THOUGHT LEADERSHIP FOR HIGHER EDUCATION SINCE 2001: Reach out to us.
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Almost 30 years have passed since my friend Roger first saw “Star Wars.” By no means a die-hard fan of the movie series, he found himself teary-eyed and breathless watching “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” on New Year’s Day 2016.

“I wasn’t prepared for how emotional I’d get seeing Princess Leia and Han Solo on the screen together again.”

Such is the power of story.

Storytelling is one of the oldest traditions known to man. According to Jonathan Gottschall, the author of “The Storytelling Animal,” we are wired for stories. He writes, “Story, whether delivered through films, books, or video games, teaches us facts about the world; influences our moral logic; and marks us with fears, hopes, and anxieties that alter our behavior, perhaps even our personalities.”

In short, stories make us human.

The ability to tell stories also makes us good marketers and savvy brand experts. Almost every client I’ve worked with has talked about the need to tell their institution’s story better. But, what exactly does that mean?

Let’s start with the story form itself. Five elements of a good digital story:

1. Beautiful visual design. The design of a good digital story should encourage reading by providing plenty of clear space, as well as carefully selected fonts and type size. Additionally, design should be device-aware — optimized for touch, different viewports, and varying data download limitations.

2. Structured content. To maximize the effort that is used in creating a digital story, you can structure the content for re-use on multiple channels. That means creating atomic units of information that build to form the larger narrative. This also means creating metadata and employing keywords to support search engine optimization, using tags and taxonomy for longterm content management, and developing associated social posts for promotion.

3. Integrated multimedia. One of the great advantages of digital stories is the opportunity to illustrate them through stunning photography, videos, and data visualization as well as the addition of audio clips. Used skillfully, these tools can create an immersive experience for your audiences.

4. Engagement opportunities. A good digital story invites people to interact and, in some cases, become part of the story. When developing your story, consider how you want to invite your readers in. Would you like them to comment and contribute content? Share information socially? Follow the story through updates and alerts? Subscribe to podcasts or playlists? What other calls to action can you think of?

5. Technical infrastructure. A good digital story has a strong technical foundation. This is essential. To quote David Carr from The New York Times, “In digital media, technology is not
a wingman, it is The Man. How something is made is often as important as what is made.” A strong technical foundation includes a well-customized content management system, cloud-based collaboration tools for the story production team, the capability to experiment (for instance, conducting A/B testing on headlines or images), and an analytics framework to track and measure audience behavior.

Looking for some inspiration? Check out Big and Bright and The Texas 10, two great stories from University of Texas’ Alcade. Or the Fall 2015 issue of Boston University’s Bostonia. Or REI’s recently completed #optoutside campaign, which used social media to to have participants create the narrative.

You can also check out our latest webinars on storytelling.

We’ve all got a story to tell. Tell it beautifully.

Voltaire Santos Miran

AUTHOR - Voltaire Miran

I've developed and implemented communication strategies in education for more than 20 years now. I think my team at mStoner is the smartest, funniest, and coolest group of colleagues ever, and I can't imagine being anywhere else. Except Barcelona. Or Paris. Or Istanbul. To quote Isak Dinesen, "the cure for everything is salt ... tears, sweat, and the sea." Find me on

  • Craig Michael Patrick

    Great article!

    To clarify though, are those *channels* by which to tell the story, or *elements* of the story itself?

    The challenge here is that good storytelling requires components like ’empathy’ or ‘connection’, whereas the article takes a decidedly (and understandably) technological angle.

    • Voltaire Santos Miran

      Voltaire Santos Miran

      Craig, great question and observation! You’re right, good telling storytelling requires empathy, connection, conflict, some level of drama, and resolution. I tried, for this article, to separate the elements of the digital story form from the editorial substance of the story. Stay tuned, please, for a future blog post on that.

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