As someone who works in enrollment marketing or management for a higher education institution, you're probably familiar with the importance of student and alumni stories. These narratives can provide a unique insight into the campus culture, or provide case studies of graduates who have achieved success in their professional lives.Incorporating these stories on your website, social media channels, and marketing materials can be an effective way to help prospective students make an informed decision on whether they should apply to your school. After all, students want to make sure they'll be set up for success!
To help you capitalize on this opportunity, here’s a list of five ways you can go about capturing student and alumni stories for your college or university.
1. Build a Landing Page and Form
The first step in capturing student or alumni stories is to provide a method for these anecdotes to be submitted. Building a landing page with a form is an excellent way to collect this information. Consider including fields such as:
- Student vs. alumni
- On-campus vs. online
- First name
- Last name
- Name at graduation (if applicable)
- Year of graduation (if applicable)
- Email address
If you want your form to specifically target alumni, they can serve supplementary purposes like updating your alumni records. With this in mind, consider asking for additional information such as:
- Current position: Where do your alumni currently work?
- Current address: Where do they live?
- Share a class note: Provide an open paragraph box where an alum can enter whatever they'd like. This is a great way for alumni to update you on marriages, birth announcements, new jobs, and other important life events.
One great way to add an element of personalization, while capturing alumni stories, is creating an additional form for students or faculty to recommend reaching out to other individuals for their stories. For example, Cape Breton University in Canada has a landing page promoting their "share your story" campaign. The form embedded on this page allows people to suggest students, alumni, faculty and staff, donors, and community members who should be featured.
If you lack an easy way to spin up landing pages and new forms for marketing efforts, HubSpot’s free landing page builder is a great solution.
If you'd like to add a more personal touch to your form or landing page, consider using a video element such as VideoAsk. This tool allows you to create interactive prerecorded video questions and provides students with a space to share their stories without writing them out or scheduling an interview. This option can be embedded on your landing page as well.
2. Promote Your Form in Communications
You can create the best form in the world—but if nobody sees it, it won't be very effective. So how do you get your form in front of current students and alumni who are willing to fill it out? Here are several methods of promoting your form or landing page:
- Alumni & parent newsletters: Do you have a newsletter that goes out to alumni or parents? If so, provide your audience a link to the form in the content of the newsletter. You might find that active readers of this newsletter are very interested in sharing their achievements.
- Alumni magazine: If you don't already have an alumni magazine, building one can be a great way to not only promote your form, but engage with your alumni community.
- Alumni/University Facebook groups: Many universities and colleges have various Facebook groups for things like alumni networking, extracurricular activity forums, etc. Take a look on Facebook to see if there are any alumni or university groups for your school where you can promote your form.
- “Call to faculty”: This can be one of the most effective ways to promote your form. It’s an invitation for a faculty member to recommend 1-2 students they believe have stories they’d be willing to share.
3. Personals Calls and Emails
Reaching out to students directly via email and phone calls can be another highly effective method of obtaining stories. You may even find that many former students are eager to share their accomplishments with their alma mater.
One challenge of personal calls and emails, though, is that it's hard to obtain quality photos that accompany the story. Keep this in mind if you choose this method.
4. Leverage Social Media
Social media is an excellent way to encourage organic content from your students or alumni. Remember, stories and testimonials don't need to be formatted as articles on your website to be effective. Social media posts can be a great place to highlight student anecdotes. Here are some ways to encourage organic stories using social media:
- Social media contests: Contests are a great way to inspire people to share. For example, offer a small reward or prize for the best photo demonstrating a certain facet of campus life via photo or video. Or challenge alumni to share pictures of their desk setup or workplace. This can help you engage with your students and acquire photos that (with permission) can be used for marketing purposes.
- Student takeovers: Student social media takeovers can provide a unique perspective on your campus culture. Find a trustworthy student, provide guidelines for posting, and give them the space to be creative. This isn't just a fun opportunity for the students, but can also be a great way to collect stories.
- Post on student/alumni Facebook groups: In addition to promoting your form on Facebook, another great usage of social media is to ask students and/or alumni to brag about their college experience, accomplishments, or more. Include an email address for students to send their stories to.
5. Ask Students Face-To-Face
Interact With Students On-Campus
Eager to collect genuine student stories? A great way to do this is to interact with students on-campus, face-to-face. Try setting up a booth on campus for students to come and interview, but try to be creative. You want a large group of students to take an interest to ensure a plethora of stories and useful information. For example, Vanderbilt University compiled a large number of student and alumni anecdotes by creating pop-up booths with prompts that students could easily answer—similar to a photo booth.
If you don't want to invest too many resources into this method, however, don't be afraid to go simple. Start with a table, chairs, a camera, and a volunteer to interview students. This can be just as effective, just as long as you provide an incentive for participants, like a cotton candy machine or free t-shirts.
Visit Your Alumni
Fancy a road trip? Visiting alumni and asking them for stories can be a fun way to capture stories and take a break from the office.
If you're unsure where to go, take a look at your institution's LinkedIn page and click on the "alumni" tab. LinkedIn offers insights into the top cities where your alumni work. If you notice that most alumni work in New York City, for example, consider reaching out to alumni in that area directly, asking to meet with them, and taking a trip.
One school that tried this is Southern New Hampshire University. This institution took a bus across the United States, interviewing students to capture their stories and deliver their diplomas. In addition to collecting these stories, SNHU was able to advertise their university via school branding on the bus, and use the stories as promotional material. Approaches like this can make students feel proud by highlighting their successes, thereby increasing the likelihood that they’ll respond to the request to participate.
Conduct Remote Interviews
The world is becoming increasingly virtual. Asking to meet virtually with students or alumni can be a great way to capture personalized stories without a plane ticket or gas money. Recording these interviews (with the students' permission) and posting them online is another method you can use to promote these stories.
Don’t be afraid to get creative and have fun when compiling testimonials. Keep in mind that these ideas are only suggestions to get you started. Figure out what works best for your institution and run with it. The most important thing to remember is that personalization is key when collecting “personal” stories.
An additional benefit of student stories is that they can help inform your student personas. Student personas are semi-fictional representations of your ideal student, and can help you better understand your target audience. Download our free toolkit below to get started creating one for your school!