Skip to main content

So you wanna start a Snapchat ...


West Virginia University was one of the first universities on Snapchat. 

Sure, it seems scary for a university to send/receive disappearing photos, but once Snapchat added its “stories” feature in October 2013 - where you essentially have a visual “status” for 24 hours that everyone can see - it changed the game of social media. It left an opening for colleges and universities to make a name for themselves.

And, that’s when we really took the bull by the horns - trying new things, talking to people, figuring out how this new opportunity could work for us. We stumbled around a lot bumping into things until we settled into our groove. Now, we’re receiving upwards of 7,000 views on every story, and prospective students engage with us daily. Because we’ve been fortunate to have some success early on, we’re often sought out by other schools looking to get a Snapchat account started. Here are some tips and thoughts as you look to see if Snapchat is right for you.

Whoa! Isn’t Snapchat scary?

No. There’s an antiquated idea that Snapchat is just used to send risqué photos or questionable material, but that’s a misconception. There are more than 100 million daily active users on Snapchat, and it’s constantly growing. It’s grown from a small, niche audience to being a standard part of any social media presence.

Is a Snapchat account worth it?

More than 60 percent of 13 to 34-year-old smartphone users in the United States are on Snapchat. So, so many prospective students are here, and if they’re talking here, we think we should be, too. It’s the next iteration of social media progression, and provides a more personal, more anonymous conversation.

OK, OK, but what do you post on Snapchat?

Well, what do your prospective students want to know? Or, is your account more current student focused? What do they want to see? That could be anything from weekly events to dorm tours to recipes to fun hidden spots on campus. We’ve had a “Hidden Gems” series where we highlight some not well known spaces on campus. We’ve also taken our Snapchat on “The Ultimate WV Road Trip” to see beautiful spots around our state. We’ve also highlighted research, fun student life events and sporting events. We’ve done question and answer sessions - with us, as well as our president.

But tell me about the takeovers.

Ah, yes. Our biggest claim to fame is starting “Takeover Tuesday” where we quite literally hand over our university account to a student so that he/she can take us through a day in his/her life. We have hand-picked from our Social Media Ambassadors group to help get them started (because it can be scary to hand over the information to your main account), but we also have a sign up form on our Social account where students can apply. We vet them, have them sign a contract, and we send them a list of do’s and don’ts. When it’s their day, I upload a graphic, then send them the username/password with some guidelines and have them show us what’s up. We haven’t had many problems, because these students are excited and want to represent the school well. People love seeing what life is actually like for real students, and it’s a full day’s worth of content for us that we don’t have to create ourselves. Win-win.

You mentioned you put a graphic intro before a campaign. How?

Well, we are sneaky. We make whatever graphic we may want to use, then I put it on my iPad, and while logged into Snapchat on my phone, I take a photo of the image on the iPad. Dark rooms work best for this. Part of the appeal of Snapchat is that it’s direct, raw, unpolished - but just a tiny bit of graphic control helps set our campaigns apart.

How much time do you spend on Snapchat?

Way too much. A lot of what we do wouldn’t be possible without the help of our Social Media Ambassadors. I simply can’t be at every event or activity going on, so I can entrust our Social Media Ambassadors to help out.

How often do you post?

I aim to have 2-4 posts per week. We tend to see our Snapchat friends are just happy to see something - like a nice surprise - but they don’t expect updates every day. Like you would on Twitter.

What is a live campus story?

This is a Snapchat-run "live" story that features your college campus. They're only at select campuses right now, but it runs constantly, and anyone in that location can submit to the story. So, we were worried that not only would it show an unsavory part of campus, but that it would also threaten the University Snapchat account – because why would anyone need to follow us if there is a constant WVU story happening right in the live story section?  But, you can tell better stories to make people seek out your account. We have access to more places – like behind the scenes at football games or previews of new art openings or even samples of new restaurants opening on campus. Plus, we can tell a story from start to finish, unlike the campus story that aggregates from multiple sources. We can have a point of view. So, take advantage of that. Show off what you can do – show off these unique opportunities – use the competition as motivation - and prove why the University account is the one to follow.

People don't know how to find out about our Snapchat!

There are a few ways to help this. The biggest is to cross-promote.  Snapchat has also made it much more easy to send a link prompting people to add you . Take your Snapcode and post it everywhere! Promote it on your Twitter and Facebook accounts; put it in promotional materials, put it in admissions materials. Everywhere you can think of. You can also have giveaways for new followers, and other contests to help increase your numbers, as well. And, never JUST put the Snapchat logo somewhere. Make sure your actual handle accompanies it always. 


Ugh, right. You can try your hand at a community geofilter, which is free. But it can't contain brand logos. OR, you can create an on-demand one where you are permitted to use brand logos and trademarks - for a price. They are also set for a certain time period, whereas the community ones exist indefinitely. We have had few successes with community geofilters and have begun turning to on-demand ones (which is likely because Snapchat wants to earn money from it).

More questions? Email me at Happy to chat!