How to Make Compelling Promotional Video for Higher Education

Date posted: September 4, 2013

Website design for colleges and universities is a constant challenge because of the need to express an abundance of information to a wide variety of audiences. While many sites continue to suffer from the common problem of trying to cram excessive data into too small a space, others are separating themselves from the pack by integrating multimedia content in innovative ways. Entertaining and engaging visuals, audio and video are highly effective in resonating with all types of visitors, but particularly for prospective students experiencing your school for the first time.

With improving internet speeds and web publishing platforms, including for mobile devices, it is easier than ever to tastefully integrate videos throughout your website. If a picture is worth a thousand words, as the old adage goes, how many words equals one minute of video? High school students surfing swiftly through the web are drawn to more interactive content that inspires emotion and can compellingly convey a school’s appeal with visual elements. Promotional videos featuring genuine student testimonials and virtual campus tours are two popular applications for using video, but there are many other ways. Creative videos may inspire homecoming nostalgia among alumni, inform about residence life or biology labs, showcase student performances or the campus location’s appeal, or perhaps feature stirring speeches from recent ceremonies.

A university’s home page is the straw that stirs the drink but specific audiences are likely in the long run to spend more time on interior pages where the content is most relevant to their needs. Program, alumni, athletic and other pages are where particular types of visitors will be more willing to watch entire videos and explore more detailed content. Many schools manage institutional YouTube channels divided according to categories such as “dining options” or faculty departments, a popular content strategy for schools we analyzed in a previous post. Vimeo, “the artistic sibling to YouTube,” or other alternate hosting platforms offer customization options but may carry a cost for commercial usage.

Here are some tips to consider for video strategy:

1. Identify your purpose and target audience

Your audience’s demographics and location will determine the emphasis, style and language of your content. Videos can be highly effective in providing virtual tours and testimonials for student recruitment but keep in mind that, especially for international students, parents may be the chief decision maker. Consider your necessary key message and what measurable output you are aiming to achieve. A call to action can be as soft as displaying the benefits of a certain campus location, or more directly driving an immediate response, such as encouraging early enrollment by enticing with a contest prize.

Example: The University of British Columbia encourages individual departments to develop content and share their stories by publishing guidelines on their website with plans for free workshops to support a decentralized process.


2. Make the most of your available resources

Be aware that attention spans are shrinking and targeted clips of 10-30 seconds, popular on sites like Instagram, may attract more viewers and deliver a more focused takeaway message. Most users glance at a video’s length before viewing and may avoid clips deemed overly long. That said, video with informative, inspiring content, such as well delivered speeches, can warrant longer running times. Consider calling your local tourism board for beautiful images and moving picture of your surrounding landscape and begin thinking of music earlier in the process. Original music from a student or faculty member can be cost-effective and customized for the video’s purposes. Or, just throw in some Coldplay, like St. Francis-Xavier University did when designing their primary “Explore StFX” recruitment video as part of their innovative multimedia-rich web presence.

Example: Video ‘Play’ triangles are positively bursting from StFX’s home page, tempting the user who may be slightly overwhelmed by the many choices catering to a variety of audiences. Chasing the bait drops you into their Video Channel for frosh fun, spontaneous campus polls, and content ranging from top quality to home video.


Example: The University of Calgary features a page of “101 reasons to join our campus” with professional looking “Student Videos,” which include music, multiple interviews, campus visuals, and snappy under-90-second running times.


Example: Scrolling down Western University’s home page reveals their social media channels, including a ready-to-play video about life in residence and even Western on iTunes U, with free podcasts from convocation speeches and lectures.

westernwestern itunes

3. Optimize for SEO, promote, measure, evolve

Remember that YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine and the rules of social networking and SEO for colleges definitely apply. Upload videos with interesting headlines, comprehensive keywords and descriptions, and an attractive thumbnail image. Video albums can be created in Facebook, and built-in platform sharing tools exist to post your video’s link in other sharing sites, such as Twitter, to earn as large an audience as possible. Promote your videos by asking students if they’ve seen the newest one and asking for their opinions. Since videos tend to age badly, keep a plan in place for substituting with fresh content when time allows.

How has your school integrated multimedia on your website?