Digital Outreach

How the University of St. Thomas uses Snapchat to tell its story and reinforce its brand

While reviewing branding and social media strategies for nonprofits, I came across the University of St. Thomas, a nonprofit university in Minnesota, and was immediately struck by their work. Their branding is clear and student engagement is high – if I were applying to schools or visiting my alma matter and saw this digital community, I would be thrilled to be a part of it. Read how St. Thomas’ digital content strategist, Kate Metzger, describes their transition to Snapchat and walks us through how this became such a success. 


The University of St. Thomas has always placed a high value on storytelling. Our award-winning magazine, multimedia news website and robust social media presence allow us to communicate an authentic and meaningful story to the people we care about most.

But as many higher ed communicators know, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to reach our students and prospective students with our story.

Our challenge: Communicate the university’s mission and personality to our young, technology savvy audience.

Our solution: Adding Snapchat to our social media strategy.

Put a ghost on it

How we got our students to start using our snapchat

We began integrating Snapchat into our social media strategy in 2015. Our first step was finding followers. We know from previous years that Welcome Week (the first week of the semester, starting when freshmen move into residence halls) is a time that our students are most-engaged with our social media profiles, and also the time of year where we see the largest gains in followers.

During Welcome Week, we placed our snapcode in some of the most visible places on campus:

  • Prior to a screening of “Inside Out” on our football field, the snapcode was displayed on the jumbotron.
  • Our student center has a large digital display in its main atrium, which featured the snapcode throughout Welcome Week.
  • We shared the snapcode on our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook profiles.
  • To help get students in a snapping mood, our admissions staff handed out T-shirts with “University of St. Thomas Selfie Shirt” – printed in reverse so it would show up the correctly when taken in Snapchat selfie mode.



Taking advantage of Snapchat’s “Add by snapcode” function, we made it as easy as possible for our students to find us. They simply used Snapchat to scan our highly visible code with their mobile devices and we were instantly connected.

For those who already knew us on social media, we used UofStThomasMN as our username – something we have kept consistent across all our primary social channels.

In addition, our admissions staff included Snapchat in its communication planning with prospective students. Our username and snapcode are included in the packages that go out to our accepted students, as well as promoted at all admissions events.

Our best ambassadors

How we grew engagement on our snapchat

Now that people knew where to find us, it was important that we post engaging content that resonated with our audience.

We enlisted a group of student interns to come up with content ideas. After coaching them on how to best represent the university and providing them with a set of guidelines, we set them loose on campus and beyond.

One of the first and most successful ideas they implemented was the “Tommie Takeover” where one student would take over the account for a day and post snippets of his or her life as a Tommie. Takeovers represented a broad range of students with diverse backgrounds, majors and experiences – from biology to business to Catholic Studies.

In addition, we had students share stories from their time studying abroad, with stories from Poland to Thailand to Guatemala – in fact the entire month of January, when we have the most students studying abroad, was dedicated to takeovers from other countries.

Some of our most engaging examples include:

  • Students studying at our campus in Rome sharing a day-in-the-life in the Eternal City
  • The swimming and diving team manager covering the NCAA national swim meet, where one of our women swimmers won three national titles
  • The Tommie dance team member who took over during the team’s trip to UDA College Dance Team Nationals, where the Tommies won their 10th national dance title
  • The launch party for the university’s new logo, brand and tagline
  • The final seconds of the Tommie men’s basketball national title championship game
  • Students from our Student Diversity and Inclusion Services office taking over to promote Black History Month and other heritage celebrations

Allowing our students to serve as Snapchat ambassadors for the activities they care about most enabled us to tell an authentic story that helps define the personality of our university.

As a result, in less than a year we went from zero to averaging more than 1,800 views per story.

You were there? Prove it!

Using Snapchat to engage the community at large

In addition to using Snapchat to tell our story, we also use it as a vehicle to extend the reach of our brand. Snapchat users who visit our St. Paul campus can share with their friends that they visited St. Thomas by using one of our branded geofilters.


The filters are available automatically for users who are standing on the geographic footprint of our campus. We have plans to add more filters this year that incorporate our newly launched tagline, “All for the Common Good.”

New social networks are popping up every day. At St. Thomas, we carefully consider each one before making the investment required to support them. In the case of Snapchat, we are happy with the results we have seen so far and are excited to continue to tell our story.

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Read more on incorporating your audience personas into your college or university’s marketing efforts.