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Telling Stories in a Pandemic

It’s a new world, and we have some new ways to help.

COVID–19 has radically changed the way colleges and universities operate. In response to this new normal, we’ve begun to offer a variety of new services to our clients, helping them accommodate to the demands of a rapidly changing environment.

From ongoing content strategy and editorial planning to pandemic data visualization, White Whale is finding new ways to serve our higher ed customers and their communities.

(Photos and screenshots are courtesy of Beloit College, where we’re providing most of the services we describe here.)

Content strategy and editorial services

“The web is a garden, not a painting.” That’s something we say to almost every client we work with. Your website isn’t some static picture that shows some idealized perfect version of your institution; it’s a living, changing environment that ought to reflect the true spirit of your community. When your faculty, staff, and students are empowered to contribute to the telling of your story, your website will look a lot more like your school— spotlighting all the things that make it a great place to live, work, and learn.

Building and sustaining a culture of storytelling across your campus is absolutely possible; we’ve seen it happen again and again in our client relationships. But it takes work, energy, and time. And in 2020— when more of us are working remotely, and face-to-face contact is limited— it’s a lot harder. 

That’s where we come in. If your website is a garden, then in times like these you may need professional gardening services. We are helping our clients with ongoing editorial and design work in a number of ways:

  • Editorial calendar and content strategy
    Effective web communications requires planning and structure. What’s coming up in the next few weeks that you should be preparing for? Who’s your most important audience right now, and what is the most important thing for them to hear?

    White Whale can help your team develop an editorial planning calendar, and work with you to make it part of your weekly routine. And we can consult with you on a regular basis to make sure your communications plan is strategically sound, even in unpredictable and changing circumstances.

  • COVID-related web communications
    Most if not all schools have developed COVID–19 resource pages. But many seem to be maintained in a sort of triage mode, with a long list of updates and facts that isn’t necessarily responsive to what your audience may need in the moment. 

    We can help you strengthen and focus your COVID–19 communications, helping the information you disseminate feel current, authoritative, and genuinely helpful to the communities that need it— including next year’s prospects and their parents as well as your internal community. (You can see this work in action on the Back at Beloit site.)

Special design and/or functionality projects

The pandemic has upended the traditional rhythms of college life, and a lot of our clients’ most cherished traditions— commencement, orientation, alumni weekend, homecoming— are moving online.

We’re helping our clients to build microsites and online experiences for these events; a personalized, thoughtful online presentation helps to translate at least some of the warmth and personality of these IRL gatherings into an online format.

New data visualization tools in LiveWhale CMS

As students have returned to campus this fall, there’s an enormous need for data visualization. Whether it’s students and staff on campus or parents back home, everyone wants to know what the COVID–19 numbers are looking like, on campus and regionally. 

There are a few companies and organizations offering embeddable COVID dashboards, with regularly updated data— but these embeds tend to be heavy, slow loading interfaces that aren’t easily customizable and don’t scale to your website (or your phone). What if you could only show the data that your audiences are interested in— in a straightforward, simple, accessible presentation? 

For schools using the LiveWhale CMS, that’s gotten a lot easier. We’ve built some tools to visualize data from any source, but in the short term, we’re applying it to visualizing COVID data. Here’s a chart of county-level data from the four cities and towns that White Whale staff call home, and here’s the chart with regional Wisconsin and Illinois data used by Beloit on their COVID–19 resource site.

We built this data visualization tool to quickly load (and cache) data from any number of online sources, and then render it in table format. In this case we’re pulling county-level COVID data from a public API that’s updated daily from state public health organizations. We’re then using the Highcharts and HighchartTable plugins to show attractive, interactive charts built on this accessible tabular data. 

That’s a lot of information, but really, it all just works.

Finally, a personal note

COVID–19 is a global crisis, not a marketing opportunity. And to be honest, we’re a little ambivalent about posting this story; 2020 has been hard on all of us, and we certainly don’t want to give the impression that we’re trying to take advantage of a pandemic to make a buck.

The thing is, we believe in higher education. That’s why we work with colleges and universities exclusively. The pandemic is literally an existential challenge to many of our customers, and we want them to have all the tools they need to survive. Whatever we can to do to help, we’re here. 

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