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Bethel Storytelling: Who Are We?

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For those of you who are familiar with Bethel’s homepage, you know that at the top of the page we have a feature called Begin. Belong. Become. Clicking on any of these images brings you to profiles of students, alumni, faculty, and staff. Ever since the website redesign, we’ve used these profiles to tell the Bethel story to site visitors.

You’ll notice changes to Begin. Belong. Become. in the next few days. I wanted to give you all the inside scoop on our new storytelling feature.

Why Tell Stories?

The idea of storytelling is extremely important when we’re trying to communicate the things that make Bethel unique—our community, faith, academics, etc.—to outside audiences. Think about a visitor who wants to know more about Bethel, particularly prospective students and their parents. They could go to our About section and read up on our mission, history, and values. They could learn about our Majors & Minors and get a glimpse of specific departments they might be interested in. They could find out about Spiritual Life and Student Life on campus.

All these sites are great for learning about Bethel. This is what we value. This is what we study. This is how we live. Those things are helpful and important, and we communicate those things well. But they’re all examples of talking the talk.

Storytelling is our chance to walk the walk. Here are real people in our community. This is how they’re acting out our values, representing our community, investing in our academics and campus life.

These stories give prospective students a picture of Bethel as a real place, as a community. And they can start to imagine themselves amongst us.

The challenge of storytelling

Most of the stories on our site are written in the third person—“She traveled here…”, “He studied this…”. Telling our story this way creates distance and a level of remove between the subject of the story and the person reading the story. The person writing the story, who is typically a Bethel employee, fills that distance. Unfortunately, outside audiences are inclined to see Bethel employees writing about the Bethel community as marketers representing an institution.

Our target audience for these stories—young adults exploring their college options—has been trained to be skeptical of things they read online. They’re very aware of when they’re being marketed to and have a low tolerance for market-ese.

So when I—an employee of Communications & Marketing—tell stories about Bethel folks to an audience that has no reason to trust me, the defenses go up. The cynicism they’ve learned from years of advertising saturation makes them question my honesty and my intentions.

It’s a problem faced by all websites. It’s a matter of building…

Authenticity

How do you earn that trust, build credibility, share the story in a way that will convince your reader to give you the benefit of the doubt? How do you get your audience to see the real people in the story and behind the story, and not just an “institution” marketing a product?

Companies have dealt with this problem in different ways. The history of advertising is one attempt after another to form deep, genuine, emotional bonds between customers and products.

One recent example that comes to mind is Apple’s “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” campaign and Microsoft’s response. Mac portrayed PC as out-of-touch and clueless. Mac, in contrast, was the cool kid. Fun to hang out with, easy to use, solving problems instead of creating them. Microsoft said “wait a minute, that’s not who we are” and developed their “I’m a PC” ads. In these, Microsoft profiled PC users who are innovative, creative, and hard-working. Perhaps most importantly, the people in their stories were genuine folks doing good things in the world.

What made these ads work?

They have a personality. There’s a face to go with the story, and a unique voice. Perhaps most importantly, they’re told in the first person. They go directly from the source to the audience. It’s people telling stories for themselves, not marketers telling stories about them.

How can we be authentic?

Here’s the good news: we already are!

I’ve never met a person at Bethel who isn’t authentic. I truly believe that everyone here is genuinely invested in making Bethel a life-changing, welcoming, and supportive community. People here are passionate about making the world a better place. We don’t need to spin it. We don’t need to get out the marketing thesaurus or tell any tall-tales.

We just need to figure out how to communicate it.

How can we tell authentic stories?

I started thinking about this after I read a profile that Kelsey wrote on physics professor Chad Hoyt. The profile is organized as a series of questions and Chad’s responses, almost like an interview. By using his words, Kelsey was able to capture Chad’s voice and personality. It puts a face on the physics department and some of the amazing research happening there. The photography pushes the story even further. By showing Chad in his natural setting, hanging out in the lab, working with students, we can visualize a department with real people doing serious research.

Around that same time I interviewed Nathan Freeburg, Bethel’s Associate Dean of Leadership and Community Development. As I was talking to him I was struck by both his wisdom and his sense of humor. Here’s a guy that most students interact with at some point during their years at Bethel. He’s got a lot of great advice, lessons learned from years of watching students succeed—and yes, fail—plus he’s really funny. Why should I talk about him when he can speak for himself? So I wrote it as an interview, and we get a peek into the mind of a “Bethel institution.”

About a month later I spent some time with two Bethel students, René Kowlessar and Dinnah Gustavo. The first thing I noticed was how full of life they were. They’re passionate, thoughtful people, and they had incredible insights to share about community, leadership, and the things that make Bethel unique. It occurred to me that I didn’t need to be in the story at all. I just got in the way. So I took my questions out and let them share their story and experience from their own perspectives.

A new way to tell our story

A variation of that style will guide our storytelling going forward. We’re going to let people in our community tell their own stories in their own voices from their unique perspectives.

We’re going to frame the stories around 5 themes:

  • Building Leaders
  • Serious Academics
  • Christian Spirituality
  • Community
  • Global Engagement and Awareness

These aren’t strict rules, but guides to help us ask the right questions when we’re putting profiles together.

We’re also going to rethink our photography, moving away from the profile style pictures and trying to show people in the context of the story they’re telling – more like the Chad Hoyt story.

How can you help?

We’re always looking for interesting stories, and it’s not always easy to find them (because we’re not usually connected with what students are up to).

So if you know any students who would be great to profile, let us know!

Introducing Web Authoring at Bethel

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Last week I posted that Writing is Hard. It’s a true statement. It’s an obvious statement. It’s a recognition and acknowledgement that creating content is both incredibly important and incredibly difficult.

But stating the problem does little to alleviate it.

The whole Web Services team appreciates all of Bethel’s web authors more than we can say. We know it’d be impossible to keep the website current, relevant, and useful without your hard work and contributions. We value each and every one of you as a member of our team and make it our goal to do everything we can to support you.

Which is why we’ve created Web Authoring at Bethel, our guide to help you navigate the world of web writing.

What’s in Web Authoring at Bethel?

The guide is full of useful tips and tricks for creating web content, blogs, and emails.

Voice and Tone: When we’re writing web content for Bethel we need to think about Bethel’s online voice. We want to welcome, honor, and help our users in any way we can. This guide will help you develop a Voice & Tone that reflects Bethel’s character and spirit.

As a side note, Kelsey and I want to give a shout out to the talented folks at MailChimp for their incredible Voice & Tone guide. We couldn’t have created Web Authoring at Bethel without their insights.

Rules for Web & Email Writers: The 6 main responsibilities for anyone updating the web, writing emails, or contributing content to any one of our web channels. This list is based on the brainstorm we had at Tuesday’s Monthly Meetup. Thanks to all who came and contributed!

Bethel Style Guide: Benson Great Hall or just Benson? Or BGH? Is it president Jay Barnes or President Jay Barnes? The Office of Communications and Marketing or the office of communications and marketing? Find answers to all your questions about Bethel Style.

Web Content: Helpful information and tips on writing web content, including the anatomy of a webpage and a guide to voice and tone.

Email: Get the latest best practices on how to craft great emails. Plus, voice and tone tips for reminder emails, event announcements, and more. Special thanks to Tim Hammer for lending us his email expertise. Check out his blog post on emails if you’re interested in learning more.

Blogs: Learn blogging best practices and explore tips for conveying a voice and tone that meets the needs of your readers.

Hopefully you find these resources helpful as you’re creating content for Bethel. If you have any questions, comments or concerns, let us know by sending us an email (web-services@bethel.edu) or filling out the form on the Contact Us page.

Introducing Carlyle Delivers HTML Emails

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I mentioned a couple weeks ago in my post on The Anatomy of an Email that we had a new friend we would be announcing soon. Well, today is the day. It is my pleasure to introduce you to Carlyle Delivers.

Carlyle Delivers Logo

Yep, he's an ice cream cone who rocks a monocle.

What is Carlyle Delivers?

Short answer, Carlyle sends beautiful HTML emails that work in a wide variety of email clients and on your phone, iPad, or computer. If you receive Bethel eNews or the Royal Recap, you’ve already seen Carlyle in action. Last year’s Christmas video and email was also made possible by Carlyle.

What can it do?

What can’t it do? Well, it can’t write a good email for you and it can’t make people respond. But, it can help make your email better and hopefully encourage more people to respond. Some of the great features of Carlyle:

  • Beautiful email templates. They look great—and they’re easy to use. Drop in a photo or two, add some content, and get your message out. We’re starting with some great reusable templates and plan on adding some additional ones as we reveal Bethel’s new visual identity next year.
  • Usable response data. Wonder if people are reading your emails? Maybe you’re not even sure if they’re receiving it. Carlyle can let you know if your message was successfully delivered, opened, and if the recipient clicked on any of the links (you do have a link or two, right?).
  • No-fuss lists. If you’ve sent out a large email from Bethel before, you know it tends to be a lot of work to pull together and finalize your list of email addresses. That’s why we’ve integrated Carlyle Delivers with Banner. All you have to do is run a simple Argos report to pull your list of email addresses and any data you’d like to include in the email (name, grad year, etc).
  • Automatic unsubscribes and bounces. If you’ve been to email training or seen You’re Probably Spamming and Don’t Even Know It, you’ll remember the strict federal requirements about bounces and unsubscribes. Carlyle handles all of this. A recipient can unsubscribe with one click and it is automatically recorded in Banner for next time. Bounced email addresses are inactivated automatically, too.

Ready to go?

We spent quite a while testing and launched Carlyle in stages over the past 10 months. Just this month we moved to Carlyle for alumni, parent, and donor emails—all made possible by Eric Moberg, Sandy Gritzmacher, and Lisa Carlson who have been instrumental in the web development and Banner integration.

By Thanksgiving we’ll have admissions and Church Ministries in there too. Carlyle will be used much more exclusively for those areas, so we started with them.  As for our current students and employees—you’ll see some Carlyle emails come your way, but sometimes a plain text email is all you need.

Want to know more?

If you’re a part of the Bethel community and think Carlyle might be great for your office, department, or program, send an email over to web-services@bethel.edu. We’re working on some more information about how to use Carlyle, but in the mean time we’d be glad to chat.

If you’re an institution who uses the Banner ERP or would like to know more about how we integrated our systems with a great product from our friends at Campaign Monitor, just let me know.