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UNCSA: #WeCreateHere

Increase in pageviews
63%
increase in average session length
45%
Increase in pages per session
73%
Decrease in bounce rate
31%
People call our site ‘stunning’ and ‘beautiful’ — visual impact was one of our goals for the site and it was clearly accomplished. Social media referrals have skyrocketed because people are sharing the site; they’re proud of it.
— Claire Machamer, chief technology officer, UNCSA

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts competes with the nation’s best arts conservatories and attracts exceptionally talented students, but it was difficult to showcase this with a website designed in 2002. With a new chancellor on board, it was time to invest in a web presence that reflected the true caliber of the school. But how best to represent five different and very dynamic arts schools that each served multiple academic levels? mStoner and UNCSA discovered the answer lay in letting UNCSA’s students do what they do best: dazzle.

Approach

After more than 140 on-campus interviews, mStoner realized that what UNCSA’s five schools of dance, design & production, drama, filmmaking, and music all had in common was a powerful capacity for visual storytelling. We presented a strategy that was equally arts-focused, which would allow the energy of the student work created on campus to tell UNCSA’s brand story. “I wanted them to have a platform for the incredible visuals they had,” said Susan T. Evans, the lead strategist on UNCSA’s project. “When you walk around campus, you feel like you’re in Hollywood — there are sound studios, costume shops, black box theaters, everything. They had amazing content and no way to showcase it.”

The mStoner team owned the project just as much as we did. As soon as I began working with them I immediately thought of them as our in-house team. They put in extra effort because they wanted to create a site that truly embodied the story of UNCSA.
— Claire Machamer, chief technology officer, UNCSA

Final Product

  • Building on UNCSA’s new black-and-white logo, we designed minimalist, high-contrast pages and then let the color arise from photography and video of student performances, rehearsals, and studio time. The result keeps the visitor immersed in the student experience while the dramatic greyscale palette conveys the serious, professional character of the school.
  • We kept site navigation simple, nearly invisible, and elegantly collapsible for mobile devices. Like an usher in a theatre, it delivers audiences to their destination and then fades into the background while they stay captivated.
  • In terms of content strategy, Evans says, “We used the power of microcontent – the principal that sometimes just the right visual and just the right caption are all you need to make a brand impression and a memorable experience for the visitor, versus sending them to a 500-word page of text.”
  • The chance to study with certain faculty is one of UNCSA’s biggest draws, so longer faculty bios add depth, personality, and authority to the site. UNCSA Vice Provost & Dean of Student Affairs Ward Caldwell said, “Faculty bios used to read like vitae but now they tell prospective students not only what their accomplishments are but also how they’re going to teach, and what they bring to the studio and classroom. They allow prospects to hear the story of who they will be while they’re here and what they’ll be doing – and that’s [incredibly] valuable.”
  • Governance recommendations also emphasized visuals and storytelling: we presented a staffing plan to UNCSA that included hiring a digital media team who could produce dynamic content and new stories on a frequent basis.
  • Academic pages play a large role in SEO results and recruitment, so UNCSA chose to retool these by rewriting them and adding space for the best examples of student work, keeping the pages fresh, visual, and robust for social media.
  • Adding bios, photos, and interviews with admissions counselors has made an immediate impact on prospective applicants. Caldwell noticed that students “will now come into the admissions office and visually recognize the admissions counselors and call them by name. It’s creating that relationship between the university and prospective students and their parents, where they actually know the people they’ve been talking to. That is a direct result of the visual nature of the website.”

Outcome

Early results over the matching time period from 2015 are impressive:

  • 1,229 percent increase in referrals from social media
  • 473 percent increase in inquiries from new embedded forms
  • 73 percent increase in pages per session
  • 63 percent increase in pageviews
  • 45 percent increase in average session length
  • 31 percent decrease in bounce rate

Institutional pride in the site is running high as well. UNCSA Chief Technology Officer Claire Machamer shared that the new site “was extremely well-received by our community. The site is something everyone here is very, very proud of.”

Vice Provost Ward Caldwell concurred. “We had a static, aging legacy website that was probably the worst example you could have for a creative, vibrant, dynamic, ever-changing university. The site we have now is an excellent example of just the opposite: it went through a dramatic change from being a relic to being a model of best practice.”

The lead message – “We promise this: you’ll do what you love” – came out of our discovery and focus group sessions. Often when you sit on campus for a couple days, that messaging just comes out and you have to use it.
CORE CHALLENGE

UNCSA needed a web presence that would match its sophistication as a conservatory, while presenting a unified brand for all five of its arts schools and presenting an elegant navigation experience for visitors.

AWARDS

SERVICES

Digital strategy, content assessment and audit, web governance report, marketing strategy report, visitor interface design, responsive HTML/CSS development, content management system (CMS) selection and implementation, search engine configuration, analytics, content development, calendar integration, and consulting on campus map and interactive tour.

Date

2015

CATEGORY
✩Current Clients, Universities