Millennial Web Strategy: Authenticity is Key

How does an institution imbued with history and tradition — yet also a continual source of innovation and advancement — connect with a generational group known for being wary of all standard marketing and communication practices? That was the challenge put before the Internet Strategy team as they began looking for better ways to digitally engage with millennials seeking biomedical research and patient care training programs, as well as students and trainees already at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The team began by partnering with the Marketing & Communications (M&C) Research and Education Marketing team to review student surveys and then turned to the M&C Market Analysis and Analytics team for the latest research on millennials. Through diving into that information, the Internet Strategy team identified several goals to increase authentic engagement with the student and young alumni audience:

  • Make students and trainees seen and heard
  • Showcase diversity of the student body
  • Promote Baltimore as an interesting city to live, work and study in
  • Celebrate student achievements
  • Emphasize interesting out-of-classroom experiences

Turning up the Volume on Student Voices

Study after study has shown that user-generated content — blogs, first-person videos, real social responses, and so forth — is critical to engaging the millennial audience. In fact, they trust it 50 percent more than any other type of media. But, how does a team of marketing professionals open the door to these “real deal” insights and voices, and still have some control over the message? The team pursued two main avenues: first-person videos and a student/trainee-written blog.

Videos: Showing It Like It Is

Videos are a critical part of the overall Johns Hopkins Medicine digital content strategy, and are particularly important in millennial-focused areas like the school of medicine.

The Digital Media Group is part of the Internet Strategy team, and by combining their extensive professional expertise in documentary film production with the authentic experiences of Johns Hopkins residents and students, several compelling video series were born:

Residency at Johns Hopkins | Making a Difference — first person experiences of current residents that provide a realistic, yet inspiring, look inside the Johns Hopkins world. Here’s an example.

My Baltimore — Featuring 10 diverse students, the series shows that no matter your interests (such as dancing, running or festivals) there is something for you to do in Baltimore. Eight additional “city clips” give short soundbites of why students love living here.


Biomedical Odyssey Blog: Real Days of Their Lives

What is it really like to work in a lab? What is it like to lose a patient? How do you master the interview process? Real students and residents give the scoop on the Biomedical Odyssey blog. The blog features a cohort of students and trainees that rotates every six months. It gives students an unfiltered look at what their peers are learning inside and outside of the classroom. The blog even has a student editor who works with each blogger on their story ideas and completes a round of editing. The blog is two years old and generally receives an average of 4,920 page views and 3,052 sessions per month.

Student Stories: Telling it Like it Is

Millennials thrive on stories. They can spot inauthenticity from a mile away, so stories that feature students in their own words build trust that what is being shared on the website about the medical school experience is authentic. Because millennials have a strong desire to belong to something bigger than themselves, stories that help build a sense of community are also vital. Stories also appeal to alumni, who reminisce about their time here and are invested in continuing the legacy of Johns Hopkins.
Millennials want to see diversity in the communities they join. 43 percent of millennial adults are non-white — the highest share of any generation. Therefore, what they see is just as important as what you say, and to highlight the diversity of the student body pictures are used wherever possible in student stories.

The way the school of medicine reports on events and awards has shifted to include more opportunities to dig deeper and tell the story behind each student. Young Investigators’ Day gave just this type of opportunity. By creating a landing page for each student with a picture, quote and Q & A, website visitors could find out what led an awardee to their success in the lab. The format also made social sharing easy.


Similarly, the Paul S. Lietman Johns Hopkins Medicine International Scholars for 2016 landing page featured a picture and short questionnaire for each international student who received a scholarship. Everyone is curious about what motivated their peers to come to medical school, so by sharing the background story for scholarship recipients, students and alumni are more invested in the outcomes for their fellow members of the Johns Hopkins community.


Arguably, one of the most exciting days in a medical student’s life is Match Day — the day students find out which residency program they will be attending. There’s a buzz in the air, and capturing it on the website is key. Match Day was amplified through a landing page for the event that highlighted several diverse student stories. After the event, pull quotes of the highlighted students were promoted on social media. One of the tweets, which featured Nancy Abu-Bonsrah, the first black woman accepted into the neurosurgery residency program, received 91 retweets! Embed tweet: