The stereotypical college student is always searching for clubs, activities, and other ways to be engaged on campus. Unfortunately, not every student fits that description, leaving department chairs, deans, and other leaders in higher education looking for creative ways to pique students’ interest in those events and experiences that promote a positive campus experience.

Distributing newsletters and posting on the university website is great for some, but most students need breaks from those traditional channels. They want interesting, bite-sized information about upcoming events, not press releases that look more like essays than invitations.

The unconventional route

The problem with typical methods of student engagement isn’t just that they’re boring —it’s that today’s students didn’t grow up with those platforms. They’re more attuned to visual cues from smartphones, video games, and interactive presentations and crave “unconventional” channels that make use of their multimodal environment.

A pamphlet detailing on-campus resources won’t resonate the same way as a Pokémon Go-inspired scavenger hunt. An emailed list of bullet points is fine, but a digital welcome packet optimized for social media is far more appealing. The resources you offer students may be top-notch, but it’s the way you market them that determines the audience.

It’s not just about integrating a personal touch into the engagement process. A recent study found that a group of psychology students involved in a peer-focused engagement group joined more organizations, achieved better grades, and reported greater skill development than those outside the group. Establishing some type of emotional connection, as a result, should be at the top of your to-do list.

Maintaining their interest

While it’s a good start, it’s not enough to invest in cutting-edge technology and upload some colorful videos to build engagement. Students need a better reason to get involved than a witty Facebook post. See if this two-step approach can help you spark intrigue, build connections, and start seeing more effective engagement results:

1. Establish a personal brand

Connecting with students means thinking like a marketer. Every successful business wants to personalize its brand for its customers, and in this case, your university is no different. And what better way to accomplish that than by using the platforms that Millennials and Gen Zers are most familiar with?

An animated video, for instance, is a relatively inexpensive way to demonstrate your core values to students. It shows what you have to offer, not just in terms of upcoming events and activities, but also how these programs will help embed students within the university’s culture. And most importantly, it’s more interesting than a slideshow listing several dates and times.

2. Tell a dramatic story

Perhaps the best way to transmit key information to your students is through storytelling. That doesn’t mean you have to write a script and create characters to get their attention. It means instead of standing at the podium reciting the university’s motto during orientation, take your first-year students from point A to point Z of their academic trajectories.

Identify students’ primary apprehensions about getting involved (homesickness, social anxiety, etc.), and try to understand their current situations. Then, use whatever media is most appropriate to walk them through the extracurricular experiences of a successful student. If you can establish this emotional “tag” with your students, they’ll be more trusting and motivated to become acclimated to the university’s environment.

At the end of the day, it’s not your unique resources that dictate a student’s involvement. It’s how you reduce the emotional distance between your students and the university. By creating that bond in unconventional ways that meet their learning needs, you just might have students lining up to discover everything you have to offer.

This article first appeared in Academic Leader on November 1, 2018. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.

Chip Schafer is senior vice president of client services and creative operations at Lion Forge Labs, a creative group specializing in storytelling through comics, animation, and gaming.