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Why I (and most college students) Love Snapchat

I ❤️ Snapchat. In the moment, low pressure and twenty-four hours later it is gone.
shutterstock_245067469I have been getting to know the application for a while, but recently on vacation I really started to get the appeal. This will be far from a tutorial post about Snapchat. I will do my best to provide resources – as some of you may still fear this application is for inappropriate content (spoiler alert – by and large no). There are also a couple of cool new features that existing users will be interested to hear that I’ll share.
In this post I’ll provide a quick background and known research of the application, as well as what I am currently finding appealing. I will also share some results from my dissertation, which highlight why college students are drawn to Snapchat. Finally I’ll address what this means for higher education and provide some resources.


Snapchat is a photo mobile messaging tool, which was developed by Stanford University students in 2011, allows users to take pictures that disappear in one to 10 seconds. Snapchat reported in May 2014 that there were 700 million “snaps” sent daily, including photos and videos (Hamburg, 2014) posted by 200 million active users (Shontell, 2014).
Here is a recent vlog from the co-founder and CEO Evan Spiegel – which also hits upon digital identity and the appeal of Snapchat for expression.

This social media tool was first assessed by the Pew Research Institute in 2013, which found that 13% of smart phone owners were active users on Snapchat. Their activity included mostly “snaps” of funny pictures or selifes (Duggan, 2013).
In 2013 I was not one of these active users. Fast forward two years – I am wrapped up in its’ appeal that many college students are drawn to. To explain how prominent Snapchat was with college-aged students in 2014, Techcrunch reported on a comScore study that found that Snapchat was the third most popular application used by Millennials, with its adoption rate (32.9%) surpassed by only Instagram (43.1%) and Facebook (75.6%) (Perez, 2014). In the next year, the same study released that 71% of Snapchat’s active users were between the ages of 18 to 34 (Reisinger, 2015).

Why I Love It

There are many social media applications I use daily and love, however Snapchat has a few features that separates it from the pack. These are six reasons why I enjoy this application.
Less pressure. While there are some stickers, text and drawings you can add to snaps – the pressure is gone to edit, add the perfect filter or correct caption like on Instagram or Facebook.
emojis1I want my Emoji. Part of the online language is Emojis – and incorporating them into a Snapchat is part of the applications appeal.
Delete now or later. This is a recent change for Snapchat, before once you added a post to your story you would have to live with it for 24 hours. Now, you can delete the post at any time in 24 hours. It’s not like I second guess my posts, but hey it sure is nice to know the option is there.
A new way to Vlog. With Snapchat stories you can document your day and share it online seamlessly by adding to your story. Check out one of my stories while I was on vacation in Hawaii: https://www.facebook.com/josie.ahlquist/videos/10101114691695978/?l=253553956341722038
No reception, no problem. One part of Snapchat stories that many don’t realize is that you can keep ‘snapping’ even if you don’t have reception. Most of my story above was captured this way, as during the hike we didn’t have cell reception. After we got back to dry land I went back in the app and reloaded each snap in chronological order and…snap!
Saving Stories. Another new addition to stories is being able to save to your phone an entire story or a single post. This is how I capture my entire story above. Another advantage to saving your stories, is you can post them in other places. For example, you will notice that the link above directed you to my Facebook page.
It’s not about likes or comments. This last reason goes a little deeper. On this application, you do not have the option to ‘like’ or comment on anything. You can however send a direct snap or message – but those are far between. Instead of looking at this application for how many likes or comments you get (be honest you do this) – this application takes out that curiosity/validation. Now you post because you just want to share it.
Want to follow my Snapchat adventures?!  Snapchat just added a feature called Snapcodes. Open up Snapchat and take a picture of the logo below – which was uniquely created for my account (josieahlquist). Techcrunch declared this was finally making QR codes cool. Get your own Snapcode here: https://accounts.snapchat.com/accounts/snapcodes


Why Students Love It: My dissertation discoveries about Snapchat

This past year I successfully completed my dissertation, called Developing Digital Student Leaders. One finding that I did not expect was the relevancy of SnapChat to my 40 participants. Out of all current social media applications, the highest categories of daily usage included Facebook (80.0%), Instagram (62.5%), Snapchat (55.0%), and YouTube (27.5%).

I’ve included the major reasons my participants gave me for using the application. A special note – I found either participants used Snapchat and loved it or did not use it at all and also didn’t understand the appeal (note the 55% statistic above). This calls for a future study, possibly looking deeper into how personality is connected to social media application adoption.
There were five major reasons participants enjoyed Snapchat, these included showing rather than telling, moving away from Facebook, the new way to text, sharing to smaller circles and control & privacy. I will explain these with direct quotes from students in the study.

Show Don’t Tell

Participants described their posting behavior as visual. This included not only what they posted, but also what they preferred to look at. For example, one student shared,

“Instead of just telling you, I’m just showing and there’s a lot more important things I’m using through pictures rather than posts. I don’t remember the last time I just posted a written status. There’s always like a picture now.”

Another participant also related,

“I mostly use my social media as like to take pictures. For example, like Snapchat, I use it a lot. I like to take pictures of different stuff on Instagram. Or just funny pictures of myself and just sending it to my friends, and they send me funny pictures of themselves. So it’s just like, like a little game going back and forth.”

Moving Away from Facebook

A number of students talked about their lack of Facebook usage,

“I haven’t posted a status in I would say like two years, like a real status like what I’m doing or how I’m feeling. I’m more of an observer on Facebook. Whereas something like Snapchat or Instagram it’s more personal and like instantaneous and random.”

The New Way to Text 

Sending a direct snapchat message was described as a new way to text message. This was especially true when sending a photo.

“For me the reason I use snapchat because it just takes too long for pictures to load when I texted them or if I Facebook message them. And there’s also like the sense of security like oh, they only appear for like 3 seconds.”

Another participant shared,

“I’ll just Snap chat you and half the time they’ll respond to the Snap chats quicker than they will my text message. So, I’d be like, oh hey, I’m right outside your building, let’s go eat. It’s quicker than if I text them, then they won’t ever look at it. So, I use Snapchat just to get in touch with people really quickly cause I know they’re more inclined to look at that.”

Sharing to Small Circles

Knowing who exactly you were sharing content with was expressed by many participants. One student explained,

“So that’s when Snapchat comes into play. It’s more of a personal, who you have on your phone.”

Another participant agreed, “And it’s like Snapchat is more, I think, very more personal, like only my closest friends usually. I have a lot of people added, but I don’t necessarily snap that many different people.”

Control and Privacy

Who the participants were engaging with affected how they used different social media platforms. One student stated,

“I usually take to Snapchat better than I would to Facebook just because I feel like Snapchat and Instagram is like more tailored to like your friends and the people like if you’re private the people you approve. So I think it also has to do with like the amount of people that I’m reaching. So when it’s more personal than, it’s obviously I make it a little more personal, more funny. Whereas like Facebook, I feel like oh, anybody could see my post.”

Another student also liked Snapchat because it provided more control over who they connected with,

“And I think I use Snapchat almost as a response to not being able to post on Facebook anymore like professionally because you can. Like you see something funny or want to show like just my three best friends that I can just take that picture and only they can see it, as opposed to like you know, the world seen it.”

For even more reasons why teens and young adults use Snapchat, check out the (pretty hilarious) video below.

Applying Snapchat for Higher Ed

Just because a social media application exists and becomes popular, doesn’t mean your department or university needs to be on it. This is especially true for Snapchat, which thrives on immediacy and playfulness.
But for those ready to jump in – this section is for you! Last fall the Chronicle of Higher Education featured ways for higher education to use Snapchat for current students, prospective students and prospective student-athletes. Check out that post (here).
A year and a half later many of these suggestions apply, but let’s get back to the basics in awareness, then exploring campus adoption and finally getting fancy with creating your own campus stickers.


A great way to explore and experiment is setting up your own personal account to get used to the interface. You’ll be surprised how many people in your phone already have a Snapchat account! Feel free to follow me at josieahlquist – to see how I use the platform.
For more reasons to explore Snapchat, check out a presentation by my colleague Courtney O’Connell

Campus Adoption

Now that you have some awareness of the application, adoption is step two. While accounts are free and easy to set-up, creating a strategy will lead to long-term success. Check out this article (The Facts about Teens, SnapChat, and Higher Education Enrollment) for questions to ask yourself about Snapchat account creation.
Two main Snapchat methods that are already built-in the fabric of university life are sharing campus events and the student experience. For example, document move-in day with a story.  Further, ask the campus to send your account direct snaps that can be added. For even more ideas and application to higher education, I have provided a number of articles and examples below:




Start following other Universities that are paving the way for higher education Snapchat integration and strategy. Last year Edtech.com featured six higher education snapchat accounts to follow, which included:

  • University of Houston (UHouston)
  • University of Michigan (UofMichigan)
  • Tennessee Wesleyan College (TWC_Snaps)
  • Eastern Washington University (EWUAthletics)
  • University of Kansas (jayhawks)
  • West Virginia University (WestVirginiaU)

Have others to add to this list? Share them in the comments below! 
Creation of Campus Stickers 
Snapchat is beta testing the ability to create personalized geofilters. As described by the site,

“Geofilters are special overlays for Snaps that can only be accessed in certain locations. Artists and designers are encouraged to use this tool to bring their one-of-a-kind style to the Snapchat community. Simply choose the geographic area you want your filter to be available in and upload an image asset. All images must be original artwork and have to be approved by the Snapchat team.”

This means someone on your physical campus could add these to a Snapchat post. These could incorporate logos of the university, special events or messages like welcome to campus, congrats graduates, etc. Make sure you review the submission guidelines. For example, while business are not allowed to add content or logos, Snapchat explicitely states,

“No logos or trademarks. The only exception is that we will accept college and university logos submitted by authorized officials from those schools.”

Are you/your campus already using this feature? Please share more in the comments below so I can feature you!

Closing Thoughts

Keep in mind this application will continue to morf and change. In one month this post could already be outdate after the applications is again updated.
I’d love to hear how you personally love (or even hate) SnapChat. How is your campus gaining awareness, adopting and advancing outreach with this application?
Just keep snapping! 

Additional References

Duggan, M. (2013) Photo and video sharing grow online. Retrieved from www.pewinternet.org/files/old-media/Files/Reports/2013/PIP_Photos and videos online_102813.pdf
Hamburger, E. (2014). Real talk: The new Snapchat brilliantly mixes video and texting. The Verge. Retrieved from https://www.theverge.com/2014/5/1/5670260/real-talk-the-new-snapchat-makes-texting-fun-again-video-calls
Perez, S. (2014, August 11). Snapchat is now the #3 social app among Millennials. Tech Crunch. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2014/08/11/snapchat-is-now-the-3-social-app-among-millennials
Reisinger, D. (2015, March 27). Millennials snapping up Snapchat, study finds. CNET Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.cnet.com/news/snapchat-a-magnet-for-youngsters-new-study-shows/
Shontell, A. (2014). Five months after turning down billions, Snapchat’s growth is still exploding. Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/snapchat-growth-2014-5.

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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Assistant Vice President, University of Iowa Center for Advancement

Rebekah Tilley is the assistant vice president of communication and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement (UICA). In that role she supports fundraising and alumni engagement efforts for the university, including its CASE Gold winning Iowa Magazine, and serves UICA in a variety of strategic communication efforts.

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