How Brown Bridged Generations Through Campus Photos

Institutions evolve but their timeless landscapes often remain the same, providing an opportunity to bridge alumni from decades, or even centuries, apart to one another. This bridge came to life for Brown University through the photography of “Brown: Then, Now and Forever.

In this campaign Mike Cohea, Multimedia Producer/Photographer at Brown University, took shots from campus and conjoined them to archived shots of the past. To spark further engagement Brown has put the album of 11 photos on on Facebook, producing over 4,500 Likes, 200 Comments and 700 Shares. One of their recent iterations was so viral that it made it to the front page of Reddit pics exposing it front of an audience of 3 unique million visitors!

We checked in with Mike and John Murphy, Social Media Specialist at Brown, to learn more about how the album got started, how to implement it and what kind of impact it has had on their community .

What inspired the album?
M: “I was trying to think of ways to link students of today to students of the past and build on that feeling of one generation of alumni giving to the next. I’ve seen the technique used in other fields, but not effectively in higher education. Walking around campus and looking at all the beautiful buildings on campus, it hit me that today’s students were literally walking down the same steps of buildings that Brown students have been walking down for nearly 250 years. That’s when it hit me that though the people change, the environment doesn’t and I knew this technique was the best way to convey those feelings and connections. It is helpful that Brown has such a beautiful campus that hasn’t changed much over the centuries.”

If you broke the campaign into three steps how would you do it?

1. Timing and Identification
J: “There will be shots that you can use year round, but the shots that are most viral are the ones that are tied into the events that are happening on campus.”
M: “Early on you also need to look at a lot of pictures too. Making friends with your Archivist(s) is important. John and I have gone through thousands of photographs. It’s important to identify photos with people in it so that you can mix in new people; you can lose a lot human connectivity if you just show a building.”

2. Making the Shot Happen
J: “I have personally seen Mike out there with the camera and the old photograph in his hand waiting for that perfect balance of people, that right moment.”
M: “Before coming to Brown, I was a photojournalist for nearly a decade, so I’ve learned to be patient and how important moments are in photographs. Patience is important. Once the shot is taken in person, I’ll use to Photoshop minimally to help match the depth of field. A part of this is because of the significant difference in camera technology from the 19th century to today.”

3. Tying it into the Community
J: “Tying it into the Providence community has really helped us set the photos up for success, as it appeals to a much larger base which pushes the Facebook shares over the edge. Also, getting the photos into mediums where our content doesn’t usually go, such as Reddit, also expands the reach. ”

How did the campaign exceed expectations?
J: “It has really helped our Edgerank algorithm on Facebook. At the end of the day it’s an outstanding campaign, but for other messaging, like our science new releases, it has conditioned our audience to like our content and make it sticky.”
M: “I find it really interesting how viewers pick up on the contrasts of the different generations of students. Like other universities, Brown has gone through a lot of change in the last 250 years. Being able to capture that in this campaign and show the diversity of Brown as an institution, not only in the composition of its student body but also a the depth and breadth of its academic offering, is important part of this campaign.”

Whether going through archives, or just taking out your yearbook and pairing the current moment with a camera phone, we hope to see many communities bridge their generations through this technique.

A special thanks to Mike and John for sharing their insights, and for their support.

Ever True!

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