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Five Content Marketing Ideas for Recruiting Students
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Five Content Marketing Ideas for Recruiting Students

Dec 21, 2017By Shannon Lanus

By now, any savvy  higher ed marketing team has heard a thing or two about content marketing. We all know content marketing is important, but creating fresh, engaging content year after year is hard to do.

Here are five content marketing ideas to explore to support enrollment marketing, along with a key question to help you determine what content is best for your institution:

1. Strategically repurposed content

Key question: What content do you already have that would be valuable to prospective students?

The perennial example I love is Johns Hopkins University’s Essays That Worked. On its admissions site, Johns Hopkins shares examples of great student essays that helped applicants gain admission.

This is a smart content play for two reasons:

  1. It addresses a major pain point for students in the application process: how to write an essay that will put them in the “accept” pile.
  2. This is content that Johns Hopkins is reviewing anyway. By asking their admissions team to flag the best essays every year, the university has found a reliable and renewable source of quality user-generated content without a large additional expenditure of time and resources.

2. Long-form collaboration

Key question: Whom can you partner with, inside or outside of your institution, to tell a great story and take advantage of tools specific to digital storytelling?

We partnered with Bowdoin College to develop a long-form feature article titled A Race to Save the Artifacts.

At the start of the project, we worked together to identify roles and responsibilities for content creation, and we articulated exactly what we wanted to accomplish. That meant identifying the purpose of the content, such as highlighting opportunities for student engagement in faculty research. It also meant setting goals around specific metrics such as page views, depth of page engagement, and social reach.

In addition to telling an powerful, brand-aligned story, the article gave Bowdoin an opportunity to experiment with new multimedia elements, such as an interactive map and interactive timeline embedded in the article. Together, we planned for what we wanted to learn from the article and set our analytics accordingly. Not only did they meet or exceed all of their goals for page views and social reach, but Bowdoin’s storytelling team also learned what kinds of media elements their audience responded to best and engaged with the most.

3. Short documentary series

Key question: Who are the people affiliated with your institution whose life stories would answer the biggest questions prospective students have?

Profiles of your students, faculty, and alumni can be a great way for a prospective student to learn about your institution and to imagine what life would be like if they enrolled. But it’s also easy to fall into a rut with these profiles. Maybe they’re all starting to sound alike … or like any other profile you’ve read on any other college site.

One solution is to change up the format. Instead of writing a profile, consider a short documentary instead. To take it a step further and avoid a single, one-off effort, consider planning a short documentary series.

By way of example, consider the first episode from the Working Artist series that Columbia College Chicago produced. The subject is an alumnus, but instead of talking about how great his student experience was, the video is effective precisely because it focuses on how he transitioned from graduating art school into working his first job and then becoming a full-time freelance artist. The content is engaging because it takes an honest, authentic approach to answering a crucial question for anyone considering art school: Can I make a living doing what I love?

4. Themed podcast

Key question: Where does your institution’s passion and expertise align with what your audience is eager to learn?

Your institution is already equipped with experts who are passionate about their subjects, so the key here is looking for a way to match their expertise with content prospective students are eager to hear. Maybe it’s a podcast about how to become a nurse, in which each episode is an interview with a different faculty member about a stage in that journey. Maybe it’s a student-run podcast that chronicles your institution’s latest space research.

The key here is to align your passion and expertise with your audience’s curiosity, as Bang & Olufsen did with the podcast Sound Matters. Bang & Olufsen sells high-quality headphones, which means a passion for great sound is already something the company shares with its customers. By creating a podcast all about how sound works, it has turned customers into a regular audience and fostered a connection to that shared passion.

5. Voice-first content

Key question: What information do your prospective students and their families need easy access to as they explore and apply to your institution?

As we look ahead to 2018, I wanted to include one big, future-facing idea to explore: voice-first content. With the expansion of intelligent assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, there’s a growing opportunity to create memorable, voice-first content for these devices.

Juniper Research released a report this year estimating that such smart speakers will be in 55% of U.S. households by 2022. While we haven’t seen much voice-first content created specifically for enrollment marketing, the effective content in this space will be very specifically tailored to answer questions from prospective students and their families. Imagine both the utility and delight if the smart device that’s already in prospective students’ homes could respond to requests such as:

Alexa, when’s the next open house?”

Hey, Google, send me directions to campus.”

Echo, teach me the fight song.”

Where to Start

As you start to explore content ideas for your institution, the best place to start is to spend some time reflecting on what prospective students most want to know.

To help align your content to your audience’s expectations, consider a tool such as the experience map. Experience maps are graphical representations of the interactions an individual might have with a product or service (in this case, your institution). Experience mapping can lead to numerous insights by illustrating what prospective students think, feel, and do at various stages in their admission journey. Armed with these insights, you can then plan your content to support each stage of that journey.

(Update: May 2018) I recently hosted a webinar on using experience maps to better digitally engage prospective students. The session is available for download and includes two starter-maps.

And finally, don’t let your limitations, whatever they may be, stop you from telling your institution’s story. Start small, discover what works, and build from there. We at mStoner look forward to seeing the great content you produce!

  • Shannon Lanus Director of Web Strategy As Director of Web Strategy, Shannon Lanus works to make sure great content and amazing design co-exist in every mStoner project. She crafts persuasive digital stories for our clients that are informed by their business goals as well as mStoner’s market research and effective audience engagement methods.