Were you planning the 'next big thing' to expand your university's social media reach? Is there a new strategy to engage audiences on a whole new level and enhance your direct response marketing model? Canadian University Dubai (CUD) has ‘been there and done it’ with flair.
Meet the Snapchat marketing superstar for universities in the UAE: Osaid Azeem. A pivotal figure at the CUD's marketing & communications team. Find out how he's turned an informal mobile app such as Snapchat into a Generation Z crowd puller.
How did the Snapchat ‘story’ begin for CUD?
I have to be honest, when Snapchat began gaining popularity, it did not appeal to me at first sight. I immediately compared it to Instagram and found the poorer image quality and limited text off-putting. I first really experienced Snapchat through 'CUDSnaps'. It all started when I was covering our graduation event; I noticed all the students with their phones out Snapchatting the event live! It became obvious to me this was a gold mine. If Snapchat is what our target demographic wanted, Snapchat is what they would get!
Did you run any activity to announce the launch?
Although we did announce the launch of CUDSnaps on most of our mainstream communication platforms, I found we never had to market it aggressively. Our following grew quickly and soon doubled; making CUDSnaps the most popular communication channel among students within the university.
What was your first experience on Snapchat like?
First time I ever used Snapchat, I didn’t know where exactly to go, to be honest. Visually, it didn’t appeal to me. Once I started using it a little bit more I came to appreciate that while it was very different from Instagram, it had its own quirky appeal. CUDSnaps started with me literally walking around campus and posting about campus life. Since most students don’t know who handles the social media posts for the university, I could hide in plain sight! The hype caught on quickly, and soon all the students had their eyes peeled for the CUD snaps guy!
Tell us more about the creative genius behind the CUD Snapchat account
As the buzz around CUD’s Snapchat grew, so did student curiosity! I remember tons of students replying to our snaps saying “Who are you?”. I think the fact that I never featured on any of the snaps added to the mystery. Snapchat always had me where the action was, so there were rumors it was being run by a student!
Today Snapchat is by far our most effective means of communication, emails and SMS in my experience are far less effective with the students. Most of them make sure they check snaps at least once a day because if you don’t- POOF! The story is gone.
What kind of postsleavesan impactonthe students?
It’s all about creative timing and making a connection with the students. Being a millennial myself, I have a pretty good understanding of the sort of content that would appeal to them. I can think of two posts right off the bat that had great student engagement:
There was the Drake post on our Instagram page shortly after his “Views” album dropped, and his album cover went viral. It was an unconventional move- I know most universities would not think to feature a rap artist on their official Instagram page. The post not only promoted Canadian talent but also appealed to our target audience – so it was a win-win.
There was also the ‘Straight Outta Maple Syrup’ post we did while the Straight Outta Compton movie was making waves at the box office. Again, it just clicked with the students and became one of our most viewed posts at the time.
Can you mention the various content-types featured so far?
Even if it’s a formal open house event, there’s always a need to come up with something interesting. Our posts vary from announcements to humor, competition, and informative stuff.
We’ve shown lecturers to events to even our cats on campus.
We had the ex-president of Canada visit us. Such posts let our students know what’s happening elsewhere.
We announce registration deadlines for internal & external programs.
We’ve promoted giveaway of tickets for competitions. This would always attract a lot of attention. I would walk around campus, mention on Snapchat that I’m walking around such and such place. Whoever comes over to find me first gets a free concert ticket. I could actually see students racing towards me. In case there’s a tie or a problem, we would take the competition further. We would ask audiences to take screenshots and whoever gets the highest number wins. These generate a lot of buzz.
I may want a student to drop a line of Drake, just a single line. And whoever would get the most number of screenshots wins.
Use filters. Recently Snapchat had a tomato filter on. I had one of the students become the CUD tomato, and she would announce today’s events in the university. That’s another way to build characters.
Use emojis. For example the balloon emoji. I got a student to act like they’re holding it. Then they leave it, and I would move the camera upwards as though the balloon is flying up. Here’s another one: I got three students who were standing in line to bow down when a plane emoji went over them. That grabbed attention, after which we mentioned that we were going for the Dubai air show.
I would plan a dance video. Next, we would Interconnect Snapchat to other platforms. Beyond 10 seconds, viewers need to visit our Instagram channel or YouTube page to watch the whole gig. Our Ju Ju challenge generated 2500 Instagram views at no extra paid promotion.
We’ve currently got the mannequin challenge underway. Find what’s trending and get the university into the same.
At the end of the day, it’s about adding the human element within.
How has Snapchat affected the management & business communications?
I’m proud of the fact that we were the first university in UAE to have an official Snapchat account. I noticed other universities in Canada launch their Snapchat accounts roughly 10 months after CUD snaps were launched.
On other social media platforms, there are algorithms at work to share selected posts with a limited audience. With Snapchat, it’s time sensitive so followers take the initiative to make sure they check out posts every 24 hours to stay relevant and not miss out on any of the action.
Describe a major Snapchat story that you come up with
I’ve found the stories that are most popular are based on several humorous characters I’ve built. During a campus event, a student was putting up a poster and seemed to be stuck to the wall for what seemed like ages. I put out a 10-second video of him putting up the poster and called him CUD Spiderman. I re-visited the character a few snaps later as well and students started recognizing it! I even had a few come up to me with ideas for more characters. I had someone come up to me and say he wanted to 'be the guy who eats all the time.’ The stories that make the biggest impact are usually the ones with a humor component.
What are responses received and what impact have you detected?
When it comes down to it, really our high-level social media objectives are Brand Awareness and Lead Generation. CUD snaps definitely helps us align with both these goals. Our following includes a combination of existing students and an external audience as well. Our account showcases the university, campus life & students and our followers get an insider scoop on all the action- real time!
CUD snaps have also had an impact on prospective students. I’ve noticed students whip out their phones and add us on Snapchat while looking at the brochure during high school visits. When a prospect takes a screenshot or sends us a direct message, I ensure their details are passed along to customer service so they are helped right away.
Snapchat also has an impact on international students asking to learn more about studying abroad. I remember a student sent us a snap all the way from Sudan inquiring about a transfer program to join CUD!
Is there a best way to manage an official Snapchat account?
At first, I ran the Snapchat account all on my own. As it gained popularity and the variety of events featured on the platform grew, I knew I couldn’t be in two places at once so I developed a team of students that I could count on, and had them ‘take over’ CUD Snapchat for a day. Having students run the account intermittently helped me manage my workload, switched it up and kept things fresh as well.
What are the challenges facing Snapchat page admins?
Snapchat is probably one of the more challenging social media platforms in terms of management since it involves a lot of “winging it”. I come up with most of the Snapchat content on the spot. If there are multiple events at the same time, it can also get tricky for one person to juggle coverage since multiple people cannot log in to the account at the same time. Another challenge is the tracking and reporting tools, the only real engagement stats you get are the number of views and screenshots taken by followers.
What do you say is the best feature of Snapchat?
Geo filters. It took me 6 months to get a geo filter for CUD and it was a lot harder than I thought it would be! First, you create a geofence. This designates the area where you want the filter to be available. Next, Snapchat's map tool is used to create the fence and finally, a PNG file is uploaded. If you go to CUD right now, turn on the filters, you will be able to swipe and see the Canadian University Dubai geo filter. Snapchat’s ‘on-demand’ geo-filters feature is not yet available in the UAE.
How have other universities in the UAE reacted from this?
There are only a few other universities that have started using Snapchat since we launched CUD snaps. Their snaps, however, are more information oriented and in my opinion, that is not what Snapchat works best for. Like I said, it is a time-consuming platform to manage well, I think that may be why most universities may shy away from using it too much.
Having said that, in my opinion, Snapchat definitely is the most relevant platform today when it comes to student engagement. It’s crucial to have a social media manager that can relate to the social media generation to make it all work though.
Do you see any threat coming in from Instagram stories?
Instagram stories were great as far as a reactive approach to competing with snaps goes. I still believe Snapchat was the pioneer and will remain in the lead at least for now, Instagram stories have a long way to go before they catch up and at this point, I do not think Whatsapp’s new status update stands a chance.
What are your future plans for marketing via Snapchat?
Keep using Snapchat to communicate & promote. Manage control over it wherein there is no direct advertising talk going on. Generate awareness by connecting with our followers.
Were also waiting for ‘campus stories’ to hit the UAE. This way, Snapchatters whose phones show they’re in and around a campus, would be able to post to the Campus Story.
Is there any secret formula to Snapchat success?
Right place, Right time. Snapchat was developed for a generation with a tiny attention span – that’s why it is so dynamic, visual and each snap only lasts 10 seconds. I would recommend keeping stories short and posting six snaps or less per story. Since you can skip snaps with the touch of a thumb, posts have to stay creative and stay relevant. The last thing you want is followers skipping through after 2 seconds because you couldn’t grab their attention in time.
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