Pro Tips on Video Content for Virtual Admissions

Last fall, video content was an important aspect of your admissions program, but the heart of your program was still in-person visits and events. Today, for many schools, video is the admissions program. 

But how do you create engaging video content when, chances are, you don’t have students or teachers on campus to film? And if you do, they’re masked and socially distant. Do you have budget and staff constraints or COVID restrictions preventing a film crew from coming on campus, so you must rely on Zoom content and phone video?

For answers, we went straight to the experts: Hackstone, a full service strategic content production shop in Baltimore. Their motto — “Storytelling is a place where science and art meet” — is exactly what schools are experiencing in today’s virtual admissions world.

We talked with Merritt Trigg, Hackstone’s Director of Strategy and Development, for his pro tips on making the most of video content.

First, understand that your video content needs to speak to different audiences.

“Many schools try to hit both the student and parent audiences with the same video. You can’t. When you are doing things for parents, you want a better produced message. But it can’t be what we call dumpster content: 800 different elements in one video. Each video should have one main focal point, such as ‘This is what we are doing to keep our community safe right now.’ 

For older generations, you start to create brand equity through higher-level content that tends to be more aesthetically polished, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be run through a  production company. It’s fine to repurpose your existing content. You could edit the 2019 football championship game video with voice-overs of current football players talking about what it’s like to play for your school.   

Prospective students will gravitate to your students’ channels and social media, not your school’s channels. You need to link your video content on a social and grassroots level for the students you are trying to reach. Get your current students talking about the lived experience at your school through their own lens. 

This is about creating a culture of comfortability with current students. It has to have an organic capacity and authenticity to it and not feel like the school is orchestrating it. How do schools do this? That’s the $1 million question.”

Recruit students to create student-focused video content.

“Orchestrate video content through a peer group of students who love your school. Locate individual students who are into social media and ask if they would be willing to shoot videos of school interactions. 

If I were in admissions right now, my first action would be to look at Instagram and search my school’s name through the hashtag and location search. You will see who is already posting about your school. Approach them about being an ambassador for the school. Reward them with school swag, coffee shop gifts cards, etc. 

Be clear, though, what your expectations are regarding content and how often they post — and that you will need to monitor it. Make sure parents and school administrators are looped in with your project. The school has to intervene if it sees inappropriate messaging.”

Be sure your top-of-the-funnel video experience speaks to students.

“If someone attended your virtual open house or other event, you’ve gotten them into the funnel. But how do you have a top-of-the-funnel experience that is more native to where kids are? The content your ambassadors are posting and tagging your school will do that, but they need to post consistently. When they do, you see trends and start to influence the algorithms across different social platforms. You’re going to get more results. 

Pick a theme and rally your ambassadors around it. Make it something that speaks to your students. Maybe it’s social justice or something simple that gets to the heart of your school’s experience like joy or community. Create a content calendar and encourage kids to post to the theme and tag the school in their social media. You could ask the school to post about it and make it a fun competition.

Use synchronous video conferencing to create the cultural space kids want. Have your current students talk with prospective students on video conferences about what they love about the school — they are your subject-matter experts.”

Know the science behind how your audiences view your content.

“When we first read or view something, our brains block out information we deem unnecessary. For example, if the first video a parent views has top-level mission messaging and lists all the AP classes and sports offered, that’s too much information at once.If we overload people, they will block out what we want them to hear.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) research tells us that with video, people make purchasing decisions by consulting emotion first before using subjective logic to support it. Be emotive in your videos. Parents want to leave your video feeling a sense of happiness, security and trust. The number of AP classes comes later in an infographic PDF or a landing page. 

Stay on track in your video. People aren’t going to listen to a video overloaded with information.  Focus on the joy, not the jargon. We see it all the time with school videos. People try to tack something in because the dean wants it there or because they think that people need all the information right away. Just because you think it’s right doesn’t make it right. 

It’s also important to have the appropriate narrative in place without it feeling scripted. If you are interviewing people, give them the questions ahead of time but don’t script the video. If the person is still awkward on camera, don’t use them. If you need to, shift to a voice-over narration over B-roll.”

Photo of Merritt Trigg, Director of Strategy and Development for Hackstone
Merritt Trigg, Director of Strategy and Development for Hackstone

Check out Hackstone’s blog for more tips:

The Biggest Mistake You’re Making in Video Production

Nobody Cares About Your Story

Download the Kalix e-book, Creating an Effective, Engaging Virtual Admissions Program, for great tips on how to make the most of the 2020 admission season.

President’s Notes
Jonathan Oleisky

Jonathan Oleisky

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