get smart with your higher education content

August 9, 2012 by
web content for higher education

the social web is always hungry for more content

Your mission: produce multiple streams of quality content that your audiences find valuable and shareable. Make sure it's in keeping with the basic principles of content marketing, and above all else, keep it coming.

It's a formidable task. But one that none of us can afford to ignore.

There are lots of reasons producing content has become imperative, including

  • Giving Google fresh meat
  • Demonstrating thought leadership
  • Generating leads
  • Cultivating a reputation for generosity and value, rather than death by advertising

I could go on, but this isn't exactly a news flash.  By 2012, content marketing has become essential and ubiquitous, in higher ed just like everywhere else.

The real issue, though, isn't the why but the how. That is, how is everyone supposed to become a regular publisher of fresh content?  And still hold down a day job?

Unfortunately, the constant pressure to produce is never going to be easy for any of us. But here are some ways to minimize pain and maximize gain as you carry out your mission.

invest in content

May as well start by dreaming big.

In a sobering rant on 'why higher ed sucks at content strategy,' Michael Fienen goes straight to the guts of it. 'Web communications is a system and discipline unto itself now, and it needs to be recognized, authorized, and resourced as such.'

Which is quite different than what he views as the more typical scenario at the moment. Namely, web comms shunted between IT, marketing and PR. High staff turnover. Lack of strategy and continuity.

So is there hope we're about to enter a period where web communications will be recognized as an integral part of higher ed marketing? And be resourced accordingly?

Fienen isn't optimistic. And given the size and bureaucratic structure of universities, such a seismic shift in budget and staffing priorities is likely to take years rather than months.

But the relentless pressure to produce, strategize, and capitalize on content is simply not going to go away. So better to at least begin to steer the ship in this direction rather than pretend there's clear sailing ahead on the present course.

In the meantime, here are a few suggestions on how to make the content conundrum less onerous and more effective.

'efficiencies' and hi-tech tricks for creating interesting content

Your school does need to produce some original, high-quality content. But thankfully not all of your content stream needs to be conjured up out of thin air.

That's because sharing, curation, and repurposing are central to content creation in the world of 'social,' where

  • promoting other people's content makes you a good citizen
  • people expect to find content on their favorite channel, in their favorite format

For a sample of how to put these principles into practice, check out Pawan Deshpande's article “8 Ideas for Feeding Your Content Beast” . There are some great ideas in this post, as well as links to further resources on content creation.

But how do these ideas apply in the very specialized ecosystem of higher education?

social-friendly content for higher education

There are some advantages to being a large and complex organization. You've got lots of people, roles and activities that can all feed into your publication juggernaut.  Here are a few ways to take advantage of all the resources you've got at your fingertips.

1.  Recruit people outside of web communications to create content.  

I've written previously about why colleges should encourage student and faculty blogging . And faculty bloggers might be motivated by the fact that in 2007, 72% of prospective masters students in the E-Expectations Graduate Survey were especially interested in reading faculty posts.

Higher ed also benefits from a constant stream of visitors to campus, sports and community events, and appearances in traditional media. All prime fodder for interviews, articles, blog posts, Pinterest folders and videos.

And every time one item goes online, make sure to

2.  Repurpose content into different formats

A blog post can turn into a video can turn into a slideshow can turn into a podcast.

And it's not cheating, because people genuinely like to consume content in different formats, depending on

  • personal preference
  • how much time they've got
  • what device they're using

3.  Update existing content

So how many pages have you got on that website of yours? Probably thousands. Which can make it a nightmare to maintain, but also a goldmine of 'new' content.

But first of all you need to separate the wheat from the chaff. As the folks at Percussion Software explain in a recent white paper, 'You should always be striving to keep information fresh and up to date, and when you can’t, remove it from your website as soon as you can.'

So as time and resources allow, work away at the big tidy-up as part of website maintenance. Trash the outdated pages, and perform meaningful updates to freshen up the pages you want to keep.  Google will be happy, and so will your visitors.

managing content quality

It all sounds lovely, doesn't it?  Everybody contributing and sharing across multiple platforms to create a rich and fresh stream of content.  And in lots of ways it is, BUT . . .

It's also potentially a recipe for chaos.  To keep things from getting out of control,

  1. Take the time to look at the big picture.  What are your main goals?  Your central messages?  Developing a clear content strategy will ensure that your messaging is consistent and effective.
  2. For all the reasons I've discussed, you need lots of people creating content for your school.  This is where quality control becomes a real challenge.  The big debate at the moment seems to be over whether content management should be centralized or de-centralized.  The trend seems to be towards more centralized models, but it's worth thinking through what will work best given your own circumstances and resources.

What creative ways has your school come up with to produce quality content?  What kinds of challenges are you facing?

Photo credit: Creative Commons License Bruce via Compfight

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