Taking Snapchat for a Test Drive

Chris Syme (@cksyme) is principal at CKSyme.org, a consulting firm in Bozeman, Mont.

Snapchat, a social media app that allows users to share photos and other information that self-destruct after a period of time, is a hot topic of social media conversation on campuses. Several institutions are experimenting with the platform; others have tried it and left. Recently, Mashable published market research from Sumpto stating that more than three-quarters of college students on social media use the platform every day. Given this data, more institutions might want to take another look at Snapchat.

The real gold in Snapchat is using the “stories” feature, launched last fall, which allows users to string together a series of “snaps” that tell a story in chronological order—using either video or stills. Clever snappers use the doodle function to liven up their stories with art and text. Each snap in a story has a 24-hour lifespan, so as the hours pass, the story gets smaller, and then disappears when the last snap reaches its time limit. Schools can use both stories and regular snaps depending on the campaign.

Snapchat is easy to use. Set up an account and start following other accounts to see what is being posted. (You’ll need to download the app to your mobile device first.) There are several good tutorials on YouTube—search “how to use Snapchat” to find them. Here are several accounts that I believe use the platform effectively. (The account names are in bold.)

  • dabttll – This account is managed by Mashable’s Snapchat expert and the most talented snapper I’ve seen. She can doodle like nobody’s business and is very creative. On Valentine’s Day, she took her followers on a wonderful chocolate tour of New York City. She’s a must follow.
  • notthisnews – This account highlights trending stories in international news. It is one of the most creative ways to highlight international news that I’ve seen. The account managers always use the stories function and, yes, there are political overtones.
  • eagles – The Philadelphia Eagles (NFL) have a creative Snapchat presence. They usually send out single snaps. This one came yesterday:

2014-02-24 04.22.16

  • mashable – This is where dabttll does her official work for Mashable. Fun stuff.
  • snapreds – The Cincinnati Reds baseball team is on Snapchat, experimenting with some exclusive fan content. So far, so good.
  • tacobell – If you’re a coupon chaser and like Taco Bell, this is a good follow. There are interesting doodles and product pictures that make you hungry.
  • saints – The New Orleans Saints football team had an active account during the season although the account is quiet now. The account managers have said they use the account strictly for exclusive content for fans. I really like their short creative videos with players doing fun things.

Snapchat also has a business development team to help brands get going. I found them extremely helpful.

Here are some institutions that are using Snapchat.

  • Liberty University (sparkyflames). Liberty University Lynchburg, Va. has been on Snapchat longer than other institutions. According to the athletic department, the account belongs to the school’s mascot.
  • University of Houston (uhouston). The university announced the launch of its presence last month. It is the first institution I’ve seen with just a university account, not tied to a specific department like athletics. The school plans to use the account for promotions, including on-campus T-shirt giveaways on Cougar Red Fridays. I like the fact that the school is using it strategically and have defined goals.
  • University of Kansas (jayhawks). The university is using the account to offer a behind-the-scenes look at the home basketball games. It uses a good mix of video and stills and scored a win recently with a great selfie of reporter Holly Rowe from ESPN.
  • Eastern Washington University (ewuathletics). I worked with EWU to get its Snapchat strategy up and going—the institution used it to to promote the student fan experience during sports contests throughout the football season. The university uses the stories function to show the student experience with behind-the-scenes game day snaps and exclusive content by student-athletes and includes cross promotion with Twitter. The purpose of the account is to increase student attendance at games. Read about the campaign and see how initial results were measured against goals.
  • Wichita State University (goshockers). Wichita State is using Snapchat to give exclusive content to its followers surrounding the very successful men’s basketball team. The school has made some very creative posts, including asking fans to send snaps in fan gear, taking screenshots and cross-promoting the pictures on Instagram.

How should institutions use Snapchat? Make sure you think through how you’re going to use the tool strategically, consider including specific goals with specific measures. Also, cross promoting with Twitter and Instagram, two other platforms where many students hang out, is a must. Amy Jo Martin, head of Digital Royalty, a social media consulting firm, says:

Take risks and fail early so when everyone else hops on the bandwagon their failing process begins when you’re winning.

Yes, Snapchat is one more channel for limited resources, but if you like to experiment, you may want to try and ride the wave while the surfing is good. Next year, it might be another platform that 77 percent of college students use daily.

Is your institution on Snapchat? Share its experiences below.

5 responses to “Taking Snapchat for a Test Drive

  1. Pingback: Why I (and most college students) love Snapchat | Josie Ahlquist·

  2. Just an update on other schools making use of Snapchat as of July 2014, you can follow cycloneath (Iowa State), oregonathletics (University of Oregon), fathermarquette (Marquette), kstatesports (Kansas State), uofmichigan (University of Michigan), and wsuathletics (Washington State). Please add others you’ve found in the comments.

  3. Hi Aaron-
    Good thoughts. I’d like to offer a couple thoughts if I may.

    The quote was taken from Amy Jo Martin’s Renegades Write the Rules. Her agency, Digital Royalty, has considerable success metrics (collaborated w/industry marketing experts) that show early adopters reap the highest success in terms of bottom line dollars and other benefits. I think that there is value in waiting, but there is more value in getting on board as early as you feel ready.

    And I wouldn’t say mistakes indicate failure. Mistakes are just turns in the road–signals to make mid-course corrections.

    One last thought: Snapchat might not be a significant tool for student recruitment or grabbing a market share, but it might be a significant tool for engaging disengaged students with your brand.

    • Thanks, Chris, for your response— and for listening to my ramblings. I tend to be an early-adoption kind of guy; Drake struck gold PR-wise when we jumped into Pinterest relatively early in the game. But increasingly, as we’re all overwhelmed with strategic priorities, I am more cautious and (perhaps necessarily, perhaps out of semi-exhaustion) taking a wait-and-see approach to make sure various platforms are worth the investment. Good points on all sides.

  4. I’ve been privately advocating for institutional use of Snapchat since early 2013, and I think there is a tremendous amount of potential benefit for reaching alumni and current students. For the earliest adopters, there will undoubtedly be publicity (such as the publicity gained by CASE Blog articles!). So I say bravo to those schools who have taken the risk to be early adopters, and I truly hope they enjoy the prestige they will reap.

    However, this quote strikes me as questionable:
    “Take risks and fail early so when everyone else hops on the bandwagon their failing process begins when you’re winning.”

    The quote is problematic because it implies failure is an inevitable process, and seems to overlook the fact that slow adopters can learn from the mistake of early adopters.

    In any industry, taking a first-mover approach to new technology is a risk. In the higher ed space there seems to be one distinct advantage to early adoption: positive press coverage and the enhanced image and reputation that follows. That one benefit comes, of course, if the effort is a success — or at least not a major failure.

    In marketing and commerce the traditional benefit of early adoption—known as first-mover advantage—generally refers to the opportunity to grab market share before competitors. In the case of Snapchat, for higher education, I can’t see that this potential advantage is of much value: The only market that we share with our competitors is prospective students, and I sincerely doubt whether Snapchat could become a significant tool for student recruitment. Our other primary “markets,” including current students and alumni, are exclusive of our competitors’. There is no danger of our competitors snatching up our current students or alumni with Snapchat, if our competitors move first. After all, there is no reason a student or alumnus cannot follow both schools’ Snapchat accounts.

    For these reasons I am tempted to say there is value in a wait-and-see approach. The “fast follower” or “second-mover approach” allows those of us who are slow to adopt to learn from fast-followers, adopting their best practices and sidestepping their mistakes.

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