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 means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand 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 enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. 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 with Mike Petroff, senior associate director of content strategy at Harvard University. Mike, Thanks so much for joining us today. Thanks for having me. When I made 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 your authenticity through video content. But before we get into that, Mike, can you give the listeners a little bit better understanding of both Harvard, for the two listeners unfamiliar, as well as your role there? Sure so, mad you 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 Public Affairs and Communications Office, which manages the main university channel. So that's the Harvard idity you made website. I work closely with the Harvard is a news 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 University page on facebook. Awesome. Very early...

...in your tenure at Harvard, I remember 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 views now, and I remember at the time I reached out to you and said, boy, Mike, you you really made Harvard actually seemed like a real place and you made Harvard students actually look like real people. And you quickly replied, yeah, that was the point. They talked about your goal in making Harvard as an institution appear more accessible. Yes, so first I have to I do have to give all credit to our admissions the amazing Harvard College admissions teams, for having the concept and publishing that video. We got to reap 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 job of showing what it was like to be a student, showing the diversity of the interests of students what they can do on campus. But getting back to that, the idea of what Harvard is to perspective audiences. It's a challenge because, you know, we ive sit within a team that works with news and media relations and handles things like press...

...releases and in bald messaging, and the challenge there is, you know, you're trying to battle against what you're perceived as being versus what you know is true internally, because of the great stories that you see coming from all parts of the university. So I think what 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 emotionally connect to and see Harvard is not just this, you know, distant university that they can't really be part of, but you know, people like them are here and the you know, the research that we're doing here really impacts the entire world and the types of programs that we're running here shaping the future of a lot of different avenues for people to grow into the world and have an impact. So I like to find those stories at the root level and work with our teams on trying to find the best way to release that out to the public engage their reactions to it. I think a whole lot of the videos that your team has been putting on last two years have absolutely done that. Are there any concerns that being...

...more authentic will actually kind of deflate any of the Prestige to Harvard Brand has earned over time? Why? Think what we've learned is that audiences react to stories from other people right. So when you're trying to sell tell a story as a brick building, it doesn't really work when you're trying to tell the story as a person or representing a person on campus. What we've noticed is that the audience really connects with that and 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 we we know that authenticity will resolve in a stronger connection from the audience. So using that knowledge, I think we try to construct stories in the way in which people connecting with other people and learning, you know, the the raw motion of that person much more so than sort of the the marketing message that needs to go along with it. Awesome, awesome, and out of all the digital channels you and your team manage, why is video become such a priority for you in terms of Harvard seeking more a authenticity? Well's that question of sort of the the medium dictate the...

...message, of the message dictate the medium. So, just following trends on what social platforms are doing, I think 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 understanding that the more people can spend on the platform, the more valuable those user are. So we've looked at that. We looked at trends and how things appear in the news feed, how people interact with video, and I think our focus on videos less so much we want to have video be the main way in which we tell stories. We're not sort of making our office always output in video, but we see videos a really interesting way to take key 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 a lot of reach with stories, specifically on Facebook, when we're telling it through a video style. But we've also seen...

...challenges on you know, while the reach is huge, one of the things that we struggle with is getting people to the end of the story, where they're much more likely to, you know, read through the end of an article than they are to watch sixty seconds of video. So how do we balance the two and try to understand that and create videos people actually want to watch? Right? Great Point. Great Point, and so begs a question about when you decide to create a video or, you know, content on a certain channel. What are your goals in general? So for Harvard overall enrollment growth isn't a primary concern for you, 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 the message 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, but also we're just thinking through generally brand awareness and, you know, shifting attitudes on, you know, certain topics or trying to relay the importance and impact of the work done at Harvard. We're sort of the you know, amplifying the message that happens just naturally within the university. So a lot of our work is just taking the things that already...

...exist and make sure more people know about the work that they're doing. And it's also, you know, developing good partnerships with researchers, with faculty, with students, with others around the institution to know that if they have a larger story to tell, they can come 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 undergraduate students 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 recently experimented 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 just a little bit and gives the reins to others like your students? And is there an inherent risk and doing that? Yes, and yes, but but I think it's worth it's worth it right. So the way that we went into that was we had been doing lives for a year, two years, and what we we started with sort of...

...the straight reporter style, where we have a spokesperson sitting with a researcher and tell me about act, tell me about why, and it was very control but then when you started to see where facebook live was moving, it seemed very inauthentic to sort of host a TV show on facebook live. So the more we did them, the more we said, you know, we really just need to get closer to someone holding a phone and walking around campus and it didn't feel right for that representative of Harvard to be a staff member, you know, someone from the social media team. It felt like people followed Harvard to see students, to see researchers. 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 with him on like what are your interests, what you like talking about, and one of the things that he suggested to us was it would be really cool Harvard sort of did a tour around the university but talked about like the historical angles of different buildings and other things on campus. And you know he was already doing that for admission store. So we just tapped into that and said, you know, would you be willing to talk to the audience? As you know, they're asking questions and other...

...things. So the production value of it 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 audience watching, because we saw all the comments go up and the engagement really go up and I think that showed. So I think internally we had to understand that, hey, you know, this is a pilot and you know how do we prepare for things that could go wrong. What if a bunch of people come to Harvard Yard because we saw him live streaming from there? How would we react? So we talked through to some of those risks, but I 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. I think a lot of hired marketing units tend to create an ad for the university and 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 out what is the language of the channel itself and how do I create content that speaks that language? Have some of the successes of facebook live and these instagram takeovers made you want to go even...

...more all in on I'm giving up the reins moving forward? Yeah, I think so. I think we're looking at the next moment to have, you know, to reduce the amount of layers of story goes through before it hits published. Right. So when you have a story that's coming from a student, typically it would maybe exist as an interview 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 and there's a lot of time and energy that goes into that, and I'm not saying 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 of stories with, you know, meeting the people and coming inside Harvard and being able to see spaces that you would never see before? And sometimes it works as a gorgeous photo gallery that exists on the website and other times it exists as someone kidding, you know, published on facebook live and then talking to the audience directly. So I think we're not trying to go all in on one or the other, but we're trying to strike the right balance and going back to the idea of, like more trying to tell a story what makes the most sense. This was a story...

...about what it's like to be a student at Harvard and then, you know, with in that give you a brief tour of the institution. And what better way than just let the student do that and get out of his way? And that's what we decided to do it this one love it. What will you say to other institutions who love this idea of seeking greater authenticity through video but nervously just don't have Harvard Story to tell or a Julius to tell it? Yeah, that's a good question. So I you know, a challenge that face at Harvard. Unique challenge is this. Harvard is so incredibly decentralized, but that also means that there's stories coming from every angle. I mean I am like waiting through a river 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 interesting student 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 tail that 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 knit group 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 tell that story. So we are tracking down a lot of stories. The benefit there was you can really go deep on a store worry and the expectation is not I should have something Ted ay every minute, every moment online. I can really take my time with really deep stories that have meaning and impact but then last for three four months. So what I would try to do it, Emerson, is find those stories that had a long tale, find the stories I really represented what filmmaking meant to students and then find ways to increase feo on that or find ways to put that on Youtube to make that something that people always revisited, to open up a little bit of time for me to look for those over other opportunities. So, you know, there's a challenge to having too many stories, but...

I think it also presents some opportunity for you to like really identify the stories that have the most impact and spend a lot of time on those and don't worry about trying to just like feed the beast and fill the news feat every single day. I love you. Said, find the stories about four times there, because, boy, isn't that really the secret after all? Any any final suggestions for institutions who are looking 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 role is closer to the hitting publish on the platform and sort of manage and social and then working with the groups when they were done with whatever they were done with. 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 understanding the 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 what the audience expects, then I think you can write stories that really tap into those emotions and what they're looking for. So we're trying to use information we gather from the performance of stories, from surveys, from anecdotes we hear and feed that back in so it doesn't feel like they're publishing into avoid it feel like 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 them from, you know, the Harvard perspective. Awesome, awesome, such great stuff. Mike. Thanks so much for joining us today. What is the best 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 then also you can look for me on Linkedin. I think there's only one or two other Mike petrofs out there. Just fund the one that worked with Harvard and you'll find the right one. Awesome. He's a great Follo of friends. Thanks against so much for joining us today. Mike. Thanks so much. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe...

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

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