Content is king — no doubt about it. From yummy, 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 — like videos, photos and blogs — into leads? Two words: content marketing. Content marketing is the process of creating high-quality, valuable content to attract, inform, and engage your target audiences, while also promoting your school.
In other words, content marketing is the art of selling...without actually selling your school the way you traditionally have. 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 — are you sold yet? If you are, here's what you'll need to ensure you have both the content and the strategy to be successful.
Step 1: Take an Inventory of Your Content
Content marketing can be an overwhelming switch, especially for small schools with small departments. However, you're most likely much farther along in the process than you think. If you've written news stories, produced videos, 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 in its simplest form 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
The Ultimate Website Optimization Guide for Independent Schools
Step 2: Create More, Engaging Content
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 is proven to generate new leads and website traffic. Blogs offer you a platform to share authentic stories happening on your campus on a weekly 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 almost instantly. And since blogs are meant to be more informal than traditional forms of marketing, this is your ideal platform for recruiting student, faculty, and even parent contributors who want to share their stories and tips.
So, in addition to a traditional "Head of School" blog, and 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 independent school
- Tips for boarding and moving
- Student spotlights
Often schools see news stories and blogs as the same platform, when they are in fact very different. While blogs offer an informal platform for sharing informal content from a variety of voices, news stories are often written to promote particular individuals or events. However, that doesn't mean they should be boring. Hawai'i Preparatory Academy has come up with a recipe for creating unforgettable news posts that create a buzz, and get shared.
AKA, freebies. When a prospective or current student visits your website, what kind of information do you offer that isn't necessarily direct marketing about your school? In a marketplace saturated by 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 right away that would be helpful. And 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 Mulgrave School in Vancouver, who built a back-to-school start up package for families. While this information is only useful for current families, it also 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. (Or maybe it's as simple as people like looking at pictures more than they like than reading.) Whichever the reason, infographics are turning into the most effective and popular way to share complex statistics and information in a simple, easy-to-follow and digest layout.
Only 20% of website visitors will read content all the way through, but 80% will watch a video in its entirety. 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.
One of the most important aspects of video content marketing is social video, which has taken the Internet by storm over the last six months.
Step 3: Strategically Distribute Content
Create targeted campaigns
Treat every email you send as a hug. (A hug, really? Yes.) 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 behind the success of your campaigns.
For example, say you have a great 5-minute admissions video that you had professionally produced, and you LOVE it. However, this great piece of content can be used 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 more shorter, specific videos to incorporate in blogs 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 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 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, it 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 if you have the chance, talk about how your school compares to those standards, or seeks to exceed them. When you informing your applicant pool, 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, cost 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.
Always come back to your website.
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
As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV and news reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specializes in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, and Finalsite's popular eBook, The Website Redesign Playbook.