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4 Content Marketing Ideas for Colleges and Universities

college buildingAmerica is crazy about colleges. The United States is home to more than 4,000 accredited institutions of higher learning, ranging from two-year vocational schools to small liberal arts colleges to huge state universities.

All have the same goals: attracting high-quality students, recruiting great faculty and staff, encouraging alumni to make donations to support school programs, and building up the school’s brand recognition and reputation.

In order to stand out from their many competitors, it’s essential to focus on content marketing, making use of both traditional and digital strategies. Here are some effective tactics and outstanding examples of university content marketing. 

Create an alumni magazine — either online or offline

Colleges were some of the earliest adopters of content marketing: Harvard University, for instance, has published its alumni magazine since 1898. Today, hundreds of schools publish alumni magazines on an annual or quarterly basis. The articles serve to share stories of faculty members’ groundbreaking research, spotlight alums’ unique career paths, share innovative educational programs, and delve into more complex feature stories about education.

Alumni magazines can be powerful tools for connecting to a broader audience: A 2010 survey from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education found that 58 percent of alums feel that such magazines strengthen their personal connections to universities.

For some colleges, the cost of producing and distributing a print magazine was a barrier. Now, schools can replace or supplement print distribution with online distribution, particularly for current students and younger alums, who tend to do more of their reading online. If you don’t have the budget to hire a dedicated alumni magazine editor, consider using a content marketing agency, which can coordinate efforts with your in-house communications team.

For colleges looking to convert an existing magazine, a simple PDF will suffice, but for an improved user experience that allows readers to turn pages online, consider using an online magazine publishing tool, such as issuu.

USC publication
USC publication on issuu

Build segmented online content hubs to appeal to each audience

Most colleges have a section of their websites dedicated to news about the school — but in order to build an audience online, focus on providing engaging content that will appeal to each of your defined audiences through dedicated content hubs.

For example, Colby College, a highly selective liberal arts school in Waterville, Maine, has a separate site, Inside Colby, billed as “for students, by students.” Current students use the site to blog about their on-campus experiences and share essays, videos, photos, podcasts, and other glimpses of life on campus. Although the portal is aimed at existing students, its content is public and can serve as a powerful draw for recruiting new students.

insidecolby site

For alumni, you can build an online portal where former students can reconnect on private message boards; read articles and view multimedia features about their professors and fellow graduates; and read curated news relevant to their field of study. Offer a subscription to an online newsletter that will point them to the latest content regarding notable alumni news and innovative programs at the school — and be sure to include options for online donations, so that it’s as easy as a click of a button to support the school.

Spotlight day-to-day life at the school through social media

Social media platforms — particularly Twitter and Facebook — can help you stay connected with your base on a day-to-day basis, and will give you opportunities to build stronger relationships with your community.

Depending on the size of your university, it’s likely that you’ll want to create Twitter and Facebook accounts for a variety of departments, such as the admissions department, the athletics department, and the alumni center, as well as for specific programs, such as the law school or business school.

Get the program directors involved in using these platforms to share real-time updates, link to department news, and interact with the students, and don’t forget to come up with a clear set of social media communication guidelines. On your website, it can also be helpful to create a “social media map” that shares links to all of the school’s social media accounts for easy following, as Duke University does.

duke university social media
Duke University social media

Develop a mobile app that combines functionality with compelling content

While a mobile app is by no means a required part of a university’s content marketing plan, it can be highly effective: After all, two-thirds of Americans use mobile devices to connect to the Internet, so by building a mobile app, you can give them the best possible user experience.

Some schools are using such apps to great effect: For instance, MIT’s free mobile app features a real-time shuttle tracker, a searchable campus map, and a feed of the latest news from the school. Brown University’s Brown Alumni Connect offers features such as a searchable alumni directory, news stories about Brown alumni, and alumni and faculty video clips. Many mobile apps also include an online donation button to simplify the transaction process.

MIT mobile app
MIT’s mobile app

With mobile apps, there’s no need to create app-specific content — it’s about presenting your library of content in a mobile-friendly way that will make people more likely to engage with it.

If you’ve been involved in content marketing for a university, we’d love to hear your input — what are the most effective strategies you’ve found for engaging your audience through content?

For more inspirational ideas on how to use content marketing to meet any communication challenge, read CMI’s Ultimate eBook: 100 Content Marketing Examples

Cover image via Flickr