Harvard University Seeks Authenticity Through Video

Harvard didn’t exactly need to create an elaborate campaign to spread the word about their university, but they did identify a need to connect and engage people with their world-renown institute on a more intimate and authentic level.

On this episode of Enrollment Growth University, Mike Petroff, Senior Associate Director of Content Strategy at Harvard University, discusses how video helps make Harvard, as an institution, appear more attainable and Harvard students more accessible.

How Harvard Uses Video to Challenge Perceptions

There’s a perception, perhaps, that Harvard University isn’t the most attainable institution to get into, enrolling students with qualifications seemingly beyond mere mortals. A faceless institution with buildings and halls only ever seen in movies or magazines.

That’s where Mike and his team want to challenge these perceptions by making the individual stories of students and the world-impacting work done by researchers accessible to any audience through the use of video.

Following the current social channel trend found across Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, video stories are getting a lot of attention from the Harvard marketing team as they use them to highlight key internal stories, campaigns, and other initiatives.

They are using this video medium to craft stories that show an insider’s view of the people and world-impacting research that make up Harvard. It’s a social platform showcase intended to breakdown perceptions through authentic connection.

Facebook, in particular, has seen a huge reach in terms of video storytelling, although, one of their current challenges is getting people to watch to the end of the story. It’s an obstacle that’s teaching them how to adapt their storytelling to produce a truly compelling video people want to watch.

At the core of it, the videos are intended to bring brand awareness and to shift attitudes. They are relaying the stories of the impact of the work being done at Harvard–putting an engaging and authentic face on an otherwise perceived monolith.

Create Content That Makes An Authentic Connection

A few years back, when they first started creating social platform video content, they were producing more reporter/TV-show style episodes, usually of a staff representative doing Q&A with a researcher or student.

As platforms like Facebook Live began to grow and evolve, it became apparent that that content wasn’t going to work in that context if they really wanted to create an authentic connection. It had to be a non-staff host in the phone-in-hand first-person style–that was the content that their followers would be expecting and wanting to interact with.

One student they connected with suggested a Facebook Live campus tour, where he could walk around the campus, with a phone, and talk about the historical aspects of the buildings while answering questions in real time. While the production value was significantly more lo-fi than what they had done in the past, it was one of their most successful videos to date, in terms of connection and engagement.

Previously, they were creating content and then formatting it for the platform, but once they started listening to the language of the platform first and then creating their content, they really started seeing authentic connections with their audience.

What Do You Do If You’re Not Harvard

First of all, Mike says, don’t worry about trying to fill your newsfeed every day.

Harvard has many avenues of finding stories and there is no shortage of great content to be shared, so much so that a story’s turnaround time could be as short as a few hours.

Most institutions don’t have the “luxury” of so many stories to tell, so Mike suggests taking time to find and listen to the great stories that already exist on your campus. Get invested and be in it for the long game because, in the end, you’ll have great content that can be crafted into an authentic and engaging video.

Give those stories depth and meaning and then post them places like YouTube where people can come back and watch them. In these cases, you can use your other social channels to tease and direct people to that content.

Lastly, you need to understand who your audience is. Don’t blindly publish content into the great internet void, but do your best to know and research your audience (is it current students, alumni, international, etc) so you can create content that meets the expectations of your audience.

The more deeply you understand what your audience expects, the better you can focus on finding and writing the stories that tap into their emotion.

Authentic connection is created when you see a story from their perspective.

If you’d like to reach out to Mike, you can find him on Twitter @mikepetroff or via his LinkedIn profile.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Mike Petroff from Harvard University. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

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