Snapchat Unsnapped: Year One

Deborah Dudley

Wherever you fall on the social media love-hate spectrum, understanding social media has become a critical component of strategically navigating the higher education landscape. With each generation of digital media apps comes the changing demands and communications channels that inform and connect alumni, current students, and prospective students alike. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the dominant spaces where the University continuously shares the St. Lawrence experience with tens of thousands of people. The latest addition to the St. Lawrence social media stable is Snapchat—an obsession for some, and a mystery to others.

What exactly is Snapchat?

Snapchat is a mobile phone app that allows users to send photos and 10-second videos to followers. They can add captions, emojis, and draw on their messages (known as snaps). Users can even use a camera filter to turn themselves into cats, dragons, and Olympians—or swap faces with people nearby. For most users, it is a quick-hitting, ephemeral modern day passing of silly notes.

Snaps only last, at most, 10 seconds before being automatically deleted, unless added to the user’s Snapchat Story, which extends the availability of the content up to 24 hours. In recent months, news media outlets, special interests groups and marketing agencies have used Snapchat stories to distribute content to millions of users.

It’s hard to ignore the demographic data of the more than 150 million daily Snapchat users: 60 percent are between the ages of 13-24 and 30 percent of teens rank Snapchat as the most important social network.* Those are key demographics for most colleges and universities’ marketing efforts, but deciding to join Snapchat is much more complicated.

St. Lawrence and Snapchat

when our communications team debates whether or not St. Lawrence should join a social network, we outline the ways that platform could help the university and how it would benefit the community. Most snaps are shared privately between people or small groups. Institutions need to consider how a university’s content strategy would blend in to that landscape.

Meg Bernier Keniston ’07, M’09, St. Lawrence’s social media manager, spent more than 18 months thinking and talking about Snapchat with her colleagues and her student social media team before creating the account. “I don’t take the decision to join another social media channel lightly,” she explained. “Each channel requires time, energy and resources to make sure St. Lawrence stands out among our peer institutions.”

As user numbers increased on Snapchat, the 10 members of the student social media team began researching college and university accounts, evaluating effective content and assisting with generating a strategy that would engage our target audiences: current and prospective students.

“We launched ‘stlawrenceu’ in January 2016, hosting a surprise day-long launch event on campus that garnered more than 1,000 followers in less than 24 hours,” Keniston said. “The team has spent the last 10 months sharing incredible stories which has helped us earn more than 2,400 followers, making it St. Lawrence’s fastest growing social account ever.”

With every new channel comes a learning curve. Keniston and her team have found that a 40-second story can sometimes take four hours to strategize and produce. For now, St. Lawrence uses Snapchat to highlight snippets of student life and help high school students navigate the college admissions process. What’s next depends on how the platform evolves and the features and functionality it adds. So, snap yourselves in and join us for the ride!

Join us on Snapchat. Not on Snapchat? We’ve created a YouTube playlist with some of our stories: Take a picture of the Snapchat logo above to follow us.