Pictures, Stories and Steps

Are you like me? Consistently attempting to find new ways to capture the minds and imaginations of students with a message? Let me share some current data that might just inform you on what works best.

student engagement

You’re reading this because you care about students—or about someone in the next generation. You want to engage them, not just with information but on an emotional level. Ben Baker, a Millennial himself, recently shared some thoughts on this topic that I’ve included below. In them, I think we can find some helpful nuggets of wisdom:


We all have them. We all love them. Entire civilizations have been built off of, held together by, and divided by stories. Edward Bulwer-Lytton wasn’t far off when he so famously coined, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Stories have the power to bring people together or push them apart, to distinguish or to extinguish. Stories are also integral parts of any non-profit organization, school, sports team or company.

But who has time to tell stories? In the digital age, where most traditional story-telling is done over the Internet, attention spans are ever shrinking. In fact, the latest numbers given by the U.S. National Library of Medicine put the average 2013 attention span at 8 seconds. Of that 8-second average span, I can assure you that my generation is on the lower end of that count. Is that a character flaw? Maybe. But the fact is, our minds are a byproduct of our instantaneous information culture. I can’t really remember a moment in my life where I wasn’t able to Google something.

Rise above the noise

How do we raise awareness about our unique stories to a generation of naturally attention-deficit individuals? Do we forget about this audience and keep doing it the way we’ve always done it? Well, no, that’s not the answer. After all, we’re going to be the ones who are holding the money soon. You may have read an npENGAGE article regarding how nonprofits can effectively leverage Pinterest and Instagram to reach a broader audience and to meet goals. It has become increasingly important for nonprofits to lean to the visual. Now there is even more incentive.

Instagram sponsored posts.

The rumors started rolling in around the third quarter last year: Instagram was going to fill up your photo feed with ads. The public opinion surrounding this move was less than positive. But there was also something odd about these “Sponsored” posts on Instagram: They were captivating and extremely moving. The pictures told a story.

Charity: Water

One of the most captivating pictures we came across was actually an ad for a nonprofit – charity:water. This post was exquisite and honestly made me a little emotional. Having spent several months in Southern Sudan, I know the struggles that people have to find clean drinking water. Seeing a little girl, smiling and holding a jug of fresh water, is something that rings true for many. It’s something that tells a story. But, perhaps what grabbed my attention most is that, at the time we viewed this post, it had nearly garnered 300,000 likes and amassed a little over 3,000 comments. Let that sink in. Imagine the exposure this could give your organization.

Instagram is in the testing phase of this program, but the results have gone above and beyond what was anticipated. The audience is certainly there, as the Instagram population totals roughly 180 million accounts. According to reports, Instagram is currently working on a built in metrics system, so that companies who invest advertising dollars on Instagram can get a moderate picture of ROI. According to Instagram’s website, the medium is also trying to access users’ Facebook accounts to target advertising unique to each person’s interests.

Some say that Instagram is the most powerful social marketing tool out there right now. Fast Company just reported that users spend 257 minutes per month on Instagram, which is 15 times that of Facebook. Instagram receives 1,000 comments and 8,500 likes per second. Fifty-five million photos are uploaded each day. Incredible. Time is marching on, people. The train stops for no one.

What the Future Holds

Whatever the future holds for this advertising medium, I’d say that if you want to tell your story in a unique way, keep an eye on Instagram ads. What’s more, when telling your story to my generation, is the pen mightier than the sword? Well, yes. But, lest your organization forget, a picture is worth 1,000 words.


What are your thoughts?


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Pictures, Stories and Steps