How to Find and Tell a Good Story: Part 2

Posted: May 6, 2015

Tara Clinton Strategic Partnerships Manager

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After reading Part 1 of this blog, I’m sure you’re armed and ready with some amazing story ideas. Or maybe you already had the ideas and just need some help telling them. This post will provide a list of storytelling channels and content structures to get you started. These lists are not all-inclusive, but include good examples of what we’ve seen in the higher ed world.

How to Tell Them

There are many ways to tell a great story, especially with the technology we have at our disposal. You can write a story, make a video, compile a collage of photos, tell it in person or even tweet about it. The method chosen to distribute any given story should be based on the audience and the content. Here are a few examples and considerations to get you started with some different storytelling channels.

  • Written Content– One great thing about written content is that it does not require any technical knowledge or equipment to create. Written content can be used for print in a university newspaper or an alumni magazine. It can also be published on a blog or as a department web page. The flexibility of written content makes it a valuable tool that can be easily repurposed when time and resources are tight.
  • Video Content– Highly visual occasions such as athletic events, commencement ceremonies, student fundraisers and milestone celebrations are a great opportunity for creating engaging video content. Filming and editing require planning ahead to get the right shots and angles, but are often worth the investment. Videos are easily consumed and easily shared by your audience, making them an ideal channel of communication in today’s technology-centered world.
  • Photos– While a professional  photographer that can take award-winning event photos is a great asset to your marketing content, don’t feel limited if you don’t have one on staff. Everyday photos of things happening on campus provide a window into the experience at your school. Encourage faculty, staff, students and alumni to contribute to your efforts (they’ve all got smartphones) and you’ll end up with a huge library of photo content. Then, you can focus the guy with the fancy camera on capturing specific photos that will make evergreen marketing content (such as your website and print materials) really pop.
  • Face to Face– For many students, the campus visit is what seals the deal. Preparing your admissions counselors with speaking points is a great way to help provide visitors with the best and most compelling information about your institution. The advantage to sharing these stories in person is that the audience has the opportunity to ask questions and get a real sense of place to complete the experience.
  • Social Media– Don’t underestimate the reach and impact of social media. It’s a great tool for short stories such as a quick #TBT photo of campus on the 50th anniversary of your research library. It’s also a fun way to report on events as they happen, using hashtags to compile real-time information about what’s taking place on campus.

In addition to determining the best way to share your story, it’s important to consider how you should structure the information. Here are a few examples of content structures that we’ve found work well in higher ed. As I mentioned above, this is not a comprehensive list, but it’s a good place to start.

  • Interview – If you or your story subject are crunched for time, the interview is the way to go. Come armed with a list of questions that they can answer (Tip: You can reuse the same questions for multiple interviews). Following the interview, all that’s left to do is compile the most compelling responses that best communicate the subject’s message.
  • Profile – These stories work really well for showcasing the success of an individual, group, event or initiative. This type of story allows the author or provide necessary background information in a creative way that engages the audience and builds a strong connection with the subject of the story.
  • How To – Prospective students have an endless list of questions that need to be answered before making a final decision. Make this information readily available and easy to consume in a quick how-to format. Use quotes from real students to make it a bit more personal.
  • Testimony – A direct quote often has more credibility than a long form story. Allowing a student, faculty member or alumni to describe a specific event or experience has so much value for engaging prospects. If you can get this on video, the distribution options are endless.
  • Opinion Poll – Prospects want to know what current students think. An option poll is a quick and easy way to find out what they like best about campus, what they’re doing for fun on weekends, who their favorite professors are and where to score a free t-shirt. Not only can you shape this into a story for a prospective student, but you are also engaging your current student audience in the process.

I hope these tips have left you feeling inspired to go and tell your institution’s stories. If you’ve got questions about content development best practices for higher ed marketing, please reach out. We love to talk shop and are always interested to hear what’s happening at schools across the country.