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How are Schools Using Snapchat?
Mia Major

When we launched The State of Social Media Marketing Report with data from 300+ schools this past October, there were some obvious trends — including that 98% of schools use Facebook; 87% use Twitter; and 75% use Instagram (which reflects a 10% growth in Instagram use among schools since April). However, a very small percentage use Snapchat — eight percent to be exact.

Single digits, my friends.

only 8% of school marketers use snapchat - iphone on desk

Despite Snapchat's low adoption rate, the questions I get asked most often are:

  • Should my school be using Snapchat?
  • What is the benefit of Snapchat?
  • How can my school use Snapchat?
  • Can I use Instagram Stories instead of Snapchat?
  • How can we use Snapchat safely?

The quick answers to those five questions are the following:

Should my school be using Snapchat? You don't need to use Snapchat — trust me, it really is not necessary. You do not need to do it because "all the cool kids are doing it." While it is a fun, easy-to-use social media network, if you're already pressed for time on your social media efforts (like 58% of all other school marketers), Snapchat may not be your best investment of time.

What is the benefit of Snapchat? The obvious (and arguably biggest) benefit of Snapchat is being on a social network is being where your students are most active. In addition, the communications do not have to be sophisticated; there are no algorithms to control your content; and engagement rates are extremely high.

How can my school use Snapchat? Your school can use Snapchat as a way to engage your current community, as long as it is done strategically and appropriately. Most schools use Snapchat to send quick snippets of content that give a glimpse of life at the school — including campus events and athletic events.

Can I use Instagram Stories instead of Snapchat? Yes, absolutely! In many cases, the same content you would post on Snapchat could be posted in your Instagram story. Instagram Stories are similar to snapchat stories because they are short videos and photos that disappear after 24 hours. They appear at the top of users' feeds, and are easy to be seen. So, if you're a school who already has an active Instagram following, and likes the idea of stories and quick snippets of content, use Instagram stories. Snapchat may not be a necessary add-on.

How can we use Snapchat safely? The most important thing to remember about Snapchat is to never follow your followers back. Most students use Snapchat as a way to share their personal life with their friends, and it may be something they don't want you to see. If there are certain students you'd like to follow — such as social media ambassadors — get their permission first. You can include this in your school's social media policy and/or privacy policy.

Assuming schools' curiosity about Snapchat goes hand-in-hand with that low adoption rate, and Snapchat's not-so-great history, I reached out to some of individuals who use Snapchat at their school to find out if there is some hidden benefit we're all missing. Turns out...not really. Based on conversations with that tiny 8% who use Snapchat, I was able to conclude:

  • Your school does not need to use Snapchat, especially if you have engaged, active followings elsewhere.
  • The real benefit is still unknown because you cannot really track engagement.
  • But hey, it is pretty cool and fun if you have the time. (Emphasis on "have the time".)

That being said, if you're still feeling like your school really needs to be using Snapchat, here are some tips, strategies, and inspiration.

How Schools Are Using Snapchat

Every school marketer knows that Snapchat is a case-in-point example of needing to "fish where the fish are." With more than 173 million users, and more than 80% of them within most schools' key target audience (13-24 years of age), it's an obvious platform to flock to as schools seek higher engagement rates among constituents.

Fishing where the fish are is a great marketing strategy... but what happens when you don't know how to fish? Snapchat is a tricky platform when it comes to content and privacy — yet all the schools I spoke to are using it in very similar ways with the same precautions.

In all cases, school marketers are using Snapchat as a way to directly share snippets of campus life and announcements with current constituents and alumni.

At Kimball Union Academy, Snapchat is used for current family communication with the goal of increasing community engagement.

"I use Snapchat to broadcast glimpses of campus life, and also to advertise upcoming events that are happening on campus this week," said Dustin Melzter, Associate Director of Communications at Kimball Union Academy. "I was really active on it during orientation when lots of games and activities were going on, but things have slowed down a bit. Now I am posting on Thursdays about upcoming on-campus or school-sponsored weekend activities, primarily."

At Montclair Kimberley Academy, Snapchat is primarily used by the Athletics Department.

"Snapchat has been a great social media vehicle for us to keep things fresh and alive within our athletic office, programming and our constituents. We have a large number of current students and alums who follow us throughout the year," said Todd Smith, Director of Athletics at Montclair Kimberley Academy. "Bottom line is that over time, when we send a snap out or create a "snap story" we have a few hundred folks who view it. It's been a fun, creative way to keep folks in the fold and keep up-to-date with the current social media trend."

Lenoir-Rhyne University Focuses on Event Marketing

"Right now, our Snapchat use is very limited," said Leslie Ellis, who works in the office of Digital Communications at LR. "The majority of our posts are preplanned when we know specific events are happening and we want to highlight them. We are currently redeveloping a Snapchat strategy to allow for more regular posts that better fit with our strategies on other social media networks."

However, there was one non-event example Leslie remembers working particularly well. "One day, I found almost every single school yearbook in storage dating back to the early 1900s (LR was founded in 1891). With all of that history, I decided to make Throwback Thursdays our Snapchat feature, " said Leslie. While Leslie noticed many other universities taking to Twitter for #ThrowbackThursday, she opted for Snapchat for a few reasons:

  • To increase followers by teasing the unique content on other social accounts
  • To reach the current student population to teach them about the history of their school
  • To use the information as a catalyst for conversation within our campus community.

"After launching our Snapchat Throwback Thursday, we had great results," she said. "Many students have told me they look forward to Thursdays because they know they will learn something new about their university. It's generated a great sense of pride for LR, and I'm looking forward to taking it to the next level once I finalize the new, more consistent strategy."

Berkshire School uses Snapchat to showcase a day-in-the-life of their students.

"What comes through is extremely genuine," said Michael Hayes, Assistant Director of Communications at Berkshire School in his podcast. "But Snapchat is just a lot of fun, too. You just need to be smart about it. We've had some great stories up there."

Berkshire school also promotes Snapchat on their other social media networks to encourage students to follow their account for fireside chats, sports updates, and more.

Berkshire School Snapchat

Schools who currently don't have an active Snapchat presence use geofilters to promote brand awareness when students are on campus or at current events. Geofilters are simple graphic overlays that Snapchat users can access when at a certain event or on your campus. (We provided some additional details on setting one up in this blog post.)

Here is an example of a geofilter for an event:

LRU geofilter

Lenior-Rhyne also has a campus-wide geofilter than can be used whenever you are on campus. They promoted the use of these geofilters on Facebook:

LR - geo 2

None of the schools I spoke to use Snapchat daily. It is primarily a social media app used for special events and announcements, resulting in about one to two days of activity per week.

"Snapchat is a social media network that we often put on the back burner – simply because it is harder to track," said Leslie from LR. "We also have more followers on other social media accounts, which tend to be the priority. Currently, we dedicate only an hour per week – but next semester we will have a student intern to aid in these efforts. Our updated Snapchat strategy will be completed by this time and place a greater need in increasing the dedicated time each week."


Each social network bears its own set of obstacles and struggles. On Facebook, it's algorithms. On Twitter, it can be both the character limit and algorithms. And on Instagram, it is a mix of algorithms, photo quality, hashtags, and more.

On Snapchat, the first obvious issue schools face is privacy. "One of the tricky things that we had to navigate was convincing the students and athletes that we would not follow them back for privacy concerns but that died down after the initial few weeks," said Todd of MKA.

A second major hurdle? Everything disappears! While you can save stories to your memories in Snapchat (an automatically included feature) and your phone, repurposing them across social media platforms is not a common practice.

What happens if you hit a content hurdle? According to Snapchat users, turn to your students — not to prepare the content, but to inspire it. "This is one network where you need to listen to the students," said Todd of MKA. "They know how to use it and will tell you what they are looking for on there."

The third major hurdle, is of course, the time investment. "Do not take on social media unless you are prepared to do so or have someone willing to maintain it," advised Leslie from LR.

Want to give Snapchat a try?

If you're sold on starting a Snapchat strategy, read our blog on Starting out on Snapchat for more tips and best practices.

Free Report: The State of Social Media


Mia Major

As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV and news reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specialises in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, and Finalsite's popular eBook, The Website Redesign Playbook.

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