive its Snaps.

So, how do colleges and universities use Snapchat? Based on recent activity, schools seem to mostly send the usual pretty, fun or humorous glimpses of campus life; Snapchat images captured in the moment simply lack some of the polish valued in communities like Instagram. The existing Snapchat accounts generally target current students, making them less of a pure marketing tool. However, they have the potential to make a broader positive impression. They could encourage prospective students to apply and enroll, or inspire fond memories from recent grads to maintain a stronger alumni relationship. This may not sound very different from other social networks, but Snapchat could be worthwhile if it really is the network of choice for young people and its content proves to be more authentic and impactful.

Whether that’s the case or not, it will take time to determine if these initial university Snapchat experiments meet their goals. An informal focus group (sample size of one) from one of the colleges with a Snapchat presence returned such comments as, “I’ve never heard of it before haha” (the college’s account, not Snapchat itself). The usual qualifications about new technology and ideas apply: Snapchat’s user base is growing in size and maturing in age, and we’re just seeing the initial brand experiments today. It will take extra effort to build another social presence beyond the more established networks, but Snapchat does offer some distinct advantages that could prove especially useful to colleges and universities who share its user base.

For more information on Alumni Monitor and our research on alumni outreach and engagement, please contact Dana Peterson at dpeterson@corporateinsight.com or visit us at alumnimonitor.corporateinsight.com.