8 higher ed content marketing tips to build brand consistency and drive student engagement

8 higher ed content marketing tips to build brand consistency and drive student engagement

7 minute read

8 higher ed content marketing tips to build brand consistency and drive student engagement

7 minute read

8 higher ed content marketing tips to build brand consistency and drive student engagement

Paige Toomes

Copywriter and Digital Marketer

The pressure is on for higher education marketing professionals to deliver effective campaigns and build brand consistency through content. This pressure is fuelled by competition, increasingly diverse student needs, and the fast pace of digital. But often, internal issues such as trying to organise content teams and manage the content creation process hinder institutions too.

While you're trying to sort out your content operations, students are demanding better overall experiences and are quickly becoming disengaged. Although the generations most likely to be approaching higher education (millennials and Gen Z) are very much active and reachable online and through social media, they are skeptical of brands, and institutions need to work harder than ever to get their attention and gain their trust.

So, higher ed content, marcomms and digital teams need to think creatively to get stories out there and heard, build a consistent, trustworthy brand voice and orchestrate an unforgettable user experience to stay competitive in the evolving market. Here are 8 content marketing tips to get you on the right track:

1. Check your content creation process  

Before trying to deliver a consistent, compelling and relevant experience through content, organisations need to make sure that they are set up for success with a unified content creation process. Working with lots of higher ed intuitions, we know that siloed departments, decentralised publishing models and lengthy, inefficient approval processes are common, which can mean content often goes out that isn’t meeting user or organisational needs.

When Keele University recently needed to produce and manage an undergraduate prospectus (viewbook) which is the 'heart of their marketing operations,' they saw an opportunity to invest in their content operations for the project, and for the future. Using GatherContent, they were able to centralise content production, create bespoke workflows to enable cross-department collaboration, and achieved institution-wide buy-in for a new way of working. Now, their content creation process isn't a source of pain, but instead enables content teams to do their jobs better.

2. Use social to stand out and be human

Social media is one of the most important forms of content marketing for higher ed, given that most students are digital natives and spend a lot of time on social media. While it’s a great place for promotion and distribution of your content (and you should be using it to do this), it’s also about creating an experience. So don’t just shout about your own content; make your social media an enriched space to be in, encompassing your city, students, and faculty members. Build a genuine, compelling brand narrative and voice through your content to truly stand out.

Use social media as a space for fun and innovation, and use it to humanise your brand. For example, branded Snapchat geofilters are now taking off as a way to create an engaging and immersive experience for students at different stages in their journeys - check out this article showing how SUNY Oneonta used geofilters as a cost-effective way of boosting brand awareness at key times such as freshman move-in dates. Or how about Harvard using their Instagram to get people’s stories heard, in a similar way to ‘Humans of New York’:

A screenshot from Harvard's Instagram profile, showing several posts of individual students smiling.


3. Make the most of user-generated content

Students are empowered online; they want to be active creators not passive consumers. They're ‘prosumers’ now, and user-generated content is something we should all be taking advantage of. People, particularly millennials, trust what each other has to say about a brand more than the brand itself. Celebrity influencers aren't that influential, as it turns out. The majority value authenticity above everything else, and believe content created by consumers is more authentic.  

In fact, 84% of millenials say their purchasing decisions are influenced by user-generated content, according to research by Gartner. Sharing user-generated content will help to build trust and social proof to attract prospective students and increase engagement. It also creates a space for two-way conversations to start happening, and is a great way to encourage community spirit. Make use of things like testimonials and student reviews, be interactive on social media, and create your own brand hashtags.

Here’s a great example of a social media campaign that combines all three from Newcastle University using the hashtag #mynclpics:

An Instagram image of a Newcastle University building with trees and sky. The caption from a student says 'I love how the building points to the sky, inspiring me to aim high and beyond my limits.'


4. Work on your website experience  

Although social media content is important, recent research on digital admissions by mStoner found that 92% of student respondents said university websites are more important than social media posts. And online, attention spans are short - really short - so you want to make sure every single page serves your organisation and your users.

Your website has the potential to be your best recruitment tool. It's key purpose is to help people navigate your institution and find information, so you need to make this easy and give a great user experience. Despite this, in a recent webinar with higher ed website expert Paul Bradley, we shared research analysing 160 UK and US university homepages which found that while all universities have a general site search, only 4% of US universities have a course-finder function on their homepage.

The folks at Keele University in the UK, who we mentioned previously, recently underwent massive changes to their website to make it more mobile-responsive, have better site navigation, course finder capabilities and better overall content. The hard work paid off because they went on to win the Gold award for their website in the 2019 Heist Awards and saw their biggest ever undergraduate intake, and the second highest growth in the entire sector!  

An image of the Keele University homepage showing a course-finder search box.

5. Make sure you're marketing mobile-first  

Related to website experience is mobile experience. With the number of students using mobile devices rising (and from a younger age), it’s now crucial for higher ed institutions to be offering responsive, mobile-friendly content. But often, there's a heavier focus on the campus communinity with mobile, rather than marketing to prospective students. Just like your website, your mobile experience can be an excellent recruitment tool.

When high school students were researching potential higher ed intuitions, 41% visited a university website via mobile once a week, and 18% checked in once a day via mobile, according to research by Statista. What's more, in a survey of college-bound students which Higher Ed Live have summarised, here are the top types of content prospective students want to see on mobile:

  1. Academic program listing
  2. Cost/scholarship calculators
  3. A calendar of important dates and deadlines
  4. Specific details about academic programs
  5. An application process summary
  6. Online application forms

Arguably, this calls for not only a mobile-first approach to content, but also an admissions-first approach to mobile. With millennials and Get Z getting more demanding with things like mobile download speeds (many suffer 'load rage' when things are too slow), institutions can’t afford to ignore this or get mobile content wrong.

6. Don’t neglect your blog

Blogs are often neglected formats for content marketing, but done right they can drive traffic to your site, boost your SEO and increase your online presence. Use your blog for compelling and emotive storytelling through things like:

  • Research, news and announcements. Blogging about research can generate public interest, and having it on your blog will bolster your reputation as a trusted source of information online. You can even use your blog to document and share internal work you are doing publicly, such as a digital transformation projects, like Southampton University have done, which enriches their brand personality and voice.

  • Alumni stories. This is a powerful tool, particularly as prospective students are increasingly more concerned about job prospects when they graduate. Use things like ‘where are they now’ profiles, interviews and videos.
  • Answering questions. Today, people search and find the information they are looking for within seconds on mobile devices and then go on to another task quickly – only to flit back seconds later. These are called 'micro-moments'. So, figure out what students' burning questions are and blog the answers.
  • Student blogs. Going back to user-generated content and how important this is, encouraging and showcasing student blogs is a great way to get prospective students excited, and bring some personality and authenticity through real student experiences. Here’s an example from Bournemouth University:
A screenshot of the Bournemouth University student-led blog homepage, showing an article for 'personal statement top tips.'


7. Understand different customer journeys

Student needs are diverse, and today we’re moving away from strict, one-dimensional demographics to focus on contextual needs and motivations. A survey conducted by The Parthenon Group of 3,200 Americans in college or considering enrolling found there to be six different motivations for studying:  

  • Aspiring Academics  
  • Coming of Age  
  • Career Starter
  • Career Accelerator  
  • Industry Switcher  
  • Academic Wanderer

It’s important to use these as a basis for your content marketing. Create more detailed ‘personas’ based on these and segment your audiences, then map what different users are thinking and feeling at each stage of their journey (try out our user journey map to help). It’s hard work, but it will ensure that there are no ‘random acts of content’ which aren't aimed at specific user needs, and in the long run it will help you guide people through your online sales funnel, personalise experiences and keep track of campaigns easier.

8. Use templates, repurpose and rework content

Most of the above are exciting, but often complex, ways to maximise your content marketing, build brand consistency and drive student engagement. But, sometimes making things easy for yourself pays off, too. Content needs to be consistent, so use templates for different types of content, for different formats and channels. It’s okay to reuse and repurpose content, too. Don’t duplicate it (this is bad for your SEO), but it’s okay to re-use phrases and rework bits of content that reinforce your brand. Plus, if you take a piece of content and refresh it, this shows Google than you’re maintaining and updating your website frequently which could actually boost your SEO!

mStoner talk about 'strategically repurposed content' in their article on content marketing ideas to recruit students, and give a great example of this from Johns Hopkins University which is their Essays That Worked content. On their admissions site, they share student essays that got them a place. This is useful for both prospective students, and the university itself as content teams have found a brilliant source of user-generated content.

No rest for the wicked in higher ed content marketing (but GatherContent can help)

Content marketing is an ongoing process, and institutions must move with new trends and keep their finger on the pulse of student needs as they diversify and change. But, it's also important for higher ed to find ways of creating and maintaining content in a way that is sustainable, repeatable and scalable to enable them to focus their time on innovation.

This is where GatherContent can help in with content marketing in higher ed. So far we've helped hundreds of institutions who were producing content across multiple systems, with lots of stakeholders, to make their content operations more efficient and produce high-quality content, consistently. Check out our case studies or try out a demo.

The pressure is on for higher education marketing professionals to deliver effective campaigns and build brand consistency through content. This pressure is fuelled by competition, increasingly diverse student needs, and the fast pace of digital. But often, internal issues such as trying to organise content teams and manage the content creation process hinder institutions too.

While you're trying to sort out your content operations, students are demanding better overall experiences and are quickly becoming disengaged. Although the generations most likely to be approaching higher education (millennials and Gen Z) are very much active and reachable online and through social media, they are skeptical of brands, and institutions need to work harder than ever to get their attention and gain their trust.

So, higher ed content, marcomms and digital teams need to think creatively to get stories out there and heard, build a consistent, trustworthy brand voice and orchestrate an unforgettable user experience to stay competitive in the evolving market. Here are 8 content marketing tips to get you on the right track:

1. Check your content creation process  

Before trying to deliver a consistent, compelling and relevant experience through content, organisations need to make sure that they are set up for success with a unified content creation process. Working with lots of higher ed intuitions, we know that siloed departments, decentralised publishing models and lengthy, inefficient approval processes are common, which can mean content often goes out that isn’t meeting user or organisational needs.

When Keele University recently needed to produce and manage an undergraduate prospectus (viewbook) which is the 'heart of their marketing operations,' they saw an opportunity to invest in their content operations for the project, and for the future. Using GatherContent, they were able to centralise content production, create bespoke workflows to enable cross-department collaboration, and achieved institution-wide buy-in for a new way of working. Now, their content creation process isn't a source of pain, but instead enables content teams to do their jobs better.

2. Use social to stand out and be human

Social media is one of the most important forms of content marketing for higher ed, given that most students are digital natives and spend a lot of time on social media. While it’s a great place for promotion and distribution of your content (and you should be using it to do this), it’s also about creating an experience. So don’t just shout about your own content; make your social media an enriched space to be in, encompassing your city, students, and faculty members. Build a genuine, compelling brand narrative and voice through your content to truly stand out.

Use social media as a space for fun and innovation, and use it to humanise your brand. For example, branded Snapchat geofilters are now taking off as a way to create an engaging and immersive experience for students at different stages in their journeys - check out this article showing how SUNY Oneonta used geofilters as a cost-effective way of boosting brand awareness at key times such as freshman move-in dates. Or how about Harvard using their Instagram to get people’s stories heard, in a similar way to ‘Humans of New York’:

A screenshot from Harvard's Instagram profile, showing several posts of individual students smiling.


3. Make the most of user-generated content

Students are empowered online; they want to be active creators not passive consumers. They're ‘prosumers’ now, and user-generated content is something we should all be taking advantage of. People, particularly millennials, trust what each other has to say about a brand more than the brand itself. Celebrity influencers aren't that influential, as it turns out. The majority value authenticity above everything else, and believe content created by consumers is more authentic.  

In fact, 84% of millenials say their purchasing decisions are influenced by user-generated content, according to research by Gartner. Sharing user-generated content will help to build trust and social proof to attract prospective students and increase engagement. It also creates a space for two-way conversations to start happening, and is a great way to encourage community spirit. Make use of things like testimonials and student reviews, be interactive on social media, and create your own brand hashtags.

Here’s a great example of a social media campaign that combines all three from Newcastle University using the hashtag #mynclpics:

An Instagram image of a Newcastle University building with trees and sky. The caption from a student says 'I love how the building points to the sky, inspiring me to aim high and beyond my limits.'


4. Work on your website experience  

Although social media content is important, recent research on digital admissions by mStoner found that 92% of student respondents said university websites are more important than social media posts. And online, attention spans are short - really short - so you want to make sure every single page serves your organisation and your users.

Your website has the potential to be your best recruitment tool. It's key purpose is to help people navigate your institution and find information, so you need to make this easy and give a great user experience. Despite this, in a recent webinar with higher ed website expert Paul Bradley, we shared research analysing 160 UK and US university homepages which found that while all universities have a general site search, only 4% of US universities have a course-finder function on their homepage.

The folks at Keele University in the UK, who we mentioned previously, recently underwent massive changes to their website to make it more mobile-responsive, have better site navigation, course finder capabilities and better overall content. The hard work paid off because they went on to win the Gold award for their website in the 2019 Heist Awards and saw their biggest ever undergraduate intake, and the second highest growth in the entire sector!  

An image of the Keele University homepage showing a course-finder search box.

5. Make sure you're marketing mobile-first  

Related to website experience is mobile experience. With the number of students using mobile devices rising (and from a younger age), it’s now crucial for higher ed institutions to be offering responsive, mobile-friendly content. But often, there's a heavier focus on the campus communinity with mobile, rather than marketing to prospective students. Just like your website, your mobile experience can be an excellent recruitment tool.

When high school students were researching potential higher ed intuitions, 41% visited a university website via mobile once a week, and 18% checked in once a day via mobile, according to research by Statista. What's more, in a survey of college-bound students which Higher Ed Live have summarised, here are the top types of content prospective students want to see on mobile:

  1. Academic program listing
  2. Cost/scholarship calculators
  3. A calendar of important dates and deadlines
  4. Specific details about academic programs
  5. An application process summary
  6. Online application forms

Arguably, this calls for not only a mobile-first approach to content, but also an admissions-first approach to mobile. With millennials and Get Z getting more demanding with things like mobile download speeds (many suffer 'load rage' when things are too slow), institutions can’t afford to ignore this or get mobile content wrong.

6. Don’t neglect your blog

Blogs are often neglected formats for content marketing, but done right they can drive traffic to your site, boost your SEO and increase your online presence. Use your blog for compelling and emotive storytelling through things like:

  • Research, news and announcements. Blogging about research can generate public interest, and having it on your blog will bolster your reputation as a trusted source of information online. You can even use your blog to document and share internal work you are doing publicly, such as a digital transformation projects, like Southampton University have done, which enriches their brand personality and voice.

  • Alumni stories. This is a powerful tool, particularly as prospective students are increasingly more concerned about job prospects when they graduate. Use things like ‘where are they now’ profiles, interviews and videos.
  • Answering questions. Today, people search and find the information they are looking for within seconds on mobile devices and then go on to another task quickly – only to flit back seconds later. These are called 'micro-moments'. So, figure out what students' burning questions are and blog the answers.
  • Student blogs. Going back to user-generated content and how important this is, encouraging and showcasing student blogs is a great way to get prospective students excited, and bring some personality and authenticity through real student experiences. Here’s an example from Bournemouth University:
A screenshot of the Bournemouth University student-led blog homepage, showing an article for 'personal statement top tips.'


7. Understand different customer journeys

Student needs are diverse, and today we’re moving away from strict, one-dimensional demographics to focus on contextual needs and motivations. A survey conducted by The Parthenon Group of 3,200 Americans in college or considering enrolling found there to be six different motivations for studying:  

  • Aspiring Academics  
  • Coming of Age  
  • Career Starter
  • Career Accelerator  
  • Industry Switcher  
  • Academic Wanderer

It’s important to use these as a basis for your content marketing. Create more detailed ‘personas’ based on these and segment your audiences, then map what different users are thinking and feeling at each stage of their journey (try out our user journey map to help). It’s hard work, but it will ensure that there are no ‘random acts of content’ which aren't aimed at specific user needs, and in the long run it will help you guide people through your online sales funnel, personalise experiences and keep track of campaigns easier.

8. Use templates, repurpose and rework content

Most of the above are exciting, but often complex, ways to maximise your content marketing, build brand consistency and drive student engagement. But, sometimes making things easy for yourself pays off, too. Content needs to be consistent, so use templates for different types of content, for different formats and channels. It’s okay to reuse and repurpose content, too. Don’t duplicate it (this is bad for your SEO), but it’s okay to re-use phrases and rework bits of content that reinforce your brand. Plus, if you take a piece of content and refresh it, this shows Google than you’re maintaining and updating your website frequently which could actually boost your SEO!

mStoner talk about 'strategically repurposed content' in their article on content marketing ideas to recruit students, and give a great example of this from Johns Hopkins University which is their Essays That Worked content. On their admissions site, they share student essays that got them a place. This is useful for both prospective students, and the university itself as content teams have found a brilliant source of user-generated content.

No rest for the wicked in higher ed content marketing (but GatherContent can help)

Content marketing is an ongoing process, and institutions must move with new trends and keep their finger on the pulse of student needs as they diversify and change. But, it's also important for higher ed to find ways of creating and maintaining content in a way that is sustainable, repeatable and scalable to enable them to focus their time on innovation.

This is where GatherContent can help in with content marketing in higher ed. So far we've helped hundreds of institutions who were producing content across multiple systems, with lots of stakeholders, to make their content operations more efficient and produce high-quality content, consistently. Check out our case studies or try out a demo.

Webinar Recording

Insights from analysing 160 university website homepages

Learn how data can help build more effective higher education websites, with data and examples from UK and US universities.

December 5, 2019

4:00 pm

Register now

Webinar Recording

Insights from analysing 160 university website homepages

Learn how data can help build more effective higher education websites, with data and examples from UK and US universities.

December 5, 2019

4:00 pm

Watch now
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About the author

Paige Toomes

Paige is an English Literature and Media graduate from Newcastle University, and over the last three years has built up a career in SEO-driven copywriting for tech companies. She has written for Microsoft, Symantec and LinkedIn, as well as other SaaS companies and IT consulting firms. With an audience-focused approach to content, Paige handles the lifecycle from creation through to measurement, supporting businesses with their content operations.

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