Using Story Mining for EDU Digital Content Strategy

What is Story Mining and How can Higher Ed Use It?

In 2018, I like to think there’s at least one thing we can all agree on. Content is Queen.

But content is vague, fluid and hard to define, even by the people whose job it is to wrangle it (us). Which makes it somehow at the same time omnipotent. Since story mining is a crucial component of successful content marketing, let’s start there.

Content marketing should shape the ambiguity of content into something valuable for both the seller and the buyer the storyteller and the audience. It uses words and stories and emotions to make a point, to sell a brand, to change your mind. Content strategy decides how and why to tell a particular story at the exact right time, and tools like active listening and story mining help us excavate those stories reliably, efficiently and consistently. Story mining uses external and internal resources and relationships to create ongoing content streams that support a larger content strategy.

The Content Marketer’s Bag of Tricks

As marketers, we spend our days (and nights) thinking backwards, solving problems that sometimes don’t yet exist. In education, universities provide so much value that it’s hard to boil stories down to a succinct narrative. It’s a mammoth task to decipher what high school grads, college grads or working professionals want from an individual university or program, let alone from higher education as a whole.

So we take their questions one at a time. And we use our communities, networks, colleagues, champions, advocates and our own expertise to anticipate students’ needs and values and address them concisely, accurately and delightfully. The best way to do it? Through storytelling.

From our bag of tricks, we know active listening fuels the content fire by amplifying storytellers’ voices, and story mining creates a system in which stories can exist. Take this example from our recent work with Creighton University. Creighton said: “We need an authentic voice on social media.” And at the same time, their students said, “We wouldn’t follow Creighton unless we get information that’s not online.” Active listening shouldn’t be complicated. Creighton used what students said and created a system to mine authentic stories regularly and efficiently. They handed their social media over to real students.

Like with so many other processes, it’s important to follow in the footsteps of Creighton, the Navy and Michael Scott: K-I-S-S (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Here are a few more ideas on how to implement story mining at your institution, and why you should care in the first place.

Virtual Chatter vs. The New Model

Today there are more audible voices, more places to find them and more competition for consumers’ attention. More chatter. Virtual chatter changes the way we communicate, which changes the stories we can tell and how we choose to tell them. Audiences seek out authenticity, and they’re quick to reject messaging that lacks it. Brands have to address listeners’ needs without scaring them off (by being overly salesy).

The good news: There will always be an audience to talk to.

The bad news: It’s hard to always have something useful to say.

As noted by Brittney Dunkins, Converge’s director of content strategy, the need to keep up with our audiences demands a new digital storytelling model. She suggests: “Listen, Empathize, Execute, Repeat.” Easy right?

The challenge isn’t finding stories or even deploying them. It’s the “Repeat” aspect that keeps so many of us content marketers up at night. But through story mining, we can establish structured plans for uncovering shiny gems of wisdom, humor and insight from the everyday experiences of the people around us that rinse and repeat without much interference. In setting up systems for engaging content, we all become content strategists.

At the University of San Francisco, leaders in the marketing department set up a process that lets students, faculty and others share their stories and ideas productively and powerfully. In an interview with Converge, USF Assistant Vice President of Marketing, Anneliese Mauch, shared that their bimonthly Story Pitch Meetings spur close to 20 stories per month, which fill their content calendar and highlight voices that may not otherwise be heard.

That’s just one example, but it’s one that’s already affecting so many people in and beyond San Francisco. Whether through repeating meetings, a shared content calendar or a newsletter, there are tons of ways to kick off a story mining initiative at your institution.

Why Story Mining Works

Story mining represents all the dots that connect the supply and demand of content marketing. It is the process behind identifying what stories need to be told by whom and to whom and making sure those stories fit within a larger narrative. Story mining doesn’t end with just developing strategy, but it also includes the process of executing actual content on a regular basis, measuring its success and refining your approach.

The value of story mining relies on the value of storytelling. For those whose stories are being told, they have a chance to scream and shout or even just whisper their perspective, their experience, their beliefs, their thoughts and worries to an audience that’s hungry for information. With a process like the Story Pitch Meetings at USF, there’s a place and a platform for people to occupy. By handing over the password to their Instagram account, Creighton opens a pathway for a new voice to reach its thousands of followers.

It’s a give and take, where both parties give and both take. Another example: Northwestern’s Sound Arts and Industries blog is full of stories that highlight what’s happening on campus, who to pay attention to and why you should care. Their content calendar is always evolving, and the content team at Converge helps bring those stories to life every month. They supply the stories (and the storytellers), and we translate them within their larger content strategy.

Where to Start

Taken literally, story mining digs and extracts something valuable from the world. We bring in machinery, a team of experts and some muscle to set up a process that gives us what we want. To deliver and to consume. We find stories, we uncover what’s at their core, we shape into digestible narratives and we go back for more. Listen, Empathize, Execute, Repeat.

It’s stupid-easy to get your hands dirty while story mining. Here are some techniques you could try at any level:

Crawl

  • Subscribe to a newsletter that’s slightly outside your scope or comfort zone for fresh ideas. If you’re in the Residence Life and Housing Office of your university, subscribe to the #dormlife hashtag on Instagram and check out the more than 287,000 tagged public posts.
  • Create a shared Google Calendar that invites people in your department to contribute ideas on their time. Email it out weekly and encourage coworkers to bookmark the link.

Walk

  • Research competitors’ voices and how they come alive through student and faculty stories. Check out Boston University’s Student Stories page, and investigate how these stories benefit the university, prospective students and those in the spotlight. Then choose a voice to highlight on your campus.
  • Interview students on campus for 5 minutes each week and ask what topics they’d look for on your social media. Take it a step further and assign a team of students to be your eyes and ears. Send them to events on campus and have them report back in bite-sized stories on Twitter.

Run

  • Hire a content marketing intern or associate to boost your brand story from the inside out. Encourage the newcomer to explore your brand from a fresh perspective, highlighting the gaps in your narrative and proposing realistic solutions he or she can implement. Empower an authentic voice that can strategize, execute and repeat.
  • Develop a custom content strategy that spans your organization. Lean on your established in-house resources and consider third parties that will support your mission. Rethink everything and rebuild it stronger.

TL;DR

Whether your content marketing machine is advanced, rudimentary or non-existent, you have an opportunity to showcase your brand to a modern audience. Story mining uses external and internal resources and relationships to create ongoing content streams that support a larger content strategy. Storytelling is the best way to express the value of your organization because it offers information through authentic experiences.

It also gives members of your community the opportunity to share their perspectives with people who might not otherwise hear them. Institutions should invigorate their messaging through sustainable storytelling, brought to life by story mining’s inherent consistency, flexibility and authenticity. Start answering their questions one at a time, and they will listen.

Have more ways to employ story mining? Of course you do!

Tweet us at @convergeorg and start telling your stories.

Hannah Burks
Hannah Burks
April 18, 2018