I stumbled into this story last month and thought it was worth repeating.

The Fessenden School has been digitizing it’s old photos and posting them on Flickr.com.  Every year just before graduation Fessenden takes a class picture in front of the main school building.  They turned this annual tradition into a Flickr “set” by posting a hundred years worth of class photos to a Flickr set called “Class Photos”.  I’m sure the intent was to share these classic images with alumni and families associated with the school.  But what happened next was something no one could have predicted.


French blogger, Francis Cazal, found the set while gathering research for his post about the history of preppiness and Ivy league fashion.  In November of 2010, Cazal published a piece in his French blog, Greensleeves to a Ground, colorfully documenting the history of the Preppie look.  Weeks later Ivy Style blog founder, Christian Chensvold, found Cazal’s piece, and referenced it with his own take on Preppy Style.


The example of the Fessenden School makes a case for schools to begin to think differently about controlling their image on the web. We can assume that Fessenden embraced the project as a means of historical preservation, or interest to Alumni, and maybe even future marketing efforts.  But I would guess it never occurred to them that their new resource would be used for a different purpose altogether. Digitized collections of your school just may end up in the capable hands of a French blogger turned Ivy-league style junkie, who in turn recounts passionately the tales of your seemingly insignificant details, like penny loafers and madras jackets, which then gives your school a return of Admissions hits en masse that you never expected.


It’s definitely a case of unintended consequences, but one that underscores the power of social media. The Fessenden archives have tallied over two thousand additional views since November when Cazal’s observations were posted. Over the same period of time, their website has received as many referrals from Ivy-style.com as it has from privateschoolreview.com — a more traditional directory.  Just further proof that things like this can make a difference.


Progressive brands (schools included) are starting to think about driving traffic to their sites in unexpected ways. As schools seek to responsibly archive their photo collections, and publicize their image, they can use the example of the Fessenden School to ask two important questions going forward. What else can we do with our image files?  And who else might be a potential audience?


photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fessendenarchives/

Travis Warren

Travis Warren

Founder and President at Whipplehill