Can Snapchat Work for Colleges?

When I was in college, way back in the yesteryear of those wistful early 00s, I would sometimes go to parties. (Sometimes I even hosted the parties!) And sometimes - always - there would be underage drinking at those parties. And sometimes the charming people at the Oregon Liquor Control Commission would send secret agents dressed up like college kids to said parties, with the mission of catching and citing said underage drinkers.

The problem for the OLCC was that you could spot the impostors from a mile away, because for whatever reason to them "dress like a college kid" meant "wear a Hawaiian shirt over a t-shirt that is tucked into jeans, with a baseball hat on top for good measure." It also didn't help that they were 35 years old. 

When I think about the topic of this post - can Snapchat work for colleges? - I can't escape the image of the impostor OLCC agents. No matter how hard I might try, would I be too tonedeaf and not "with it" enough to make it work and actually be authentic and effective using the medium? I don't know. And I'm not sure I want to find out. (Andrew Couts just wrote a great article on feeling too old for Snapchat on Digital Trends.)

What sparked this post was something I saw from Tennessee Wesleyan College earlier today: 

Take me to another place, take me to another land...

Take me to another place, take me to another land...

First off, mad props to Tennessee Wesleyan for jumping in with two feet. I haven't reached out to their marketing office yet to pick their brains about what their strategy and goals are, but I'm planning on it. I follow a lot of colleges on social media, and from what I can remember this is the first time I've seen one promoting a Snapchat presence, so if they aren't the first college doing this they are definitely among the early adopters. It will be interesting to see how many more colleges jump on board now that Snapchat has released its "Stories" feature.

It resonated with me, because just a month or two ago I floated the idea of doing Snapchat for UP past some smart students whose opinions I trust and respect. The consensus among them was that kids have Snapchat in order to stay away from things like parents, adults, brands, etc. Ever since grandma got on Facebook, they have been looking for a space online that belongs just to them. Twitter's too public. It was Instagram for a while, but that got too big. For now, Snapchat has filled that void.

I can totally understand that desire. I signed up for Facebook in (gulp) 2004, and it felt so welcoming, personal, and safe because it was just other students from my college. The opening up of Facebook has been awesome for us marketers, but that doesn't mean a part of me isn't nostalgic for the good old days.

But. But but but. Call me crazy, but I feel like there's potentially a place where colleges can exist in the Snapchat ecosystem and not be totally creepy: admissions.

Every day, I see high school students posting Instagrams and Tweets about getting stuff in the mail from UP, applying to UP, getting accepted to UP, etc. I always respond with the usual platitudes, but part of me wonders if it would be a successful strategy to use some of the admissions ambassador student workers to record quick "Come to UP!"/"Thanks for applying!"/"Congratulations!" Snapchats and send them to the students you have friended you or who have the same usernames on Twitter/Instagram/etc. Heck, it could even end up being another - and totally different - way for kids to send in get quick questions about the school and get them answered.

I haven't fully wrapped my head around this - it's very possible a college sending Snapchats to high school kids will turn them off more than make them think the school is really cool and hip. VERY possible. And you would need to be very trusting of some student workers, which usually works out great until it doesn't. 

And yet... I'm intrigued. You can't argue with the usage rates among the target demographic for admissions, and we all know that if you want to reach high school kids these days, it has to be on their phones and in a way that is natural for them - if you think they respond well to email and Facebook, you're wrong. Yes, they will jump through the right hoops once they've made their decisions, but getting them to point B - where they think your school is cool and they want to go there - is where we fight our battles, not getting them to point Z and paying their deposits.

Anyway, apologies for the half-baked musings... there's a good chance this is a topic I will revisit a few times over the coming months. 

Until then, I need to dust off my trusty Hawaiian shirt, stone wash jeans, and baseball cap... I've got a party to crash! 



Music at Midweek: Nu Shooz

Great Social Media Idea: School Name Collage