Hundreds of freshmen at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay learned last year they had been accepted to the school via a “snap” or notification from the popular mobile phone app Snapchat.
When students applied online to the mid-sized public college, a survey gave them an option to include their Snapchat handle to be notified through the app, which allows users to send videos and photos that disappear within 10 seconds of viewing. Students also received email notifications and packets through traditional mail.
Snapchat is one of the many ways UWGB and other colleges are turning to social media to reach millennials who spend up to nine hours a day staring at phone screens, according to a 2015 survey by Common Sense Media.
“We serve as the front door to the campus,” said Jena Richter Landers, a social media specialist and 2013 graduate of UWGB. “We try to reach the students where they are, and then more serious information comes through traditional methods.”
UW-Green Bay’s snaps included fun photos from around campus, usually with the school’s Phoenix mascot, and messages ranging from “Welcome to the Phoenix family” to “We can’t wait to see you in fall.”
Students often replied with an excited selfie or thank you text.
“More students want an interpersonal feel, as in ‘I’m talking to you, you’re talking to me,’” said Katelyn Santy, UWGB student recruitment and enrollment coordinator. “That’s incredibly difficult for a large institute to achieve. This is one way to do that.”
Many perspective students are excited to see the school uses Snapchat she said, noting UW-Green Bay is not the first to send acceptance snaps.
The effort is labor intensive, however. About 200, or 10 percent, of the school’s freshmen, signed up for the notification, and their Snapchat “handles” had to be manually typed into the school’s account. Notifications were sent in batches several times a week last fall. Sending individual messages would have been impossible, said Santy, who realizes the idea may not work for large colleges.
“Our admissions intern was very diligent about the list,” said Richter Landers. “The last thing we want to do is send out a snap to the wrong person.”
Snapchat as another campus news source
Use of Snapchat goes beyond acceptance snaps. UW-Green Bay also hosts several question and answer sessions throughout the school year on topics such as financial aid or study-abroad programs. Recruiters did a virtual campus tour via the app, and administrators encourage students to share photos or videos during campus events with their Snapchat friends. School leaders also use the app to notify students about registration or other important deadlines, followed up by email or written communications.
Santy said students prefer Snapchat to other social media because they can ask questions without posting to a public site.
“This is where they text with their best friends,” she said. “It’s much more intimate than something like Facebook.”
To meet that desire for privacy, the school also creates closed Facebook pages for incoming students. In the Class of 2022 private group, for example, students feel comfortable introducing themselves and using the forum to make roommate connections.
However, she encourages students with detailed questions to call or visit a school advisor in person.
“Kids are comfortable with social media, but it doesn’t work for everything,” Santy said.
College admissions offices looking to beef up their social media outreach should think strategically, Richter Landers said.
Research shows millennials have moved away from Facebook and Twitter to Instagram and Snapchat, so the school focuses short videos and pretty campus photos to those phone apps.
On the other hand, administrators gear Facebook entries to appeal to parents of prospective students, recognizing they are more likely to use this platform. Posts may focus on campus safety or food program costs, for example.
Nikki Sunstrum, director of social media at the University of Michigan, encourages all universities to have active social media accounts to attract students.
“Recruitment really is, ‘We need to find these students and show them what we are about,’” she said. “A lot of our social media content is about that goal.”
Social media allows universities to connect prospective students quickly to information or resources, Sunstrum said.
The University of Michigan was the first higher education institution to strategically launch a Snapchat account, she said. Snapchat allows current students or young alumni to connect immediately with prospective students, sharing their own experiences directly in a personal way. New students also can experience campus events in real time compared to sharing information via other platforms, she said.
The strategy takes time and resources, however. For example, once she receives a school press release, she will strategize whether the news works better as photos or a video, then find proper sources and locations to create a 10-second Snapchat post.
“Some of it is whimsical, but we want to give them important information,” she said. “You have to have the right content. Do it right, otherwise it will fall flat.”
Social media is likely to remain a growing recruitment tool for colleges, but UWGB’s Richter Landers said it’s hard to predict the future.
“In August 2014, the university did not have Snapchat,” she said. “Who knows how we will be reaching students five years from now?”