Content Strategy for Higher Ed Marketing Teams

content strategy by brain traffic

Content Strategy, courtesy of Brain Traffic

Since 2008, when I starting blogging for Mount Allison University in Canada, I’ve been interested in the best ways to source, structure, and present quality content. At the time, it was pretty simple in terms of the content strategy components laid out developed by the folks at Brain Traffic.

2008 – Individual Content Publisher

Substance: My life and how it was improved by going to the school.

Workflow: After an initial introduction and being presented with guidelines, I would write, edit, approve and publish everything myself.

Governance: Limited

Structure: However I wanted to structure it.

It worked at the time for being a part-time content publisher tasked with sharing my story of being a student at the University. Since then, of course, I’ve taken on more complicated roles with large and varied audiences with different structure and governance regulations/guidance. For brevity’s sake, I’ll skip over the intervening nine years with the general note that with growing audiences come with a greater emphasis on ensuring efficiency, effectiveness, and consistency.

2017 – Managing a Team at American University

For context, I have a directly manage a small team of a full-time content-producing Communications Coordinator, a part-time permanent Web Coordinator, vendors, and student workers. Beyond my department, I coordinate marketing communications for a dozen undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs in conjunction with other ~20 program and operational staff. Our current priorities are building off the work Converge Consulting did with pilot programs and completing the site-wide upgrades already underway. My office is also creating prospective student user personas, program-specific communication workflows, improving our inbound marketing efforts, and other efforts I hope to share with you soon.

For my part, I’ve and will continue worked to document, a few key areas of content strategy for the school and its various web distribution platforms including social media and email across our programs. Here’s where I am at the moment.

Substance

In terms of substance, our programs appeal to an array of distinct audiences. As we hire and train more content contributors, we’re working to help clearly explain the value proposition and other key points for each of our programs that we want to highlight when we discuss the programs across different channels. This has taken the form of personas, guidelines, and other internal documents to ensure consistency and understanding across a number of forms (soon to include more video).

Workflow

As the expectations of our various audiences evolve (Generation Z, defined for our purposes as those born after 1995/1996, for the majority of our on-campus offerings), there’s a continued need for up-to-the-minute news and an expectation of information and resources on demand. As we adjust to the preferences our of audiences, it’s crucial to have an adaptable plan for how content is produced and disseminated. From creating internal swimlane diagrams for content production to efficiently manage content from ideation to distribution and the now common response flow charts for responding to social media, it’s important to have a plan to make the most use of limited staff time and resources. This includes using the right tools to enable teams to automate things that are better left for computers to decide (like the best timing for posts) and aren’t cost-effective for humans to do.

I’ve done process mapping to create the most efficient workflow to ensure quality and relevant content (as determined by program and marketing staff) can get to key audience as efficiently as possible (but without skipping key review by Subject Matter Experts). My goal is to make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler. In my case, I’ve switched our team to ToDoist Business to enable transparent efficiency in the processes up to approval. We’ve compensated for the unintuitive nature of some distribution platforms with documentation for all required steps. We’re also constantly improving our ability to connect content production to business KPIs to demonstrate real value.

Governance

As the “Content Owner” and “Data Custodian” for subdirectory http://www.american.edu/spexs and administrator of other web and social media services, I’m responsible for the ~15 staff members I’ve delegated permission to publish to the website abide by a number of rules, including but not limited to: the Responsible Use of University Web site and Content Management SystemElectronic Mass Communication PolicySocial Media GuidelinesTrademark Usage Policy, and the Web Copyright and Privacy Policy, among others.

In addition to the university-wide regulations, there are multiple internal stakeholders with individual priorities and needs when it comes to our website which leads to un-codified and internal but no less important guidelines for out outreach and marketing efforts.

Structure

In addition to having workflows for content production, we’re working on templates to standardize as much of the required and technical elements of stories so that our writer’s work can be spent on effectively telling the story and not worrying about “how” to optimize things as there will be a guide available. This is not to take the joy out of writing but to focus writers on writing and to make the technical aspects of web-writing as cut and dry as possible. This follows research showing that making an excessive number of decisions tires the brain and makes it less effective.

Conclusion

I hope that’s helpful. If you’re just starting out, I would strongly recommend reading Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach. Also, anything by Steve Krug but especially “Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability“.

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About Geoff Campbell

Geoff Campbell is an Assistant Director, Communications & Marketing at American University.

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