As higher-ed professionals, we can all agree that a website is one of our strongest marketing tools.
Why, then, do so many alumni relations and advancement offices continue to stick with static, out-of-date website models?
Sure, static pages are helpful for alumni to find staff contact information, see upcoming events, or check in on reunion. What this lacks, however, is the storytelling necessary to enhance the online experience for our alumni and to keep them coming back to our site.
I don’t need to reinforce the power of content marketing; there are already plenty of great pieces on the value of content for higher-ed advancement.
So, assuming that you’re already all-in on content marketing, how do you get started?
When you’re building a content marketing approach from scratch, the two most important foundational elements are your online infrastructure and the staff members who will be creating and overseeing the content. Both will play a pivotal role in the implementation of your new strategy.
Let’s dive into those two components in more detail.
Our alumni office at Longwood University wanted to pull the trigger on content marketing over a year ago. Unfortunately, we had an antiquated website that was purely set up to hold static pages, and our content management system (CMS) could not accommodate what we were looking to accomplish.
Thankfully, the university was in the process of launching a new website to better support content marketing. In the six months leading up to that conversion, what we could do was stockpile content so that we’d be able to hit the ground running when the new website launched.
To manage our content pipeline, we got started using Trello (a free project management tool). Trello allows us to assign tasks, communicate with each other, and keep track of deadlines in one platform to ensure that pieces of content are moving along efficiently.
But of course, the most important part of your pipeline is your people.
You could easily create a new job or two focused on managing and creating content, but most universities do not have the resources to hire content marketers at the alumni or advancement level.
If that sounds like your institution, your new content strategy is going to put some new work on everyone’s plate. Not everyone is a writer, but the great thing about content marketing is that it can encompass multiple mediums—from blog posts to videos/podcasts (see below) to infographics.
Our alumni office follows a model in which each individual is in a charge of a different area, like on-campus events, regional events, and digital events. Each of us is responsible for creating content for our own events and initiatives, but we’ve leaned on individual strengths when deciding who manages what in the pipeline.
For example, we have one teammate who is more skilled graphically, so she’ll input the content and make it look great. Then she’ll pass it onto the individual who is great at strategic planning and scheduling. Once the post is live, the teammate who is best at social media will promote the article on several channels.
Is it a perfect system? Probably not. But we’re certainly trying to figure it out as we go. Most importantly, everyone on our team is invested and has a stake in the process.
Don’t Forget About Outside Help
While content marketing may add a little more to your plate, don’t forget about outside help. Many of your alumni are good writers—and, not to mention, your best advocates.
At Longwood, we’ve set aside some budget for an alumni blogger program, which provides us with a steady stream of valuable content and some extra promotion of those pieces.
You might also enlist the help of subject matter experts, who can create incredible content that increases the exposure of your university. We’ve hosted high-profile speakers both on-campus and digitally, and have worked it into their contracts that part of their experience with us is a blog post that they will write and promote. This has led to a tremendous increase in traffic to our site.
Grabbing outside help is not just a need, but a must for building an audience and for creating a library of content that can be used over and over again.
Content marketing is the future, and the future is here. Starting from scratch can seem daunting, but the good news is that there are so many great technologies and systems available that can support your content efforts and help you deliver a vibrant online experience for your constituents.
Enjoyed this article? You might also like “3 Lessons From an Alumni Website Redesign.”
Parks Smith is the director of alumni relations and a 2008 graduate of Longwood University. You can follow Parks on LinkedIn or on his Twitter @RVAparks.