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5 Universities Using Story-based Content to Engage Students

Hipster student studying in library at the university

There are so many universities to choose from. Do you remember how you decided on your university or college? Maybe it was by ranking, proximity, location, or you had recommendations from people you trust.

Today, universities are fighting for attention in an online world where every prospective and current student is a digital native. Universities and colleges now have to think like a brand, and use a robust content marketing strategy to attract enrollment and nurture their community. 

The new student generation lives and breathes social media. They know when content is intentional and authentic—and they’re quick to engage with it. On the flip side, students can smell a poorly-executed, thoughtless campaign from a mile away and disengage just as fast.

This is why using story-based content marketing is so important for institutions of higher education. The history of the university, the school pride in its students and faculty, and the feeling of being on campus can tell a meaningful story that goes beyond programs or rankings.

Here are five universities in Canada and the United States using premium content marketing campaigns and rich storytelling to engage their students.

1. McGill University | #MadebyMcGill

McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, is entering its third century (a pretty big deal!). To encourage alumni and donors to support McGill with their generosity, the university started the #MadeByMcGill campaign, activating alumni, professors, staff, and students with a tribute video shared on every social media platform. It speaks to how students for generations have graduated feeling moulded, changed, and made by the McGill experience.

The video itself engages and inspires the entire McGill community with interviews, stunning visuals, and a clear message. Plus, it was made by students! Even the soundtrack was created by musicians and sound engineers at McGill’s Schulich School of Music.

2. Stanford University | #Stanford19

Stanford University Social Media Campaign

Video content is one of the most effective ways to capture the attention of your audience. Stanford University in California is turning to Instagram’s IGTV feature for its #Stanford19 campaign. With an Instagram audience of over 600,000, this is a strong content move for the university to reach prospective students by placing the spotlight on 2019 graduates and commencement.

Each video tells a diverse story of the student, their background, and their accomplishments while studying at Stanford. We encourage you to watch one of the 2-minute clips—they’re truly heart-warming and inspiring.

3. Harvard University | The Harvard Gazette

Content Marketing of Universities Harvard Ivy League Harvard Gazette

Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, doesn’t need an introduction. The prestigious Ivy League school has invested in quality content for a long time (think: Harvard Business Review), but it also has an internal magazine called The Harvard Gazette. It’s a beautiful, story-based example of a hub for campus news and the latest updates in arts, health, and science. 

Every Harvard University channel uses images and articles from The Harvard Gazette as content for LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, driving huge amounts of traffic back to the website for a full content marketing strategy. The stories are smart, meaningful, and speak to what it’s like to be a part of Harvard life—but we didn’t expect anything less.

4. University of British Columbia | People of UBC

University of British Columbia UBC Content Marketing Campaign

Do you relate to the People of UBC? In a new series from The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, the school puts its community front and centre. From students, alumni, staff members, and professors, you can find short, quippy bios on the people that give UBC its unique personality.

And the stories don’t only live on the website. UBC’s social media channels repurpose the images and bios into content for each platform—Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn—to complete the full story circle.

5. New York University | Where R.A Now?

Where R.A Now? Podcast from New York University NYU Universities

We’re almost certain that you’ve listened to a podcast or ten in the last couple years. Audio content is trending up, up, up, and higher education brands have an opportunity to confidently step into this space. The Student Affairs team at New York University started a podcast that is unlike others that you might hear from a school. Instead of informative, education-driven content, it’s story-based and highly targeted to a niche audience.

The Where R.A Now? podcast invites Resident Assistants (or RA’s) to reflect on their experience at NYU and have a genuine conversation about their journey after graduating. It’s co-hosted by a new voice and features a different guest each week. Currently over 70 episodes are available (and counting!).


Want to find out how you can humanize your content marketing? We’d love to have a conversation about your strategy. Schedule a time to talk or send us an email at hello@forgeandspark.com.

Chelle Morgan
Chelle Morgan
Chelle is a writer, social media maven, and Instagram strategist who has worked for brands including Kit and Ace, London Drugs Beauty, and Indochino.