Social Spotlight: Secrets to your school’s video success

There was a time—not too long ago—when creating video for your school meant hiring a full-service firm for a high-end piece, complete with a hefty price tag.


Realistically, schools still occasionally need to take this route from time to time, but more often than not, video as part of school marketing is more accessible than ever before.


With accessible tools at hand, we’re seeing schools produce great stuff simply with an iPhone (take this how-to from our friends at Wistia).


Easier access to great video now leads to a new problem — how do schools efficiently edit and publish what’s becoming an ever-increasing backlog of material?


Ethney McMahon, from Reel Schools, and Proctor Academy, have been figuring out how to put a reproducible plan into action. Ethney has been serving as a “production editor-at-large” for Proctor, working to build their video library and keep their community connected to what’s happening on campus.


I had the good fortune of going back and forth with her via e-mail to pick her brain on ways to approach a video strategy, and Proctor’s lessons are certainly worth sharing:


Peter Baron (PB): In your opinion, how does a school get started in creating video?

Ethney McMahon (EM): I don’t think schools need to go out and buy expensive equipment. Vixia is a great family of cameras made by CANON, ranging from from $300-$1,000. You can also record with the FLIP camera or the KODAK sport, both are still available on Amazon for $99. This Fall we made this video using the FLIP.


The most important thing is that the person videotaping should be familiar with the school community. If you use an outside source to videotape, chances are your answers are not going to be as candid. Putting a familiar face behind the camera is not going to alter behavior as much as a stranger in the classroom would. Begin with a video that highlights a teacher or perhaps a class. Make it easy. Remember, they are not all going to be a success, but you have to start producing in order to learn.


PB: I hear a lot about length of video — how long do you have before the viewer’s attention drops off. In your opinion, what’s the sweet spot for video length?

EM: There was a time when we would have loved to put a 20-minute admissions videos on the internet. Today we can, but no one would watch it. Ironically, as bandwith speeds increase and video compression becomes easier, our attention spans are getting shorter. Last Fall, I was posting three-minute videos. This year, I fret every time I post something that is two minutes. These days the sweet spot may be 90 seconds. I tend to worry when I have a finished video longer than two minutes but sometimes content will rule. Otherwise, stick with the shorter videos.


PB: How often should a school be producing videos?

Why not try to produce at least one video a month? By the end of the school year, you will have at least 10 videos in the archive. It is important to understand that not every video will be a hit or go viral. Your greatest aim is for your video to be a genuine, “word-of-mouth” piece that you can use over and over in various ways for different constituents.


PB: Where should the videos be uploaded?

EM: There is no right answer to this question, just like there is no rule for how many different places one video can be uploaded. Inbound marketing relies on prospective families finding you, so posting videos on Facebook, Youtube or Vimeo are great paths to take. The ultimate idea is to get them to your site.


PB: How important is the video archiving process?

EM: The video archive will be accessible to anyone that has found your site/channel but equally important is the availability of these videos to internal departments for their various marketing efforts to different constituents.


PB: How much time does it take to edit videos?

EM: Editing is the most time consuming portion of video production, but it is very important.

The time it takes to edit will depend on the amount of footage taken, the storyline and the experience of the editor. Editing is time consuming, but if you want to tell a good, tight story, it is a must. Editing is both technical and artistic. When it is done well, editing will ensure your story is told the way you want it to be told and represents the character of your school. At a minimum, it should have your school’s logo. There must be consistency in your videos — each story will add up to your brand.


PB: What do you think is a key component to a successful video?

EM: I really believe what makes a school video successful is its believe-ability. If you have students, parents and teachers speaking candidly and/or going about their day, naturally, in the classroom and on campus, then people are going to believe it. I believe schools should be producing as many videos as possible on a wide variety of topics and events.


PB: Can you give me an example of a few videos that would be easy for schools to emulate?

For years, I have been producing videos of family weekends on the Proctor campus. Originally, they were video images of kids and parents put to music. But through the years, as more parents became familiar with the videos, they were more approachable and engaged, so I began asking them questions on camera. It is important to note that these videos are still accessible by both parents looking at PA and more importantly, they are also at the disposal of the Admissions team to use for direct marketing.


Fall Family Weekend

Another relevant topic for videos is Development. PA is building a new dorm in the Spring so in the Fall we produced a video called Home Sweet Dorm. Development posted the video on alumni FB page. Note that this video was not a video asking for money but was instead a very casual video that captured a night in the dorms.


The community shines through because it was not a staged production. Alumni can believe what they see and prospective students can relate to the kids they see. Editing made the story tighter and gave it the common thread that said our dorms are like our home away from home. It took just one night to capture the footage. Did it tug on some heart strings, of course! Did it garner any donations? Perhaps not directly, but it may have warmed up some potential donors.



Home Sweet Dorm

Proctor’s Wild Side is a video that highlights the wild life science courses at PA. It is casual and conversational. The kids were engaged in the classroom as well as outside of the classroom. The teacher was conversational and believable. Not only does the video highlight the courses, but it also offers information about an after school activity called Forestry.



Have a question for either of us? Let us know via the comments below.

Peter Baron

Peter Baron

Peter Baron is the Chief Evangelist at WhippleHill Communications, the founder of AdmissionsQuest, and a partner at edSocialMedia. Peter regularly blogs about school communication for WhippleHill and edSocialMedia. You can find him on Google+ and Twitter.