All posts by Brittney Dunkins

Rethink Your Digital Storytelling with Content Strategy

“What do you think makes a good content strategist?”  

This is the kind of question that used to make me tense—full-body, tingle tense. I used to stumble trying to come up with an answer, using words like “user-centered” and “structured creativity.” But all of the definitions failed me. After a while I realized, that being a great content strategist either meant a million things or likely just one.

Great content strategists are great listeners.

This is my current working definition of the work that I do. At Converge, whether we’re working with Emory’s Goizueta School of Business on redefining their digital presence or helping Columbia College Chicago Online connect with a new audience of e-learners, our conversations start with asking every question, until we hit on the right one.

Then we listen.

We listen to clients, to data, to audiences, to research, to competitors, to designers and developers and everyone else, all in pursuit of the information that will spark our strategy.

Listening—figuring out what the problem is, where the gaps are and how we get to the next step is the foundation of any good strategy. It is even more critical for content strategy. Ours is not a prescriptive skill set, but rather a commitment to building in flexibility into content development and accounting for ambiguity in how content is understood across your digital presence.

This is particularly key for storytellers, the people who figure out how to shape and bend narratives across channels to connect with higher-level business goals. For a while, there was a content marketing wave—pushing us to generate more content, faster and for increasingly segmented audiences.

“You need content marketing right now!” the internet shouted.

“Content marketing is the future!”  it implored.

“Don’t ask about results,” it begged.

Most of us were left with heaps of generic listicles that didn’t reflect our institutions or communities. And tying success metrics to our strategies? Well, that wasn’t really even a part of the conversation.

The verdict? Storytelling needs a new model. One that accounts for cyclical planning, production and promotion of content. Here’s my best shot at a modern model for storytelling:

Listen, Empathize, Execute, Repeat.

Listen : Ask questions, observe and analyze the information you gather to develop a sound strategy that is aligned with your business goals.

Empathize: Connect with your audience and your internal stakeholders to find the stories that will break through the digital noise with a clear narrative and engaging voice.

Execute: Design your dream team and develop a workflow that allows you to continuously develop content on time and on budget.

Repeat: Measure your success, repurpose content and refine your storytelling to capitalize on wins.

The above is just the start. Over the next several weeks our talented Content Strategy team here at Converge will weigh in on all of the areas above citing real case studies from exceptional colleges and universities. Check back in to learn more or, get your start with Content Strategy basics.

Content Strategy Lessons from Confab Central

What do you get when you bring together more than 200 content strategists, UX specialists, digital marketers and web designers for workshops, networking and conference sessions?

The answer—Confab Central.

The annual, three-day conference is the largest endeavor from Brain Traffic, the agency launched by content strategy guru Kristina Halvorson. And a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend and speak at the conference in Minneapolis.

As a newbie—guest and speaker—I spent my time soaking up expertise from content strategists across industry, from Airbnb and Shopify to All State, Publicis and University of Minnesota Duluth. We discussed everything from methods for stakeholder management, to better content audit processes, accessibility in web designs, internal workflows and keeping the fundamentals of storytelling at the heart of content strategy.


Content Myths Debunked

It was thrilling to get up on the stage and share my presentation, Content Myths Debunked: Ten Ways of Thinking That Are Holding Back Your Strategy, which explored strategies for implementing content strategy initiatives more efficiently.

The audience kept the session conversational and fun. You can check out comments from the presentation on Twitter with the hashtag #convergeconfab



Cool Content from Confab Central

Check out a few of my favorite sessions from the event that offered insight across content strategy as a discipline.

  1. Content Design, What it is and how to do it.
    Meghan Casey, Lead Content Strategist, Brain Traffic
  2. Content Ecosystems, Reduce Content Chaos with a Model of your Content Reality
    Scott Kubie, Senior Content Strategist, Brain Traffic
  3. Inclusivity, Making Products and Teams Accessible with Content Strategy
    B Cordelia Yu, Content & Editorial Strategist, A Yellow Raven
  4. Writing Thoughtful Product Content at Scale
    Biz Sanford, Content Strategist, Shopify
  5. Content Strategy for Mobile Apps
    Melanie Siebert, Sr. Content Strategist, WillowTree, Inc.

Want a full recap of Brittney’s session (DJ Khaled quotes included)? We’ve got you covered. Download the slides here.


Leveraging Content Strategy to Yield Students


Things aren’t adding up for higher ed marketers. Brand and Marketing spend is rising, but enrollment yield rates are sinking.

According to “The State of Higher Ed Branding” report and the “2016 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Admissions Directors,” fifty-three percent of marketing officers at colleges and universities are spending more than $100,000 on branding—but 63 percent of institutions didn’t meet their enrollment goals by May 1, 2016.

So, what do we do about it?

Fifty-three percent of marketing officers at colleges and universities are spending more than $100,000 on branding—but 63 percent of institutions didn’t meet their 2016 enrollment goals.

The first step toward increasing yield is connecting a quality content strategy to your recruitment plan.

My Converge 2017 presentation, “Higher Ed and the Campus Content Strategist: A Love Story,” empowered higher ed marketers and recruiters to look beyond the allure of shallow brand stories and refocus their content around data to refresh recruitment strategies.

Check out the key points from the presentation and download the slides.

Real Data + Storyteller’s Instincts

While higher education branding has embraced a white space, skinny-font, Valencia and Hudson filtered visual approach, beautiful creative isn’t enough to win over students in a crowded marketplace.

Enter content strategy, which combines real data with storyteller instincts to create content that aligns with the mission, vision and values of your institution. The tools for building quality content are simple:

Know Your Position

Who are you as an institution?

Build Your Audience

Who makes up your ideal class profile?

Learn and Track Their Behavior

Where do students find you and interact with you prior to enrollment?

Leverage Your Content for ROI

As digital advertising advances, schools are generating more qualified leads but that doesn’t necessarily translate to yield. The response has been to build out CRM and marketing automation strategies with diverse touchpoints to engage with students throughout the decision-making process.

[Tweet “Schools are generating more qualified leads but that doesn’t necessarily translate to yield.”]

While higher ed has been slow to adopt communication flow strategies—instead relying on traditional methods, such as recruitment fairs and view books—recent data reinforces the shift to email marketing.

According to the 2016 Chegg “Social Admissions Report” which surveyed 1,926 high school seniors and college freshmen, 69 percent of students prefer email communication with college admissions on their mobile phone.

Other supporting statistics show that 53 percent of students expect a response within a day of contacting a college rep.

[Tweet “53 percent of students expect a response within a day of contacting a college rep.”]

Considering the climate of higher ed recruitment, connecting sound content to a CRM and marketing automation strategy allows you to more effectively reach prospects.

Content Strategy Can Make Your Recruitment Beautiful AND Effective

But what does content strategy look like in the context of digital recruitment?

[Tweet “What does content strategy look like in the context of digital recruitment?”]

Look no further than the University of Illinois 2015-16 undergraduate recruitment campaign, which featured unified, integrated content across print and digital strategies that yielded their largest and most diverse class to date.

What makes this campaign so unique is not only it’s comprehensive application of content strategy, but the university’s rigorous attention to tracking the ROI of their efforts. According to their 2015-16 Marketing Report, U of I reduced costs by nearly $50,000 while increasing yield.

Want more insights from the session?

Download the full presentation and check out the rest of the presentation recaps from Converge 2017.

What EMBA Recruiters Can Learn From Uber CEO Travis Kalanick


In the last five years, news mentions of super-startup-turned-global company Uber have spanned the gamut from praise for its disruptive methods to criticisms for its light-speed sprint to the public eye and arguably ruthless path to get there.

But in the last week, public critique of Uber reached a fever pitch due to a series of revelations about the company’s business activities, company culture, workplace ethics, mishandled security and most notably—it’s polarizing CEO.

By week’s end, Mr. Kalanick was on the virtual apology circuit with a statement that was summed up by one quote:

“This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”

This admission by a leading CEO was a lightbulb for the higher ed content marketer in me.


Because, Travis Kalanick is a prime persona for Executive MBA programs nation-wide. Think about it. He is the face of Uber, which is a tech startup, but also representative of a kind of millennial-aesthetic lifestyle perpetuated by a connected age.

This makes him the kind of CEO that is a great fit for EMBA programs who: a) hope to attract the best and brightest business leaders and b) struggle to translate how to quantify the ROI of “leadership skills.”

With that in mind, I considered how EMBA recruiters could turn Kalanick’s misstep into a content marketing lesson.

[Tweet “Consider how EMBA recruiters could turn Kalanick’s misstep into a content marketing lesson.”]

Solving the Problem with EMBA Recruitment Content

“We need recruitment content that executives actually want to read.”

This is something I recently heard from an EMBA client regarding a long-term lead nurturing recruitment strategy for executives.

Top executives are busy (understatement), but they also need to remain competitive, so an EMBA program has maybe crossed their minds—especially if the program is linked to a prestige benefit of some kind. However, it can be difficult to promote the unique value propositions of your program when the EMBA market is expanding on a global scale.

Couple the reluctance of prospective students with an increasingly crowded marketplace and EMBA recruiters are in a tough spot.

While the interest is there, this means that EMBA programs can generate high-fit inquiries, but have trouble converting prospects into enrolled students in a single admissions cycle.

The solution?

A content-based inbound strategy that relies on relevant, valuable content. But what, exactly, does that mean for EMBA recruiters? Great content marketing requires three simple steps:

  • Know Your Audience

Figure out who your program is for, and dial in on the motivations, behaviors, interests and decision-making process of your personas.

  • Understand Your Position

How do you compare to other EMBA programs? Are you a prestige-EMBA or a post-MBA degree for ladder climbers? Understanding your position in the industry will help you create content with a unique perspective.

  • Work Your Beat

Ok, so you know who you are as an EMBA program, and you know who your audience is, but are you keeping up with the industry? Much like in traditional reporting, you need to keep up with topics of interest to your prospective students, so that you can create relevant content with urgency.


Google Trend Data for Keywords Uber CEO and Travis Kalanick

One tip for building buzz-worthy recruitment is to check out Google Trends for search terms that might be of interest to your audience. For example, last week the terms “Uber CEO” and “Travis Kalanick” jumped considerably.


A gap exists between the bubble of academia and the day-to-day buzz of industry information that prospective students want. Sound content relies on strategic planning but it also needs the energy of timeliness. You content is more likely to be on the radar of prospective students if you are adding to a national conversation that they are already invested in.

[Tweet “A gap exists between the bubble of academia and the day-to-day buzz of info that prospects want.”]

Now, let’s test out the steps for the Kalanick example.

Say, I’m a recruiter for a prestige-focused EMBA program, hoping to attract the highly-confident, innovation-focused executive whose success is only matched by an innate confidence is his or her abilities.

Valuable content for this persona could include:

A top-of-funnel email from a EMBA program with the subject line:

“Even Uber’s CEO Needs Leadership Courses”

Why it works

It’s relevant, timely and it makes the reader—a prospective CEO—feel in the same league as Kalanick. More importantly, it leverages the value of an EMBA to a specific target audience in a relatable way.

Or how about this example:

An inbound blog post from your institution’s EMBA faculty:

“Five Courses We Would Recommend to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick”

Why it works

Kalanick’s name will grab reader’s attention and the post title positions your faculty as experts. This is the kind of title that garners a laugh for the audacity and a click because of sheer curiosity.

These are just two examples, but they bring to light an approach to EMBA recruitment that begins with intimate knowledge of your audience and content strategy with a foundation in storytelling. Ditch the stale testimonials and start creating timely content with a unique institutional voice.

Want to know more about content strategy and recruitment?

Check out the Converge blog for everything #newandnext in higher ed digital marketing.

For the Love of Content: 3 Valentine’s Day Campaigns from Higher Ed

Take a cue from community news and spotlight love on campus this Valentine’s Day.

In my hometown, there are two newspapers: the local paper and the free community paper.

With a small-town population you might be wondering why we have two papers—especially in the digital age. And more importantly, what’s the difference?

Well, the local paper is modeled in the style of classic journalism, reporting on news and events that affect residents—both positive and negative. But the community paper acts like a professional scrapbook for our town, allowing residents to submit the small triumphs that are big highlights of their lives.

Both papers are necessary. One has a duty to deliver relevant stories and information while the other is committed solely to human interest stories that connect people in our town.

What do newspapers that have to do with university content strategy?

The lesson is simple. University websites—and more largely your content—should function like both papers, capturing the “slice of life” stories that engage your communities AND delivering the information that will help people be more informed and productive.

[Tweet “University websites should capture “slice of life” stories that engage your community.”]

A Lesson for Universities

Colleges and universities have understood the news function of their websites for years now, most notably adopting inbound blogs that showcase timely relevant content for students, faculty, alumni, staff and parents. Only a few universities have truly captured and owned the tangible, human stories that make people stop and engage.


First, it’s a tricky business. Developing content that resonates requires a deep understanding of your community—their motivations, their challenges and more importantly their perception of how the university should add value to their lives.

[Tweet “Developing content that resonates requires a deep understanding of your community.”]

Second, it takes time. Branded content has an emotional edge. Investing in content strategy requires expertise in story that translates to a digital experience, whether utilizing livestream video, podcasting, gifs or other tools of modern storytelling.

Third, it’s difficult to stay consistent. News generates itself because as things change, it is normal and necessary to offer resources and information to help people respond. However, human interest content needs authenticity and creativity to connect with audiences. To continue to create relevant creative content, your strategists, writers and designers need to be deeply committed to your mission, vision and values and how they connect with real people in your community.

Universities Who Know Community Content

Those colleges and universities who have managed to tackle creative storytelling know that the community is their biggest resource. From innovative Holiday Cards to Valentine’s Day, many universities are capturing their university brand stories through community content.

[Tweet “Check out 3 schools who’ve created distinct and compelling content for Valentine’s Day.”]

Check out three schools who have leveraged the voices of their community to create distinct and compelling content for Valentine’s Day.

  1. Boston University, “Love and Marriage BU Style”

This blog transcends time to bring stories of love that all began on BU’s campus. The striking editorial photography and unique stories showcase individual voices.


Love and Marriage, BU-Style


  1. Vanderbilt University, “#ILoveVU Because _____”

The diversity of the campus community is on display on this post which asks students to share why they love Vanderbilt while also sharing images of the campus community in action.


Roses are red, Violets are blue, Tell us in the comments why you love Vanderbilt!


  1. University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana, “Meet at the Eternal Flame”

The “Eternal flame” is a U of I campus landmark that was a gift to the college in 1912. The campus legend says that couples who kiss beneath it will have eternal bliss. This post asks the university community to add their unique stories to school’s history and traditions.


Happy Valentine’s Day from Converge! For more tips on Content Strategy, check out our Content Strategy Starter Kit.

What’s the Strategy Behind These Five Festive #HigherEd Holiday Cards?

written in collaboration with Colleen Wood


Across the country, colleges and universities are faced with the winter break campus dead zone, as students and faculty return to their homes to celebrate with family.

But smart content and marketing strategists know that this time of year isn’t a “break,” it’s an opportunity to join their university community in a global holiday celebration on the web—by creating a shared experience through digital content that garners likes, shares and retweets.

One critical way that colleges and universities cut through the barrage of yuletide messaging to reach their audiences, is by putting a modern spin on the traditional holiday card.

The presidential fireplace portrait just won’t cut it anymore, so innovative universities are creating novel multimedia holiday messages, from videos to interactive digital experiences. These holiday messages feature the faces and voices of their students, the visual beauty of their campus and the meaningful values of their institution.

But why invest the time and money to create a unique, university holiday message?

It comes down to content strategy.

The classic content strategy model encourages you to “attract, convert, and delight,” and it’s success is dependent on your ability to tells stories that continue to engage readers and create a shared experience over time.

Simply put, a successful content strategy is a long term view of how, when and why content is created. As such, it requires regular infusions of creativity to continue to delight audiences.

Holiday cards challenge your marketing team to send a message that tells the story of your institution in just a few minutes or even seconds. They also offer an opportunity to emotionally connect with your university community and celebrate the unique and diverse story of your institution.

A really successful holiday card works at nearly every point of the funnel, whether you are attempting to generate leads, nurture prospects or engage students, faculty and parents and alumni.

Now, that you are sold on the idea— (if you’ve read this far, I’m assuming you are)— you may be wondering how to create a holiday message that resonates.

To help you out, Converge has selected five outstanding #HigherEd holiday cards and offered insight into the strategy behind why they work.

Check out this review of the content and design success of five university holiday cards from Converge Digital Graphic Designer, Colleen Wood, and Director of Content Strategy, Brittney Dunkins.

Converge’s Top Five #HigherEd Holiday Cards

1. Iowa State University “Color the Campus

Design Success: Simple, beautiful imagery, engaging.

Iowa State University engages the viewer visually right from the start with a large “Click Here” in enclosed in an ornate gold frame. After that simple click the user is in control of their holiday card experience. The participation of the user unveils beautiful imagery of the School’s campus.

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-9-18-01-amContent Strategy Success: Interactive, shareable, on message

In “Color the Campus” the viewer engages with the content to uncover specific scenes of campus that are shareable on social media. This inbound content is great for engaging audiences at all points in the funnel and is anchored by a final institutional message about the university’s unique positioning as the “world’s 5th most beautiful campus.”

2. NYU Wagner “Seasons Greetings

Design Success: Welcoming, easy to follow, clever illustrations.

NYU Wagner takes you on a subway ride “around the world” to spread their holiday wishes. This greeting is inclusive, fun, and the illustration style gives the viewer a light-hearted feel.

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-9-23-50-amContent Strategy Success: Strategic messaging, student perspective, story-focused

The NYU Wagner messaging emphasizes global impact and that is the main takeaway from this engaging holiday card. It uses a student perspective to tell the story of Wagner’s global presence. This card would serve to both inform new leads of the “Wagner story” and delight students who are a part of this diverse community

3. Michigan State University “Gingerbread Spartans

Design Success: Classic, trendy, shows personality.

This holiday greeting uses familiarity to relate to the viewer with the well-known Gingerbread recipe and “quick recipe” style video. The video also adds a pinch of personality unique to Michigan State.

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-9-25-21-amContent Strategy Success: Community pride, informative, recognizable format

MSU takes a page from the Food Network to create a video in a format that has become a staple of the web. Prospects, current students and alumni will be drawn in by the recipe and the nod to MSU pride because it adds value, by providing a recipe they can make at home.

4. Virginia Commonwealth University “Happy Holidays

Design Success: Personal, heartfelt, connected.

VCU brings out the feel-good emotions in the viewer by using real people, the season of giving theme, and shots from around campus. This creates multiple chances for the viewer to connect and relate to the holiday video.

screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-9-29-30-amContent Strategy Success: Messaging, diverse perspectives, community

The power of this video is that it puts the viewer in the shoes of members of the diverse VCU community. The message of giving carries through the video and encourages the viewer to become a part of VCU.

5. George Washington University “Share What Makes You Happy

Design Success: Creative graphics, sense of “togetherness”, iconic.

This holiday greeting uses both real students and motion graphics to creatively convey a theme of togetherness. Recognizable icons from the George Washington University and Washington, D.C. will leave the user feeling like part of the this “togetherness” that will carry into 2017.


Content Strategy Success: Strategic messaging, student perspective, community

Reality and fantasy collide in this motion graphics representation of GW that emphasizes the diverse community and the university’s location—a staple of its messaging. The video communicates the school’s unique location in the nation’s capital and student access via metro, which will inform prospective students and delight current students.

Want more ideas to enhance your content strategy? Download Converge’s Content Strategy Starter Kit.

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A Five-Step Guide to Building a Content Calendar in Trello

Whether you are a first-time higher education content manager or long-time strategist, you’ve likely learned that one of the most difficult aspects of creating ROI for your content strategy is developing an effective content calendar.

Content calendars are essential because they break down the content process into building blocks, such as text, photo and multimedia assets, keywords, messaging objectives, calls-to-action and content amplification. The easier it is to keep track of these critical components, the more quickly you can deliver strategic content and begin attracting leads.



Fast Facts: Why Use a Content Calendar?

  • Organization

See your content as a series of components or “building blocks” that are assembled to create content that is effective, measurable and repeatable.

  • Transparency

Understand who owns each part of the process by assigning writing, photography, multimedia and approvals before content production begins.

  • Consistency

Set standards for your content through a templated content calendar that identifies stakeholders and content elements.

While static content calendars are great for planning, they often lack the dynamic capabilities that an effective content strategy requires.

Enter Trello. A free—yes, free—content management tool that can help you own your inbound marketing strategy.

Trello is a flexible web-based platform for organizing your content, hosting your assets and communicating with content stakeholders.

The platform, which resembles a series of digital Post-It Notes, is the go-to tool for Converge when developing an inbound strategy for our higher education partners. We eve use Trello for our own, internal content management—and we are not alone. As of Oct. 2015, Trello boasts more than 10 million users.

We recommend Trello for higher ed content marketers because it is designed to keep up with the complicated path of your content from ideation to publication. With Trello you will more easily manage content producers to negotiate approvals with various internal stakeholders and oversee publication deadlines.

Fast Facts: Key Trello Features

  • Stakeholder Notifications

Invite stakeholders to Trello as needed and tag them with @ in order to trigger an automatic email notification in their inbox.

  • Short and Long-Term View

Trello’s functionality includes a content level view, as well as a long-term calendar that organizes content chronologically. The handy visual tagging feature also allows you to easily see content categories so that you can take inventory on the diversity of your content.

  • Visual Display

Trello cards also offer a running visual history of content management so that you can track drafts, communication, photo and multimedia assets and approvals in an easy-to-read, chronological view.

  • Asset Archive

Every Trello project can be archived and searched by keyword, so that assets can be reused and copy can be repurposed at a later date.

  • Integration with Dropbox, Google Docs and More

Trello easily integrates with your favorite file hosting service, so that you can sync and share files across platforms.

Ready to put your content strategy to work? Check out these four steps to set up a simple content calendar in Trello:

Five-Step Guide to Creating a Content Calendar in Trello

Step One: Create a Trello Board for your Content Calendar


Trello boards are the home base for your content calendar. Here you’ll organize your content groups and manage the content process.

Step Two: Invite Stakeholders


Use the right-side menu to invite “members” or designated stakeholders for each piece of content. These stakeholders will receive notifications when there is activity on a specific Trello card. Additionally, their initials will appear on the card for a quick view of who is involved in a project.

Step Three: Set Up Your Content Flow


This an example of content workflow for an inbound blog that includes multiple content areas. Trello cards are organized by content area and can be dragged to different lists, such as “Ready to Publish” and “Published” as needed.

Step Four: Organize Content Pieces on Trello Cards


This is an example of a content card for an inbound blog. Content cards host the details for individual pieces of content.

The description field can be used to reflect critical information. “Labels” are used to identify assets and social media amplification. Checklists are used to track content progress. And stakeholders are “invited” to the card using the “Members” button. You can also directly attach asset files and archive cards for future reference.

Step Five: Check Out the Big Picture


The Trello Calendar view can be turned on using the “Power Ups,” feature. It allows you to see your content organized by due date so that you can review content from a long-term planning perspective. Are there gaps in publication? Are you too heavy in one content group?

For more tips for organizing your content strategy download our free Content Strategy Starter Kit.

Get your daily dose of strategy, one post at a time. Join the Converge mailing list to stay up to date on what’s new and next in higher education marketing.