3 Steps for Developing a Visual Storytelling Strategy at Your School

Deborah Block
Key Takeaways

​​What? Many schools and universities have dropped the ball when it comes to building a visual storytelling strategy​.

So what? There are three ways schools can take action now to gein thinking strategically about visual storytelling.

Now what? For more tips on how to execute a plan, download Developing a Visual Storytelling Strategy for Schools and Universities​. 
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If you work in higher education, how are you using photos and videos to drum up excitement among students, parents, alumni and teachers? Think about it — do you actually have a plan in place?

T​oday, many schools and universities have dropped the ball when it comes to building a visual storytelling strategy to engage their audiences.

If your school has struggled to get organized, Libris’ latest guide, Developing a Visual Storytelling Strategy for Schools and Universities, will help get you started. Consider it your go-to resource for actionable tips and insights to segment your audience, develop visual content topics and measure your results. 

Check out the first three essential steps for mapping out your school’s visual storytelling strategy. 

Photo by Charles A. Smith/Jackson State University

Step 1: Identify Your Audience 

Nowadays, the online environment largely self-segments and content can be created with that in mind. For example, it’s unlikely to find a grandparent on Snapchat using emojis and filters. Similarly, current students are less and less likely to be on Facebook, but can be found on Instagram or Twitter.

Schools deal with a variety of audiences:

  • Students

  • Parents

  • Faculty & Staff

  • Alumni

  • Prospective Students, Faculty and Staff

  • ​​General Public (Including people who admire the brand and people looking for thought leadership)​

Information can be presented to these groups in several flavors:

  • Inform: School will be closed for the holidays

  • Engage: The basketball team celebrated a victory in March Madness

  • Call-to-action: Donate to your class gift

Your department might not have the resources to address every audience regularly, but it doesn’t mean that they cease to exist. 

DO THIS: Identify which audiences would be best served by visual storytelling, or you can rank the list above to narrow down your top 3.

Photo by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Step 2: Build Personas

Each audience can be further subdivided into different personas – each of which might have different needs and wants. 

For example, “Parents” might be split into:

  • Low engagement: Doesn’t care what goes on at the school. Just wants child to graduate.

  • Highly engaged: Interested in PTA/PFA opportunities, donates time and money to school.

  • A total pain: Likes to complain about teachers or school policies. Feeling of entitlement. Doesn’t contribute in a meaningful way to the school.

The high engaged parent probably doesn’t need much content developed for their consumption. They actively seek and consume communication pieces put out by the school. They likely engage with content online (share, like, comment). 

The parent who’s a total pain might not be worth salvaging. Too much effort for too little return.

The low engagement parent could be “salvaged” with content directed at or including them. A doctor might be included in a medical professionals panel that is filmed and presented through various channels. An architect might be interested in different facets of the school’s physical plant. 

Schools have to develop broad communication strategies, but that doesn’t excuse them from identifying key personas and developing visually stories to reach them. Arguably, identifying personas is the best way to ensure proper resource allocation. This is especially true when it comes to the development/advancement departments. 

Many sophisticated schools have tools that help them rank the giving capacity of individual alumni. While big donors will always require personal 1:1 interaction, it might not be feasible to use this approach for the next tier of donors. So what content might speak to different personas? 

  • Progressive education techniques (e.g. less emphasis on testing)

  • School sustainability efforts

  • Community service initiatives

  • Facilities and physical plant development

DO THIS: Using your audience list, define target personas within each group. 

Photo by Ting-Li Wang/Clarkson University

Step 3: Set Goals 

Marketing has been radically transformed in the digital age to move away from qualitative measures to a high analytical, quantitative practice. But smart marketers don’t just track metrics – they seek to tie improved metrics to actionable behavior.

For example, a school might want to double their Instagram following because they understand that it’s a better platform to communicate with students and young alumni. But doubling followers is useless if the school can’t convert the follower into more of an advocate. Furthermore, a goal for any organization should be to move people from a third-party platform (e.g. Instagram, Facebook, YouTube) to their own hub (e.g. a website or email), where the organization can control the flow of information and isn’t beholden to an algorithm or pay-to-play scheme.

DO THIS: Create a set of goals for each audience/persona segment. You can start with simple metrics (e.g. increase followers by 30% over the next 12 months), but we encourage you to think about conversion goal setting. For example, goals for young alumni might include:

  • % participation giving per class

  • Target giving amount per individual

  • % of class showing up for alumni events (e.g. 5th year reunion, regional happy hours)

  • # of engaged volunteers per class

A larger following helps amplify a message, but it doesn’t guarantee conversion success. 

Photo by Christy Mathewson/Bucknell University

Ultimately, compelling content builds engagement and engagement builds affinity. Affinity leads to donations of time or money, which all institutions strive for. A visual storytelling strategy must be in place for your institutions to succeed in a world where every brand is competing for consumer attention. 

For more tips on how to execute a plan, download Developing a Visual Storytelling Strategy for Schools and Universities. 

Deborah Block
Deborah Block is the Senior Manager of Earned Media at Libris, which empowers the effortless creation of visual stories. Libris offers a unified platform of technology, tools, and insights that helps more than 800 brands manage their visual media every day.