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Using Canva Animator to Make Even More Awesome Content

One of our social media secret weapons is the online tool Canva, especially since the advent of Instagram Stories last year. Our office relies pretty heavily upon the tool for stylized, easy to build graphics, and now, animated video content as well.

I recently had the opportunity to demo the new Canva beta animations tool on Duke’s Instagram Stories to highlight a very exciting partnership between the university and the American Ballet Theatre.

Canva is a great tool if you’ve got really visual content to accompany any text about your story or research that you want to highlight. In this case, we were fortunate to have some incredible dance photos at our disposal. I knew I wanted to highlight these images and push people to the story via Instagram Stories.

Enter, Canva. The great thing about this tool is its user-friendliness. I was able to login to our office account and design slides using photos and text, just as I would ordinarily. The difference comes in when it is time to export your slides. You’ll notice that there is a new option under “Download” in the top, right navigation bar. Select this new option, “Animated GIF/Movie,” then click “Preview Animation.”


This will open the Animator tool:

From here, you can select from any of the six options or “styles” on the right for your animations, which will be demoed on the slides you have created. Once you are satisfied with your selected animation form, you have the option to download them as either a GIF or .mp4 file. For example, @DukeUEnergy recently used the tool to create a GIF that they rolled out on Twitter:


For the purpose of our Instagram Stories, I selected “Download as Movie.”  Then the file will be downloaded to your computer. Here is our final product:


We’re not quite done yet. Because all four slides were created in one Canva document and not individually downloaded, they exported into one, 28-second long video. Instagram Stories will only allow 10-second long clips for each part of the story. So I had to do a bit of tedious editing on my end. First, I emailed the .mp4 file to my iPhone. Then, I went into my camera roll and edited the whole video down into separate clips featuring each slide. I saved each edited segment as a new video file, so as not to lose the original 28-second video. The end result was 4, 7-10 second long videos featuring only one of each of the animated slides. I was then able to upload these, in order, to our Instagram Stories.

The result when it played back was one seamless “video” on our Stories. With the video broken into 4 separate parts, I was also able to attach a link on to each segment of our Story that sent viewers directly to the Duke Today article about the partnership. The end result can be viewed on Instagram’s mobile interface as a feature on @DukeUniversity‘s account.

This whole process took me less than an hour. With a little creativity to work around the Stories time limit function, Canva Animator is a really great tool to easily make videos with a highly produced feel with (very little, at least on my part) video skill.

Even the Trees Are Fall-ing for Duke


There is no place like Duke during the autumn months. Fall is already one of my favorite seasons, but something about fall on Duke’s campus is just breathtaking. Every year, Duke’s social media pages launch a #DukeFall campaign where Dukies everywhere are flooded with vibrant photos of the seasonal changes happening on campus, on their timelines and Instagram feeds. During my first two years at Duke, I never really paid much attention to the fall leaves changing. It always seemed to happen in the blink of an eye. Yes, Duke University is a gorgeous campus, but leaf watching was not on my radar. However, this year I wanted to capture this beautiful and colorful time of the year in a unique way. So I decided to create a time lapse of the leaves changing colors on a single tree on West Campus.

The Process

When I envisioned this project in its final form, I knew I wanted it to look like the tree was changing colors over the course of one day.  So I first found my subject, a sprawling oak tree that stands in the shadow of the magnificent Duke Chapel.  When it was time to film, I set up my camera in roughly the same spot, at about the same time each day.  For this particular time lapse, I positioned my camera at the center of Abele Quad.  In that spot, my tree takes center stage with the chapel in the background.  Then the waiting game began for this beautiful oak to turn vibrant orange.  In the beginning, the process was kind of like watching paint dry. It was slow and not very eventful.  But by week three, a glimmer of hope, as a tiny patch of orange peeked through the green canopy.  Signs of fall at last!

For 8 weeks, this tree project really captured my attention. For the first two, I relied on calendar alerts to remind me that it was time to go out and film.  Every Friday at noon, I would set up my tripod and record for about 30 minutes, to ensure that I collected enough footage of people passing by once the film was sped up. Then by the third week, it became part of my routine.  Eventually my whole family was consumed by the changing of the tree.  At one point during this process, my parents would call to check up on me and the changing tree!  I will say, this project was quite the conversation starter. I met a lot of wonderful people while standing on the quad waiting for the leaves to change color.  People would come up  and ask “What are you filming?”  I replied, “I’m filming that tree as the leaves change colors.”  The spectators were a little bit surprised but also very intrigued.  After weeks of waiting, my coveted tree was finally filled with beautiful orange leaves in all its fall splendor.

When I started the project, I must admit I was a little nervous about how the video would turn out.  Prior to this video, I hadn’t made a time lapse of this magnitude. After I gathered all the footage I needed, I found myself becoming a bit emotional and enlightened.  After 8 weeks of filming, I came to realize some very important things:  First, I’m so lucky to attend a university like Duke. Secondly, patience really is a virtue. And finally, there’s beauty in everything if you just take the time to find it!  Recording this tree was an eye-opening experience for me.  It allowed me to take a step back and observe. As students, we tend to forget that there’s more to campus life than just classes, parties, and grades. Watching this simple oak tree assume it’s fall glory, revealed to me that every moment of our college experience is precious and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Animoji in Motion: How Duke Announced the 2018 Commencement Speaker

Commencement season is one of my favorite parts of working in higher ed communications. Gearing up to send a fresh batch of Dukies out into the world, all glowing with accomplishment and brimming with promise, makes for a lot of work and long days, but is one of the most personally gratifying projects I work on each year.

And when your boss hands down the task of coming up with an innovative new way to announce this year’s commencement speaker, it’s time to get pretty creative. After all, we announce a commencement speaker every year, and we’ve done it the same way for as long as anyone can remember. But at Duke, we like to think of ourselves as “big idea people.” We aim for the Pie In The Sky and see where we land. We’re also fortunate to have an extremely supportive team of leaders who encourage us to think BIG and run with it. And this time we really went for it.

We learned that Apple CEO Tim Cook would be this year’s commencement speaker only a few weeks after the launch of the iPhone X, which gave Apple’s jazzy Animoji ads just enough time to make the rounds on social media. In our team’s brainstorming meeting, I threw out the idea of making something similar to announce Cook as this year’s speaker and things snowballed from there into the end result: two students and Duke President Vincent Price – and their Animojis – introducing Cook as our commencement speaker.

We could have rolled the video on our social channels and left it at that, but since we really wanted to make a splash with the students, we arranged to have the video on the jumbotron at Cameron Indoor Stadium during a Duke men’s basketball game.  And the reaction was better than we could have ever hoped for.

What everyone didn’t see was the weeks of hard work and late nights that went into making this project. Here’s a look at some of the behind-the-scenes work (and play) that made the magic happen:

Duke’s Director of Social Media & Content Strategy, Sonja Foust, playing guinea pig for our lighting test.

Sanford School of Public Policy MPP candidate Kavya Sakar films with her Animoji.

Senior Matthew King during filming.

Really testing out that facial recognition software.

Even Duke’s President Vincent Price was game.  Behold, a series:

And here’s a look at how those of us not lucky enough to be designated as “talent” spent the day:

Special thanks to our hosts for the day of filming in Blue Devil Tower, Chad Lampman, Executive Director of the Blue Devil Network.

Kristen Brown, AVP of News, Communications & Media, gives the Animojis a try in between filming. We’re big fans of the bunny.

Taking my job as Chief Fly Away Wrangler v seriously.

Me (appalled at how we are STILL in the studio some 9 hours later) along with Duke’s AVP of News & Global Communications, Laura Brinn, and VP for Public Affairs and Government Relations, Mike Schoenfeld, who loved watching the process from the monitors as President Price recorded his lines.




Instagram Stories vs. Snapchat

Communicators, particularly those in higher ed, were perplexed to say the least when Instagram Stories launched in August 2016 as a direct challenge to Snapchat. We were even more surprised when the app reported in 2017 that after one year, Instagram Stories had more than 250 million daily users.

In the premiere episode of Extra Credit, we break down the pros and cons of both tools and try to help our fellow #HESM professionals make wise choices about how to spend their time and energy on both:

Live Video: Higher Ed and Beyond

2016 was undoubtedly the year of live video. Although YouTube was one of the first social media platforms to introduce live video in 2011, Facebook’s introduction of Facebook Live at the end of 2015 was the catalyst that sparked the beginning of the live video movement. It didn’t take long for this new broadcasting medium to catch on with viewers, leading Instagram and Twitter to follow suit with their own live features a year later.

Live video is authentic, engaging, and powerful, demonstrated by its quick rise to popularity and high engagement rates among viewers and broadcasters alike. Compared to 2014, 81% of internet and mobile users watched more live video in 2015. Out of all of the social media platforms that currently have a live video feature, Facebook Live sees the most traffic of live video viewers. On average, viewers comment 10 times more on Facebook live videos than on regular videos. Viewers’ attention spans are also longer during live videos, with the average viewer watching a live video 3 times longer than a typical video.

How are people using this new portable broadcasting medium? Companies and organizations may broadcast live during news announcements, performances, behind the scenes tours, demos, interviews, and more – the possibilities are endless. Those that come to mind for many social media users are live videos by individuals that document their personal experiences, whether in a serious or casual setting. My personal favorite is Candace Payne’s Chewbacca Mask video, which holds the current record for the most viewed Facebook Live video at 160 million views.

While it may be obvious for some individuals and organizations of what they should use live video to broadcast to users, higher education institutions have differed in their experimentation with live video. The most popular live video platform used by universities remains Facebook Live – although many have not yet stepped into the realm of live video at all. However, over 85% of universities have a presence on YouTube, demonstrating that the vast majority of universities understand the importance of video in engaging their audiences. It’s exciting to see more and more institutions use live videos on social media to reach new audiences and provide a different and immediate digital experience for their viewers. The majority of higher education institutions use Facebook Live in a way that reflects the type of content they publish. This is frequently demonstrated by live streaming of lectures, speeches, and notable events on campus. Duke recently streamed it’s 2017 commencement ceremonies (above) and the first press conference by Duke President-Elect Vincent Price.

During these videos, many of the videographers utilize Facebook Live API, allowing them to broadcast using a professional camera rather than through a mobile device. While using live video for these types of events can be effective, live video provides an avenue to do something different than what might normally be done through video. Since live videos in essence become regular videos once the live stream has ended, live videos should sometimes take the opportunity to distinguish themselves through content and style. Broadcasting live events can draw an audience, depending on the anticipation of said event and whether it is time-sensitive or crisis related. However, in order to truly make the most of what live video has to offer, making use of all of its features, such as live chat, will be vital.

Live videos can be used to allow social media users across the globe to glean an intimate and personal experience of life at the university. Social media is increasingly becoming a space where brands are expected to be authentic and expressive, while social media in and of itself is a place where corporations and individuals alike can let their personalities shine. I hope that universities will be at the forefront of using live video in creative and innovative ways to captivate their audiences. Vanderbilt has used live video to bring prospective students on virtual tours on campus while fielding questions using live chat. Here at Duke we have used live video to allow online viewers to ask questions to professor and author Dan Ariely during a Q&A with students in Perkins library.

Watch live: Duke professor Dan Ariely runs a demonstration of his new book, "Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations." The book reveals insights into motivation and what drives people — how it works and how we can use this knowledge to approach important choices in our own lives.In this Facebook Live, Ariely is asking students to participate in solving a puzzle for money … or pizza, demonstrating the complexity of what motivates people.Leave questions for Dan in the comments.

Posted by Duke University on Sunday, November 20, 2016


The world of live video combines the immediacy of live TV with its ability to immerse millions into the same place and moment, the omnipresent and immediate nature of social media and mobile phones, and the ever-transforming landscape of technology. With live video, the sky’s the limit and you’re the director. I’m looking forward to seeing how this versatile and immersive tool will empower higher education institutions and individuals alike to create, engage, and connect.






Oh Snapchat, My Snapchat!

I’m a storyteller. While it took me a solid eighteen months to start walking (don’t worry, I ended up being a varsity athlete, so saving that extra energy paid off eventually), talking wasn’t a problem at all. According to my mom, my first word was “beer”. I guess that’s what happens when you were born and raised in the world’s capital of beer, Munich, Germany. In second grade, I became spelling bee champ and in May I graduated cum laude from Duke University. So things turned out just fine. I think.

To make a long story short: Words have always made more sense to me than numbers. The exciting part about writing – at least to me – is the fact that I never know where my keyboard and fingers are going to take me in the end. Storytelling includes, but is not limited to, writing. It can take on a variety of different forms. Evolving technology and the rise of Web 2.0 applications have allowed us to experiment with new types of storytelling.


As an international student from Germany, I saw an opportunity in Snapchat to let my friends and family back home know what I’m up to on a daily basis. Seeing how Duke and American (college) culture in general is very different from attending school in Germany, I figured taking a couple of pictures a day and adding short captions would help them understand what being a Duke student entails. It also help me stay connected to the people I left behind in Munich. Over time, however, I started to realize that Snapchat not only allowed me to exchange funny snaps with my brother, it enabled me to tell the most important story of all: my own. Being authentic has always been important to me. I’m passionate about a lot of things and I want people to know that, which is why I want my Snapchat stories to reflect that. Now, who is this Bavarian, parsley-loving Duke senior that is really good at spelling? And how would that be reflected on Snapchat?

Well, there are a lot of opportunities, I can tell you that. Examples of past snaps include excitement at multiple Duke Basketball games in Cameron Indoor Stadium, doing a handstand against the wall of Perkins Library while shaking my hips to Fergie’s “G-L-A-M-O-R-OUS” at 11pm, a selfie with Peter Hamby, head of News at Snapchat who visited Duke for a post-election panel, interviewing former Duke Basketball star Grant Hill in West Union, random screenshots of Bayern Munich’s social media posts (they’re hilarious!), and most importantly: a gazillion Chapel pics at 3am after leaving the library.

That being said, there are a lot of really cool things happening at Duke every single day that are worth sharing (in my humble opinion). I have a lot of school pride and love bragging about my amazing classmates, professors, our basketball team, and this absolutely gorgeous campus.


Moreover, my snaps are frequently featured on the official “Duke Students” Snapchat stories. The person who is in charge of the Duke Students social media accounts, Jackson (who is one of the most talented people on this campus! If you don’t believe me, watch this and this), once told me that he loves my snaps and that I’m the biggest contributor. So if you ever watched the Duke Students’ Snapchat stories, chances are pretty high that you saw one of my snaps. Especially if it featured Duke Basketball. In that case, probably half of the content was mine.

Now you have learned quite a bit about my Snapchat consumer habits, however, the best is yet to come. This is where my roommate Eden comes in. You see, Eden and I have the most perfect college roommate relationship anyone could possibly have. We are each other’s therapists and cheerleaders. Some people hope that their roommates are gone when they come back to their room. Not in this case. I tend to desperately call Eden at 2am if she isn’t back from studying yet. There are two reasons: 1) I miss her. 2) We have a bedtime ritual.

Allow me to elaborate on that. It all started about a year and a half ago. Eden and I had similar study and sleeping schedules, so one night we decided to go to the bathroom and brush our teeth together. The next time we added music to our joint bathroom session. At some point I just started recording us on Snapchat because why not? There we were: two sleep-deprived college girls brushing their teeth and removing makeup while jamming to Disney songs in a scruffy dorm bathroom at 3am. To be fair, some people thought we were a little crazy but most people loved it. One of my brother’s childhood friends who was closely following my Duke journey on social media actually reached out to me, telling me that he loved Eden and our bathroom snaps. Now they’re friends on Facebook. See how Snapchat connects people? Over time, we added themes to our late-night Snapchat escapades. I once brought a basketball to the bathroom and pulled a Troy Bolton to the High School Musical soundtrack. Every now and then we ask our hall mates to record us so we could do more sophisticated dance performances.


Why do we enjoy this so much? Well, being a Duke student can be hard sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware of how incredibly privileged and lucky I am to go here, and I remind myself of that every single day. However, being under constant stress, having a gazillion deadlines every week, meetings, part-time jobs, leadership positions, club involvements, internship applications, volunteering, working on your startup, research, (and having a social life) can be mentally and physically exhausting sometimes. So when we come back from the library after hustling for 18 hours, we want to end the day on a high note. Spending ten minutes in the bathroom with one of my favorite people in the world, dancing and singing to “I just can’t wait to be king” or “Hakuna Matata” to celebrate another day of learning and being productive (or occasionally the lack of the latter) is something I have come to cherish.

Will I remember writing papers about the political realignment of 1964, the emergence and disappearance of female subjectivity in Hitchcock, or the nature vs. nurture debate in sex & gender determination twenty years down the road? Probably not. Will I remember how my roommate and I once put on Panda facial masks and jammed to Desiigner’s song “Panda”? Absolutely. And that’s largely thanks to social media. 
Those are the types of stories we are going to tell our kids one day when we come back for reunions. “Sweetie, do you see that building to the right of that archway? That’s where aunt Eden and I used to have our bathroom parties. Let me show you a video or two!”


Snapchat: How Duke Communicators Can Join the Fun

By now, we’ve all at least heard of Snapchat.

It’s the crazy popular app (currently the #1 free app on the Apple App Store) that allows users to share videos or photos that disappear within 24 hours. As of today, it’s the second most active social media network, behind only Facebook.

For marketers though, it’s still the Wild West out there; success metrics on Snapchat are so slim that there’s confusion on what content strategies work. For example, as of today there’s still no easy way to see how many followers you have. Still, the potential for cultivating a captive audience on the platform is worth taking seriously.


So What?

The rise of Snapchat has three larger implications for higher education communications:

1. It coincides with a trend toward social messaging. Interestingly, while we tend to think of Snapchat as a social media network, the company itself describes it as a messaging platform.

2. Content on Snapchat is posted in real-time, so it’s inherently timely. That’s no accident. For example, there’s no equivalent of a profile page, and no space to describe who you are. So the only meaningful thing users see when they follow you is whatever you posted in the last 24 hours. To those who are scared away by the fact that content disappears, Snapchat strategist Carlos Gil says, “As marketers, we operate in real time. If it’s not consumed today, it’s irrelevant.” So, what have you done for them lately?

3. Snapchat is exclusively mobile. If you’ve ever wondered why the interface feels so clunky, just know that the design is part of what has made it so successful. It was designed for mobile natives (i.e. the young’uns):

  • The first thing users see when they open the app is not a news feed, but a camera, ready to capture the next ‘snappable’ moment.
  • Discovery functionalities are minimal. Snapchat was designed for messaging, so many users have the app synced to their phone’s address book to find people to follow.
  • It’s made for vertical video.


Cool. So What Can My Department Do To Join The Fun?


Great question! We don’t recommend starting an account for most parts of campus. Building a followership and posting good content consistently on Snapchat is such a challenge that it’s probably not worth the time/resources. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use Snapchat for your communication efforts. Here are two things you can do if you have an event or initiative you want to cover on Snapchat:

1. Snapchat On-Demand Geofilter: Geofilters are special graphic overlays that communicate the “where and when” of a Snap in a fun way, whether users are sending it to a friend or adding it to their Story (the Snapchat equivalent of a status update). For as low as $5, businesses and individuals alike can purchase On-Demand Geofilters for their event, business, or a specific location. Brand logos and trade-marks are permitted. Get started here.

2. @DukeStudents Snapchat Takeover: We are helping the Devils’ Advocates explore the idea of takeovers for their DukeStudents Snapchat account. If you’re interested in experimenting with us, give us a holler.

What they’re looking for:

  • Visual content. Think: Video first.
  • A host – that is, somebody who’s willing to be in front of the camera. Snapchat is all about using the front-facing camera to create intimacy. Remember: Users connect with human faces, not brands.
  • A storyboard with a beginning, middle and end. Plan for a 1-3 minute long video composed from clips during the day. Our peers at Princeton University put together this great blog post on storyboarding for Snapchat.

Here are the guidelines they provide to people taking over the account.


*Accounts to follow if you want to see these best practices in action:


  • Gary Vaynerchuk: The author of NYT bestseller Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook has his sights set on Snapchat as 2016’s “next big thing.”
  • Yusuf Omar: Yusuf participated in the 2016 Duke Media Fellows program and is an advocate for mobile journalism.
  • DJ Khaled: Once the butt of jokes about the ‘selfie generation,’ he’s now – literally – the poster child for influencer marketing. #BlessUp
  • DukeStudents: Because duh.
  • Bonus: Check out this story on how Wake Forest U uses Snapchat during finals week to encourage students and raise awareness of on campus resources. Simply, Study Buddy Ann is the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time).

*Tip: Try using these links from a mobile device, after downloading the Snapchat app.

Four Things Students Say About Social Media

Keeping up with ‘the kids’ is exhausting.

It seems like every year there’s a new trend or social media platform that affects the way we reach students online. Luckily for us, we’ve got a secret weapon in the never-ending fight to stay hip: Nearly 45 student ambassadors who represent us across social media (including Chinese social media channels). Especially considering our university’s small size, it’s a huge team. Here’s what we’ve learned from them this year:


FOMO Rules All


The pressure to make the most of the “the best four years of their lives” has always been a thing for college students past and present. Because social media never sleeps, however, ‘fear of missing out (FOMO)’ is at an all time high in 2016. From the moment they wake up in the morning, students are constantly plugged in to the people, places and things that are important to them on social media.

The takeaway for social media managers: Experiment with posting easily digestible content at different times of the day, possibly during high traffic periods when students are likely to be on the bus or taking a break between classes. For content that requires more of a captive audience (e.g. videos, long-form articles), try posting after 8 p.m. when students are more likely to be on their desktops instead of their mobile devices.



Facebook’s Not Dead, But Twitter Might Be

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They may not admit it, but Facebook is still an important part of their lives. Sure, it may be the family dinner party they can never leave but, as one student told us, “Facebook serves as the baseline for all the other social media platforms.” While Snapchat and Instagram are spaces where they get the stuff they want, but Facebook is a space where they get the stuff they need: Event information, trending conversations on campus, contact info for students they don’t know directly, … In short, it’s their Yellow Pages.

Twitter, on the other hand, is (directly quoting from a student here) “just lame.” Graduate students find value in it for professional development purposes but, for undergrads, it doesn’t serve a purpose that isn’t already fulfilled on their other channels.

The takeaway for social media managers: Thanks to the almighty Facebook algorithm, organic reach for brand pages is declining. If you want to reach students on Facebook, instead of working to attract more followers to your brand page, try posting your content in event pages, private groups and public, campus-wide groups. Try having a student ambassador or intern post on your behalf, so that it comes from a student voice.



The Days of Fliers IRL (In Real Life) Are Over

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If you haven’t before, check out the events tab of your Facebook profile. There, in one place, is everything you need to know about the things happening in your area, events you may be interested in and events your friends are attending (because nobody wants to go alone). For this reason, students say Facebook is the best place to promote an event. Paper fliers, on the other hand, aren’t nearly as effective.

The takeaway for social media managers: Having an event page on Facebook, and making sure it includes as much relevant information as possible, is essential if you want to promote an event. After you’ve created it, have students share with their networks and invite their friends.



On Snapchat, Continuity Is A Major 🔑🔑🔑

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For students, one of the appeals of Snapchat is that users don’t have to be fed content they don’t want to see. Whereas other social media platforms require users to scroll through a newsfeed, users on Snapchat consciously choose which story they want to see. For that reason, students say they want to know what to expect when they tap on your Snapchat story, so continuity is key to retaining viewership.

The takeaway for social media managers: If you manage a Snapchat account, try to be consistent with your content. Compose a distinct beginning, middle and end to your story so that viewers can easily follow along.