Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Colleges and Universities are Earning High Marks Through Tailored Content

It’s not just large corporations that use social collaboration tools and content to connect different audiences. Institutions of higher learning are reaching out and communicating with their various stakeholders through different types of content as well.

Graduation Cap, Education, SchoolStudents, faculty, staff, alumni and donors … these all represent different audiences for whom content must be tailored. Those colleges that are using content to engage and create stronger community are going to the head of the class.

Content for educational institutions must sometimes be the same and just as often be quite different.
  1. Students want to read about what they’ll discover at the school or get information about courses, clubs and schedules; staff needs access to content regarding employee policies and procedures or financials.
  2. Prospective and current students may want to read the school’s blog on career advice, the advantages of various majors, or learn about successful graduates and their paths to success.
This content can be used to attract new, high-quality students, recruit strong faculty, encourage donations, or boost the school’s online visibility and brand reputation. It can be website content, an alumni newsletter, segmented emails, even social media posts. By inviting various constituencies to read and comment on content creates community and in the world of higher education (just as in the corporate world), engaged students are happy students.

For example, the Fashion Instituteof Design & Merchandising (FIDM) in California had needed to create content and platforms for its various groups to use. Students, staff members, alumni, student prospects all need access to different information and applications (not the enrollment kind).

The college needed solutions that would weave together the thousands of students, employees and others. Three portals are used (one for the public, one for students and alumni, and another for employees), the different programs are related to those specific audiences, but all users have a single point of access to get the content they need and enjoy online collaboration. You can read the full case study of how solutions from IBM helped various stakeholders access the online information and apps they need.

Content for different users: students, faculty and staff
There are many ways to create content geared to the different constituents in a college/university setting—and many reasons to do so. From developing and maintaining a donor base to recruiting new students, content can be a dynamic growth generator. And because the audiences are so diverse across ages in particular, the need to communicate across traditional and digital channels is important. Here are a few ways to bring content marketing into higher education and go to the head of the marketing class.

·        Blog posts, infographics and videos are excellent recruiting tools, combining the valuable information that prospective students and families need in an engaging, image-rich format. The more information (or education about the school) you can give users without being sales-y, the better.
·         Website content hubs by user – Microsites for various audiences, all accessed through the school’s public website, allow for community engagement for new students, prospective students, parents/families, alumni, and faculty. Everyone has access to the same general information but can read up on what’s most pertinent to them at any time.
·        Online tutorials and competency-based learning -- Self-paced learning, outside of the traditional lecture hall, gives students as much time as they need to grasp a challenging concept and is an excellent tool for students who need additional help with course material. They can watch the content as many times as they need, at their own pace to keep up with class work and achieve better grades. Remedial courses or massive open online courses (MOOC) can also be deployed by colleges to boost efficiency and serve more students. MOOCs, which arose out of distance education (a growing trend) use collaborative tools that help build a community for students, professors, and teaching assistants.
·        Online press releases help support an institution’s messaging about programs, the student body or faculty, and feed into website and newsletter content about the same or similar topics. Together, they can be a marketing powerhouse.
·         Alumni magazines help keep alumni connected to the school through their content. A 2010 survey from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) found that 58 percent of alumni feel that these publications strengthen their personal connections to universities.
  • Articles may be about interesting faculty or alumni, new research or curriculum initiatives, and showcase outstanding students or staff. These stories all engage alumni and can help keep endowments strong and develop the next generation of students there.
  • For younger students or alums who are accustomed to doing lots of reading online, digital editions make a lot of sense and save money over print versions.
·        Email – Offices of student life, alumni, student financial services and the bursar, the dean of students or department heads … the list of emailers and audiences is vast in a college or university setting. Email marketing requires content to engage each particular audience.
  • Another CASE study* (about the use of social media in higher education) found that many school administrators think of email as a legacy medium that is being replaced by texting and other short messaging tools; however, the white paper states that, “When asked to compare email to social media for its success in meeting unit goals, 46 percent of this year’s respondents confirmed that they considered email more effective than some social media channels, and an additional 31 percent rated it over all social media.” [Source: *Social Media Enters the Mainstream: Report on the Use of Social Media in Advancement, 2014 by Jennifer Mack and Michael Stoner

·         Social media – it’s here to stay and it’s growing in the higher education field. But even YouTube videos need well-written descriptions (content) to help boost each video’s online presence and social media communications (Facebook posts, tweets) can be part of an overall content marketing strategy. Between 70 and 87 percent of institutions in the study were using it in their annual giving programs (generating interest in an initiative, thanking donors, keeping donors in the loop); and 47 percent overall (public and private institutions) were using social media in their fundraising efforts.

Content enables educational institutions to connect with its diverse audiences in so many ways. Implementing collaboration tools that help foster even stronger connections pave the way for a more engaged student body, provide opportunities for distant (and different) learning, and provide avenues for alumni and donors to maintain long-standing connections to their alma maters.