Authenticity. It’s what we’re all after. Every article I read and study I see about higher ed marketing these days is all about this “buzzword”–and the irony of calling it that is almost too much to bear.
But there’s no escaping it: it’s trendy right now to tell real stories in genuine, relatable ways. Especially when targeting Gen Z.
Some people call Gen Z “millennials on steroids” but that’s not true or fair. As a millennial, I’m completely susceptible to polished, targeting advertising. It’s almost shameful how many of my favorite products found me through instagram ads. And while I want to tread carefully when I refer to them as a marketing cohort (because many of the assumptions made about millennials genuinely offend me), Gen Z does not seem to gravitate towards the airbrushed, perfect advertisements my generation fell in love with.
These guys? They’re savvy. They don’t want your bull version of the world, or to picture themselves as models on the pages of a glossy magazine. They want inclusivity. Activism. Reality. They want brands to show who they are–warts and all–and to prove they actually care.
These days we are speaking to a generation with a true belief that they can change the world. We are speaking to influencers.
But authenticity… what does it really mean? How do you even begin to harness its power? I have nine student workers that I manage here at Colby, and it’s a question I pester them with constantly. “Does this feel real to you?” “What’s your take on this?” “Are we missing something here that’s obvious to you?” I never went to this school. I don’t know what it’s like to be them, to live and learn here, and yet it’s my job to show the world exactly that. My students, therefore, are my greatest resource. And you know what they kept telling me was missing from Colby’s web presence and social media strategy?
Day in the life content.
Those videos are so BORING.
I’ve spent a lifetime making short, digestible, powerful bits of content for an audience without an attention span for social media. Youtube is not one of those platforms–people there like to watch stuff! But day in the life videos are just… I’ve never seen one I actually wanted to watch. So, honestly, producing a series like that sounded like my own personal hell. So I dug deeper. Even they admitted that those videos are boring, so what was it about ‘Day in the Life’ content that they loved and wanted?
Authenticity. They wanted to see real students, living real lives at Colby. Warts and all.
The next question became “How?” Not with cellphones… definitely not for youtube content. It’s a lot to ask someone to fill up their phone memory with videos for a communications project. Plus, every phone has different camera quality. And I don’t have any extras lying around. Definitely not with GoPros, ugh. We’ve sent GoPros out with students before, and the video that comes back is always a mixed bag. Usually it’s insanely shaky. And GoPro batteries? Notoriously unreliable. For a consumer camera they’re also undeniably counter-intuitive and not super easy to use. They’ve really evolved over the years but, man. You’ve got to be familiar with GoPros to feel good about shooting with them. And most students seem to have zero experience.
How the hell were we going to do this?
And then, in November 2018, DJI released the Osmo Pocket. And with that, every concern I’d ever had about the quality of user-generated video content just went… poof.
Easy to use. Stabilized gimbal footage. Great battery life. Some serious ‘Wow’ factor for your average person. Beautiful 4K footage. It even has a square screen, making it optimal for cropping the final product both vertically and horizontally! Oh, yes. Now we’re in business.
Equipped with my students' directive and a brand new piece of technology on the market, I convinced my boss to let me do what seemed like a crazy project. I wanted to test a theory about user-generated content and embrace the idea of authenticity. We rented 10 Osmo Pockets and selected 10 students to distribute them to. And then I told them to go forth into the world and record their lives for an entire week.
No instructions besides:
Pretend you’re a Youtube vlogger
No seriously, everything. Your whole life. Nothing is too “boring” for this project.
This was an experiment at its core. I wanted to see how different kinds of students would naturally used this new tool. I made sure our group had a range of previous video talent, from the technologically impaired to my own student videographers. We covered every class year and department of study reasonable for such a small group. We had athletes, members of student government, museum interns and people with no official extracurriculars.
The footage that came back to us?
Of course, anyone who’s familiar with video editing knows that a ton of professional experience went into the final “anthem” video (as we so affectionally call it within the office.) I had 1 hour and 15 minutes of selects on my initial run through–after watching at least five hours of footage. 10 students. One week. 4K video. Thank god my computer is equipped to handle things like this. Colby could have never done this project before a recent major upgrade of the video editing station.
I both loved and hated sorting through the footage. It was like a treasure hunt–for most of them, 80% of what they shot was just fine. Nothing amazing, nothing terrible. But that other 20% was just so satisfying to collect. I couldn’t believe some of the clips I was getting. Dancing in a dorm room? Studying in the library at 3AM and expressing real frustration to the camera about not understanding what you’re looking at? Nobody acts like that around the communications videographer.
They were being themselves. They were having fun. It was a real authentic glimpse into their lives as… students.
The final product ended up so much more melancholy than I originally expected. I love that, though. College is melancholy. It’s hard to start a whole new life, learning all these new things, leaving your family and your friends behind. Being in College is taking your first few tentative steps into adulthood. There are definitely ups and downs to all of it.
This isn’t the only video we will be producing from this footage. For me, that’s kind of the most exciting part. Of the 10 students who participated, I’ll be able to spin off around four of them into full length “Day in the Life” videos for youtube. We’re dubbing the project “Inside Colby,” taking the name from an old communications office project from the early 2000s where students produced short vlogs about life at the College (fitting, no?)
We’ve also decided to completely restructure our weekly Mule Mondays feature on Instagram to produce more videos for the Inside Colby series. We’ll give an Osmo pocket to either a student, a staff member, a faculty member, or an alum, every single week. From that we’ll get our regular weekly Instagram story, but also, sometimes, a full length youtube feature. It’s such an efficient use of resources I practically dance with glee every time I think about it. Not only have we introduced a whole new youtube strategy to feed students’ desire for authenticity, we’ve also upgraded a series we were already doing well.
I always say that I don’t tell other people’s stories: I help them tell their own. I am just an instrument at their disposal. That's never felt more true than with the Osmo Pocket Project.