Snapchat Memories: What It Means for Higher Ed

Snapchat Memories: What It Means for Higher Ed

The dear old internet has worked itself into something of a tizzy today with Snapchat's announcement of Memories. (Side note: how Snapchat, a multi-billion dollar company, ended up making this EXTREMELY awkward video to introduce this new feature, I'll never fully understand.)

There's a lot more to it than this, but the dime-store version of the announcement is that Snapchat will allow users to share older photos and videos (either from previous Snapchat stories or from your phone's camera roll). Older content will be clearly indicated with a large white border, with only photos/videos taken in the past 24 hours allowed to appear without the border.

The takes from tech bloggers came as hot as they did fast: Snapchat is Ruined. Snapchat takes a U-turn. Snapchat decides ephemerality is ephemeral

My TL,DR analysis: This is a pretty clear play to become more accessible for older users, to increase opportunities for advertising, and to make Snapchat more of a viable platform for brands. It is risking some of its cool, "treehouse" vibe among younger users to make more money and target older users. I think this snippet from Tech Crunch's Josh Constine says it all:

Embracing old content could make Snapchat more interesting to older demographics who might not be living adventurous enough lives to produce great new content every day.
Memories is a bit of a gamble, though. People no longer have to create content in the moment, or even create it at all. They could just screenshot stuff from the Internet, adorn it with stickers and text, and spam the Stories list. That might dilute the urgency of Snapchat, where every time you saw a friend had posted something, you knew it was fresh. No re-shares of celebrity content or Throw Back Thursdays.

For higher ed social media managers, Snapchat can be a vexing platform. We all know that huge percentages of students (current and prospective) use it, but it has never lent itself particularly well to institutional accounts. Don't get me wrong - lots of schools are doing lots of great and innovating thing with it - but with its ephemeral nature and abundance of low-stakes, light-hearted content like selfies with puppy filters and rainbow vomit, it forces brands to play by its rules. You can have fun and be silly all you want - and there's real value in building those emotional connections - but good luck trying to promote a boring event or drive traffic to a website. It can be difficult to justify being on there to a boss with reasons beyond "Well, all the students are on there, so we should be to."

But vexing as it might be for brand managers, this helped create a fantastic user experience for young people. With Memories, Snapchat is risking what made it so popular in the first place. And its up to us to help prevent that from happening.

While Memories will likely be welcomed as a great opportunity for #hesm managers - think how much easier running a Snapchat account will be now we can re-purpose content from our other social channels and not have to constantly be creating new stuff every single day - it absolutely will open itself up to being abused by lazy and (frankly) bad social media managers. 

Confession time. I remember the earliest days of Facebook and how much I loved having a network that felt like it belonged just to me. Moms weren't on it back then, and grandmas didn't even know how to get online. It's almost hard to believe what it once was like.

But then I got a job in an admissions office, and I was tasked with exploring new ways to reach out to prospective students. Well hey, I was 23 and loved using Facebook... maybe I should try that! And so I created my first institutional Facebook page for a college, and started posting about financial aid nights and applications deadlines. And lots of other brands followed suit, trying to promote stuff and sell stuff and get people to click on stuff. It didn't take long for the magic of the early Facebook to be lost.

Facebook has tried all sorts of ways to recapture that magic - it's most recent algorithm tweak is just the latest attempt - but it's far too late. Beyond mom and grandma now being its most dedicated users, brand managers will always find a way to get around any countermeasures Facebook makes to promote whatever it is they want to promote. For a while, it was doing stuff like fill-in-the-blanks and caption contests. Then it was photos. Then "curiosity gap" headlines. Then it was video. Now it's live video.

Sadly, brand managers try a lot harder to game the system than to "play by the rules" - which in Facebook's case means posting stuff that people actually want to see in their feeds. No ads, no promos, no gimmicks... just really good content that makes people smile, laugh, share, etc. I am fully complicit in this game, and I did it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, even Google+ for a hot minute... all social networks have been sullied by my brand posting.

And now that Snapchat has opened the door to allow brand managers to not "play by the rules," I can't help but foresee a lot of really crappy content coming to Snapchat users near you. Of course lots of people will do it right and do awesome stuff, but it doesn't take too many rotten apples to tarnish the whole lot of us.

I am young enough to technically be considered a millennial, but old enough to hate being classified as such. From my point of view, the Jedi are evil. No, no wait... sorry... got mixed up there for a second. From my point of view, if you can remember a time before the internet and only knew a few kids in high school who had cell phones (and they were Zach Morris phones), you are not a millennial.

Why mention all this? Because like many people over a certain age, I have never really *gotten* Snapchat. I know what it is and how it works, and I understand that it is incredibly popular, but as a medium it is fundamentally not meant for me.

So for someone like me, Memories is a godsend. It's more familiar. It's more accessible. It makes more sense. If I were running a brand's Snapchat account, I'm sure I would embrace it whole-heartedly.

And therein lies the problem. It's very likely I would turn out to be one of the aforementioned rotten apples, try as I might not to be.

So my advice for #hesm managers? Don't start using Memories to blast out #ThrowBackThursday photos and junk like that. Take a wait-and-see approach. See how Snapchat "natives" use Memories, and then think about ways your institution can employ those tactics. Empower students as much as you can, and trust their instincts - even if they feel a bit counter to your own. And definitely don't over-promise to your boss what Snapchat can do for you. Embrace it for what it is, and tailor your messaging to the platform. Play by the rules. For now, anyway.  ;)

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