Once upon a time, there was a parent considering sending her child to a particular school. She did her research, looked at the school's website, and read about its curriculum and programs, but she was still on the fence about inquiring.
Then she came across a story about a student at that school who overcame a major obstacle and achieved something great and suddenly, she felt emotionally invested in the school and its community — she saw herself and her child in that story and felt a connection that went far beyond just reading bullet points on a curriculum web page.
She was hooked.
As humans, we have a natural inclination to listen to stories. Since ancient times, we’ve used stories to communicate, teach, and entertain. Stories have a powerful effect on our emotions and can make even the most complex ideas easy to understand. It’s not surprising that storytelling has become an essential marketing tool for businesses, nonprofits, and even schools to communicate a message and brand.
As the first point of contact for parents, your school’s website is the storyteller, delivering the characters, plot, and message that will help build community engagement in your school's brand and reputation, ultimately sharing what makes your school unique.
By telling stories about the aspects of your school, whether it's a particular program, a teacher who goes above and beyond, or a student’s journey that embodies your school's values, you're showcasing what makes your school special in a very powerful way.
It’s expressing the emotions that prospective families want to feel to support the important decisions they need to make.
So why should schools prioritize telling these tales on their websites? Stories are powerful community engagement strategies for schools and a great way to reach your audience because storytelling:
- Helps break down complex ideas
- Builds an emotional connection
- Makes key messages more memorable
- Inspires visitors to take action
- Boosts school community engagement
But what does storytelling look like on a school website? School blogs, embedded videos, powerful testimonials, and engaging imagery — these storytelling and communication tools all work together to deliver your school’s message. Let’s take a look at some of the best examples of storytelling, and how these narratives engage their audience.
Storytelling helps break down complex ideas
Schools are full of complex ideas, theories, and concepts that can be challenging for students and parents to fully grasp — like financial aid, enrollment processes, the value of private education, or how a gift to the school can make a tangible difference. Stories help break down these complicated ideas and make them more accessible to users.
A single photo can tell a story within a split second. Testimonials from members of your community or alumni can instantly transform conceptual ideas about the school into emotionally engaging specifics. By using stories to break down complex ideas, your school can help parents and students better understand your school's values, vision, and mission. This, in turn, can help build trust and encourage even more engagement with your school community.
A step-by-step infographic, for example, can simplify your admissions process, whereas putting a story behind the impact of financial aid or a scholarship can help drive home the impact of the importance of financial assistance and student success.
Lady Eleanor Holles tells the story of the life-changing power of a scholarship. On a page dedicated to information about the complexities of affording a private education, alumni and students share the impact of their bursaries and the difference it’s made in their education in a well-produced video — one of the most compelling ways to tell a story. Notice how the women speak directly to the camera when discussing their bursaries as if addressing the viewer personally.
Storytelling builds an emotional connection
One of the most powerful aspects of storytelling is its ability to build an emotional connection. When we hear a story that resonates with us, we feel an emotional response, whether that’s joy, empathy, motivation, or any other myriad of feelings. With storytelling, your school can tap into these emotions and create a deeper connection with families and communities.
And with that emotional connection, your school or district can create a more positive perception of your brand and foster a sense of community and belonging among your audience.
What does the future of education look like? Rowland Hall answers that question and then some with its all-encompassing Strategic Priorities page. Forming an emotional connection to the school’s strategic priorities rallies the Rowland Hall community in support and motivates them to join its bright future.
An inspiring video, bold declarations, and an empowering message from its head of school all set the foundation for the school’s future plans. Have a look for yourself — it’s quite impressive. The video accompanying the page even won Gold in a recent InspirED School Marketer’s Brilliance Awards.
Storytelling makes key messages more memorable
Have you ever heard a story that stayed with you long after you heard it? Stories have a unique ability to stick in our minds and be remembered long after they’re told. That’s because stories activate different parts of our brains and tug on our heartstrings more than simple facts, figures, and text.
With storytelling, your school can make its key messages more memorable. Sharing stories that embody your school's values can create a more memorable and impactful message, and for prospective families, that can help to differentiate your school from your competitors.
“Dream it. Do it.” The tagline of Birmingham Community Charter is clear, bold, to the point, and easy to recall. Its homepage tells the story of a student body and faculty with the confidence and resilience to succeed in learning and boldly carry that into the future. Panels highlight what they offer: career pathways, counseling, athletics, accelerated learning, and more; profiles of students share their personal stories, and key news updates tell the stories of students unafraid to dream big. Their branding is everywhere — even information found in their “About” section is renamed “Dream It. Do It.”
Storytelling inspires visitors to take action
By telling stories of success, innovation, and leadership within your school or district, you're setting an example for others to follow. Tales of students, faculty, and other folks who have gone on to achieve great things can inspire others to follow in their footsteps.
By inspiring visitors to take action, storytelling can help your school achieve its goals and make a positive impact on your community, inspiring donors to give back to the school community, or voters to support a bond campaign.
Voters approved a $723-million bond for Beaverton School District, a six-year project focused on several projects throughout the district. That project requires the support of the community in order to provide a better future for students, families, and teachers across the district.
A microsite hosts the stories of that initiative, which included news updates through Finalsite Posts chronicling the construction and programming, videos detailing the importance of the upgrades, and a thorough “by the numbers” section.
Storytelling boosts school community engagement
When we encounter stories about people who share our values, experiences, or interests we can relate to, we feel like we're a part of something bigger than ourselves. This can help students and families feel like they belong and are valued within the school community and create a sense of pride in being associated with your school, all of which have a ripple effect.
People are more likely to want to be a part of something they admire and respect. When students and families see themselves and their experiences reflected in the stories you tell, they feel a deeper connection to your school and are more likely to become advocates for it. And as people share these stories on social media, word spreads, and your school becomes known for its positive and inspiring culture.
In just under a minute, Woodward Academy’s fall fundraising video drives home the impact of a gift on students' accomplishments. Small moments captured across campus amount to a big influence on a student’s educational experience — a great way to gather support from its community headed into a campaign.
Germantown Friends School’s “What makes GFS, GFS?” video collects all the best things about its community — a great way to welcome back students and families to another academic year and share the excitement for what’s to come.
Storytelling is a powerful tool that schools should be using more often on their website — Finalsite’s content management system, Composer, is designed for schools to help tell their stories better. With captivating stories on your school's website, you're tapping into a fundamental aspect of human communication that can help you connect with your audience in a deeper and more meaningful way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.