9: Harvard University Seeks Authenticity Through Video w/ Mike Petroff

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Mike Petroff, Senior Associate Director of Content Strategy at Harvard University, discusses how video helps make Harvard as an institution appear more attainable, and Harvard students more accessible.

Attracting today's new post traditional learners meansadopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollmentgrowth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, andHelix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percentbrand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges.Downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom. Slash playbook. You're listening to enrollmentgrowth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaderslooking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for freshenrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the rightplace. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university.I'm Ericleson, AVP of marketing at Helix...

Education, and we're here today withMike Petroff, senior associate director of content strategy at Harvard University. Mike,Thanks so much for joining us today. Thanks for having me. When Imade the move from the AD agency world to higher education nearly eight years ago, Mike was incredibly influential to me and as both a thought leader and friend. We're going to have a great conversation today about how Harvard seeks great yourauthenticity through video content. But before we get into that, Mike, canyou give the listeners a little bit better understanding of both Harvard, for thetwo listeners unfamiliar, as well as your role there? Sure so, madyou said. I work at Harvard University, at school located just outside of Boston, as some people like to say. So I work within the Harvard PublicAffairs and Communications Office, which manages the main university channel. So that'sthe Harvard idity you made website. I work closely with the Harvard is anews office, and then also our team runs the main Harvard social channel,so things like at Harvard on twitter, instagram and also with a Harvard Universitypage on facebook. Awesome. Very early...

...in your tenure at Harvard, Iremember you and your team launched this video called anything could happen at Harvard.It's a tremendous video showing authentic experience at Harvard and has nearly a million viewsnow, and I remember at the time I reached out to you and said, boy, Mike, you you really made Harvard actually seemed like a realplace and you made Harvard students actually look like real people. And you quicklyreplied, yeah, that was the point. They talked about your goal in makingHarvard as an institution appear more accessible. Yes, so first I have toI do have to give all credit to our admissions the amazing Harvard Collegeadmissions teams, for having the concept and publishing that video. We got toreap the rewards of it by having a live within the Harvard UN Youtube Channel, the University Youtube Channel, but I think they did a really excellent jobof showing what it was like to be a student, showing the diversity ofthe interests of students what they can do on campus. But getting back tothat, the idea of what Harvard is to perspective audiences. It's a challengebecause, you know, we ive sit within a team that works with newsand media relations and handles things like press...

...releases and in bald messaging, andthe challenge there is, you know, you're trying to battle against what you'reperceived as being versus what you know is true internally, because of the greatstories that you see coming from all parts of the university. So I thinkwhat we try to do through social channels, through working with the news team,is spotlight the people, spotlight the really interesting stories of people can emotionallyconnect to and see Harvard is not just this, you know, distant universitythat they can't really be part of, but you know, people like themare here and the you know, the research that we're doing here really impactsthe entire world and the types of programs that we're running here shaping the futureof a lot of different avenues for people to grow into the world and havean impact. So I like to find those stories at the root level andwork with our teams on trying to find the best way to release that outto the public engage their reactions to it. I think a whole lot of thevideos that your team has been putting on last two years have absolutely donethat. Are there any concerns that being...

...more authentic will actually kind of deflateany of the Prestige to Harvard Brand has earned over time? Why? Thinkwhat we've learned is that audiences react to stories from other people right. Sowhen you're trying to sell tell a story as a brick building, it doesn'treally work when you're trying to tell the story as a person or representing aperson on campus. What we've noticed is that the audience really connects with thatand feels a connection, whether it's alumni or prospective students or, you know, the global population that tends to follow our accounts. So I think wewe know that authenticity will resolve in a stronger connection from the audience. Sousing that knowledge, I think we try to construct stories in the way inwhich people connecting with other people and learning, you know, the the raw motionof that person much more so than sort of the the marketing message thatneeds to go along with it. Awesome, awesome, and out of all thedigital channels you and your team manage, why is video become such a priorityfor you in terms of Harvard seeking more a authenticity? Well's that questionof sort of the the medium dictate the...

...message, of the message dictate themedium. So, just following trends on what social platforms are doing, Ithink we all know that video is just, over the past two to three years, dominating the way in which the platforms want people to interact with content. So you know, facebook, twitter, instagram, snapchat. They're all understandingthat the more people can spend on the platform, the more valuable thoseuser are. So we've looked at that. We looked at trends and how thingsappear in the news feed, how people interact with video, and Ithink our focus on videos less so much we want to have video be themain way in which we tell stories. We're not sort of making our officealways output in video, but we see videos a really interesting way to takekey internal stories, campaigns, other initiatives and use that as just one avenue. So we've seen a lot of opportunity to spread certain messages and have alot of reach with stories, specifically on Facebook, when we're telling it througha video style. But we've also seen...

...challenges on you know, while thereach is huge, one of the things that we struggle with is getting peopleto the end of the story, where they're much more likely to, youknow, read through the end of an article than they are to watch sixtyseconds of video. So how do we balance the two and try to understandthat and create videos people actually want to watch? Right? Great Point.Great Point, and so begs a question about when you decide to create avideo or, you know, content on a certain channel. What are yourgoals in general? So for Harvard overall enrollment growth isn't a primary concern foryou, so is it more about raising the academic level of your incoming class, the diversity of your incoming class? Well, what's the goal of themessage that you're putting out there? I think you know we, you know, Harvard loves to share the stories of what's going on at Harvard, butalso we're just thinking through generally brand awareness and, you know, shifting attitudeson, you know, certain topics or trying to relay the importance and impactof the work done at Harvard. We're sort of the you know, amplifyingthe message that happens just naturally within the university. So a lot of ourwork is just taking the things that already...

...exist and make sure more people knowabout the work that they're doing. And it's also, you know, developinggood partnerships with researchers, with faculty, with students, with others around theinstitution to know that if they have a larger story to tell, they cancome to us and we can help craft that message with them. Awesome,awesome. Recently you did a facebook live video takeover with one of your undergraduatestudents taking viewers on an hour long campus tour, answering questions in real time. It's wracked up eightyzero organic views with no other promotion. You've also recentlyexperimented with student takeovers of your instagram channel. Does the pursuit of authenticity require,or even demand, that your centralized department loses control of the message justa little bit and gives the reins to others like your students? And isthere an inherent risk and doing that? Yes, and yes, but butI think it's worth it's worth it right. So the way that we went intothat was we had been doing lives for a year, two years,and what we we started with sort of...

...the straight reporter style, where wehave a spokesperson sitting with a researcher and tell me about act, tell meabout why, and it was very control but then when you started to seewhere facebook live was moving, it seemed very inauthentic to sort of host aTV show on facebook live. So the more we did them, the morewe said, you know, we really just need to get closer to someoneholding a phone and walking around campus and it didn't feel right for that representativeof Harvard to be a staff member, you know, someone from the socialmedia team. It felt like people followed Harvard to see students, to seeresearchers. So we worked with a student who we met through the admissions team. His name was Julius. It was absolutely wonderful and we just work withhim on like what are your interests, what you like talking about, andone of the things that he suggested to us was it would be really coolHarvard sort of did a tour around the university but talked about like the historicalangles of different buildings and other things on campus. And you know he wasalready doing that for admission store. So we just tapped into that and said, you know, would you be willing to talk to the audience? Asyou know, they're asking questions and other...

...things. So the production value ofit was much more low fies than what we would normally put into it,but I think what you saw is a much more authentic connection to the audiencewatching, because we saw all the comments go up and the engagement really goup and I think that showed. So I think internally we had to understandthat, hey, you know, this is a pilot and you know howdo we prepare for things that could go wrong. What if a bunch ofpeople come to Harvard Yard because we saw him live streaming from there? Howwould we react? So we talked through to some of those risks, butI think the rewards. You have to have something that has, you know, moderate risks have a really high reward and I think we saw that here. You mentioned a couple of really great points there, I think. Ithink a lot of hired marketing units tend to create an ad for the universityand then say, what should this ad look like if it's on facebook?What does this ad look like on twitter? Instead, you mentioned specifically figuring outwhat is the language of the channel itself and how do I create contentthat speaks that language? Have some of the successes of facebook live and theseinstagram takeovers made you want to go even...

...more all in on I'm giving upthe reins moving forward? Yeah, I think so. I think we're lookingat the next moment to have, you know, to reduce the amount oflayers of story goes through before it hits published. Right. So when youhave a story that's coming from a student, typically it would maybe exist as aninterview that then exists as you know, it gets published in, you know, a news article that's highly edited and the photos are very crafted andthere's a lot of time and energy that goes into that, and I'm notsaying that's not valuable. There's some stories that need that to really shine.But what we're trying to work with is how do you balance those types ofstories with, you know, meeting the people and coming inside Harvard and beingable to see spaces that you would never see before? And sometimes it worksas a gorgeous photo gallery that exists on the website and other times it existsas someone kidding, you know, published on facebook live and then talking tothe audience directly. So I think we're not trying to go all in onone or the other, but we're trying to strike the right balance and goingback to the idea of, like more trying to tell a story what makesthe most sense. This was a story...

...about what it's like to be astudent at Harvard and then, you know, with in that give you a brieftour of the institution. And what better way than just let the studentdo that and get out of his way? And that's what we decided to doit this one love it. What will you say to other institutions wholove this idea of seeking greater authenticity through video but nervously just don't have HarvardStory to tell or a Julius to tell it? Yeah, that's a goodquestion. So I you know, a challenge that face at Harvard. Uniquechallenge is this. Harvard is so incredibly decentralized, but that also means thatthere's stories coming from every angle. I mean I am like waiting through ariver of interesting stories to tell and news that we can, you know,relate to certain Harvard research or ways in which we can talk about an interestingstudent story and context to whatever the flavor of the day is online. Right. So we have that, but on top of that we have to balance, you know, telling these short stories that the turnaround is two hours,versus creating content that lives on and as more evergreen and has a long tailthat can really boost the value of a...

...certain campaign or initiative from Harvard.But I feel like, you know, I came from Emerson College before Harvard, and Emerson as a much scol smaller school. So I'm really tight knitgroup of students producing a lot of great stuff, films and scripts and,you know, acting in movies and writing novels. But the challenge there was, you know, you had to try to find the right student and tellthat story. So we are tracking down a lot of stories. The benefitthere was you can really go deep on a store worry and the expectation isnot I should have something Ted ay every minute, every moment online. Ican really take my time with really deep stories that have meaning and impact butthen last for three four months. So what I would try to do it, Emerson, is find those stories that had a long tale, find thestories I really represented what filmmaking meant to students and then find ways to increasefeo on that or find ways to put that on Youtube to make that somethingthat people always revisited, to open up a little bit of time for meto look for those over other opportunities. So, you know, there's achallenge to having too many stories, but...

I think it also presents some opportunityfor you to like really identify the stories that have the most impact and spenda lot of time on those and don't worry about trying to just like feedthe beast and fill the news feat every single day. I love you.Said, find the stories about four times there, because, boy, isn'tthat really the secret after all? Any any final suggestions for institutions who arelooking to roll back the curtain and just be more authentic with their communications?Overall, I think it requires a more a deeper connection between different audiences.So you know clearly that the cliche breaking down silos at institution still holds true. So I'm noticing that even internally, where you know, originally my roleis closer to the hitting publish on the platform and sort of manage and socialand then working with the groups when they were done with whatever they were donewith. I tried to figure out a way to tailor it for the platform. So what I'm noticing is, you know, the authenticity comes from understandingthe audience and bringing back that information over to the editors, of the writers, of the content creator. So the...

...the more deeply you can understand whatthe audience expects, then I think you can write stories that really tap intothose emotions and what they're looking for. So we're trying to use information wegather from the performance of stories, from surveys, from anecdotes we hear andfeed that back in so it doesn't feel like they're publishing into avoid it feellike they're publishing directly to people that they they know and understand and can,you know, do their best to try to find ways to relate to themfrom, you know, the Harvard perspective. Awesome, awesome, such great stuff. Mike. Thanks so much for joining us today. What is thebest place for listeners to connect with you if they have any follow up questions? Sure you can follow me on twitter. I'm at Mike Petroff, and thenalso you can look for me on Linkedin. I think there's only oneor two other Mike petrofs out there. Just fund the one that worked withHarvard and you'll find the right one. Awesome. He's a great Follo offriends. Thanks against so much for joining us today. Mike. Thanks somuch. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensurethat you never miss an episode, subscribe...

...to the shown itunes or your favoritepodcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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