Using Instagram and Snapchat for Higher Ed Marketing & Recruitment

By now, it’s clear that good images can stop your viewers in their tracks—newspaper, magazines, and book jacket designers have figured this out for ages. So it isn’t surprising that 140-character tweets and other text-only media have been replaced by Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat. However, this is not to say that text doesn’t matter because we’re too lazy to read, only that images have been complementing or even supplanting headlines. Now the question becomes, should you invest your resources into still photography, video, or both? It depends on many factors, but it ultimately comes down to your staff, equipment, and goals.

While social media has given us the flexibility to be lo-fi with the picture quality and art direction, it has also presented with new challenges, such as content expiration, limited metrics, and shorter recording time. To keep this simple, let’s focus on the two hottest social media services: Instagram and Snapchat.

Instagram – where images are worth 1,000 words

Think of Instagram as a 1-to-many photograph broadcast tool, which you can tag and view other photos based on the location. Although they allow video clips, Instagram is better known as a platform to show off a lifestyle. Celebrities use it to give their fans a glimpse of their exclusive lifestyle. For mere mortals, the platform is used to show the local scene with the help of preset filters to add a nostalgic or an artsy look.

Many colleges use Instagram to showcase the campus beauty, brag about the reach of their brand, or show how they’re a part of the community through reposts or likes of the local businesses and events. Instagram is a great way to connect with the community—particularly with prospective students in the area—and even encourage commuter students to participate in more campus activity. More broadly, Instagram is a great way for prospective students to catch a glimpse of campus life beyond what’s on the website and other marketing materials. As such, we recommend you show off your students in your Instagram photos as much as possible. Keep the photos authentic and natural to the platform.

See ya, Spring semester. Happy #LastDayofClasses, State.

A photo posted by Colorado State University (@coloradostateuniversity) on

Snapchat – embrace, don’t fear the ghost

Unlike Instagram, Snapchat is a video service that is better known for its 1-to-1 or 1-to-few broadcast. Although snaps can be shared with more people, the content creator defines the users in a group. The videos expire in 24 hours, replays can be limited, and the content creator is notified whenever someone takes a screenshot of the snap, in efforts to hold individuals accountable and curtail bullying. Snapchat functions more like a contact list on your phone, since users have to be manually added, and the relationship tend exist in real life.

What makes Snapchat fun is the myriad of lenses (their term for “filters”) users can apply, and the platform introduces one new lens each day. The lenses can be as similar as the face swap or aging apps that have existed for a while, or a simple sticker the user can place over the snap. Some colleges and businesses have been hesitant to adopt Snapchat due to the lack of metrics—although this may change soon, with the introduction of advertisement. Here’s a list of colleges and universities with their own Snapchat account.

Colleges, however, have the advantage of Campus Stories—whenever someone creates a snap on a college campus, the app verifies the user’s location via the smartphone’s GPS, and makes their snap discoverable via Campus Stories as to increase serendipity among its users within a certain area. Compared to Instagram, Snapchat has a stronger impact but limited reach due to its exclusivity. It’s a great tool to build school pride with the current students, but it may alienate prospective students since some of the snaps may fly above their heads.

Visual Content: Snapchat 1
Visual Content: Snapchat 2
Visual Content: Snapchat 3
Visual Content: Snapchat 5

Instagram vs. Snapchat – which one to use?

More and more teens are adopting Snapchat, and this is a platform all colleges should adopt or at least seriously consider, even if it’s difficult for those teens to participate in the campus conversation. Teens can still get an intimate view of student life, but only if they view the Snapchat on that day. So find out which day of the week your target demographic will be most available and publish on schedule. If they’re in a high school located in the southeast in a Friday night in the Fall, they will probably be attending a football game instead of checking Snapchat.

Producing good quality snaps on a daily basis to attract new followers can be very time-consuming, and it’s better if someone in your team has a video production experience to create a storyboard with different shots, lenses, captions, and then coordinate the talent with the location or event. Alternatively, hand over the property to vetted students or interns to create more relevant snaps, and it’ll also feel more authentic. Make it clear that it is a student-managed Snapchat.

Again, the biggest downside of Snapchat is the 24-hour expiration, the current lack of metrics, and the amount of time required to produce a snap. In our interviews with college students, they mention loving Snapchats because it’s fun and it gives them a sense of privacy with their group, but they later quit so they can focus more on their studies and social life. Apparently, watching and creating snaps are both time-consuming for them, so don’t feel obligated to create a new snap every day either.

Instagram is easier to produce and more forgiving with their built-in filters. Meet with your marketing team to brainstorm themes and create an editorial calendar with specific hashtags. Virtually anyone can take a picture with their smartphone, and it’s even possible to add photos from your digital SLR. Instagram posts are also easily shared across Facebook (since they own it), and more discoverable through hashtags. One of the easiest way to engage users is to simply repost or click “like” on their images, since it carries a similar “social economy” as Twitter (like, retweet, reply). By integrating Instagram on the homepage, visitors will have a better understanding of you college’s values and mission—the attributes behind your brand. However, they may also be skeptical if the images are overly produced or do not contain reposts.

So which one to use? Both if you can, but understand that even though they both overlap to some extent, Instagram is more likely to have an impact with prospective students who aren’t aware of your college, and Snapchat is better at engaging current and prospective students that already know your college. Audit your resources (staff and equipment), and define your goals (brand awareness and/or engagement).

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