It may be a tired cliché, but you can’t deny the visual charm that comes with a reference to telling stories around a campfire. Even if you’re not into camping.

In today’s digitally hypnotic, socially saturated world of marketing and media, it’s easy to lose sight of the campfire. Real-time marketing. Micro-video content. Interest-based social networks and networking.

Every other week, it seems, brings another wave of the newest and coolest social media trends and technological advances, sending oceans of tweens, teens, and digital hipsters into a mild frenzy. It’s the world in which we live. And by no means is this a bad thing.

While it’s typical for colleges and universities to be a half-step or so behind the rest of the world on the digital and social media front, schools are finding innovative ways to incorporate content into their online presence as well. It might be a well-targeted online experience like you’ll find at Hawai‘i Pacific University. A great use of photography and video to tell the story of international learning, as done by Providence College. Or a way to get an authentic look at what life is like in a typical day on campus, recently done by Truman State University.

But the important thing for all of us to remember is that—even with the most leading-edge digital resources at our disposal—the most basic and fundamental purpose of all of it is, simply, to communicate. To tell a compelling story. To build and consistently stoke our own digital campfire.

It’s easy to get lost in the technology. Effectively bridging the science (evolving technology) with the art (storytelling) is tough. It’s not hard to find the many misses out there on college and university websites where one fails the other. Where the latest and greatest digital gizmo falls flat because what it’s conveying is just kind of blah.

We can’t assume people will be interested simply because we’ve discovered the most innovative way to put ourselves in front of them. A boring video on Vine is just that, boring. We need to master the story with the kind of content that does it justice.

Voice—What does your institution sound like? What’s its attitude? Its personality? Is it Margaret Thatcher on an introspective Sunday morning, or more George Clooney after a couple of bourbons? You need to establish a messaging voice, commit to it, and be consistent.

People—Who’s worth talking about? What are the truly impressive things happening across campus and beyond with your alums? It may take some digging, but the heart of your story is formed by the people who live your strengths and personify your core values.

Photography—Documentary style or camera aware? People focused or place focused? Color? Sepia? Black and white? Telling your story absolutely requires top-notch photography that can visually express the experience you promise.

Video—It’s not an option anymore. It’s how people want, and expect, to be informed and entertained. It can’t look cheap, but it doesn’t need to be overly polished. Above all, it needs to be authentic and real. Script reading = bad video.

Remember, it’s about content. The story. It’s about showcasing to the world your people and the things they’ve done. Only after you’ve got that down should you focus on finding the best digital avenues from which to tell it.

If you have any thoughts on this, feel free to email me at cary.jordan@stamats.com.

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