Think of a typical social media post, and you probably picture a short snippet of text accompanied by a photo or video. While the specific features and layouts may differ slightly from social network to social network, the basic parameters of what most people post on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have been broadly the same for several years now. But what if that were to change? What if it already has?
Social media stories – essentially short slideshow reels that combine text, visuals, and graphics – have been growing in prominence for a few years now, originally introduced by Snapchat before being replicated by the likes of Facebook and Instagram. Far from being a niche or fad, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has predicted that stories will eventually became the most common way that people share on social media.
For marketers across all industries, including the education sector, this essentially means learning to create posts in a whole new format, which can be a big ask. Here’s a beginner’s guide for schools.
Planning Social Media Stories for Schools
There is a big difference between approaching creating regular posts and social media stories for schools. This was perhaps best summed up by TechCrunch’s Josh Constine, who noted that “advertisers must rethink their message not as a headline, body text, and link, but as a background, overlays, and a feeling that lingers even if viewers don’t click through.”
With that in mind, it’s important to take some time to think about the stories format and how your school can make the most out of it before you dive in. Consider your key messages and unique selling points, and how they can be best conveyed using this new format. Think about your school’s events, your location, and the daily happenings on your campus for possible ideas that would work as Stories. And look at the various features available, such as graphics, text overlays, and AR filters, and try to identify options that fit your school’s tone, character, and voice.
It may also be worth following other schools, colleges, and universities to see how they are using the format, and which posts stand out to you. This can give you some great ideas to apply to your own creations.
Example: Harvard University posted this excellent social media story recently detailing some of the people that had visited the school in 2018. The cast of characters included everyone from Bill Gates to Hilary Clinton to Elmo from Sesame Street.
Targeting is important to consider, too. Stories usage and adoption varies across different social networks. For instance, while usage of Stories on Facebook is growing, the format is still more popular in its subsidiary platforms Instagram and WhatsApp. Additionally, while Snapchat innovated the idea, and arguably offers the most sophisticated and advanced version of the feature, its share of the market has been eroded as its competitors have introduced their own versions. Here’s a breakdown of the current daily users on each of the most popular sites:
YouTube also launched its own version of the feature in late 2017, though it is still only available to channel owners with more than 10,000 subscribers.
Another thing to keep in mind is that stories are more commonly viewed on mobile than on desktop, so you may want to examine your lead generation data to see what devices are favoured by your target student personas.
Creating a Story for Your School, Step by Step
Creating a story is thankfully quite simple, and can be done on most smartphones. Here are the basic steps you would need to follow on Instagram:
- Either swipe left on your home screen after opening the app, or tap the plus symbol next to your profile picture in the Stories feed.
- You can tap the circle button in the Instagram camera to take a photo, or hold it to shoot video. Swipe up or tap the photo icon in the bottom left corner to add existing content from your gallery. In the bottom menu, you will find Instagram’s signature shooting options, such as boomerang, superzoom and live streaming.
- Once you’ve taken a photo or video you can add filters, stickers, text and other effects using the top menu in your screen.
- When you’re happy with a frame, you can post it by clicking the Your Story icon. After, you can add to it by repeating the steps again, post it to your feed, send it to or share with followers, or save it to your account.
There may be some minor variations in this process when creating stories on a platform other than Instagram, but the basic steps will be the same.
Shooting Basics to Keep in Mind When Making Stories for Schools
To ensure your school’s stories are as high quality as possible, it’s important to keep in mind some basic things when shooting video or taking photos. First, remember that it’s preferable to shoot in vertical format rather than landscape framing for Stories. This will ensure your visuals don’t have to be reduced in size, or cut anything important out of frame.
Example: This Cornell Admissions Student Takeover was shot in vertical format throughout. Note how the student uses a sticker to encourage questions from students.
Lighting is another simple but crucial detail that can make or break your visuals. A poorly lit or shadowy area can make your stories look drab and unappealing. For best results, natural light is often best, and many experts recommend trying to shoot during the “golden hour” of the day right after sunrise or an hour before sunset to avoid unwanted shadows.
Example: The University of California makes good use of natural light in this story about some of the animals that students work with.
It may also be preferable to use your phone’s camera rather than the native one offered in the social media app for your stories, as video recorded through these tends to have lower resolution than most high-quality smartphones.
Engagement Tips for Higher Ed Stories
Engagement is crucial in inbound marketing for schools here are a number of things you can add to your stories to increase the value and engagement they generate. As a first step, you should use text overlays in your images and videos where possible. Text helps to knit your story together, and give prospective students more information about what they are seeing.
Example: Boston University make good use of text overlays to add narrative to their Instagram Stories.
In general, it’s a good idea to try and keep your text overlays consistent, and use fonts and colours that match closely with your school’s branding. You may also want to use text frames – full slides of text – in between your visuals to break things up and add more narrative.
You can also add hashtags and location tag stickers to your Stories to make them easier to search for. The Stories search feature on Instagram curates any stories using hashtags or location tags into a series of clips that show up in the search results page.
Example: The search results page for the hashtag #universitylife. As you can see, a Stories collection appears at the top of the page.
Any clips with the hashtag are included in the story:
The same rules apply for location tags, which will show up in the places search.
Example: The places search for Delfin English School in Dublin has its own Story attached.
The story is mainly made of contribution from the school’s students, and encouraging your community to tag your school in stories could be a great tactic to increase your reach.
Keep in mind, however, that Instagram only creates these for the most popular hashtags and locations, so it’s best to target broad terms and wider locations like cities or towns.
Above all else, it’s important to use CTAs to drive prospective students who are viewing your stories towards further engagement. Stories allow creators to link to webpages and other social media posts by clicking a link or swiping up on their phones. This can be a great way to use stories to attract real conversions.
Example: This story from Wharton School of Business encourages users to click through to a video on the school’s YouTube channel.
Making the Best Use of Stories Extra Features for Higher Ed Marketing
Of course, one of the main reasons that stories caught on in such a big way with social media users is the array of fun and creative features and visual effects the format offers. Even if you are new to Stories, these options are easy to use, so there is no reason why your school can’t take advantage of some of these to add a bit of spice to your posts.
Here is a quick rundown on some of the unique options available on Instagram Stories for Schools:
This is a short, repeating video clip similar to a Gif, and can be a great way to put some life and animation in your posts.
Superzoom is a feature that rapidly zooms in and out of a close-up of your image, and can be overlaid with a number of animation and sound effects.
This option is exactly what it sounds like – you simply take a video, and Instagram will play it in reverse in your story. It could be a neat option for schools looking to put a different spin on their clips.
This is Instagram’s version of the AR filters popularized by Snapchat, which allow you to place graphic overlays like animal ears and noses, hats, and sunglasses over the faces of anyone in your shots. There are also filters that overlay entire shots, like old-style camera film effects.
You can add a range of text, emoji, and gif stickers to your stories, including banners, pictures, polls, and even countdown clocks.
Example: Some of the stickers available in Instagram Stories. Note that they will often change depending on the day of the week – this batch of suggestions came up on a Friday.
Each of these options could add something special to your story, and help stop it from coming across as flat or dull. Similar options are available on other platforms such as Snapchat, Facebook and Messenger, so don’t be afraid to play around with the features and see what you come up with.
Maximizing the Shelf-Life of Your School’s Stories
Although most Stories disappear from your profile after 24 hours, there are a number of things you can do to prolong their shelf-life and extract the maximum amount of value from them. For a start, you can save and archive your best stories on Instagram and Facebook so that you can reshare them in the future. The Highlights section on Instagram, which appears permanently at the top of your profile page, is also a great place to put higher ed social media stories with evergreen potential.
Example: Cornell Admissions make good use of the Highlights feature on Instagram.
You can also take single or multiple clips from your stories and share them as regular posts. This can be a great way to generate quality content for your feed. Additionally, Instagram now allows you to share all of your Instagram Stories on Facebook, which could prove very fruitful as the format grows in popularity on that platform.
While there are minor variations in the creation process and features available on different platforms, the basic principles outlined here can be easily applied to the likes of Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, and even YouTube Stories once the feature becomes more widely available. With a little practice, your school should be well-placed as stories begins to dominate the social media landscape.