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Understanding Snapchat and How Schools Can Utilize the App

By Juli Doshan on November 03, 2016 hst Print

These days, teachers, coaches and principals are facing an ever-present challenge. No matter how many rules they create or punishments they hand out, school administrators can’t seem to get students to put down their cell phones. Whether kids are watching the latest viral video on YouTube or attempting to create the latest viral video on Vine, there’s always something more interesting on their phones than what is happening in the classroom.

In at least one instance, though, it might be better to adhere to the adage that suggests “if you can’t beat them, join them.” When it comes to promoting your school events and garnering student interest in them, meeting kids where they frequently are – on their phones – is a great way to catch their attention. Especially if you can master one of the fastest-growing social media platforms, students will be even more likely to receive the message.

Snapchat is a free mobile phone app that allows its users to share pictures and videos with their followers. Each “snap” is only available for up to 10 seconds before it disappears and cannot be seen again unless the viewer takes a screenshot. With more than 150 million users worldwide, Snapchat has recently overtaken Twitter as the most popular social media platform.

“I would describe Snapchat as the fastest, easiest way to share photos and videos, or snaps, with friends through a mobile device,” said Andi Osters, Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) assistant director. “Brands like us can also use it to share photos and videos with their fans, clients and customers.”

Osters, who presented a workshop about Snapchat in June at the NFHS Annual Summer Meeting in Reno, Nevada, said the MHSAA generally utilizes the “story” feature, which allows snaps to be compiled into a chronological narrative. Unlike snaps, stories can be watched as many times as the viewer wants since they are available for 24 hours after posting.

“We’ve used Snapchat to capture the energy and atmosphere at our tournament championships in football, basketball, baseball, softball and soccer,” Osters said. “We also use the app when we’re conducting one-day student leadership events like captains’ clinics and sportsmanship summits.

“Snapchat allows us to show, in real-time, what’s happening at our most popular student-centered events.”

It is at those popular events that Osters said she takes an opportunity to let the students know about the MHSAA Snapchat account. That simple act is most often all it takes to add a handful of new followers.

“Once we tell a room full of 250 high schoolers that they might be on our Snapchat story, they instantly add us and watch our content,” Osters said. “We’re talking, within 30 seconds. That kind of exposure has been difficult for us to obtain on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“Snapchat is an app that almost every teenager uses daily, and we like that our brand is in their feed.”

Being able to meet the students on their turf is one of the most appealing things about Snapchat, Osters said. The casual nature of the app also helps the MHSAA connect with its younger audience, as does the ability to put fun filters, stickers and captions on snaps.

“I think Snapchat is unique because it allows users to form personal connections with other users,” Osters said. “It provides us with a tool that we can use to communicate directly with student-athletes and fans in a way that is fast, free, creative and fun – and in many ways, easier than the other platforms we’ve been using.

“It’s far less formal and stiff than some other platforms. We can be more humorous, personal and innovative with our content. I’m not a very talented artist, but my emoji game has certainly improved after using Snapchat for a few years.”

Since it is mainly an app used by a younger audience, some administrators won’t know how it works or will have never even heard of it. That combined with a hesitation to implement yet another social media account might present an obstacle to setting up an account for a high school. Osters said the app is so low-risk that she suggests schools give it a chance before dismissing it completely.

“We’re still working hard to get some of our administrators on the social media bandwagon, so to speak,” Osters said. “However, the ease and affordability of Snapchat should encourage folks to at least give it a try.

“I think there’s absolutely opportunity for an innovative athletic director to use the platform to promote regular-season contests, student successes and team schedules – really whatever the athletic department is doing on a day-to-day basis.”

Once they get the go-ahead, Osters recommends administrators sit down beforehand and create a plan. Consider who the target audience will be, what the focus of the account will be and which other administrators or even student managers will have login access. She also said to not be afraid to consult the school’s in-house experts during the brainstorm and after the account is set up.

“Like any social media platform, strategizing ways to promote your school, teams and athletes takes some thought,” Osters said. “If you have a smartphone, you should download the app and experiment with it for a bit.

“If you get really stumped, grab a few of your best and brightest student-athletes from your varsity squads. I guarantee they’ll have ideas for you.”

Osters said one of the more creative things she’s seen on Snapchat is the incorporation of sponsorships within a story, and that’s something she wants to try with the MHSAA account.

“We’re very interested in leveraging Snapchat with our corporate partners,” Osters said. “I’ve seen some associations fold in sponsor inventory mid-story, and we’re exploring those options for a few of our events.”

No matter how a school chooses to do it, Osters said that the coverage of high school athletics and activities is becoming more of the school’s own responsibility. With fewer local newspapers and other media to rely on, schools need to take control of their own message.

“It’s critical for our school sports advocates to tell our stories, however they can,” Osters said. “As traditional media covers prep sports less and less, it’s important for our member schools to take ownership over their programs by promoting them in new and exciting ways.

“Social media allows athletic administrators to explore that world, and Snapchat might be the easiest platform yet.”