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Gen Z wants an authentic experience. Use these Snapchat and Instagram features to deliver it.

May 27, 2019

Snapchat and Instagram are undeniably favorite communication channels among Generation Z. According to our 2019 survey of student communication preferences, Instagram’s daily usage has increased 10% to a total of just over 80%, while Snapchat stayed constant with about 76% of students reporting daily usage since 2017. In that same timeframe, Facebook and Facebook Messenger, once the go-to channels for advertisers, have seen their usage fall 17% and 12%, respectively.

Gen Z Social Media Usage Data. Instagram is the most used in 2019.

As social media preferences change so must the methods by which colleges engage students on these platforms. Advertising strategies that worked five years ago on Facebook probably won’t be as effective on Instagram in 2019.

One thing we know that students want in their social media connections is authenticity. As a result, enrollment leaders need thoughtful strategies to leverage the capabilities and usage habits of these popular platforms in ways that further authentic, human connections with students.

You’re in luck, because my team has been exploring and testing new functions within both Snapchat and Instagram intended to cultivate that type of experience, including Snapchat Geofilters and Instagram Stories. Let’s explore some of our findings.

Snapchat’s interactive features are a favorite of Gen Z


students use Snapchat an average of 18 times per day
students use Snapchat an average of 18 times per day

Snapchat, a multimedia messaging app, has become virtually ubiquitous among Generation Z since its 2011 launch. According to EAB data, students use Snapchat an average of 18 times per day, and 60% of daily users access Snapchat to communicate with friends.

My team of recruitment-marketing specialists have been testing the Snapchat Geofilters feature. Generally, Snapchat filters are frames or overlays that a user can add to a photo or video to enhance it before sharing it with friends. Geofilters specifically are filters that show a user’s location or activity, typically with a custom font and graphic or animation. They’re a fun, interactive way for users to tell the story of a road trip, concert, or in the case of enrollment, a college visit.

Sample Geofilter


use rate of Geofilters in our testing
use rate of Geofilters in our testing

When we put Geofilters to the test for a segment of our EAB Enrollment Services partners, Geofilters yielded 328 swipes on average during college visit days, with users posting the Geofilters at a 32% rate. To put that into perspective, Facebook advertisements typically see a 6.4% engagement rate (calculated by dividing total engaged users by total reach and multiplying by 100). Another exciting result we saw from the study was that friends of the user viewed our partners’s Geofilters an average 2,300 times

The stats from our testing are also significant because all of the traffic is organic, exposing people to your school’s brand from a trusted friend, which is invaluable social proof.

There are three best practices to keep in mind with Snapchat Geofilters:

Empower students to interact with your Geofilter
Add some interactive elements, like something a student can appear to hold or fill out to encourage student usage and engagement.
Test multiple filters
Create multiple designs to test what resonates most.
Make sure not to overload your Geofilter with text
Images sent via Snapchat only last three to ten seconds, and shorter messages will likely stand out more to viewers.

In addition to the benefit of viral exposure via social sharing, these Geofilters can help colleges and universities become an authentic part of the story of their students. They’re not just an ad, they don’t feel forced or pushy, and they provide a simple way to leverage a feature that students use already.

Instagram Stories: A Snapchat-esque tool for authentic narratives

Instagram is another frequent haunt for Generation Z and it offers its own way for your college or university to provide an authentic experience for users. Like Snapchat Geofilters, Instagram Stories increase your visibility with Gen Z users and their networks without coming off as overtly commercial.

500 million

daily active Instagram Story users worldwide

According to, there are 500 million daily active Instagram Story users worldwide. That represents 70% of all Instagram users. Instagram Stories can prove an invaluable tool to get students interested and invested in the story you’re trying to tell about a student’s experience at your campus.

Instagram Stories, similar to Snapchat, offer users a way to post videos and photos that don’t stay around forever. Instagram Stories disappear after 24 hours and are popular because they offer a means to tell a story without clogging users’ permanent feeds with less polished photos and videos. Users also like the real-time nature of Instagram Stories as a means to update followers on their location and activities on a given day.

Sample Instagram story

Preliminary results of our testing of sponsored Instagram Stories revealed that Stories perform particularly well when it comes to engagement.

For example, one public research university in the Midwest reached more than twice the number of students with the Story ad over Instagram feed ads, and nearly three times more than its comparable Facebook feed ad. It was also the most shared and drove the most students to the website. See the breakdown below:

  • Instagram Stories performance: 58 link clicks, 5,468 reached, 12 shares
  • Instagram feed performance: 2 link clicks, 2,431 reached, 0 shares
  • Facebook feed performance: 15 link clicks, 1,844 reached, 0 shares

While our testing focused exclusively on sponsored Instagram Stories, there are several creative ways that we’ve seen schools use organic Instagram Stories to engage with students. Some examples are sharing highlights from streamed live events (graduation, etc.), feature stories on students, sharing stories from alumni and current students, or general announcements. Your college or university can leverage video content that you already have or use animations with information on screen to further increase brand awareness.

Gen Z has never known a life without social media, smartphones, and basically, digital everything. They’re discerning and critical when it comes to online experience and sensitive to salesmanship—quick to determine if something’s worth their time or not. These qualities make incorporating authenticity and personalization into your digital strategy more important than ever.

More resources for recruiting Gen Z

While Generation Z student characteristics overlap in some areas, their differences ican be used to test and inform marketing strategies.

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