Posted October 18, 2016 by Stephanie Webendorfer 

Why the Wisconsin Union Suspended Snapchat

Disappearing photos. Ten-second videos. Choosing a specific audience for each message. Snapchat, the photo/video/messaging app preferred by so many millennials under 25, is a great way for higher education social media professionals to reach an audience supposedly using Facebook and Twitter less and less.

In June 2015, the Wisconsin Union cautiously stepped into that world. With varying success, we showcased student life at the union, from study time and snack breaks to events and behind-the-scenes action. Over the next year, we learned a lot about the benefits—and downsides—of Snapchat.

As a social media team, we agreed on some ground rules for our stories, which included using geofilters judiciously (and not using selfie lenses), keeping stories short, and making them personal…but not too weird. Each story was loosely mapped out and approved, but actual execution and creative license was left to the person who was creating the story in the moment.

Our most successful Snapchat stories were created by students who truly believed in and understood how authentic storytelling augments a brand’s marketing and communication efforts. Throughout the year, we experimented with different types of storytelling—from promotional efforts to raise awareness to covering an event live to fun lifestyle stories. We continued to search for and find our groove as student interns came and went. Through social media cross-promotion, word-of-mouth, and in-person promotions at student events, we had nearly 750 friends by the end of July 2016.

Wisconsin Union Snapchat story   Wisconsin Union Snapchat story   Wisconsin Union Snapchat story

But then in early August, just when we should have been ramping up our Snap-strategy for the academic year, Snapchat released “anime-inspired” selfie lens (a.k.a., face filter). Many users saw this lens as culturally insensitive, some going as far as to call it a form of yellowface. Media outlets reported on the backlash, and Buffer Social even went as far to publicly take a break from Snapchat.

After reviewing several viewpoints, it became clear that, with the current campus (and national) climate regarding race and the Wisconsin Union’s mission to be a welcoming space for every student on campus, we needed to examine our stance on the issue. The Wisconsin Union’s Engagement, Inclusion and Diversity (EID) Council pursued this topic for discussion and made a recommendation.

The Wisconsin Union strives to provide a safe space where everyone feels welcome, valued, heard, and respected. There was a segment of our student population who was hurt not just by the way the lens depicted a stereotype, but by the lack of recognition that promoting stereotypes is not productive in moving toward a more inclusive and respectful world.

When it came down to it, the line in the sand for us was the way in which other social media platforms handle abusive or inappropriate content. Social media platforms all deal with a portion of their users who use it to create and share offensive content. But the key difference in our mind is that platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and others offer easy ways to report abusive and inappropriate content. Conversely, Snapchat actually provided its users with a tool to make that inappropriate and abusive content.

Ultimately, the decision was made to step away from Snapchat for a while so we can evaluate our needs on social media alongside our values and figure out how (and if) that can align with what Snapchat is providing its users. While there are stories and experiences that feel more authentic when shared on Snapchat than on other platforms, and despite the exciting opportunities to reach a new audience, the Wisconsin Union’s social media team is still examining our strategy and timing for reintegrating to its service.


Stephanie Webendorfer

Stephanie Webendorfer is the Marketing Specialist, Wisconsin Union at University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Stephanie serves as the marketing account representative for many of the Wisconsin Union’s programming units, including the Wisconsin Union Directorate (WUD), the student programming board. She also manages the Wisconsin Union’s presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. With ten years of marketing and communication experience for nonprofits, corporations, and higher education, Stephanie understands how to get the most out of a marketing budget of any size.


Hi, This was a great post on the evaluation of when and how to appropriately use social media. --PV
Comment posted 11/13/2016 9:40 PM
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