Get Snappin’: Alumni Engagement in the Era of Snapchat

Snapchat is the biggest social media platform that you’ve never used.

While it’s just now expanding into the post-millennial mainstream, Snapchat’s user base is young. Almost half of all Snapchatters are in the 18-24 age bracket.

Here are some more SnapStats that should grab your attention:


Snapchat is a big deal among the hard-to-reach young alumni segments of our audience. These are the people who don’t get the alumni magazine (because you still have their parents’ address), probably have an outdated email address (do they check it anyway?), and haven’t told you what industry they’re in (because they haven’t updated their alumni profile).

Higher-ed advancement needs to catch up with the Snapchat explosion. Right now, only 15% of schools are using Snapchat, which is actually triple the number of schools that were on the platform the year before.

But Wait, Isn’t Snapchat Scary?

Snapchat is still suffering from the bad PR of its early days, when parents freaked out about kids shooting off photos that could only be viewed once. They probably did so with good reason; teenagers can get into a lot of trouble in eight seconds or less.

While there’s still the possibility of exchanges of NSFW material between users on Snapchat (the same way there is through private messages on Facebook or Twitter), Snapchat realized it had to grow up if it was going to become a major player in social media.

So, the platform created ways for brands to engage with users by launching “Snap Stories,” a series of publicly viewable photos and videos that users can post on their profile for 24 hours. It also allows brands to create geofilters—location-based add-ons for photos and videos—giving schools the ability to create custom looks for campus and special events.

Here’s a Snapchat tutorial for all my fellow adults:


Schools like West Virginia University were early adopters of Snapchat. They’ve now moved towards a Snapchat-first strategy when it comes to engaging prospective and current students and young alumni.

Snappy Ideas for Advancement

1. Take advantage of Snapchat’s geofilters to engage attendees at reunion, homecoming, regional receptions, or graduation. Alumni and students will be able to share snaps with friends who couldn’t make it, amplifying the impact of your event.

University of Nebraska at Kearney graduation geofilter. Source: Twitter

Midwestern State University rivalry game geofilter. Source: Twitter

2. Let current students, instructors, or alumni “take over” your Snapchat channel for the day, spotlighting the people who make your organization unique.

You can also download these one-day stories to share on other social channels.

West Virginia University regularly turns the phone over to a Mountaineer for the day:


Each Tuesday, the University of New Hampshire lets a student walk through their day on Snapchat, then uploads the story to YouTube:


3. Capture in-the-moment events and campus traditions with Snapchat.

The University of Nebraska uses several custom geofilters to let incoming students celebrate their newfound Husker status:

Source: Twitter

At Phillips Exeter Academy, we used a geofilter for our annual thank-a-donor day event to spread the word on campus and give students a fun way to share their gratitude:


Get Snappin’

It’s hard to believe that Snapchat has existed as an app for five years already, but that shows there’s staying power with this platform. With its off-the-charts user engagement, it’s time for higher-ed advancement to sit up and pay attention.

The beauty of Snapchat is its temporary, there-then-gone nature. That impermanence can be an advantage to your school and organization when starting out. It’s okay to make mistakes or to try something that doesn’t work, because the next day you’ll have a blank slate to fill all over again. Happy snapping!

Mastered Snapchat? Learn about Instagram for higher-ed here!

Mike Nagel is the Associate Director for Advancement Communications at Phillips Exeter Academy. He spends his time managing and creating stories for PEA’s social media, alumni website, email marketing campaigns, and other mostly-digital play spaces. Say hi on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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