In an era of obfuscation and spin, teenagers and adults seek out real, authentic content and moments that they can relate to. Many choose to follow musicians and brands that they believe represent what they actually profess. From hipsters in Williamsburg and Portland to kombucha-swigging organic foodies in Austin, we are all searching for what is cool and real.
My goal as a teacher and HPA's Webmaster is to create content that fights clichés. I do that by stepping back and letting students create and tell the stories — by showing, not telling, and by backing up every assertion with concrete examples.
I firmly believe in the power of diversity and sustainability, and work to provide a detailed account of how these words can transform a school community from producing cliché marketing content, to authentic, real, and raw content.
We are all trying to make our schools unique. Being nestled into the northern hills of the breathtaking Hawai'i Island lends HPA a powerful environment. But, without nuanced content showcasing our academics, athletics, and student life, our website would be nothing more than a travel brochure.
The academic curriculum and boarding experiences at college prep schools may start to blur together given that a major goal of these institutions is the same: to vault students into top-tier colleges and universities across the country. But each and every one of these schools is made up of a unique blend of students with different passions, backgrounds, and skill sets.
Allowing these individuals to speak for the school creates a richly textured and authentic voice that will ring loud and true.
A student of mine, Kate Sensing '16, wrote in a previous Finalsite blog post, "While I was writing for Hawai'i Preparatory Academy's website, I structured my articles (with varying degrees of success) around the school's vision statement."
Unless you can show your school's philosophies in action, they are meaningless.
For me, video plays the largest role in providing tangible and authentic evidence of the phrases and words that make up our vision statement. Below are eight annotated videos that showcase the ethos of authenticity.
The Quick Guide for Optimizing Video for the Web
Find parents where they are most reflective and emotional.
A student and myself came up with the not-so-unique idea of asking parents questions right after graduation. We asked three questions:
- Describe graduation.
- What has HPA done for your child?
- What advice do you have for your child as they head off to college?
The content of this video lends itself to multiple scenarios:
- A parent testimonial about the HPA experience
- A student testimonial about the HPA experience
- A video that showcases the school's diversity (naturally — not forced)
Through trial and a decent amount of error, I found that simple questions yield good responses, but the simple follow up questions create great responses. A follow up question like "Can you expand on that" or " tell me more" gave us the specifics we needed for these video.
I loved the earnestness we captured from these four parents, it's something that creates human connection and nostalgia in the viewer.
Create voice in your videos
You are the only you there is — so embrace it. Fighting sterile/static/forced videos is vital in authentic storytelling. Just like in great digital writing, voice is vital to great videos.
In following videos, we focused on marketing three extremely, un-scripted, un-edited, distinct HPA voices.
In order to produce authentic content, you cannot tell the students, faculty, or parents in your videos what to say. Let it come organically.
We wanted to brand college counseling at HPA as supportive — and this testimonial was the perfect fit. I am always searching for unique stories — especially in areas of the school that can be formulaic. I wanted this student's sense of humor to be on display when describing her college counseling experience, which as she describes, is very different to everyone else's.
Similarly, in this video we wanted the viewer to relate to how exasperating the college counseling experience can be, and then hear how our college counselors went above and beyond to make it a little easier.
When we talk about "creating a voice," this video is the optimal example. The narrator's "surfer brahh" accent-tinged overview of HPA Olympics, creates a quirkiness, goofiness and sense of humor that aides the video. The narrator had actually asked multiple other HPA students to do the voiceover, before he realized that his voice actually created the most authentic feel.
Show, Don't Tell
When we highlight our Project-Based Learning (PBL) programs, we make sure that the students' main deliverable is in the shot — AKA, whatever they've produced in their class. These "props" are visuals that reinforce statements and provide clarity.
I'm particularly proud of this video because we had to use an iPhone for sound and propped up stools and several books as we didn't have tripod at the time. It's amazing the content you can produce, even without all the right tools.
Use Concrete Evidence
I tell my students that a great video is like a great AP US history exam written response. When you make a statement, you have to reinforce it with primary sources. In our case these are concrete and visual examples.
Similarly, in our new "Welcome Video" we wanted to provide as many primary source examples as possible. It's a good video but we struggled to find suitable b-roll footage, and did not have the time to film the footage that would have showed the interviewee in action.
- Giving clear detail: .57
- Backing up with evidence: 1:11
- Moments of authenticity: Discussing his shirt reinforces the statement that HPA is defined by acceptance and community: 1:53
What I love most about these these student-made videos, is that they are by no means perfect.
Some shots are blown out, some have poor framing, a few even do not follow the rule of thirds (shocking I know). However, I believe that the authenticity that resonates through those student and parent voices more than makes up for the sometimes less-than-perfect quality.
ABOUT THE AUTHORAaron Schorn is the webmaster, community manager and a teacher at Hawai'i Preparatory Academy. With a background in legal studies, political economics, and international relations from UMASS Amherst, he spent his early career globetrotting, from a post in northern Israel that focused on construction management and government relations to a Wall Street fund for development in the then-newly created country, South Sudan. Now at HPA's enviable location in Hawai'i, he's taken his self-described obsession with project management and operations streams and has transformed the school's site into a student-centered experience.
Aaron is open to helping your school succeed online. Send him an email!