I’m listening. Tell me your version of the story.

I am a regular contributor to the mStoner blog. My post there is cross-posted here.

All elements of a website should be carefully woven together to inspire and tell a compelling story about the institution. Easier said than done, right? Your .edu website works hard and serves many audiences. Most would agree that:

  • The ideal reaction when an alum looks at the site is, “Yes, that reminds me of the school I knew and loved.”
  • The ideal reaction when a 16-year-old visits the site is, “Oh, that feels like the kind of place where I’d fit in.”

So how do you get to the essence of an institution? How do you discover what’s unique and special about a school or campus so that you can use what you find out in the visual design, features, and copy of a website?

My best advice? Don’t make assumptions. Don’t assume you already know the story.

All of our client engagements at mStoner begin with a strategy phase and we have a process for the discovery work that becomes the foundation for a web relaunch project. During strategy, we do a deep dive—we take a number of steps to uncover the detail and discover the gems we’ll need to build an incredible web presence. One of the steps we take is referred to as “intake.”

Intake is a series of small group meetings that we host onsite. We come to campus and talk face-to-face with a range of individuals including current students, faculty, senior leadership, and staff in offices like admissions, marketing, communications, and IT. Sometimes, we include groups of alumni, prospective students, and parents. What we hear during these sessions gives us a sense of the campus community—the collective vision and values—and helps us understand the substance. We hear versions of the institutional story.

But listening to the people who show up for the onsite group meetings we facilitate is just the beginning of the discovery work. Here are some additional recommendations to go along with intake:

  • review social media sites
  • audit the current website
  • analyze the sites of peer or competitor institutions
  • read strategic plans, communication plans, recent news, admissions materials, and alumni publications
  • consider brand and visual identity guidelines

If your goal is translating the ethos of your community into a vibrant web design with just the right tone for the content, do some discovery. Listen up!


Author: susantevans

Susan T. Evans is director of corporate and foundations relations at the College of William & Mary. She is a proven strategic leader with deep expertise in advancement, communications, brand management, marketing, digital strategy, technology, administration and organizational development. She is known for creative and strategic approaches to challenges within higher education, nonprofits and business.

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