Evangelists, Influencers, and Storytellers…Oh My! A Journey Down the Yellow Brick Road of Content Creation

Evangelists, Influencers, and Storytellers…Oh My! A Journey Down the Yellow Brick Road of Content Creation

Content Marketing has been a buzzword for several years, but why should higher education marketers care? Because, as outlined in Converge 2019’s keynote by Angela Bostick, Chief Growth Officer at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, good content marketing is equivalent to good storytelling. This provides you with a more genuine way to connect with your audience, rather than always focusing on a hard-sell approach. Angela likened developing a content marketing strategy to a journey down the yellow-brick road in The Wiz, in a series of four acts: Tracking the tornado, meeting your fellow strangers, becoming the wizard, and (of course) taking a bow.

Act I: Tracking the Tornado

Content marketing involves the creation of material that does not explicitly promote a brand, but rather is intended to stimulate interest in the brand’s products or services. Content marketing is akin to storytelling, and good content marketing lets you tell a great story. Think about a great book you’ve read: the storytelling can affect the way you feel, think, act, and behave – content marketing can do the same thing by keeping your audience engaged and “turning the pages.”

In a market that used to be dominated by apps and one-and-done marketing pushes, content trends are changing for 2019. As many as 20% of brands may abandon their digital apps, 50% of consumers will require dynamic content from the brands they interact with, and internet traffic will push ever-more to video, hitting 80% worldwide this year. Even with those stats, however, marketing teams are often not able to adapt to the changing landscape, with over half lacking a documented content marketing strategy, and those with them working with shoe-string budget. Add to that the reality that higher education is generally less equipped to weather this tornado of industry forces and your outlook could be understandably bleak. However, a thoughtfully developed and well-executed content marketing strategy can help you weather the storm by showing that higher education is more than just: a talent pipeline, academic research, accomplished presidents, or a loosely affiliated network of alumni.

Act II: Meeting Your Fellow Strangers

Content marketing does not have to be a solo journey – there are several others who will join you on your trip down the yellow-brick road, and prove instrumental to helping you make the trek. First up are your students, as the Courageous Storytellers. They can be honest and transparent contributors to your institution’s content, providing authentic, diverse, and motivated voices to their messages. This can be achieved by tactics like student-written blogs, student-run school social media accounts, and other items that live separate from the main “.edu” domain to lend an additional air of authenticity to the message, and still also capture inbound inquiries if desired. This type of student-led “courageous storyteller” content is ideal for communication plans for prospects, sites focusing on your admitted students, and communications coming from your recruiters.

Next up are your faculty, as the Brainy Influencers. They are enlightening and applicable producers of content that is informative, influential, and relevant to their academic programs. There are many opportunities for faculty-led content beyond academic journals; faculty blogs, podcasts, and even side interests can be channels in which you and your faculty can share great content. Take, for example, the Fanalytics podcast, hosted by Emory professor Mike Lewis, which takes his deep analytics background and matches it with his interest in professional sports (and sports fans, too), to make a potentially obscure topic approachable to the vast majority of people. This can help translate high-level academic research, show the impact of faculty beyond the classroom, and can create new narratives for non-prospect audiences. It’s beneficial for community impact, alumni engagement, and outreach to both industry and recruiters.

Also joining the journey is your leadership, as the Mission-Driven Heartbeat. These are the people who personify the school, live the brand on a daily basis, and vision-cast for the school more by what they do than what they say. A school’s leadership can help humanize the brand, and gives it purpose as well. Take, for example, Jim Ryan, University of Virginia’s president. He started a weekly morning run around campus with students, all in response to a tweet. This let him showcase that leadership can be accessible, unassuming, and non-traditional. It also let him demonstrate how leadership can tell a story by what they do, that cannot be managed only by what is said. Leadership-centric messaging can communicate an institution’s vision in a compelling way, and can also debunk misconceptions about a school or program without a direct negation. This type of communication is ideal for community engagement, peer influence, and giving & fundraising.

Rounding out the group traveling down the yellow-brick road is your alumni as the Homesick Evangelists. They are equal parts nostalgic and accomplished, but are gatekeepers as well. For this group, they are often willing to help you create content like videos, blogs, and stories about what they’re doing post-school, provided you can promote it on their behalf. Goizueta Business School launched a series called “Know Your Network” which asks alumni a series of questions from different areas of the school, and updates weekly highlighting a different alumnus and their answers. This type of alumni-centric content and promotion reinforces your prospect promises, while simultaneously drawing from your largest population of content producers. There’s also a great chance to reach your network’s network because, let’s face it, who wouldn’t share the fact that their alma mater was showcasing them in an alumni spotlight?!

Act III: Becoming the Wizard

Now that we understand the impact content marketing can have and know who’ll be joining us on the journey, it’s time to talk about the person putting it all together – you! As a content marketer, owning your role in the process as a Resourceful Orchestrator is key to being successful. You’re the hub of the content marketing wheel, ensuring all the spokes are in place to ensure a smooth journey through enabling, enhancing, and rewarding.

Your best producers are joining you on your journey down the yellow-brick road, but you need to help make it easy for them to do so by empowering them with tools to facilitate what’s important. That could be ease of creation, improvement of output, or authenticity of product. Students love access to new platforms like LinkedIn and student blogs. Faculty may need help with better translation of heady academic research into easy-to-understand content; providing them with mainstream platforms can help with this translation. Leadership can benefit from ownable channels (blogs, social media, video, etc.), but tread carefully: If you’re giving a leader a blog, be sure they’re a good writer (or have a good editor), same goes for social channels – if they’re not posting, it’s not a great use of the channel and resources. Alumni can move from engaged producers to authentic promoters by making it easier for them to share content. Goizueta Business School’s “100 Years. 100 Stories.” project both presents content in a striking way and makes it easy to share. This makes it easy for you to reach your network’s network, thus expanding the reach of your message.

While much of the above helps enable your content producers, you’ve got to do your part as the higher education marketer as well! You can help maximize your producers’ contributions by amplifying them with tactics like post promotion, cross-channel coverage, and paid promotion. This doesn’t all have to be online, however – there are a myriad of ways to extend this content into traditional media. Even as a teaser/preview with a link to your online content, it puts your message and brand in front of additional viewers and can spark engagement. It’s also up to you to reward your producers for the time and content they’re providing to you. However, each group is motivated by different things. Students respond well to paid support (even as small as a $10 Starbucks gift card). Faculty members enjoy dedicated support to manage the content once they’ve produced it. Leadership benefits from structured planning like content calendars and publishing tools. Alumni love greater visibility within their own networks, so the easier you make it for them to share, the more likely they are to do so and enjoy the benefits.

Act IV: Taking a Bow

As Angela mentioned during her keynote, “content, like life, should have a purpose.” Ideally, your content can entertain, inspire, educate, and convince. To entertain, focus on building connections with skeptical audiences by showcasing personality. This is great for student-generated content, and can be measured by views/completions, shares, and engagement. To inspire, use emotion to motivate choice with aspirant audiences. This works particularly well with leadership videos and faculty research, and can be measured by visibility, engagement, and conversions. By highlighting differentiation to new audiences using detail, you can educate your audience. Infographics, how-it-works videos, and Q&A sessions help on this front, and can be measured by completions, downloads, and recall. Convincing requires using logic to drive selection with qualified audiences. Research blogs, comparisons, and student-driven lists are effective tools of persuasion, and can be measured by recall and conversions.

By following our cast of characters (Courageous Storytellers, Brainy Influencers, Mission-Driven Heartbeat, and Homesick Evangelists) down the yellow-brick road, we’ve taken a full content marketing journey. Understanding the content landscape, identifying your options, empowering your producers, and measuring your output and its results are the key building blocks of a winning content marketing strategy. Are you bold enough to be like Dorothy, put on those ruby slippers, and take the first step down your own yellow-brick road?

Ben Ross
Ben Ross
April 2, 2019