When your school marketing content doesn’t go as planned, it’s important to reflect on why it happened. Understanding why is the first step towards future success.
Here are 10 questions to ask yourself when you’re facing a content fail:
1. Have I given my content enough time to make an impact?
We all want to see instant results, but the days and even weeks following the release of new content are often not enough to gauge success. Don’t declare your new content a failure if it doesn’t immediately deliver the result you’d hoped.
In a world where so many marketers long to create “viral” content, it’s still true that often time is needed for word to spread, for more people to discover your content, for traction to grow. While viral can be exciting, it often fades fast. Long-term success is most often attributable to things you can’t fake, force or fast-forward, like hard work, dedication and consistency.
When your goal is to create standout school marketing, you have to be prepared to play the long game.
2. How have I promoted this content? Should I have done more or promoted it differently?
Your new blog might not see major traffic until you’ve given yourself time to promote it and given people time to discover it. You might need time to find a groove with that new weekly email.
If traffic, clicks, downloads or registrations aren’t meeting your goals: promote, promote, promote.
3. Does this piece have a compelling story?
If your audience doesn’t understand what the content is about, and you haven’t given them a compelling reason to click/read/watch/listen, chances are that they won’t.
Tell them a great story that connects and they’ll want to know more.
4. Is the content easy to find?
If you’ve buried your content deep within your website, give it a more high-profile presence. If your emails aren’t being opened, try sending them on a different day when your audiences’ inbox might be less crowded.
You don’t want your audience to have to work hard to find the amazing content you created. Make sure it’s easy.
5. Does this piece fit within my overall content strategy?
You took the time to create a content strategy for a reason: because it factors in the strengths of your school, the ways you stand apart from the competition, and the topics that matter to your audience. All of the content you create should fit your content strategy; if it doesn’t, it’s time to reimagine that content.
6. Does it speak to my audience?
You have to put aside your school’s internal agenda and create what your audience wants. If you haven’t touched on a topic that matters to your audience, they won’t care—even if that topic really matters to your school.
Check your content for the right tone, as well: it should be authentic to your school and relevant to your audience and the content format (a script for a video geared towards prospective students will be slightly different than the copy in a brochure for parents, for example).
7. Is it well-written/produced?
It’s so easy to create high quality content in all formats (audio, video, visuals, copy) thanks to the ease of smartphones and cameras, access to technology, and low cost of professional stock photos. Everyone from big brands to teenage YouTubers are creating high quality content—and your audience is used to seeing that content.
What does this mean for schools? It means that it really shows when you haven’t paid attention to the details. High quality doesn’t have to mean big budget, so there are no excuses for low quality.
8. Would this content work better in a different format?
If you’re truly finding that your content isn’t measuring up, consider the format. Would that brochure content be enhanced by a corresponding video? Could you repurpose that podcast episode into a blog post?
9. How am I judging success, and is that measurement realistic?
If you think your content has failed, consider why. Hopefully, you identified a goal for your content before the project began—measure your results based on that. Gather the metrics and compare against past content benchmarks to ground your expectations.
10. If I could create this piece again, what would I do differently?
Don’t hesitate to critique yourself. When a project goes awry, it can make a great learning experience. This isn’t about blame or criticism, but an honest evaluation of your missteps. When you know better, you can do better.
There is no fool-proof approach to school marketing. No one right answer, no magic solution. Even the best strategies will need adjustment. Even outstanding content takes time to make an impact. Not every piece of school marketing you create will be a raging success.
It’s how you respond to those failures that matters; you can throw your hands up and abandon your commitment to school storytelling, or use the experience to create better content.
Your website is not a catchall for content. It’s not the place to post any story or update or idea that is shared with your marketing department. And it’s not the place to make every department in your school happy.
Your website is your most important marketing tool. And for that reason, it needs to be written for your audience. This will mean disappointing some of your internal audiences. But keeping your website focused on your dream families’ wants, needs and challenges is the only way to keep it working for you.
2. Your website is also not for Google.
SEO. Three little letters that have the power to make rational communicators crazy. Too many of us get hung up on the idea that there is a magic way to get found online. But here’s the thing: SEO isn’t a mystical answer. It’s always changing. And what most people think about when they think about SEO isn’t even SEO anymore.
Look, there’s no winning this game. You’re not going to out-Google Google. But you can convince Google that your website is the best resource for searches related to your expertise – and you do that by writing really good copy. For your audiences, not for the search engines.
3. Readers don’t want to know it all.
We often feel like we need to include everything on our websites. That if we leave something out – some little detail, or feature, or benefit – our dream families will most certainly notice and question it.
But the truth is, readers don’t read. They skim. They take in the essence of your content and decide if your story has given them enough reason to move forward in their relationship with your school. They don’t need the history of every initiative to do so. Instead, they need to be enticed. Which leads me to…
4. Your website is the “hello”, not the conversation.
Think of your website as the start of your conversation with a prospective student or family. When you meet someone new, you don’t bombard them with every detail of your life. Instead, you try to break the ice. Find common ground. And, if all goes well, figure out a way to stay connected.
Websites are meant to start a story and entice the reader to continue forward by taking action – by reading more, contacting you, subscribing, connecting in some way.
5. A new design doesn’t make your content any better.
One common mistake I see with schools is that they spend big bucks on a new website design and structure … and then transfer their old content over to the new site.
This is a huge waste. Because while design and user experience is critical, so is the content on the page. If your website isn’t telling the story your dream families want to hear, you’ll lose them. Content is just as important as the design and technical aspects of your site – if not more so.
6. Style matters. AP style, that is.
The Associated Press hasn’t published and updated its renowned style guide for 60+ years for nothing.
Clarity and style are synonymous. Sticking to basic style guidelines and editing rules makes content more professional and polished. So having an understanding of AP style is important when writing your website content.
7. Headlines are worth the effort.
The headline-writing gurus at Copyblogger report that on average, 8 out of 10 people read headline copy, but only two out of 10 will read the rest.
This logic does not only applies to online articles and blog posts. It’s true for website content. Each page of your website should have a headline that appeals to your audience. I like writing page headlines that make a promise or prompt some type of action. This involves readers with the content and demonstrates why they should read on.
8. Less (content) is more.
As mentioned in #4, keeping messaging simple is key. But it’s not just about simple messages. It’s also important to include fewer words. Fewer blocks of texts.
Instead of writing novel-worthy website content, create white space by keeping content short and sweet. Include bulleted lists to break up text. And use subheads to allow your audience to absorb the key points without reading every word.
9. Call-to-actions are critical.
You never want your great content to come to a dead end. That’s why call-to-actions are the most important words on the page.
A well-written call to action can encourage further interaction with your school—online and off; make your audience aware of your school’s other differentiators; and prompt your audience to share their information with you. They’re the best way to fend off the dreaded bounce.
10. Readers like options.
“Readers prefer images … so let’s give them images!” “Wait, readers now like audio — add some audio!” “Hold on, scrap all that … video is king!”
Content trends? They change over time. Audiences are constantly changing their preferences when it comes to written and visual content. So instead of jumping on a trend and forgetting the basics of good storytelling, make sure you give your readers options: if you include a video, also include key points from that video in bulleted written form for those who don’t want to watch. If you have audio content, include a transcript. Giving your audience the option to consume your content the way they like it makes it more likely that you’ll get your message across.
11. The best sites give away the goods.
The best way to get your readers to give you something valuable, like their name and email? Give them something valuable in return!
Gated content has remained a fantastic way to prove your expertise and build your owned audience. When you understand your audiences’ wants and needs, and create a resource that addresses those wants and needs, they’ll thank you with their trust and loyalty.
12. Content development always takes longer than expected.
Projects that hold off on content development until well after design and programming and underway always blow their deadlines. Always.
Why? Because content is a sensitive matter. It takes time to craft a compelling story. And website content often needs to travel through layers of approval before finding a place online. Considering that large websites can have hundreds – or thousands – of pages, the content development process needs to have a realistic timeline, or it will hold everything up at the end.
13. Too many cooks = a really dirty kitchen.
The most successful website projects I’ve worked on all have one thing in common: they have a very small content maintenance team.
Once you devote time and resources to developing a strong online story, it’s important to protect that story. That means that editing capabilities should be restricted to a small group of people. Think of these people as your website content “gatekeepers” – all edits should be submitted and approved by this team before they are made on your site. Otherwise, your site will soon become cluttered with jargon and unnecessary details.
14. The “publish” button is deceiving.
You know that dusty box of old brochures you have in your storage closet? Imagine if you handed one of those to every prospective student and family that came through your door. You would never, right? Well, that’s what you’re doing if your website content is out of date.
The key thing to remember is that when you press “publish” online, that does not mean your website content is complete. Content isn’t static. You can’t print it and forget it. It requires continuous attention and maintenance. So it’s important to reframe your idea of what it means to launch your site or publish your content.
15. You should never stop testing.
To reinforce #14 … check your analytics! Too often, we set up Google Analytics when we launch our websites and let them sit stagnant in the background for far too long. Instead, use those insights to test various types of contents, find out which pages of your site are working (and which need improvement), and where you have other opportunities for success.
These 15 lessons have, so far, stood the test of time — which is crazy, since we all know that Internet years are a little like dog years, things change so fast. Who knows what the next 15 years will bring!
Want to talk about your website content? Sign up for a free Discovery Call to find out how we help schools tell their stories online.
In the world of content marketing, where the DIY approach often seems doable, the hands-on approach can be enticing.
But it is not always the best solution, and what starts looking like a time- and budget-saving task can quickly get you in over your head, leading to a school marketing initiative that stalls out or completely flops thanks to its less-than-ideal outcome.
How do you know when a content marketing project is something your school marketing team can tackle, and when it requires reinforcements? Ask yourself these three questions:
DOES ANYONE ON MY TEAM HAVE THE SPECIFIC SKILL TO ACCOMPLISH THIS TASK?
This skill doesn’t have to be part of their official job description, but it should be a skill that is at a professional level and has been proven elsewhere. In other words, if your marketing manager took one graphic design class in college, that does not qualify her to design your new Facebook ad. Just like having a few tools didn’t qualify me to remove that giant mirror. Turns out, they weren’t the right tools.
DOES ANYONE ON MY TEAM HAVE THE TIME TO DEDICATE TO THIS TASK?
Think about time in terms of hours, as well as days, weeks or months it will take to complete the task. Can you afford to dedicate someone to the project for the time it will take to complete, or would it be better to outsource it and have your team focus elsewhere?
WHAT ROLE DOES THIS PROJECT PLAY IN OUR OVERALL CONTENT MARKETING PLAN?
Schools approach this differently— some prefer to outsource the big, more overwhelming projects, while others prefer to outsource smaller projects. Either approach can work. Consider if you’d like to fill your calendars with an array of bite-sized tasks, or one major to-do.
With a strategy and guidelines in place, you might feel confident letting someone on your team take on smaller tasks, especially those that you can review and refine as time goes on (for example, crafting social media posts), while the more substantial tasks (like re-writing your website) might be better assigned to outside help.
Conversely, if your team has the necessary skills and time, and the project is especially important, you might choose to keep a major project in house so you have as much control over it as possible. You should also consider this project alongside all the others you have in the works. Is anything else happening that you want to be certain your own team is available for?
Answer each question honestly and you’ll make a decision that makes the best use of your time, resources and budget.
It’s a question I hear a lot. When a school launches a new blog or content marketing initiative, it seems like everyone is excited and on board. School leaders say they are willing to contribute ideas, write articles and give you “anything you need.”
But then, something happens.
The novelty wears off, and daily interruptions take precedence. People stop responding to requests for blog contributions. They miss their promised deadlines. They pass you off to someone else.
Say wha? That’s right. Don’t expect your leaders to sit down and write their own blog posts. Because that’s asking a lot.
Writing is hard. It takes a lot of time, thought and energy. And most leaders are perfectionists. They would rather turn in nothing than turn in something that is not up to their standards.
Instead, hire (or become!) a ghostwriter. The writer can interview the school leader via phone or email to capture her perspective, and craft an initial draft of the post. The leader can then edit the article and make it her own.
This will help streamline the process and keep it on schedule. And trust me, the leader will be more apt to respond to a draft than to sit down and start an article from scratch.
2. Repurpose their daily communications.
Most leaders and experts are very proficient. They have lots of knowledge to share, and end up sharing it casually in all forms of communications.
If you dig around enough (or are given access), you will most likely find that your leaders are already creating lots of content that explains or summarizes their thoughts and ideas. Think: emails, speeches, presentations, editorials, quotes in the media or in press releases, white papers, etc.
Take this content, and rewrite/repurpose it into blog posts. Some longer forms of communication can even be split into a series of posts. This is a great way to gain leadership insights without having to get time on their very busy calendars.
3. Don’t write; record!
Remember, blog content does not need to be in article format.
If your leader is eloquent, capture her thoughts on video or in audio. Consider a Q&A session, an interview format, or simply allow the leader to share her point of view on a specific topic. You can then use these recordings in your blog posts. Transcribe the interviews for SEO purposes, and to give your audience different options for accessing the information.
This will require less time commitment from your leader (to reiterate: writing is hard), and it will give them exposure that could be beneficial in positioning them as a media source. Win-win!
These are three simple ways to get school leadership involved in your blogging efforts, but we’d love to hear more! If you have successfully engaged your school leadership with your business blogging efforts, spill your secrets in the comments below.
So how can you stay consistent with your content marketing? Here are some tips to help keep you on track:
For Consistent Strategy…
Print out the purpose. All of the content you create should answer the one ultimate content marketing question: What is the big objective? It seems simple, but it’s important. Because if you can’t define the objective, then your content cannot meet the big objective. And that means you are simply producing content, not content marketing. Write your big objective in BIG, BOLD LETTERS and hang it on your wall. When you sit down to write, ask yourself how your words will help make that big objective a reality.
Create – and use! – an editorial calendar. Your editorial calendar isn’t just a calendar. It’s a strategy repository. Sure, it should schedule and track your content, but it can also be where you brainstorm new content ideas, review analytics, plan ways to repurpose content and more. Your calendar is only good if you use it, so make sure you build your editorial calendar in a way that works for your organization. We have a free template for you here.
Get friendly with your buyer personas. You didn’t create buyer personas for nothing. Before you begin writing, re-read your buyer personas or audience profiles. This will remind you of whom you are writing for and help you create content that answers their questions and addresses their concerns.
Set audience expectations. If you make your publication schedule public, you will be more motivated to keep to it. Why? You won’t want to let your audience down.
For Consistent Style…
Develop standards. Your content marketing efforts should have a set style, tone and overall look — and these standards should be documented. Yes, even if you’re a one-person school marketing master. Because no matter how good you are at creating your school’s content, you WILL forget the basic standards if you don’t write them down.
Review your top posts. Check your stats and quickly look back at your most popular articles. Was there something about the tone or style of these posts that you can infuse in your upcoming post? This will help you determine how to best connect with your audience.
For Consistent Writing…
Schedule it. You won’t sit down to write if it’s not in your calendar. Set a certain time on certain days as your “content happy hour”. Block it out, and you’re more likely to stick to your schedule.
Pre-brainstorm. Prior to your “content happy hour”, start thinking about your topic. Jot down some initial notes or ideas. Step away from your desk. Walk around campus. Think a little more. And then go do some research and see what other people are saying about the topic. (Tip: I always like to pre-brainstorm BEFORE I read other writers’ work so that I can formulate my ideas and opinions without influence.)
Read. A lot. Start or end your day by reading your favorite markting or school-related publications. No time? Listen to a few podcasts on your commute home. While reading (or listening), keep a journal handy, and make note of any ideas. Remind yourself to ACTIVELY read — look for ideas and inspiration as you go. The littlest kernel of information can spark a big idea.
Enlist help! Writing is hard. When the content development process becomes too overwhelming, consider hiring someone to take on the task — or partner with a writer who understands your brand story and style.
Stop thinking about it as blogging or copywriting. Instead, think about it as storytelling. As a school marketer, you have the amazing opportunity to create stories that connect with students and families, stories that inspire them, entertain them, or teach them something new. It’s the best job in the world.
Here’s how small schools can get big rewards by being budget-savvy with strategy, content, and tools:
1. Reallocate your team’s resources.
If you’re ready to start a content marketing initiative but are worried you don’t have the time or the budget, start by reviewing how your marketing and admissions teams are spending their time. Are they using energy and resources on outdated practices that have simply become part of your daily routine?
This process must include analyzing which tactics are working and which are not working. For example, is your team putting out press releases that don’t get any traction? Are they creating flyers or brochures no one uses? Are they posting on social media with no clear strategy? Review internal practices and do an honest assessment of your current marketing plan. If you can eliminate tasks that aren’t making an impact, you can free up resources to focus on content marketing.
2. Develop – and write down – your strategy.
Research shows that if you want to be effective at content marketing, you need to document your strategy.
Although many marketers know the importance of developing a strategy, 48% say their content marketing strategy is not documented. As the research states: “Having a verbal strategy is a great first step. However… it pays to take the time to write it down: 60% of those who have a documented strategy rate themselves highly in terms of content marketing effectiveness, compared with 32% of those who have a verbal strategy.”
Without a written strategy, you will waste resources. Period. And you don’t have resources to waste if you’re trying to get results on a tight budget.
3. Make someone accountable.
To get your content marketing off the ground, you want to have one person or team accountable to make it happen, or it will continuously get pushed aside. The goal is to make content part of your business culture, and you need someone to lead the charge.
In big business, the accountable person is given the title Chief Content Officer. But small schools can get by without someone at this level (and pay grade) if they have a strong content team – and workflow – in place. The title is not what is important. What’s important is creating a culture that embraces the idea of storytelling and providing true value to the customer.
1. Start small.
You don’t have to kick off your content marketing with the most robust, challenging and all-encompassing plan in the history of history. There will always be ways to make your strategy bigger, bolder and better. But you will never there if you never start. So you do come to a point where you have to stop strategizing and just do it.
Have a plan for today, and a plan for tomorrow. And then have a plan for next year. Keep the ultimate vision in sight, but don’t let it keep you from getting started small.
2. Repurpose past content.
New things are shiny and fun. But old things that maintain value are timeless. Don’t forget about those timeless pieces of content to which you devoted your energy, resources, sweat and tears. Make reusing them part of your plan.
To effectively repurpose your past content, you need to have a complete understand of the content you own. And the best way to gain that understanding is through a content audit or content inventory. Once you know more about your content assets, you can develop strategies to repurpose them and extend their quality and value.
3. Curate like a pro.
Content curation is an important component of a content marketing plan that is usually less resource-intensive than creating content from scratch. (Note that I say less. Content curation is not an easy way out. It’s a marketing art.)
It means actively searching, finding and sharing third-party content your audience will find interesting and trustworthy. You know what your audience wants and needs, you sift through the sand to uncover the gems that they would find useful, and you add your own value through commentary or critique.
By doing so, you’re positioning yourself as a trusted resource on the forefront of your industry.
4. Outsource what you can.
There’s an overwhelming pressure for school marketers to “do it all” in content marketing. But it’s OK to not be a jack-of-all-content-marketing. It can be daunting to make one person the strategist, the writer, the marketer and the analyzer.
While it may seem counterintuitive to spend outside dollars in order to remain budget-savvy, it’s often the best way to get quality work done now and done right. (There’s a quote that is a constant share on LinkedIn, which states: If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur. Same idea.)
So what does this mean? If your team doesn’t have the expertise that you need, find someone you trust who does. You have to be efficient with your resources, so instead of trying to become an expert in all things content marketing, create strategic partnerships to help with critical aspects of your plan. You will be more effective – and save time and money long term.
If you have a strong, technically able team, you can pull together much of your content marketing platform with low-budget tools.
We won’t get too deep here, because we’re already throwing a lot at you, but if you are at the stage of researching tools and platforms to help you get the job done, here are some of our favorite free-to-low-cost tools:
Build It – It’s no surprise that nearly 75 million websites* rely on WordPress web software. WordPress in intuitive, accessible and easily customizable. It’s the best place to start if you’re building an online home for your content marketing.
Design It – As long as you have a set brand standard to work from, you can use online design tools like PicMonkey and Canva to create graphics that enhance your content’s online appeal. And there are many free image resources that offer stock photos that aren’t so, well, stocky.
Distribute It – For social media, tools like Hootsuite and Buffer have free options that allow you to schedule social media posts on multiple networks. But we really love SmarterQueue’s $19.99 for our school clients — it allows you to post 10 times a day, and have 500 queued posts that automatically recycle.
Email It – MailChimp is a great free option for creating eNewsletters. It allows you to create and manage lists, and develop email forms, and the free version has some basic automation. For a bit more features and functionality, we love ConvertKit, which comes in at about $29/month for up to 1,000 subscribers.
Track It – From Google Analytics and Keyword Planner to the high-level reporting offered by Buffer and specific networks like Facebook, there are many free research and analytics resources out there. It pays to make them part of your measurement toolbox.
These are just a few of the low-cost tools that together can build the foundation for your content marketing program. As your program becomes more aggressive, so can your tools.
In conclusion, it’s possible to create a strong content marketing strategy on a budget. But the key word in that sentence is strategy. Without creating a strategy for your content marketing efforts, your budget size won’t matter. So, start with strategy, make smart purchasing decisions, and give your plan time to grow.
Like what you read? Sign up to access our FREE Resource Library for more tips on crafting and sharing a strong school story.
Let’s look at two of school marketing’s more traditional tools—brochures and magazines—and see how we can give them new life.
Get creative with traditional school marketing collateral
What you have: A brochure that, while still relevant, is boring
What you can do with it:
Create an ebook by freshening up the copy and having a graphic designer add some intriguing visuals.
Develop a video series by pulling topics from the brochure and expanding on them. Keep the videos short—this will help hold viewer interest and make it quicker, easier and less expensive for you to complete them.
Create graphics using the topics, stats and other information highlighted in the brochure, then share them on social media
What you have: Old magazines that are a mix of outdated articles, past news, and snippets of old stories
What you can do with it:
Pull facts from the magazines and repurpose them for use in your enewsletter or on social media.
Browse the old magazines for significant or interesting events, and develop an infographic that calls out these important events in your school’s history
Brainstorm how you can use the content on your blog. You can create a “Where Are They Now?” series about alumni who were featured in the magazine when they were students, or an “On This Date” column that tracks important events that happened throughout your school’s history. You can provide updates to old stories or even directly repurpose any articles that are still relevant. Get creative!
Be strategic with your approach
Since the point isn’t just to create new content—it’s to engage your audience and guide them to take action to get involved with your school in some way—you need to do more than just be creative, you need to be strategic. As you sit down to repurpose, ask yourself these five questions:
Who is my audience? Before you begin writing, be clear about who the content is for. Audience personas help you picture that exact person in your head, so that you feel as if you are telling him or her a story, rather than writing an open letter to the world.
Why should my audience care about this story? Forget your agenda and think about the topic strictly from your audience’s perspective. How does the topic affect their lives? What challenges do they have that you can address? How can you ease their minds, make their situation more clear, or help them feel understood?
What do I want my audience to do after reading? Now here is where your content really separates from your content marketing. When you are practicing content marketing (as opposed to just creating content) you influence audience behavior. So what action do you want your audience to take after reading? Make sure you have a clear call-to-action in mind, so that your audience doesn’t have to think about what to do next. Make it easy.
What is the unique perspective this school can offer? Once you figure out what’s in it for your audience, try to approach the topic from a unique angle. Perhaps most content written about this topic is delivered in an FAQ or essay-like format. Can you turn it into something helpful or actionable, like a how-to guide? Perhaps your unique expertise means you can write on the topic in more depth, showcasing your school’s collective knowledge. Maybe you have real-life examples that prove what you want to explain. There are ways to explore a topic that go beyond a simple explanation.
What extra oomph can I bring to this story to connect with my audience? Oomph is unexpected. It’s power, creativity, spice. When you tell a story, you don’t just jump in at the climax; you lead into it to enthrall your audience. Start with a story or example. Let your school’s personality shine through.
Once you’re ready to start editing, here are some guidelines to follow that will help you get the most out of your efforts:
Whenever possible, add visual interest with photos, illustrations and graphics
Use headlines, callouts and bullet points to break up the copy
Re-read the content and double check stats to make sure they’re still accurate
Turn to a graphic designer to work their magic on your most high profile pieces of content as well as content that’s visually driven, such as an infographic
Share the new content with relevant faculty and staff so they can share it with their students or on their social networks
Don’t write off the pieces you’ve already written. That article you wrote two years ago and those old magazines that were just gathering dust in the corner of your office still have stories to tell.
Ready to use content to tell a stronger school story? We can help.
There are five questions you need to ask yourself about your content to know if you are actually content marketing, or if you are just producing content:
Is it building your school’s brand awareness?
Is it increasing your prospects?
Is it converting prospective students into new students?
Is it strengthening your relationship with current or past students?
Is it earning you devoted followers?
Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute says it best:
“If you are not changing behavior for the good of the business [or school] in some way, you are just producing content, not content marketing.”
To use content to boost admissions, you first need to define your admissions funnel.
The Enrollment Management Association is a great resource for this. They provide lots of free and members-only articles, reports and tools that detail the different phases and stages of the enrollment process.
However, there is not one right admissions funnel to follow. It’s important that your school’s marketing and admissions teams work together to define each phase of your admissions process and how potential students and families move from phase to phase. You will use this funnel to create content that speaks to your dream families at every stage. And that strategic approach to content creation and distribution is when you shift from content to content marketing.
Create content that supports prospects at every stage and gently guides them forward.
Once you’ve defined your funnel, discuss specific questions about each stage:
What type of information do dream families need during this phase?
What are their concerns or other barriers?
How can we increase their interest in our school/community/outcomes at this point?
Do prospects make a smooth transition from this stage to the next, or do they get stuck here? If so, why? If not, what helps them move along?
What are the questions we typically hear from prospective families later in the funnel that we can answer now?
Do we have any existing content that addresses these needs, concerns and barriers?
If not, who are the people within our school that are best suited to address this topic?
Once you answer these questions, you will have a great list of initial content ideas that address each stage of your funnel, and an idea of who to talk to to get the information you need.
Content format can make a huge impact. Don’t confine yourself.
Review each content idea you developed and think about the format that would best fit the topic. You might be able to address simple questions in a short blog post … an explainer video might be the strongest way to explain a complex program or issue … an eBook might help paint a bigger picture for someone at the beginning of the funnel.
Don’t squash ideas that sound too complex for your capacity and budget. Creating well-rounded content that speaks to your dream families at each stage is a process, and this content plan might not be confined within a school or calendar year. The important thing is to have a plan that addresses it all and allows you to see where you need to go, even if you don’t get there as fast as you’d like.
Document your plan and proceed strategically.
Now that you’ve started to align content with your admissions funnel, you’ll begin to clearly see gaps you need to fill in. Prioritize them based on your findings. And remember: don’t overlook current or past students. Continue to produce content for them; satisfied students and alumni are always valuable and can provide testimonials, case studies, and irreplaceable word-of-mouth referrals.
The hard work you put into understanding your admissions funnel and aligning your content with it will help you nurture prospects over time. That’s the power of content marketing, and it’s about so much more than just the content.
Vague, yes, but also accurate. Because content marketing success truly depends on your content marketing goals.
I like this quote from marketer Rebecca Lieb—it’s directed toward businesses, but the relevance for schools is clear:
“How you measure the quality and success [of your content] depends on what your goals are. So I’m throwing it back to you with that classic marketing answer which applies to any marketing related question: it depends. But what you have to do is develop a set of metrics around your content that are tied to KPIs: Key Performance Indicators. So is your content meant to raise awareness of your product or service? To sell your product or service? To increase lead generation? To lessen calls to the customer service department? I can’t tell you what your goals are, but once you tell me what those goals are I can help you create ways to benchmark your content in order to determine if it’s meeting those goals.”
In order to measure your success in a content marketing initiative, you need to know more than just how to measure, you need to know what to measure. Let’s take a look at how to first set your storytelling goals, and then gauge their effectiveness.
First, set strategy-driven goals
Strategy is key to content marketing. During the strategy stage—before you produce any actual content– you must identify your intended audience, document your goals, and outline the tactics that will help you reach your goals.
So what goals can be connected with a content marketing initiative? Most often, your goal is a metric you want to increase, such as:
Connections (email subscribers, social followers, etc.)
These metrics should also be connected to an overall development goal. For example, connections don’t matter unless they are part of a strategy to get potential new students or families into a marketing funnel that will lead them to admissions, donations, etc. Or, if you know that you convert potential students into enrolled students very successfully after a school visit, you might want to target an increase in visits as your goal.
Knowing what you want your content to achieve is the critical first step in any content marketing plan. And don’t just plan it out— write it down. One study showed that 60% of those who document their strategy report that they are highly effective in their content marketing efforts, as opposed to 32% who have only a verbal strategy.
In order to do great work that is meaningful to your audience, you first need to put strategic thought behind your goals — yet goals are often set for arbitrary or misguided reasons.
Avoid setting goals based on these criteria:
Deadlines Deadlines need to be set in order to achieve goals, but careful consideration should be given to why a deadline is chosen. Many deadlines are driven by a false sense of urgency.
Would it be great to say your revamped school blog launched on the first day of school? Sure! Would it be great to launch a revamped blog on that day if you didn’t take the time to focus on strategy and a long-term plan for its success? No.
Craft your deadlines based on what needs to be accomplished. Once you develop a reasonable deadline, you can adjust if needed without sacrificing crucial steps.
Words to live by: “Anything worth doing is worth doing right.”
Quantity There is no magical number of website pages, blog posts or videos that will make increase your enrollment or send inquiries skyrocketing. There is, however, a number website pages, blog posts, and videos that you can create given the time, budget and manpower you have available. There is also a number and priority of topics on which you can focus your content efforts. And there is a number of content pieces that you can do an outstanding job at creating.
Those are the numbers you should focus on.
It is easy (and common) to approach the quantity question differently. Completing a video per month, for example, is an arbitrary and dangerous goal. It puts you in the position of “needing” to create 12 videos per year. As a result, you find yourself scrambling just to produce videos so you can say that you did. Those topics might not be meaningful; the amount of work it takes to complete them might not be necessary.
The better way? Identify the areas in which your school is an expert and can speak with authenticity and authority. Then focus on developing killer content in those key areas using the resources you have.
Once you have your strategy in place and your goals set, you need to create amazing content that is designed to move your audience forward in the decision-making process. And the key there is AMAZING. Because if you’re creating mediocre content, you can expect mediocre results.
Before you begin sharing your story — or before you STOP sharing it because you’re afraid your efforts are being wasted — think about what makes content truly great. Here are some considerations that will help:
Find your content focus.
Finding your content focus is critical, especially in this saturated storytelling world. It’s too easy for even great content to get lost in the clutter if it’s not targeting a specific audience’s specific needs. By writing with focus, you prove you know your audience and that your school is one they can trust. The right people will appreciate your expertise and point of view. Will others pass you by? Probably. But those people aren’t the ones that will be a fit for your school community.
Create content marketing, not just content.
The foundation of content marketing is creating content that will benefit your target audiences, but that’s only the beginning. The strategy that you develop to get your content to the right people at the right time? That’s the critical part. That’s the marketing part.
Consider these words from Content Marketing Institute’s Joe Pulizzi:
“If you are not changing behavior for the good of the business is some way, you are just producing content, not content marketing.”
Yes, you want to create content that feels good to your audience. But if it doesn’t benefit your school, you aren’t content marketing– and you’re not getting closer to your goals.
Examine and criticize your own story.
Here’s what often happens when you really know your story: You get so used to reading something about your school, or viewing something on your website, that you don’t really see it anymore. Images are blurred. Words become meaningless. It happens to everyone.
But it doesn’t happen to the person reading it or seeing it for the first time. And that person is looking at it, or reading it, and making snap judgments and decisions about you. That’s why it’s so important to be your story’s biggest, constant critic. This article tells you how to do it effectively.
When you begin to build your audience, you need to deliver what you promised. And what you promised is (I hope) valuable, interesting content. You can’t build trust with your audience overnight. It’s that slow, steady act of showing up, over and over again, with content that matters, that will build a relationship with your audience.
Then, measure only the data that matters.
Now that your content marketing strategy is up and running, you need to be on its heels. Know where it’s going. How it’s doing. What’s working, and what’s not.
First, give it some time. Content marketing is not a quick-fix, so if you aren’t seeing things change overnight, or even in one semester, don’t give up.
When you’re ready to analyze your data, what you analyze, and the tools you use for that analysis, will depend on your goals.
You may need to ignore the traditional metrics (gasp! pageviews might not matter) in favor of a new set of data can be uncomfortable at first. Heidi Cohen lays out an extraordinarily helpful list of content marketing metrics segmented by goal. This is not just one big long list of metrics because the data that matters depends what you set out to accomplish. She, too, echoes the goals-first approach to content marketing analysis:
“Start by determining your business and marketing goals for your content marketing. Then select the metrics that are most effective to track your progress towards achieving these goals.”
If you’re looking for another way to approach your analytics, Convince & Convert’s Jay Baer has an approach to content marketing measurement that involves metrics from four segments: consumption, sharing, lead generation and sales, each of which answers a key question. Instead of getting hung up on what the numbers mean, his straightforward questions provide a focus—and make it clear why the numbers matter. As Baer explains it,
“If you know the answers to all four of those key questions, you have a holistic content marketing measurement system that will help you efficiently and effectively judge content pieces and archetypes.”
Once you’ve taken a clear look at the right data, you can honestly answer the ultimate question: “Is this content marketing approach successful?” Then you can move forward knowing you’re on the right track, or make adjustments to get there.
Content marketing takes a different approach than traditional marketing, so is it any surprise that it also turns the traditional marketing analytics approach on its head, too?
Ready to start measuring what matters? Remember, it starts with strategy — and we have tools to get you started. Access them for FREE in our Resource Library.
You read that right. The simple fact is that if you want your school’s content to make it in today’s oversaturated online world, you need to make a commitment:
You need to decide that your school is only going to create great content.
It’s a big, scary commitment to make … but you need to be brave to write good content. As Stephen King says in his moving memoir On Writing:
“The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better. … You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”
So how do you transform your school’s online content from boring to brave?
1. Take a stand.
It’s not enough to say that you’re special. That you offer something unique. That you have a different perspective, an individual approach to education. You need to be able to clearly and succinctly explain your unique perspective and the benefit you provide to your students and families. You have to have the confidence to take ownership of your expertise.
To Do: When sitting down to write content that explains your school’s point of view, write down your opinion – before reading anyone else’s. Don’t search for what other schools have said before crafting your content. Trust that you have the knowledge and the insight to develop a meaningful, unique story. Once you have a rough concept of your position, then go out there and see what else has been said on the subject.
2. Use bold word choices.
While writing quickly or under deadline, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of using clichés or common catchphrases to describe your subject. Consider the popular:
Think outside the box …
But at the end of the day…
The fact of the matter is…
When it’s all said and done …
So what’s wrong with relying on catchphrases to describe the simple and mundane? It’s lazy. It’s uninspired. It’s inauthentic. It doesn’t require you, as a writer, to explore how you really feel about a topic and examine how you would describe something naturally.
To Do: It’s important to police yourself and frequently check your work for inauthentic or meaningless phrases. I often find myself falling into this trap, which is why the editing process is so crucial. Read your work, and read it again. Take a critical look at your word choices. Can they be better? If the answer is yes, forget the deadline and take the time to do it right.
3. Write for your audiences. (For real. Don’t just say you do.)
When we think about engaging new audiences with a piece of content, we need to stop thinking about it as lead generation or prospect outreach and start thinking about it as meeting new people.
In other words, think of your content as your handshake.
Too often, passionate school marketers let the details of what they do overpower the impact of what they do. When this happens, the impact becomes less, well, impactful. The story gets too complex to be compelling.
To Do: Focus on creating content that is personal and powerful. Don’t write for a buyer persona. Remember that there’s a real, individual person on the receiving end. Explain your point of view to that person, in simple terms that he or she would care about. Create a connection, and your school content will take on new meaning.
So, are you ready to sit down and stare that ominous blank Word document in the face? Go for it, you expert you.
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