Last month, we celebrated the first anniversary of one of #UMSocial’s most successful initiatives to date- our ‘UofMichigan’ Snapchat account. At its conception in February 2014, we were just the second university on the platform and one of the first large brands to step into these uncharted waters. There were few models, little “best practices,” and no rules, leaving us with opportunity to explore. As we made the strategic decision to dip our toes in, many wondered how a university had any business leveraging the ephemeral photo sharing app. Following seasoned brands like Mashable and Taco Bell for inspiration and meticulously recording each of our followers into an excel spreadsheet, we were excited to break new ground and measure impact in the space. Since that time, we have moved from being risk takers to thought leaders in the “Snapchat-for-brands” arena. Gone are the days of being questioned about its appropriateness (or if we were receiving scandalous snaps), and here are the days of weekly requests for Snapchat strategy and best practice advice. UMSocial regularly consults with other universities, advertising agencies, and even broadcasters to help them navigate the platform, and we’ve been mentioned in Time Magazine and a Sprout Social piece. We’re very proud of our success, but more so with the thriving community we’ve created within the platform. Social media is a dynamic industry, constantly evolving to accommodate emerging platforms and user demographics. For UMSocial, Snapchat was and is an essential component of our ever evolving social media strategy.
A Look Back
As with all social media initiatives, prior to launching our account we did our homework, and the numbers didn’t lie: 73% of college-age Snapchat users said they would open a Snap from a brand they knew, and close to 70% of students said they’d add a brand on Snapchat if they followed them on Twitter. We never join a social network for the sake of joining, so we evaluated our resources and brainstormed a series of campaigns. As early adopters, we were taking a risk, but we felt confident we would be able to move forward with a robust and engaging presence. Next we starting dropping hints about the endeavor at guest lectures and on our existing social platforms. The majority of our responses were positive and our followers expressed excitement, however some scoffed at the idea of a university launching Snapchat– after all, at this time the platform perception still held the inaccurate notoriety of being a sexting app (less than 2% use the app for this purpose).
On February 26, 2014 after planning and hyping up the account, we revealed ‘uofmichigan’ on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We were immediately welcomed to the platform with an overwhelming amount of Snaps from students, prospective students, and alumni. Within the first week, we gained over 1,100 followers on Snapchat and received nearly 800 Snaps. This high engagement was extremely encouraging and we were excited to roll out our first of 80 campaigns executed last year.
In the pioneering of this new social frontier, we identified the platform’s purpose through experiential campaigns. Through the dedication of a sole staff member to the platform, development of our artistic skills and storytelling abilities, we were able to claim the space and work towards becoming the Leaders and Best among higher education social media.
Crowdsourcing User-Generated Content
Through our long standing UMich social channels, we’ve learned the importance and value of actively engaging with our audience. Snapchat provided us with the opportunity to experiment with new strategies and original ways to reach our target demographics. Above all else, engagement remains one of the most important factors in our social metrics, and the environment Snapchat presents has proved to be a tremendous tool to cultivate relationships and collect user generated content. In one of our first Snapchat stories, we asked our followers to “Snap to the Victors” with us. As our first truly interactive story we were unsure of what to expect, but were more than pleased with our final result of over 150 submissions and more than 100 new followers!
Since then we’ve added multiple “doodle stories” to our repertoire as well. In these, we ask our followers to screenshot and draw on one of our Snaps. From the Cube to campus squirrels, our community loves to help us crowdsource a story and we’ve received hundreds of submissions and thousands of screenshots. Best of all, we’ve seen many tweets from our users bragging on other social platforms that they’re now “Snapfamous” after being featured on our channel.
#AskUMich on Snapchat
Strategically leveraging our growing Snapchat community has also provided us new ways to extend existing campaigns. During summer orientation, I acted as an ambassador to execute an #AskUMich campaign on Snapchat, answering questions and addressing concerns of incoming students through Snapchat’s chat feature. It was a very useful way to humanize our brand and the students genuinely appreciated our advice. They also appreciated the free t-shirt giveaways to help them be “on brand” come fall.
Most recently, we’ve been working with many student organizations, university departments, and schools to help cover their events in a new and original way. Our Snapchat account is intended to act as the sole university account, enabling us to build bridges across the university and showcase the collective rather than create more silos. It is also a catalyst to demonstrate how other platforms and presences can be streamlined to better promote a united message. All of our efforts have truly revealed the power of Snapchat as a tool to cover campus events in real-time. You can see some of our efforts below:
Geofilter Campaign Success
Another fantastic element of our Snapchat efforts has been the opportunity to capitalize on their continued development as a platform. After seeing the launch of Community Geofilters, we were so excited to bring them to our campus. We immediately had our design team create a few options, and then decided to make the process truly social by reaching out to our talented community. The success of this campaign helped further establish a connection with Snapchat, Inc., streamlining our results and also helping us gain access to another awesome feature, “Our Campus Stories.” When students returned from winter break, they were greeted by four custom Snapchat geofilters and the ability to add their Snaps to a collaborative Our Campus Story.
It’s been amazing to see our geofilters in action in tandem with the Our Campus Story. The shared content from our students is a great way to tell the University’s story in an authentic way.
Outside of our campaigns and call-to-actions, we estimate that we receive about 10-20 Snaps each day. From lecture hall selfies to snaps of our beautiful campus and acceptance letters, our followers are eager to engage with us on a regular basis. We’ve had so many a-maize-ing Snaps that we’ve taken to Pinterest to showcase them.
Our first year with Snapchat has been a wonderful success story. When we first started the account, we had no way of knowing what results it might bring, but our preparation and innovation have positioned us again as leaders in higher education social media. It has been a lot of fun seeing our strategy develop and watching how other universities and brands utilize the platform. We hope you’ll snap with us as the “UofMichigan’ story continues!
Editing by @NikkiSunstrum, Director of Social Media at the University of Michigan