By Sydney Shaw
What started as an anonymously-run Snapchat account with just a few followers has quickly exploded into a multipurpose platform for students from the College to share ideas, events and happenings around campus.
On Tuesday, April 12, tcnj.snap hit the 10,000 follower mark, a feat that the account’s manager, who requested to remain anonymous, never expected.
“It literally started with me just telling a couple of people, ‘Dude, have you checked out tcnj.snap?’ That’s all I had to do,” he said. “It really shows you the dynamic of how the school works. That’s all it takes to spread something to 10,000 people.”
Since its inception in October 2015, tcnj.snap has served as a platform for students and other followers to send in photos and videos, most of which are re-posted onto the tcnj.snap story.
According to the account’s manager, tcnj.snap is mainly run by three people — himself, a person who works with graphic design and a “tech guy.”
“I use the Snapchat app and another app downloaded from the app store that’s no longer available — that’s it,” he said. “A new app pops up every day. You just have to find one that actually works and stick with it because they’re constantly removed by Apple.”
According to the account’s manager, once someone sends in a snap, the rest of the process is quite simple.
“I open the snap and I transfer it to the other program,” he said. “If it’s a video, I have to re-type exactly what was said in the caption. I want it to be exact so people don’t get freaked out.”
He noted that an element of trust is vital to the success of tcnj.snap, since followers are sending photos and videos to someone they know nothing about.
“I work very hard to break down the barrier that anyone would have approaching a stranger,” he said. “I want people to perceive this Snapchat not as a person, but as a tool they can use. So it almost takes out the human component completely, and that right there makes people more willing to trust that approach instead of some stranger posting snaps.”
Considering the number of followers tcnj.snap has garnered over the past six months, it’s safe to say his approach is working well.
“It has already surpassed the number of followers of official TCNJ social media platforms,” he said. “It’s terrifying because I know everything I post is reflecting the values and culture of TCNJ. Basically, all of us are actively representing our school and I want to do it in a very positive way.”
One of the positive ways he promotes the College is through digital “talent shows,” during which students submit photos or videos of themselves or their friends performing some kind of talent. So far, there have been submissions of students singing, dancing and even pogo-sticking.
He then re-posts the content and temporarily puts the videos on YouTube. Followers can watch all of the videos and vote for their favorite acts by going to the SurveyMonkey.com link that the account’s manager shares through the tcnj.snap story.
“Whoever gets the most votes gets a $50 Amazon gift card,” he said. “The winner of the first talent show was (junior electrical engineering major) Augusto Maia, a.k.a. ‘Guy Playing Adele.’ The submission deadline is coming up for our second talent show and we’re seeing triple the amount of submissions. It’s really catching on.”
The account’s manager sends the Amazon gift card, which he pays for out of pocket, to the winners via email.
“I have an appreciation for art and music and anyone who does something interesting. I think that’s part of the reason tcnj.snap exists,” he said. “If you have something you’re proud of that you want to share, you should be able to do that.”
Besides the talent shows, though, the account’s manager said he does not interfere with the content of tcnj.snap.
“I haven’t really done anything to ask for snap suggestions. I’ve let it grow organically over time,” he said. “The students here are so smart. They’re coming up with all these ways of using it that I never would have imagined. They’re using it as a lost and found for IDs, for messaging, for conveying info, like ‘There’s a bake sale in the Stud, come get it!’ To see it maturing as a platform is so cool.”
The account’s manager called tcnj.snap “an evolution of Yik Yak,” but noted that since Yik Yak is location-based, students can’t accomplish as much through that application as they can by using tcnj.snap.
“Our goal, when it comes down to it, is to convey a sense of what’s happening around campus in real time to whoever is watching it,” he said. “I kid you not, there are people from around the world that follow the account… I get snaps from Barcelona, I get snaps from Florence, I get snaps from Brazil. It is crazy to think that within seconds of re-posting something, hundreds of people have seen it from all over the world.”
That means people from all over the world watched in almost-live-time as students from the College clamored to the library in January and February to search for the $100 Chipotle gift card that tcnj.snap’s account manager purchased and hid.
“The reactions we initially got were ‘You guys are crazy’ to ‘There’s no way in hell they actually did that,’” he said. “People thought we were kidding, but we never are. We want everything posted on the snap to be light and fun, but at the same time, we want the content to be taken seriously. We want a sense of legitimacy.”
He hid the gift card in a book called “Pigs Can Fly” and said people were searching for the prize for about a week before he finally announced a hint through tcnj.snap.
“I gave a subtle hint at 2:30 p.m. one day, and by 3:05 p.m., it was found,” he said.
Since reaching the 10,000 followers milestone, he has been looking to the future and imagining new potential for the tcnj.snap account.
“We’re going to bring a mass messaging feature to tcnj.snap, so within a couple of seconds, we can send something to 10,000 people — it will probably be more by the time we roll it out,” he said. “I want to really treat it with care, though, because people don’t want to get a message every five minutes saying, ‘Check this out!’”
Despite the account’s popularity, its manager sees it as a work in progress and noted some bumps in the road during its early stages.
“In the beginning, we would occasionally re-post people’s stories without asking them,” he said. “Some people thought that was really cool, like hand-picked snaps, but there was a very vocal group of people who didn’t appreciate it at all. They almost felt like it was an invasion of privacy. Looking back on it, it really was… We’re not the NSA and we’re never going to do that again. We only re-post snaps that are sent directly to us.”
Another conflict came in the form of another Snapchat account, tcnj_snap.
“It’s not run by us,” said the tcnj.snap account manager. “It’s almost like another means of entertainment. It’s not real and I have no idea who these people are. What ticks me off is that for anyone who doesn’t know which one is the real one, it’s tarnishing our brand. I’ve actually thought about changing our name to not be affiliated with them anymore.”
The “rogue” account, tcnj_snap, often re-posts snaps that feature nudity, underage drinking and drug use.
Regardless of any difficulties the tcnj.snap team has faced, the account’s manager is excited about how far they have come in such a short time.
“There is such a huge potential for it that I never realized,” he said. “Prospective students subscribe and they occasionally send in snaps. They can actually see what TCNJ is like and I think they can get a somewhat-accurate tour of the College just by looking at the snap story.”
While tcnj.snap can benefit students who don’t yet attend the College, the account manager said it can also serve as an asset to students who have already graduated.
“When people graduate, they can use this snap story to instantly feel connected to the school whenever they miss it,” he said. “This can be used for alumni retention, for reaching out and giving updates to them.”
The Snapchat account requires so much commitment to upkeep that the account’s manager actually purchased a new phone for the sole purpose of running tcnj.snap.
“My phone is out of my pocket maybe once every 30 seconds,” he said. “I get anywhere from 800 to 1,000 snaps on a good day, but usually it is around 500… There have been nights where I’ve dreamed in snaps. I’ve dreamed in 10-second intervals. That’s how much time I dedicate to this.
“I do plan on continuing it for as long as I can, and when I can’t anymore, I’ll find someone with a steady hand and someone I trust to keep the essence of the snap.”
Throughout it all, though, the account manager still wishes to remain anonymous.
“I want the main focus to be the snap itself and how it connects everyone together on campus. It’s about awareness of each other,” he said. “The reason I don’t identify myself is because the second I do that, there are instantly connections made with me, instead of with each other.”