There’s no question that Snapchat is hot on the social scene these days. The platform, Bloomberg reports, has just surpassed Twitter in number of daily users, and big brands have recently been touting BIG results by leveraging Snapchat’s unique features and paid advertising opportunities. Following an extremely successful performance by Gatorade on Super Bowl Sunday, Taco Bell used a custom Snapchat lens on Cinco de Mayo to appeal to young consumers. The campaign shattered platform records with 224 million views, which Taco Bell says provided the company with 12.5 years’ worth of user interaction in a 24-hour period. But that type of reward doesn’t come cheap: the cost for the Taco Bell campaign was rumored to be around $750,000.


What interests consumers more than the design or the product itself is the short-term, ephemeral availability of the content. An 18-year-old opens Snapchat, and within five minutes will have sent a rainbow-spewing selfie to friends in Canada, experienced a day in the life of users in Mumbai, and caught up on an archaeological dig in Greece. The reason Snapchat has been so successful is that they understand their audience: they know their users aren’t opening up a newspaper every morning, so they’ve stepped in and become a primary source for users to collect traditional media such as news, politics, and more in a fun and engaging way.

Peter Hamby, CNN political reporter turned Snapchat Head of News, joined the company early in 2015—seemingly one of the first in the traditional media world to understand Snapchat’s potential. Hamby has since become a personality within his own new original series, “Good Luck America” on Snapchat Discovery, an ongoing feature educating millennials on the idiosyncrasies of the American electoral system in anticipation of the 2016 presidential election. Like other Snapchat Discovery features, the two-minute-or-less narratives are witty, visually appealing, informative, and delivered daily into the hands of 13-35 year olds around the world. In an era of dying print and digital overload, Snapchat is providing unparalleled opportunity.

As Snapchat grows and seeks an expanded demographic, it is no accident that the Live and Discover sections received a significant facelift. Consumers can now easily navigate between breaking news, trending topics, and the latest in pop culture in the same place they go to snap, message, or call their friends.


As impressive as Snapchat’s ability is to stay abreast of national and world news, their latest endeavors into hyper-local interactions is really a game changer. This spring Snapchat homed in on a random shout-out in which a male and female student, later deemed “Vikings Fan” and “Mystery Girl,” happened to glimpse each other on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s campus story and confessed their virtual attraction. Snapchat quickly created geo-filters for the two and began curating the ongoing saga, featuring students encouraging the two to meet, documenting sightings across campus, offering their advice on relationships, and eventually sharing in the emotional first meeting at a town bar. Captivating a campus community of 40,000+ for hours and essentially establishing themselves as must-watch television.


So what is a brand—or higher education-institution—to do?

In short, brands, including higher education institutions, must understand that utilizing Snapchat is about more than just getting users to spew rainbows on your behalf. It is a constantly changing marketplace of important ideas and up-to-the-minute news. And to keep up, you must know what sorts of content to feed into these different sources of information. Provide content that is visually appealing as well as informative and understand what your users want, but don’t speak down to them. While Snapchat provided many whimsical features, staying true to the tone and personality of your brand should always inform your content choices.

The University of Michigan has been successfully leveraging Snapchat for more than two years. Our content has evolved from weekly stories to daily highlights. We have established a robust content calendar and partnered with primary organizations to offer takeover or guest-appearance opportunities. Furthermore, Snapchat is a primary component of almost all overarching social strategies.

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Here are our top five tips for leveraging Snapchat to its fullest potential:

  1. Provide content that is visually appealing as well as informative. Behind-the-scenes coverage of events, exclusive Q&As with popular speakers, and timely messages from key stakeholders pack a powerful punch. Understand what your users want, but don’t talk down to them.
  1. While Snapchat provides many whimsical features, stay true to the tone and personality of your brand. It is not necessary to deliver a museum tour while placing lenses on each piece of art, but it can be cool to use the hyper-speed video mode to show a time-lapse of 3D printing. Regardless of platform, content should always be reflective of the core values and objectives of your organization.
  1. A 60-second recap of a one-hour event still takes an hour. We live in a world of 140 characters or less and ever-decreasing attention spans. More often than not, the feedback we receive when collaborating with a unit on a takeover is how time-consuming it can be to curate a quality Snapchat story. Effectively maintaining an account means having the proper resources in place before, during, and after a story. Check out our Snapchat storyboard resource or our YouTube playlist of Snapchat stories.
  1. Build bridges, not accounts. Snapchat is not the world’s most user-friendly app and many above its core 18-to-34-year-old demographic have little or no interest in navigating its fickle features. So despite recent news that Snapchat’s daily users have surpassed Twitter’s, the call for every area of an organization to create an account should not be going out. Why, you ask? Simple. Quantity does not equal quality. Hype is seductive but statistics show Snapchat still only reaches 11 percent of Americans. Unless that 11 percent is your entire demo, your company may need to focus on collaborating to further your reach and stimulate growth. 
  1. The best things in life are free.Okay, well that one is likely up for debate—but #UMSocial certainly doesn’t have the budget Taco Bell has to create a custom Snapchat lens. The great thing about Snapchat for brands is that content still goes to your entire audience, free of algorithms and auto-curation. While they provide few metrics, Snapchat does allow you to examine who has viewed your snaps and how long viewers stuck around through a story. Additionally, on-demand geo-filters provide a low-cost opportunity to engage your community, and evergreen geo-filters are still free. During our 2016 #MGoGrad commencement celebrations we invested less than $400 on three different geo-filters around campus for approximately four hours. The campaign resulted in 108,564 views of branded content and over 2,200 filter uses.


This post was initiated by Kelly Arnold, a sophomore at Hope College studying communications and a summer 2016 #UMSocial intern. #StaySocial with her: @KellyAArnold

Edited by @NikkiSunstrum, Director of #UMSocial