Terrific Teaching Technology Tales: Marketing Through Stories

Presenter: Jamie Oberdick, Associate Editor, Publications, Penn State University

Showing not telling. That’s an important lesson taught in the craft or creative writing. Jamie Oberdick, associate editor of publications, at Penn State University uses story-telling to market the products and services offered by his division. His presentation covered why creating fresh content is beneficial, how he finds and creates this content, and this tools he uses to do so.

The blog for his division contains hard news (or, as he says, as hard news as you can have in teaching technology) and features–a section called The Daily Buzz. He likened this to the New York Times vs. the The New York Times Sunday Magazine

Jamie is always on the lookout for news stories because he says fresh content keeps people coming back and gives users the idea that your organization is alive and well. More importantly, though, for his specific division and audience, telling these stories “humanizes technology.”

Jamie gave an example effective “marketing via not marketing” through telling a story. His department offers “clickers” to professors to use in the classroom, however, explaining the benefits and all the fun ways they can be used does not always work. Showing it, though, does.

“If they read a story about a colleague who is using clickers in an engaging way, he may be more inclined to work with [my] group,” he said.

Seeking out stories is a constant job; he hunts for them all over campus, all the time.

“Sometimes there are stories that you don’t know about and just have to discover,” he said, adding that his resources vary from fellow employees, PSU’s intranet, media sources like The Chronicle of Higher Education and Twitter. “I love Twitter because I can scroll up and down it and find all these great seeds for stories. I find three to four stories a week from my colleagues.”

Perhaps most effective, though, is a resource Jamie calls SHOES: as in, get up, get out of your office and walk across the hall or across campus.

“If you hear a really cool interesting stat, there may be a really cool story behind it, so do a little research,” he said.

There are challenges to finding and telling stories, he says. Just as fellow employees can be a useful resource, they can also get in the way of telling those stories. For example, faculty members could be too busy to talk.

“You have to know when to back off for the sake of a future relationship,” he said.

Second, there is also the challenge of it not being the right time. For example, maybe a research project is still in the works and there are still bugs to work out so it may not be the right time to write about it. Third, internal communication could present roadblocks from hearing about potential stories. Finally, there could be lack of time on your, the writer’s, part; perhaps you have three or four really good ideas in your pipeline, but you can’t do them all, and must make editorial decisions.

Many of this story ideas come from how students and faculty members are using the products and services his office offers. One of those is the Teaching Learning Assistance, or TLA, a program in which faculty members are tutored by students on technology–kind of a role reversal. Jamie wrote a two-part story; first, he covered the student trainer perspective, and second, the faculty perspective.

Jamie explains that he started his current position as a writer, but like many web communications folks today, he grew into the role of multimedia producer. He rounded out his presentation by sharing other types of content–podcasts and videos–and the tools he uses to create those. Podcasts are easy to create and are portable, he says.

Some tips for creating video? Send questions ahead of time. Find a quiet place to film. Assure the subject you can edit to make them feel more comfortable. Most importantly, make sure you’re rolling. Oh, and “grin and grip is boring!”