Content is king — there's no doubt about it. From bite-size pieces on Twitter to longer videos and blogs on school websites, prospective and current families want to learn about your school through a variety of stories on the mediums they prefer — not through your marketing department's jargon.
So how do you turn content (videos, photos, stories, and blogs) into leads? Two words: content marketing. Content marketing is the process of creating lead-generating, valuable content to attract, inform, and engage your target audiences, while also promoting your school.
In other words, successful content marketing is the art of selling ... without actually selling your school. Content marketing generates three times as many leads at nearly one-third of the cost of traditional marketing efforts (print, billboards, etc.). In addition, 70% of consumers say that content marketing makes them feel closer to the brand that provided it.
Engaging, effective, and affordable — what's not to like? Here are three easy steps for what you'll need to ensure your school has the content marketing campaigns and the strategy to be successful.
Content marketing can be an overwhelming switch from traditional disruptive marketing, especially for schools with small departments. If you've written news stories, produced videos, and have student testimonials and photos, you already have content you can use.
To organize your content, you'll want to use the process of content mapping.
Content mapping means taking an inventory of your school's current content and matching it to the personas (athlete, scholar, parent, etc.) and stage in the journey (prospect, current student, alumni, etc.) where it best fits.
You will want to take the time to map your content in order to determine:
Who each piece of content appeals to by using personas
Where in the journey the content is relevant
Which mediums will best distribute this content
- How you may be lacking in content, and where you can improve
Once you've got a better idea of what content you have available and how it resonates with your audience, then you can decide what content needs to be created or optimized.
Based on your content mapping and inventory, you may discover that you have a ton of news stories and videos that appeal to donors, but nothing that appeals to prospective students interested in art — even though you have a great art program.
Blogs are a key component of great content marketing — and are proven to generate new leads and website traffic. Blogs offer you a platform to share authentic stories happening on your campus on a regular basis. Unlike news stories, which are most likely written by someone on your marketing, admission, or advancement teams, blogs are intended to give a platform for numerous different constituents to share their story and voice.
Blogs are an easy piece of content to produce on the fly — meaning they can be incorporated into your content marketing and inbound marketing almost instantly. And since blogs are meant to be more informal than traditional outbound marketing, this is your ideal platform for recruiting students, faculty, and even parent contributors who want to share their stories and tips.
So, in addition to a traditional "Head of School" blog, give these kinds of posts and themes a whirl:
- Notable alumni
- A travel blog (for schools with awesome travel programs!)
- Student-curated posts about life on campus
- Tips and best practices for applying to an independent school
- Tips for boarding and moving
- Student spotlights
Often schools see news stories and blogs as the same content when they are in fact very different. While blogs offer a platform for sharing informal content from a variety of voices, news stories are often written to promote particular individuals, programs, or events. Westminster in Atlanta, Georgia has come up with a recipe for creating unforgettable news posts that create a buzz, and get shared.
When a prospective or current student visits your school's website, what kind of information do you offer that isn't necessarily directly marketing your school? In a marketplace saturated with eBooks, whitepapers, guides, and other informational material, today's consumer looks to brands to provide insider knowledge — and this includes schools.
When a website visitor enters your site, consider which kind of content you can provide that would be helpful. Then decide if you have content that supplements an action on your website. Whether they request more information, schedule a tour, or even apply, have a follow-up communication ready with content that proves their engagement was a good investment of their time.
We love this example from Quality Schools International, which created three distinct guides for families to learn more about what to expect during the middle school years. It gives prospective families some insider knowledge about the school's processes and exceptional communications.
People love infographics. Maybe it's because 90% of the information that comes into the brain is visual, or because we can process visual content 60,000 times faster than text content. Infographics are an effective and popular way to share complex statistics and information in your website design.
Schools like Charlotte Country Day School use infographics for their differentiators on their homepage, and these can all be repurposed and distributed as content for admission email marketing efforts and through social media marketing, just like CCDS did on Twitter:
Only 20% of website visitors will read content all the way through, but 80% will watch a video in its entirety when it's accompanied by captions. Think about how much of your messaging and branding is being completely ignored!
Incorporating video into your content marketing is proven to increase email click-through rates, website traffic and conversions, and brand awareness. Videos are effective because they're fun to watch, easy to digest, and favored by almost every social media channel — making them the most important part of your content marketing strategy.
Create targeted campaigns
Each email that you send — whether it's to one person or 1,000 — should be crafted in a way where it feels like a personalized, one-to-one communication, aimed to make the recipient feel special.
Segmenting email lists by audience — prospective students, applicants, current students, parents, faculty, and alumni — and including personalization tokens (like their first name) will make them feel as though the content you've shared is just for them.
Don't post the same content with the same strategy on every platform.
Syndication isn't a content strategy. And while getting your content out there is better than having no presence at all, having a strategy behind where you post content and when will be the key to the success of your campaigns.
For example, say you have a great 5-minute admissions video that you had professionally produced. This piece of content can be repurposed in more ways than one to drive traffic back to your website.
With this piece of content, you can:
- Email the video to all prospective families who filled out an inquiry form
- Shorten the video to 15-30 seconds in length to natively share on social media
- Pull content from the video — such as student testimonials — to create shorter, specific videos to incorporate in blog posts and news posts
Create content that represents a journey.
Each piece of content that you provide should have a purpose or answer a question that your audience has along their journey of researching, applying, attending, or graduating from an independent school. Your content should answer questions like:
- How do I pick the perfect independent school?
- Is a boarding school the right choice for me?
- How do I decide between private schools?
- How can I be successful in school?
- How do I decide on the perfect college major?
- What are the ways I can be a part of the alumni community?
Offer content about something other than how great your school is.
While your 16 AP classes and 37 championships are impressive, they may not seem that impressive to someone who has no level of comparison. Offer content that talks about industry trends, standards, and benchmarks — and then you have the chance to talk about how your school compares to those standards. When you inform your applicant pool with relevant content, they trust you — and when they trust you, they want to engage with your brand.
While a big piece of content marketing is providing content that informs your audience, another aspect of content marketing is providing content that prompts your audience to interact with your brand. For example, affordability is something that is on almost every applicant's mind. You could offer an online calculator that can work for any school's tuition and fees to help them determine which school is the right fit for their budget, too.
The Rectory School in Pomfret CT offers a tuition estimator for families to enter some details about their finances and gain a better idea of tuition for families.
Content marketing is an essential way to grow your school's brand and reach — however, it's important to ensure you're always directing individuals back to your website. This means that if you tweet a video, share a blog on Facebook, or email a news story — the end result should always be to get them back to your website to further engage with your school.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.