Telling the Stories Only You Can Tell
person standing in front of the sun


Telling the Stories Only You Can Tell

Oct 24, 2017By Voltaire Santos Miran, Ben Bilow & Shannon Lanus

You may have read that all stories hinge on seven basic plots and seven basic themes. We submit that college and university marketing leans on seven basic promises:

  1. Faculty members who are experts in their field and who are committed to your personal success.
  2. Multiple options for experiential learning, off‐campus study, and participation in meaningful research.
  3. A commitment to local sustainability and global engagement.
  4. Leading‐edge technology and state‐of‐the‐art facilities.
  5. An ideal location.
  6. An interdisciplinary approach to education.
  7. A worthy investment that forms the foundation of a successful and fulfilling career.

Bonus points if you can fit in the idea of friends for life and an international network of proud and connected alumni.

Laughing nervously?

Don’t. The reason we focus on these facets of the education experience is because they are what our prospective students want and need. Institutions that don’t commit to or deliver on these promises do so at their peril.

Tell The Stories That Only You Can Tell

Marketing is storytelling. And the best digital storytellers have a firm understanding of the many elements that make up digital marketing. This broad term refers to the myriad ways you can reach and market to your target audiences through digital channels and devices, including the internet, mobile, email, and social media.

The art and science of digital marketing involves taking stories that any institution might tell and making them your stories. How do you do that? We offer five ideas:

First, use the channels digital storytelling provides.

Your stories shouldn’t be one‐off efforts. They should be well‐planned campaigns that ladder up to a larger narrative. Your stories will find different expressions on your website, in your email campaigns, across your social media accounts, and through paid advertising. Everything should work together, and each should be appropriate to the specific channel you’re using.

Second, understand your institution is not the hero of your stories.

Your institutional history, achievements, and trajectory should not be the primary focus of the stories you tell. The heroes of your stories are the students who accomplish their goals and make the world a better place as a result of the very personal, life‐changing experience that your institution provides. The educational and personal growth opportunities for these right‐fit students are the vehicles that facilitate the journey to heroism. Your institution is the Yoda to their Luke Skywalker. Embrace your institution’s role as a supporting player. In the end, the stories that matter are the ones you help your audiences tell about themselves — both to themselves and to others.

Third, work the structure of a story.

Otherwise known as finding the tension, naming the conflict is a key component of the story. One of our clients rightly named most stories on college websites as “Mary Lous,” relentlessly sunny pieces in which everything was perfect from the very first day of class and failure never happened, and “OMG, I so loved my time at … which prepared me for, like, everything!” A real story has a backstory, a narrative arc, a conflict, emotional resonance and a resolution.

Fourth, plan and measure everything.

The wonder of storytelling and digital marketing is that you can marry inspiration and data. You can measure the effectiveness of your work and strategize more effective storytelling techniques based on metrics.

  • Optimize stories for search by considering how social sharing will be used and then following best practices for on‐page SEO.
  • Measure basic metrics such as pageviews, time on page, unique visitors, and bounce rate to understand engagement with stories.
  • Capture data around specific interactive elements within digital stories, such as scroll depth, video views, clicks on infographics, maps, and timelines, and submissions to crowd‐sourced features.
  • Marry campaigns with stories by using Google UTM campaign variables to track visitors coming to stories as part of campaigns.
  • Analyze story impact using the data, and use the insights to inform future story content.

Fifth, use the data to refine your stories.

We often stop after collection, but data becomes useful only when you begin to draw insight from that information. Continuously adapting and improving your strategy based on what you learn from your metrics is a large part of becoming a better marketing and storyteller.

Become a Better Digital Storyteller

Digital marketing helps you build brand awareness, promote academic programs, and reach prospective students by telling your institution’s unique story. The skills required to thrive in this fast‐paced and ever‐changing field of digital marketing continue to evolve:

  • Our audiences use a wide variety of digital channels and devices in many different contexts and for many different purposes.
  • New channels are constantly emerging.
  • The competition for our audience’s attention is increasingly difficult.
  • Digital efforts require constant nurturing.
  • Many teams admit they often don’t have enough time or internal expertise to properly measure what’s working and what isn’t.

Ready to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful in the rapidly changing digital world? Sign up for our six‐part course on digital marketing for higher ed.

Learn More and Register

  • Voltaire Santos Miran

    Voltaire Santos Miran Co-Founder and Co-Owner 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."

  • Ben Bilow

    Ben Bilow Creative Director Creative success comes from digging in, getting messy, and making stuff. As a kid in St. Louis, my interest in skateboarding and rock & roll music shaped my work ethic — be resourceful, build community, share. We invented our own fun, designing rock posters and building half-pipes — tearing them down and doing it again.

  • Shannon Lanus

    Shannon Lanus Content Strategist As Content Strategist, Shannon Lanus works to make sure great content and amazing design co-exist in every mStoner project. She crafts persuasive digital stories for our clients that are informed by their business goals as well as mStoner’s market research and effective audience engagement methods.