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7 University Storytelling Trends To Watch In 2016

Posted on May 8, 2016
7 University Storytelling Trends To Watch In 2016

The pressure is on. Universities need to stand out. They need to share successful student outcomes, powerful research achievements, and both local and global impact. Many are looking at how storytelling can help them. 2015 saw a variety of approaches take hold. 2016 will see them all accelerate. Here’s 7 to watch out for.


The search for authenticity continues. Just how can universities reflect the reality of campus life? Video has been a major player over the years. We’ve seen the student story told by the fly-on-the-wall, through music video, by animation and, unfortunately, from students forced into a corner with a script and a big boom mic hovering overhead. 2015 saw students take more control of direction, telling the university story on live Periscope tours and, increasingly, through their own stories in their very own vlog diaries. A vlog is simply the video version of the blog and, if done right, is about as close to the truth as it gets right now.

So how will universities get it right in 2016? The trick will be to avoid trying to control what students say, without leaving them entirely to their own devices. The answer is somewhere in the middle – a little inspiration, some content steering, some questions to respond to…and then lots of freedom. The availability, accessibility and pure ease of smartphone video technology will help give student vlogs even greater lift off in 2016. As will the investment from university marketing and recruitment teams, creating content platforms and paying students to record their experiences. We’ll also see more academics switching the record light on and vlogs will increasingly add weight to research stories.

Want a good example of university vlogs?  Bournemouth University showcases student videos that focus on helping others look around the campus, explore the local area, sort out their finances, and apply to university. Check it all out by clicking here or just share Jessica’s thoughts below:



Geofencing is the art of creating a virtual perimeter, and universities are using them to tell their stories. The obvious example comes from Snapchat and their ‘Campus Story’ feature, allowing students to upload snaps to a central feed, creating a crowdsourced gallery of a typical day at a university. We’re seeing more universities take this seriously and in 2016 we expect marketers and recruiters to get even better at aggregating highlights and sharing them for quick viewing outside of the perimeter (Only Snapchatters whose phones indicate they’re in and around a campus, or were there in the last 24 hours, are able to post to and view the ‘Campus Story’).  In the last couple of years we’ve seen Princeton in the US launch its ‘Snapchat Saturdays’ summary on Facebook and West Virginia University create videos of Snapchat Q&As for sharing. Whilst it used to be a big deal to create a ‘Day in the Life’ collation of content, the opportunities are now endless.

So in 2016 we’ll see more Snapchat aggregation and we’ll see some brave institutions step into the darker worlds of Yik Yak and Yeti. We’ll see tension, especially as some universities look to censor content, or zap out geofenced conversations, whilst others proclaim the importance of freedom of speech. Meanwhile, the world will move on and 2016 will see students sharing stories with the world (well, 50 people) via Fling, having fun with Boomerang, and experimenting with soundtracked stories on Musical.Ly – universities will have to keep up!


We’re all getting used to shorter attention spans. Instagram videos at 15 seconds. Vines at 6 seconds. Boomerangs taking a whole second to complete. Yes, there’s a storytelling world out there populated by highlights, edits, mash-ups and snaps. And yes, we welcome it – or at least understand our target audiences are welcoming it. But in parallel there’s a growing need for something deeper as well. So, in 2016 expect more universities to dig beneath the superficial to unearth much more meaningful stories. Stories that will be far longer – we’re talking at least a minute here! We saw some very powerful, deeper, emotive stories emerge in 2015. One of our favourites was ‘Deng’s Story’ from Western Sydney University (1 min 30 secs!)

Expect more heartstring tugging in 2016. Also, expect video to get more personal by enabling participation. Click this. Choose that. Slide there. What would you do? Graduate recruiters, such as Deloitte in New Zealand, have been at it. Check out their gamified interactive video –  all part of their selection process, and something universities will embrace more.


2015 saw Virtual Reality (VR) get a sneak look in on campuses. 2016 will see it become a major talking point. Just as VR is the talk of game developers, broadcasters, architects, real estate agents, holiday companies, publishers and retailers (and pretty much everyone else), so VR will be the talk of educators, and their marketers. But we hope for more than talk. We hope that 2016 sees universities take VR beyond the corridor tour. Let’s see more drones showing the way;  let’s see more from within the shoes of the POV student; more chemical experiments; more underwater immersion. Let’s see, and let’s have, more engaging experiences. And as universities get better at providing access to their films – some have been sending out cardboard headsets in the mail – let’s hope we see the cost objection removed and the virtual barriers dissolve. If you want a good look at how VR is getting bigger on campus, then view my previous post. And take a virtual trip to Australia with us – Deakin’s case study is well worth a look.



So universities have been differentiating? Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite worked. In fact it has left us with a world of universities still saying the same thing, just in a different way – ‘we’re the university of employability’; ‘we’re tackling the biggest global challenges’; ‘we’re the university of global citizens’. Surely it’s time to get under the skin of an institution and find out what really makes it tick, to establish what its brand really is, and what building blocks make it up? This will mean going deeper. And it means evidence, purpose and momentum. And lots of it! Universities will have to think like any other purveyors of brand excellence – designing the courses, the teaching and bespoke methodologies that all articulate the bigger promise. They’ll have to ensure the whole university (or as much as possible) is playing its part in the bigger brand story. And then they’ll have to tell it to the world. We were impressed with how the University of Melbourne not only told their story of ‘collisions’, but reinforced it with evidence of multi-disciplinary fusions across the university. Join 650,000 others and check out the commercial:


But then go dig into ‘when Biomechanics collides with Medicine’ and other collisions, and build the story for yourself. See their site by clicking here. We’ve seen enough in 2015 to suggest that universities are about to take the brand story up a few chapters.


Raising the profile of research is getting more and more important. As well as satisfying the demand for outputs and impact, notably from governments, policy makers and industry partners, and ultimately the funding community, a good research story can also be instrumental in defining the university and in shaping bigger purpose. A good research story can impact positively on undergraduate and postgraduate recruitment; it can congregate alumni; and it can rally communities. For a big research story, have a look at how the University of Manchester are telling the world about Graphene (a remarkable new material!) and their role in its inception and future – click here. But also have a look at how Mashable shared the field activities of academics from New South Wales through photography, proving that there are interesting ways to bring a research story to life – click here .

Then there are the opportunities for research storytelling being served up by Facebook (Instant Articles), Twitter (Moments), LinkedIn (Pulse) and a whole new wave of publishers. 2016 will really open up the landscape.


So how can coffee inspire the university world? Well, in 2015 Nestlé, the global giant behind brands such as Nescafé, was the fist major international brand to shift all of its websites to the cloud-based, blogging / social expertise of Tumblr. Nestlé did it because they wanted to build stronger relationships with younger demographics, and they wanted to inspire a fluid, two-way conversation with the ability to share new content quickly and easily. They also wanted to enable user content generation. As with some other leading brands (Adidas is a great example), they recognised that the digital world operates as a global focus group, and they needed to be flexible and accessible to participate. And so they moved to Tumblr. And, we have seen some universities think in the same way, and some following suit. For an example, look at how the University of Reading told its ‘Backpage Pass’ story of the Reading Festival through Tumblr. Click here.

In 2016 we’ll see more universities throw off the in-house IT shackles and jump on board Tumblr and similar platforms to tell their stories in a quicker, more accessible way. We’ll see more use of Storify (some embedded within Tweets), and even more micro-sites as a quick escape from the clutches of internal Server Police. And for those staying on terra firma, we’ll see some re-build with the kind of CMS that opens everything up. This will all help accelerate more interesting storytelling. Bring it on!

That’s just 7 things to watch for. But there’s a lot more to the story. At the Future Index we work with clients to help them see the bigger picture and opportunity out there. We bring it all to life through our presentations. workshops and consulting. If you want to know more then please contact Jim Tudor at  or tweet us @futureindex.

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