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5 Innovative Visual Storytelling Tricks for College Social Media Teams to Try in 2017

5 Innovative Visual Storytelling Tricks for College Marketing Teams to Try in 2017. Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech Athletics.

Brands of all industries are focusing on visual storytelling in 2017. Which platforms will take off? What’s the best way to tell your story? Who’s setting a good example? We get into all of these questions in our on-demand webinar, 17 Hacks for 2017: How to Win with Visual Storytelling, but we also want to share some tricks specifically for colleges and universities.

Colleges and universities are in a perfect position to blaze a trail with visual storytelling. They’re filled with interesting characters and fantastic photo ops, and their audiences (especially students and prospective students) are fluent in the latest modes of visual communication.

Here are five innovative visual storytelling tricks to try in 2017.

1. Experiment with video formats

Video is crucial for telling your school’s story, and colleges and universities are fascinating testing grounds for new video formats, specifically live video and 360 video.

Live Video

Think #FOMO. Universities can use Facebook Live and Periscope to show students what’s happening on campus right now – while they still have time to put down the books and join in. If you use live video to cover the beginning of your school’s resource fair, chances are you’ll motivate students to show up.

Plus, live video creates an incredible opportunity for prospective students and alumni to feel a part of an event on campus. National Geographic uses Facebook Live to invite people all around the world on a safari. What if you could invite prospective students around to be a part of commencement, opening night of the spring musical or the flyover at the first football game?

Pro Tip: Be prepared. Before you go live, decide what you want to show on camera and about how long you want to be “on-air.” Make sure everyone on camera and behind the camera is on the same page.

360 Video

The advantage of 360 video is the ability to establish a sense of place. Marketers are struggling to figure out the best way to use 360 video to tell a story, and because their stories are so rooted in a place, universities are in a perfect position to be trailblazers in 360 video.

Notre Dame has created a series of 360 videos showing everything from the view from the stage of Pride & Prejudice to the marching band leaving the tunnel and heading onto the field.

Pro Tip: Test different purposes for 360 video, from unique views to campus tours. Figure out where this new format works best for your school.

2. Publish your best visuals in real time

University photographers have top-notch equipment and the best access at campus events, but too often, communications teams share low quality iPhone photos on social media for the sake of speed. Not only does this drive photographers crazy, but it also means you’re not putting your best foot forward. Your photo will have a better chance of going viral and defining a moment if it’s a professional quality image with a unique point of view.

All. That. Food. #yum Get over to Building U before it's all gone. #culinary bake sale happening now.

A photo posted by Moraine Valley CC (@morainevalley) on

Moraine Valley Community College’s Photographer and Imaging Specialist Glenn Carpenter sends photos straight from his camera to his team’s visual media library via FTP so his team can publish his high-res photos in real time on social media. As Glenn says, “It’s Instagram, not Inaweekagram.”

Chris pulled this shot from a Libris gallery and posted it straight to social media during the game.

This photo was taken by Purdue’s professional photographer, sent straight to the team’s visual media library, and shared on social media in minutes.

The Purdue University Athletics department also publishes high quality photos in real time. During basketball games, photographer Charles Jischke shoots tethered or wirelessly tethered to a laptop. He sets up Adobe Lightroom to automatically pull images from a hot folder and apply preset import settings to them, giving the photos a predetermined look. He makes selects on his camera, pushes them to Lightroom, and exports to Libris so his team can access the edited selects. All of this can be done within the few minutes of a timeout.

“It’s a great distribution,” says Charles. “It allows me to dish out full resolution where they can potentially crop if they want to, and they can use it however they’d like.”

Pro Tip: Make sure your team has the right tools – hardware and software – to publish high resolution photos in real time. Want to learn more? Check out our report with NACDA, Visual Asset Management in University Athletic Departments in 2016.

3. Create visual experiences

Brands of all industries are using experiential marketing to make a connection with fans in person and have a ripple effect online. Most experiential marketing stunts are inherently shareable – they create a photo op that begs to be shared on social media. For example, Holiday Inn Express created the Pancake Selfie truck, which prints your face on a pancake. The brand took the #PancakeSelfie Express on a college town tour for SEC football games.


In October, Virginia Tech and the University of Tennessee created an unforgettable experience for thousands of fans in person, and made waves on TV and on social media as a result. The Battle at Bristol, a matchup at Bristol Motor Speedway, was the biggest college football game ever. Between the record-breaking crowd of nearly 157,000 fans (Bristol sits on the border of Tennessee and southwest Virginia, an easy trip for passionate fans from both schools) and the fanfare of playing a football game at a racetrack, the spectacle created the perfect photo op.

Thanks to all the brave men and women who serve in our armed forces 🍊🍊🍊🏈 Be #EL17E #BattleAtBristol

A photo posted by Tennessee Football (@vol_football) on

Not only did the two schools produce incredible visual content during the event, but the fans also shared their own content.

“This was an opportunity to create a memory and experience history,” Virginia Tech Deputy Athletics Director Desiree Reed-Francois told the crowd at the 2016 Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in New York City.

Your students are social media natives. If you give them opportunities to create memories and share them on social media, your events will have a ripple effect well beyond your campus.

Pro Tip: Ideas that are out-of-the-ordinary are super shareable. Check out Dairy Queen’s GIF photo booth, Kellogg’s Periscope broadcast and our whole Union Square experiential marketing series for inspiration.

4. Use Snapchat and Instagram Stories for a behind the scenes perspective

45% of all Snapchat users in the U.S. are between the ages of 18 and 24. That means if your school isn’t on Snapchat, you’re missing a huge opportunity to reach your audience. But it’s not just about being on Snapchat – it’s about using this platform in the best way possible.

The ephemeral nature of Snapchat and Instagram Stories lends to a different type of storytelling. This is where you can share a different perspective – content that highlights the personality of your school, but isn’t a fit for your polished Instagram account or your official Facebook page.

Clemson Football is setting a fantastic example for college teams across social media channels. The team uses Snapchat to give fans a behind the scenes perspective of practice, media day and more. Fans (from prospective students to alumni) get to travel with the team, see what it’s really like to be a Clemson Tiger and feel a part of the action. Oftentimes, there’s a student behind the camera – adding an extra ounce of authenticity to Clemson’s content.

Pro Tip: These channels are meant to be fun and off-the-cuff. Use them to experiment and share a new angle. As they gain traction, you may find that you want to add more behind the scenes content to your other more established channels.

5. Define your visual personality

Your social media channels should reflect the unique personality of your school. Challenge yourself to choose the right photos, videos and GIFs for every post.

The social media surrounding the College Football Playoff highlights how the images you share define your brand.

As they trained for the Championship, Clemson shared behind the scenes moments and gave fans an insider’s perspective.

Alabama, the reigning champion, painted a picture of dominance consistent with the team’s powerhouse reputation.

Pro Tip: As you build a communications strategy, focus on outside-the-box storytelling – how can you use photos and videos to create a unique view of your school? Create a consistent visual identity that reflects your school’s personality.

Up Next: Download our visual content cheat sheet for higher ed web, marketing and communications teams.

Cover photo courtesy of Virginia Tech Athletics.

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