We all know teens are online — nearly all the time.

According to a 2015 report by the Pew Research Center, 92 percent of American teenagers (ages 13-17) go online daily, including 24 percent who say they are on their devices “almost constantly.” Seventy-one percent use Facebook, half are on Instagram, and 41 percent are Snapchat users. And nearly three-quarters of teens use more than one social-networking site.

With numbers like these, it’s tempting to throw your entire budget at the digital world. But then there’s this little fact: print is not dead. Prospective college students respond best to a broad range of communications that includes online, print and in person.

How do we know? Teenagers say so.

The modern mix

Traditional communication channels are still vital parts of the college communication stream. According to an OmniUpdate report, 40 percent of high school seniors and 45 percent of juniors surveyed said they were more likely to consider campuses that use print and phone communications — a sizable audience that shouldn’t be discounted (2015 E-Expectations Report).

A Ruffalo Noel Levitz report backs up those findings. It surveyed high school college prospects to determine the top five most effective modes of communication for undergraduate student recruitment. Mobile-friendly websites ranked No. 1, with email and text messaging vying for the next-highest rating. In addition, the majority of respondents rated cell phone calls and print publications either very effective or somewhat effective (2016 Marketing and Student Recruitment Practices Benchmark Report).

This means we need to produce content for more channels — making our jobs that much more cumbersome. But cross-channel storytelling doesn’t have to be a drag. Here’s how you can lighten your content load.

Start packaging your flagship content — stories that reinforce your key messages and spotlight your ideal spokespeople — for all communications channels. For instance, if you invest the time and energy in creating a video to tell a brand story on YouTube, then make it accessible to key audiences by promoting it on Twitter, your website, publications and other channels with a twist.

Your audiences will deepen their relationship with you as they experience consistent content adapted across multiple channels.

Flagship content leads the way

Flagship content elements can include a full article for your website or magazine; a two-sentence summary and pull quotes for website callouts, social media or online ads; a short three-sentence version for viewbook features; a 30-second script for video; or an infographic that distills your story at a glance. Take a look at some of Zehno’s cross-channel storytelling examples from colleges.

But we aren’t the only ones approaching content this way. See how some media organizations are tackling cross-channel storytelling. Instead of posting the same story across multiple channels in press release style, they enrich stories by playing to the strengths of each medium.


CNN – “Plastic Island”

Why it works

“Plastic Island: How our throwaway culture is turning paradise into a graveyard” is an interactive story about the more than five trillion pieces of plastic polluting our oceans. On CNN.com, the story contains several assets — video, photos and animated infographics. CNN gives the story new life with a short description and animated GIF on Twitter and a shorter video on Facebook.

How you can use this idea

Use all of your assets — long narrative, photos, video, etc. — to tell your brand hero’s story on your website. Then redistribute those assets across channels, driving traffic back to your web story. Animate your images from print or web versions in your social media post. It’s a small change that viewers will notice and keeps content consistent across channels.


National Geographic – “The Grass-Eating Monkeys of Ethiopia”

Why it works

“The Grass-Eating Monkeys of Ethiopia” is an interactive story that tells how a protected high-altitude savanna in Ethiopia helps “bleeding heart” geladas thrive. The print version is a 24-page feature with eye-catching photos and an illustrated infographic. National Geographic uses Facebook posts to expand the feature with a companion photo story of a gelada giving birth.

How you can use this idea

As you develop your brand hero’s story for your viewbook, save an element of his or her story for a web-only feature or social media post — such as creating a Facebook-only GIF of your hero’s invention from sketch to prototype to final product. Or tell your hero’s story through an infographic, adding visual appeal without weighing the story down with too much copy.


Bon Appétit – “London City Guides”

Why it works

“London City Guides: London, street style” is a three-page print feature, containing a top 10 list of no-fuss London restaurants serving up global dishes on the cheap. The magazine references the online guide, which directs you to an expanded edition of where to eat, drink, stay and shop, along with other city guides. Three Twitter posts, using different images from the guide, promote the online London city guide.

How you can use this idea

Your photos need to be as enticing as Bon Appétit’s colorful plates of food, so style your photography with your overall brand look and all media types in mind. Use one hero’s story in your viewbook to drive traffic to a bank of success stories on your website. Share your heroes’ photos on Instagram or Facebook to link back to your story bank.

Learn more

Whether you’re managing a new brand after launch or story mining for a magazine, Zehno can help shape how audiences view your institution. Read more about our content development services.