Marquette University’s Snapchat Strategy

For people who grew up along with social media, experimentation was normal. It was all new, so everyone was experimenting.

Tim Cigelske, Director of Social Media at Marquette University, is one of those people. When Snapchat came out, Tim had a kid and another on the way. In his words, he was “too old for Snapchat,” so he didn’t initially understand it. But that didn’t stop him from helping Marquette University become one of the first in higher ed to use Snapchat.

On the first episode of the Enrollment Growth University podcast, we interviewed Tim about the expertise he’s gained managing Marquette’s Snapchat account. This post hits the highlights of that interview.

Why Marquette Looked Into Snapchat in the First Place

When Tim was at the height of his Snapchat cluelessness, he read a Medium article written by a former student at Marquette.

The article talked about talking about moving away from “disparagement and ridicule” for things you don’t understand (e.g., automatically calling people stupid for using something that isn’t for you). It argued that a better attitude is one of curiosity, one that says, “If this is popular, it may not be for me but there’s something to it. There’s something resonating with people.”

So he turned to his interns and said, “OK, I don’t get it. What’s the appeal of Snapchat?” Write a paper about why it’s relevant for your generation.” That was about three years ago, and Marquette has been on Snapchat and growing ever since.

As marketers, we have a responsibility not to disparage the unfamiliar. We need to discover why it’s “for” certain people.

Father Marquette as the University’s Social Persona

The Snapchat account that Tim runs wasn’t created around the university name. Instead, it’s named around a persona: “Father Marquette,” after the university’s namesake.

Jacques Marquette was a Jesuit explorer of the Midwest. He had his own Twitter and Instagram accounts . . . because of Tim. As Tim set up those accounts, it was as if he were writing fiction while the official Marquette accounts were the nonfiction. Even though the Father Marquette accounts were under his purview, he could have more fun with them. It was like a character coming to life.

People responded. They understood that it was a friendly, goofy, grandfatherly voice of the university. And because this historical person was an explorer, it allowed Father Marquette to explore beyond campus and into the city of Milwaukee.

There are so many brands on social now that it’s easy to forget social media was originally just about people. Snapchat, when it was built, was the same thing. It was about showing yourself, showing your emotions.

That wasn’t something Tim was going to do himself on behalf of the university, but Father Marquette has his own little statue that can travel around and take selfies. Now he even has his own bitmoji, so the statue isn’t even necessary anymore.

“All of a sudden, there’s this friendly voice speaking to you that goes against the idea of a big, impersonal university,” Tim told us.

The Enrollment Growth ROI of Snapchat

A lot of higher-ed admins are skeptical of social channels for anything more than brand awareness. We asked how Tim respond to the question, “How is this really helping us grow enrollment here?”

His answer was to point to a gamification feature in Snapchat called “Streaks.” If you reply back to people more than three days in a row, there’s a little flame next to both of your names, and you’ve started a streak. You send a message back and forth every day. If you maintain the streak, you add a number to it, and if you don’t, you lose the streak.

It seems like a silly thing, but it’s a big deal to young prospective students. That’s why Father Marquette has a number of streaks going with high school and current students.

One example Tim shared was that there was a high school student who sent Father Marquette a message on decision day.

“Hey Father Marquette,” she said, “I’ve made my decision on where I’m going to college.”

“And…?” Father Marquette responded (with a few basic French words). The student wrote back with bitmojis and said she’d decided to come to Marquette.

Shortly after that, on the hundredth day of their streak, she was on a field trip with her friends, took a picture, and sent a message saying, “Hey Father Marquette, it’s our hundredth day of the streak.” All of her friends were celebrating.

This story illustrates a very simple reality: because of the demographic of prospective students, Snapchat is a very important channel for the top of the funnel.

For Those Still Hesitant to Wade in the Snapchat Waters

We also asked Tim what he would say to another college or university that is hesitant to jump on the Snapchat train, and what’s the best way to do it?

He teaches a lot of Snapchat workshops, and he has two pieces of advice:

  1. Talk to your kids, cousins, or someone at the family reunion who’s Snapping all day and ask them why they do it. They’ll tell you.
  2. You won’t get it at first. You’ll feel really awkward and different, and that’s because Snapchat is built primarily and only for phones. If you used a computer before you used a phone, you’re going to find Snapchat weird.

Even if you’re very uncomfortable, start a streak with a trusted friend and try it out.

Even if it’s not for you, that’s fine: as a marketer, you’ll at least understand understand the perspective of your target demographic.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Tim Cigelske from Marquette University. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.