EduWebinar Recap: Temperature Rising: A robust, collaborative digital communications project from Cal State Fullerton

A screenshot of a website. A young black man stands in the center of a crowd with a closed fist raised in protest. Behind him is a large, diverse group of people including one protester who holds a cell phone. The copy on the image reads: “ Temperature Rising: CSUF Experts Examine Racism, Social Justice, and Police Reform Amid COVID-19.”
The Homepage of the Temperature Rising Microsite

As temperatures rose around topics of racial injustice in the nation and on college campuses, the Strategic Communications Team from California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) knew that platitudes would serve little purpose. Beyond sharing a statement from their president or changing their profile picture as part of a social justice campaign, they sought to amplify diverse stories via a robust microsite that combined videos, photos from protests, animation, stock photography, and even historical archive footage. The team, comprised of Michael Mahi, Matthew Gush, Jillian Boyd, Christopher Min, and others, shared their project experience and lessons learned with the eduWeb community this January.

“A vehicle for change”

Matthew Gush, the Assistant Director of Digital Media at CSUF, attended protests in 2020 after work to capture the moment with his camera. He returned to campus moved to understand the anger but also reflect the diversity of the cross-section of individuals and communities coming together to protest the injustices that were happening.

CSUF Strategic Communications started brainstorming how to communicate this moment in time and provide content within context. Gush reflected, “We wanted, as a team, to connect this moment in history to CSUF. How do we take current issues and bring them home to Cal State Fullerton and lend our expertise? We wanted to reimagine this. Why don’t we take faculty experts and bring them into this conversation?”

CSUF sought to engage faculty experts to examine racism, social justice, and police reform, amid COVID-19. “ We knew we wanted to create a vehicle for change,” said Michael Mahi, the Senior Director of Digital Media at CSUF.

From Disparate Parts to Storytelling

For the initial round of interviews, CSUF Strategic Communications leveraged an initial list of faculty that included their media relations faculty experts. They then refocused this list after feedback from editorial teams and evolved other faculty experts as the conversation developed and interviews were conducted. The team started with designated questions, but even that evolved as the story took on a life of its own. 

As the team filmed professors via Zoom, the story began to unveil different areas of expertise and overlap between topics such as police reform and criminal justice, public health, and social justice. As they amplified different voices, the team discovered different intersections of experience and facets that could be added to the microsite. “The result of this project is greater than the sum of its parts,” said Christopher Min, the Media Production Specialist at CSUF. “This draws people in and the narrative develops among disparate parts.”

Microsite Design

The microsite was built using a custom CSS. Video interviews led the narrative, supplemented with animations, visual elements, and photography. “The project was so wide and deepfrom bubonic plague to slavery, we had to raid public use historical archives and stock photography, then had to leverage continuity across platformsmicrosite, social media, “ Gush stated. 

A screenshot of a website with a header of the Roots of Racism. On the left hand side of the screen is copy that reads: Chapter 2 - The Roots of Racism. On the right hand side of the screen is a video that is a historical depiction of slavery.
Chapter 2 – The Roots of Racism – CSUF Temperature Rising Microsite highlights the roots of racism with historical context and content.

With its chapter book design, the microsite feels almost like a digital textbook. Each chapter has a central topic relevant to the overall theme. Chapter 1 examines pandemics throughout history. Chapter 2 focuses on roots of racism in the United States, while chapter 3 investigates citizen journalism and body cam footage. Chapter 4 reflects on the protest movement. Each chapter of the microsite leverages text, animated graphics, video content, animations and photos taken from protests in 2020, and stock as well as historical photographs.

To add value for their audience and educate the community, the team included an extensive list of resources as part of the microsite design to share more campus-based, academic, and source material.

A black and white globe is in the center of the screen against a black backdrop. This is an animated visual representation of the spread of coronavirus and the inequities of confirmed cases by country globally. The number of cases for each country is called out in red text.
An animated, visual representation of the inequities of the coronavirus reflecting confirmed cases by country, globally.

From Planning to Production

The pandemic posed a hurdle to content development and creation. Creatively, it was difficult to use Zoom interviews with the platform’s technological limitations. Despite this, CSF was able to leverage different resources to offset the limitations of the Zoom-produced collateral. One take away for the team: When conducted with intent, Zoom interviews can be poignant and impactful, and can position faculty experts in a great, personal light.

Social Media Integration 

Once the microsite was complete with robust resources, Jillian Boyd, the Social Media Specialist at CSUF, was tasked with strategically releasing this content across CSUF social media platforms. Jillian asked herself, “How do we share content when our users are exhausted and we want to optimize content?” CSUF leveraged a dynamic social media strategy by posting a chapter every other day for three weeks, releasing 5 chapters in that time. 

Social collateral included looped 15-second teaser videos for each chapter shared, with full length video posted on Instagram and Vimeo. “We tried to optimize this across social media at every single stop, recognizing the social media platform, and leading people back to the mission and values of our university focused on equity, diversity, and inclusion,” Boyd stated. 

The results speak for themselves: 70,000 impressions, 1,022 click-throughs to the microsite for the first chapter alone.

Planning for Discourse and Comments   

CSUF recognized the potential for discourse and diverging viewpoints on social media. They adopted a strategy to let the content speak for itself and monitor conversation within their community. “We recognized that these are polarizing issues. We want to ensure that in crafting these messages, [we are also] maintaining balance and holding space for discourse,” Gush stated. 

Additional Take-Aways and Lessons Learned 

  • Administrative Buy-In: “It starts with knowing your leadership. Don’t surprise them. They should know every development. We kept communication open.” from Michael Mah, Director, Senior Director of Digital Media. 
  • Be Open to the Evolution of a Project: “Where we started is very different from what manifested. Being open to the evolution of the project and being able to pivot the project was surprising and fascinating. This started as a photography project and really developed into a cohesive whole.” from Matthew Gush, Assistant Director of Digital Media. 
  • Evolve Your Storytelling and Content Acquisition: “Let the story tell you what it wants to be. When you make an editorial cut, there is a predatory component to content acquisition. Thinking through how you acquire content is important.” from Christopher Min, Media Production Specialist

What’s next for Cal State Fullerton? 

The microsite has been incorporated into on-campus workshops, on the main university website, and has been one of the most viewed news microsites created by the CSUF team. CSUF Human Resources even leveraged the resources provided by the microsite.

“This opened up a realm of storytelling for the digital team. This takes current, relevant subject matter and showcases our faculty in a new light. It showcased the work we do here, what our students get with their education, and how we can seek change together. We are working on more content to evolve the Temperature Rising microsite and continuing to learn from this project as we apply lessons learned.“ Mahi concluded. 

By Katy Spencer Johnson, EduWeb Summit Community Ambassador, Educator, Consultant, and Content Strategist