When it comes to the possibilities to utilize social media from a marketing standpoint, technology continues to advance to the point where it seems as though each passing day brings the next great revolution, whether it might be a tweak to an existing social media medium, a new service entirely, or something in between.
Higher education and, in particular, college athletics, are by no means immune to that fact, and many have capitalized on the social media services available to them over the years. Snapchat certainly now plays a major role in how the industry markets itself, whether it be an admissions department or an athletic department. It offers all sectors of a college or university the ability to drive their services or products — something that the school feels is worth flaunting — in the most personal, intimate way possible: by showing you that content up close and personal with little to no filter!
It certainly helped that, when Snapchat launched in September of 2011, none of its major competition had evolved to the point where they have today, where Facebook and Instagram (the latter which is owned by the former) both have software features that allow users to share content in a manner similar to Snapchat. Still, though, with 200 million monthly active users that send 700 million photos or videos each day according to a 2017 article, with Snapchat reaches 11% of the US’s entire digital population, which is clearly nothing to snuff at! It has more users than Twitter, worth $16 billion as of May 2015, and among the most-used apps, averaging 30 minutes per day.
Knowing all that, how can Snapchat effectively be implemented in the higher education and collegiate athletics landscape? The University of Michigan, our feature image at the top of its post, with a total enrollment near 45,000, certainly could serve as a good barometer for whether or not the app would be successful or not. The school started its uofmichigan Snapchat account in February of 2014 and that launch was met with immediate success. It wasn’t shortly after that the NCAA followed suit in allowing coaches for all Division I sports outside of football, track and field, and swimming and diving — to communicate with prospective student-athletes via Snapchats during the recruiting process, prior to a prospective student-athlete signing an offer, which was a major game-changer in August of 2014, joining email and similar modes of communication — such as direct messaging on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram — as permissible methods of contact in recruiting for all sports.
At the University of Kansas, a 2014 Time article mentioned how the athletics department’s Snapchat account was primarily being used to give current students and longtime fans a behind-the-scenes glimpse of life as a student-athlete — from the locker room during the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City to the Wagnon-Parrott Athletic Center, where student-athletes hang out and can usually be persuaded to record mock sideline interviews for Snaps, winking at the camera as they tell fans to come to the next game. All of that is an absolutely perfect manner in which to market a product in a behind-the-scenes manner that would be otherwise impossible to do so to an average consumer, whether that person is a prospective student applying to a college or a prospective student-athlete who might be weighing offers to play a sport at a particular school over another.
Outside of college athletics, colleges and universities have found Snapchat useful for advertising on-campus events, or just simply to send out notifications, such as when classes are canceled due to snow or weather-related events. Knowing that college students are more likely to show up when there is free stuff, the University of Houston school Snapchat account has snapped locations where pizza and t-shirts are being given away on campus. Michigan used Snapchat to share a celebrity sighting, sending a Snap of Jeff Daniels, actor and local resident, taking a selfie with administrators at a reception honoring outgoing president Mary Sue Coleman, according to the aforementioned Times article.
In an era where more focus is being put on social media metrics — impressions, views, likes, mentions, retweet, reposts, etc. — the beauty in Snapchat, I believe, is truly in the “human” element of how personal it can be. There truly is some intangible, qualitative value to seeing your favorite college sports team be as down-to-Earth as possible by way of a Snapchat featuring a famous coach or star player doing completely ordinary and mundane things. I also believe there is no denying the fact that there is immense marketing capability by way of the app, even if it’s as simple as sending a snap out to followers letting them know of a flash sale, limited-time giveaway, or anything similar. Success, then, can be measured by way of surveying after the fact and asking what drove fans to a particular event.