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Building sustainable structures for content creation

Building sustainable structures for content creation

13 minute read

Building sustainable structures for content creation

13 minute read

Building sustainable structures for content creation

Liz Gross

Founder and CEO of Campus Sonar
Every higher ed campus should treat social media as the high-profile, high-potential communication channel it is. Campus Sonar is on a mission to help higher ed social media managers approach their work strategically, and persuade their bosses to recognise the value and impact of their work. This article is an extract from the book Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy: A Guide for College Campuses, by Liz Gross, Founder and CEO of Campus Sonar. It offers advice for developing a content framework and repurposing content.

It’s crucial to determine who’s tasked with creating content. This doesn’t have to be the manager of the social media accounts, although it’s likely the social media manager will have some excellent insight simply because of the amount of time they spend immersed in the social web. A content creation team should include writers, photographers, and videographers to take advantage of the multimedia opportunities most social networks offer. Students can be valuable members of a content creation team. 

Develop a Content Framework

Once your content creation resources are in place, the next step is to consider what content categories align with your brand. To illustrate, let’s walk through a brief exercise. 

Consider the following pieces of content and determine if any is appropriate for your campus social media accounts. 

  • Highlighting success of students and staff 
  • Posting funny pictures of the campus mascot 
  • Asking questions to engage in online focus groups 
  • Posting photos from the university archives to demonstrate the rich history of campus 
  • Reporting live from campus events 
  • Sharing blog posts you found on Google about how to get a summer internship 
  • Pushing marketing messages straight from brochures 
  • Posting pictures of dogs and asking fans to provide a caption 
  • Sharing news stories featuring members of your campus community 
  • Sharing photos submitted by students showcasing their spring break 
  • Making an appeal for donations
  • Promoting campus events

It’s likely you’ll find more value in a few of these rather than all. I suggest gathering a small group of stakeholders to discuss what an ideal mix of content looks like, and then record it in a content framework. The University of Arkansas–Fort Smith’s matrix looks like this.

A table that lists topics, examples and the percent of content. An example is informational posts which make up 20% of the content.


Developing a content framework gives you a roadmap for content creation. It’s not set in stone; you may find that over time your content needs change, but it provides a guide for content managers to find and create content. 

Adapt Content to Platforms

Although it may seem convenient, don’t post the same piece of content on multiple platforms (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok). Not only does each platform have different technical requirements (i.e., optimal image size, video orientation, number of characters, length of videos), the community on each network has its own social context. Hashtags within sentences may be acceptable on Twitter, whereas on Instagram they’re usually relegated to the end of a post and on Facebook they don’t serve much of a purpose. Additionally, different audiences are likely to see your post on each platform (see Chapter 2) so you should tailor your message to that audience or determine if it’s actually relevant to them at all. A piece of content that’s great for TikTok might not need to be shared on other platforms. 

When considering how to post content on multiple platforms, follow these rules.

  1. Never configure your social accounts to cross-post. We’ve all seen the Facebook post automatically shared to Twitter that gets cut off, the Instagram post shared to Twitter without a visible photo or to Facebook with broken tags. This is generally never a good idea with personal accounts and it’s absolutely a bad choice for professional accounts.
  2. Don’t post flyers on social media. Never. On any network. Anything designed to be hung on a bulletin board has no place in the digital realm. I know some campuses do this as a weekly feature in their Instagram stories. Ask their social media manager and they’ll say it’s to appease stakeholders across campus, not because it works. Jon-Stephen Stansel describes this in detail in The Anatomy of a Terrible Social Media Post.
  3. Optimize your images and videos. Each platform previews an image differently in the social feed, and some automatically crop poorly sized images in ways you don’t want associated with your brand. Sometimes you just need to resize an image, while some content needs to be reworked to fit a platform’s requirements (the same image is unlikely to work on both Twitter and Instagram stories without some reworking). There are various guides to optimizing images for each platform online; Sprout Social and HubSpot keep theirs updated. This guideline doesn’t just apply to individual posts; you should also optimize your profile and cover photos. For video, Colorado State shared their process for resizing videos on their social media blog.
  4. Adapt text for appropriate hashtag and link use. Hashtags are key for increasing discoverability of your content on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and TikTok. They don’t really make sense on Facebook or Snapchat, and are simply a search device on YouTube, rather than something to include in content. Every character matters on Twitter, so use hashtags as you would words in a sentence, but drop them at the end on other platforms. Twitter recommends no more than two hashtags per tweet, while you can pile them at the end of posts or within a comment on LinkedIn or Instagram to increase discoverability. Links work great within text on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. They’re useless in an Instagram post (although in a story you may be able to swipe up) or a TikTok description.

Repurpose Your Content

Expert Contributor: Steve App

You put a lot of effort into your content for social media and other sources. One thing is certain, as the digital ecosystem develops, you’ll always want more content for more channels. In 2017, eCity Interactive polled their clients and colleagues and found that 61 percent of higher ed marketing teams planned to create more or significantly more content in the next year. Continuing to work more hours or hiring more content creators likely isn’t sustainable. If you approach all content creation with repurposing in mind, your content strategy will be more cohesive and focused, resulting in an impact much longer than the lifespan of a tweet or Instagram story.

Steve App provided an outline for repurposing content in his 2019 CASE Social Media and Community conference keynote, Who’s Hungry: Planning Your Content Like Thanksgiving Dinner. So I’m going to repurpose that content (see what I did there?) for readers who weren’t at his talk.

Marketers often take a reactive approach to content repurposing: repackaging a commencement speech every May when the message is relevant again, discovering an alumni profile in a campus magazine and tweaking the content for social media, or turning unused b-roll into GIFs. While reactive content repurposing serves a purpose, it means you don’t have access to or control over the content that is available to you. If you’ve ever tried to take a picture of an infographic in a viewbook or track down an unfiltered, high-res photo from a mystery colleague, you know this pain. 

Instead, follow Steve’s framework to plan your content repurposing. You’ll ensure you have access to the various types of media you need to reach your respective audiences in ways that earn engagement, increase the odds that key audiences discover your stories, and make it easier to tell fewer stories while still filling your content calendars.

Steve realized that Thanksgiving dinner is more universal than his favorite food, donuts (at least for Americans). A Thanksgiving dinner is a product of the sum of its parts. It’s not about the turkey or the mashed potatoes by themselves, but the way each dish comes together. When we think about telling stories and producing content, we need to consider all the different ways we can tell a story. Our stories can’t simply be about a video, tweet, or evergreen blog post. We need to think about how each piece comes together to tell the same story, while appealing to the different senses of our audience.

Long-Form Content: The Main Dish

Whether it’s turkey or tofurkey, this is the centerpiece of Thanksgiving dinner. Like a main entree, long-form content takes the longest to prepare. It’s also the center of your content marketing efforts, around which everything else (the entire “meal”) is planned. As the main dish, it also has the benefit of feeding your audience long after you finish making it (although we’d never refer to your repurposed content as leftovers). Long-form content generates more shares and backlinks, which boosts your organic search results. It also resonates more with voice assistants (the average word count of a voice search result page is 2,312 words). While you may not think about long-form content when you think of social media content, it’s wise to be aware of content production plans on campus, even if you’re not directly involved with them.

For some excellent examples of long-form campus content, check out Dartmouth’s package At the Front Line of Climate Change and Harvard’s A Cuba-Harvard Connection, With A Beat. The Dartmouth example includes beautiful imagery, charts, maps, links to other content, and video. Harvard’s piece includes photography, 360 photography, audio, video, pull quotes, and related articles. 

Mike Petroff, formerly the Director of Content Strategy for Harvard University, notes their analytics show “there’s no cutoff to how much time a user will spend on a page. If something is good, people will read it.” He also notes that it’s rare for a user to visit a page with the upfront agreement to spend 25 minutes reading an article. More likely, he says, is a situation in which an individual skims an article before saving it for later, through an app like Pocket, or by emailing it to themselves for a later time when they can dive into the story in more detail. The key is telling an interesting story in depth, but also hooking your audience to the story emotionally and quickly, so they want to save it for later.

Video: Stuffing

While video is at its best when baked into other content, great video should also stand on its own. YouTube has been the second most popular internet search engine for years, and you want your content to be found. We know video is heavily used by prospective students to learn about student life. Forty-four percent of high school seniors ranked YouTube best for researching colleges, according to the 2019 E-Expectations study. Not every video has to be highly produced. If you’re interviewing someone, capture video. A short snippet uploaded natively to social media may be exactly what you need to drive traffic to the full interview. Conversely, video created for social media (say, an Instagram story) may find a great, more permanent home on your website.

A few years ago, West Virginia University invested in video based on what they saw in their social media data; video posts were more likely to be seen and engaged with. They felt video was more likely to make an impression on their audiences than other mediums. They specifically invested in YouTube because of its demographics and what Tony Dobies, senior director of marketing, admits was a hunch (see Chapter 2). He shared, “I watch a lot of YouTube and understand the platform fairly well, I think, because of that ... I thought it had potential to be used as a recruitment tool.” WVU’s video views across Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube grew from 2.9 million in 2017 to 3.4 million in 2018, and almost doubled to 6.6 million in 2019. The documentary Breathe, Nolan, Breathe about the 2014 death of a student and how future deaths could be prevented contributed 2 million views to the 2019 total. We love this WVU video, posted natively to Twitter, surprising a future student with a full scholarship.

Audio: Mashed Potatoes

Like mashed potatoes and stuffing, audio goes hand-in-hand with video. And while potatoes have been popular for generations, right now audio is having a moment. According to PEW Research in 2019, 32 percent of Americans reported listening to podcasts monthly, up from 26 percent in 2018. Over half of Americans have listened to a podcast at some point. Listenership is growing quickly with ages 12–24. You shouldn’t just rip audio from your video and make it a podcast; while both formats are popular, their consumption habits are unique and deserve their own treatment. Audio presents an intimate storytelling opportunity, reaching listeners in their cars, kitchens, or while they’re taking their daily walk. Short clips from a longer audio segment, paired with an interesting visual and captions, make great social media content and aren’t difficult to produce. Marquette University uses the Headliner app to create social media teasers for the We Are Marquette podcast. Then they turn the recorded interview into long-form, written content.

Social Graphics: Cranberry Sauce

Like cranberry sauce, social graphics tend not to last long, and the simplest option (who doesn’t love jellied cranberry sauce that still sports the ridges from the can) may achieve the best results. If the underlying content is strong, social graphics don’t need to be overly complicated. They should capture attention and send a quick dopamine hit to the brain (just like dessert!). These will have a short lifespan, so you should create a process to churn them out quickly, on-brand, and ideally born of longer-form content. You’ll often find great examples of templated, on-brand social graphics on Instagram stories. Colorado State wrote about using Adobe Spark Post to create graphics for Instagram Stories.

GIFs = Dinner Rolls

GIFs are like rolls; they’ll fit into almost any menu. The popular motion graphic format deserves its own category, because once it’s created it can be used over and over, by many users (including your audience), in a variety of contexts. As long as you’re following copyright guidelines (see Chapter 7), make and share GIFs that support your content by snagging an appealing clip from a video, developing an animated sticker set, or scheduling a session with your mascot or president. 

Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy: A Guide for College Campuses

This article is an excerpt from the book, Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy: A Guide for College Campuses, by Liz Gross.

Every higher ed campus should treat social media as the high-profile, high-potential communication channel it is. Campus Sonar is on a mission to help higher ed social media managers approach their work strategically, and persuade their bosses to recognize the value and impact of their work. Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy: A Guide for College Campuses does just that—offering strategy, research, and best practices for social media managers. CEO and Founder Liz Gross (along with a few expert contributors) had so much to say, the book will be released in two volumes. Volume One will be available October 19. Reserve your free copy.

It’s crucial to determine who’s tasked with creating content. This doesn’t have to be the manager of the social media accounts, although it’s likely the social media manager will have some excellent insight simply because of the amount of time they spend immersed in the social web. A content creation team should include writers, photographers, and videographers to take advantage of the multimedia opportunities most social networks offer. Students can be valuable members of a content creation team. 

Develop a Content Framework

Once your content creation resources are in place, the next step is to consider what content categories align with your brand. To illustrate, let’s walk through a brief exercise. 

Consider the following pieces of content and determine if any is appropriate for your campus social media accounts. 

  • Highlighting success of students and staff 
  • Posting funny pictures of the campus mascot 
  • Asking questions to engage in online focus groups 
  • Posting photos from the university archives to demonstrate the rich history of campus 
  • Reporting live from campus events 
  • Sharing blog posts you found on Google about how to get a summer internship 
  • Pushing marketing messages straight from brochures 
  • Posting pictures of dogs and asking fans to provide a caption 
  • Sharing news stories featuring members of your campus community 
  • Sharing photos submitted by students showcasing their spring break 
  • Making an appeal for donations
  • Promoting campus events

It’s likely you’ll find more value in a few of these rather than all. I suggest gathering a small group of stakeholders to discuss what an ideal mix of content looks like, and then record it in a content framework. The University of Arkansas–Fort Smith’s matrix looks like this.

A table that lists topics, examples and the percent of content. An example is informational posts which make up 20% of the content.


Developing a content framework gives you a roadmap for content creation. It’s not set in stone; you may find that over time your content needs change, but it provides a guide for content managers to find and create content. 

Adapt Content to Platforms

Although it may seem convenient, don’t post the same piece of content on multiple platforms (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok). Not only does each platform have different technical requirements (i.e., optimal image size, video orientation, number of characters, length of videos), the community on each network has its own social context. Hashtags within sentences may be acceptable on Twitter, whereas on Instagram they’re usually relegated to the end of a post and on Facebook they don’t serve much of a purpose. Additionally, different audiences are likely to see your post on each platform (see Chapter 2) so you should tailor your message to that audience or determine if it’s actually relevant to them at all. A piece of content that’s great for TikTok might not need to be shared on other platforms. 

When considering how to post content on multiple platforms, follow these rules.

  1. Never configure your social accounts to cross-post. We’ve all seen the Facebook post automatically shared to Twitter that gets cut off, the Instagram post shared to Twitter without a visible photo or to Facebook with broken tags. This is generally never a good idea with personal accounts and it’s absolutely a bad choice for professional accounts.
  2. Don’t post flyers on social media. Never. On any network. Anything designed to be hung on a bulletin board has no place in the digital realm. I know some campuses do this as a weekly feature in their Instagram stories. Ask their social media manager and they’ll say it’s to appease stakeholders across campus, not because it works. Jon-Stephen Stansel describes this in detail in The Anatomy of a Terrible Social Media Post.
  3. Optimize your images and videos. Each platform previews an image differently in the social feed, and some automatically crop poorly sized images in ways you don’t want associated with your brand. Sometimes you just need to resize an image, while some content needs to be reworked to fit a platform’s requirements (the same image is unlikely to work on both Twitter and Instagram stories without some reworking). There are various guides to optimizing images for each platform online; Sprout Social and HubSpot keep theirs updated. This guideline doesn’t just apply to individual posts; you should also optimize your profile and cover photos. For video, Colorado State shared their process for resizing videos on their social media blog.
  4. Adapt text for appropriate hashtag and link use. Hashtags are key for increasing discoverability of your content on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and TikTok. They don’t really make sense on Facebook or Snapchat, and are simply a search device on YouTube, rather than something to include in content. Every character matters on Twitter, so use hashtags as you would words in a sentence, but drop them at the end on other platforms. Twitter recommends no more than two hashtags per tweet, while you can pile them at the end of posts or within a comment on LinkedIn or Instagram to increase discoverability. Links work great within text on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. They’re useless in an Instagram post (although in a story you may be able to swipe up) or a TikTok description.

Repurpose Your Content

Expert Contributor: Steve App

You put a lot of effort into your content for social media and other sources. One thing is certain, as the digital ecosystem develops, you’ll always want more content for more channels. In 2017, eCity Interactive polled their clients and colleagues and found that 61 percent of higher ed marketing teams planned to create more or significantly more content in the next year. Continuing to work more hours or hiring more content creators likely isn’t sustainable. If you approach all content creation with repurposing in mind, your content strategy will be more cohesive and focused, resulting in an impact much longer than the lifespan of a tweet or Instagram story.

Steve App provided an outline for repurposing content in his 2019 CASE Social Media and Community conference keynote, Who’s Hungry: Planning Your Content Like Thanksgiving Dinner. So I’m going to repurpose that content (see what I did there?) for readers who weren’t at his talk.

Marketers often take a reactive approach to content repurposing: repackaging a commencement speech every May when the message is relevant again, discovering an alumni profile in a campus magazine and tweaking the content for social media, or turning unused b-roll into GIFs. While reactive content repurposing serves a purpose, it means you don’t have access to or control over the content that is available to you. If you’ve ever tried to take a picture of an infographic in a viewbook or track down an unfiltered, high-res photo from a mystery colleague, you know this pain. 

Instead, follow Steve’s framework to plan your content repurposing. You’ll ensure you have access to the various types of media you need to reach your respective audiences in ways that earn engagement, increase the odds that key audiences discover your stories, and make it easier to tell fewer stories while still filling your content calendars.

Steve realized that Thanksgiving dinner is more universal than his favorite food, donuts (at least for Americans). A Thanksgiving dinner is a product of the sum of its parts. It’s not about the turkey or the mashed potatoes by themselves, but the way each dish comes together. When we think about telling stories and producing content, we need to consider all the different ways we can tell a story. Our stories can’t simply be about a video, tweet, or evergreen blog post. We need to think about how each piece comes together to tell the same story, while appealing to the different senses of our audience.

Long-Form Content: The Main Dish

Whether it’s turkey or tofurkey, this is the centerpiece of Thanksgiving dinner. Like a main entree, long-form content takes the longest to prepare. It’s also the center of your content marketing efforts, around which everything else (the entire “meal”) is planned. As the main dish, it also has the benefit of feeding your audience long after you finish making it (although we’d never refer to your repurposed content as leftovers). Long-form content generates more shares and backlinks, which boosts your organic search results. It also resonates more with voice assistants (the average word count of a voice search result page is 2,312 words). While you may not think about long-form content when you think of social media content, it’s wise to be aware of content production plans on campus, even if you’re not directly involved with them.

For some excellent examples of long-form campus content, check out Dartmouth’s package At the Front Line of Climate Change and Harvard’s A Cuba-Harvard Connection, With A Beat. The Dartmouth example includes beautiful imagery, charts, maps, links to other content, and video. Harvard’s piece includes photography, 360 photography, audio, video, pull quotes, and related articles. 

Mike Petroff, formerly the Director of Content Strategy for Harvard University, notes their analytics show “there’s no cutoff to how much time a user will spend on a page. If something is good, people will read it.” He also notes that it’s rare for a user to visit a page with the upfront agreement to spend 25 minutes reading an article. More likely, he says, is a situation in which an individual skims an article before saving it for later, through an app like Pocket, or by emailing it to themselves for a later time when they can dive into the story in more detail. The key is telling an interesting story in depth, but also hooking your audience to the story emotionally and quickly, so they want to save it for later.

Video: Stuffing

While video is at its best when baked into other content, great video should also stand on its own. YouTube has been the second most popular internet search engine for years, and you want your content to be found. We know video is heavily used by prospective students to learn about student life. Forty-four percent of high school seniors ranked YouTube best for researching colleges, according to the 2019 E-Expectations study. Not every video has to be highly produced. If you’re interviewing someone, capture video. A short snippet uploaded natively to social media may be exactly what you need to drive traffic to the full interview. Conversely, video created for social media (say, an Instagram story) may find a great, more permanent home on your website.

A few years ago, West Virginia University invested in video based on what they saw in their social media data; video posts were more likely to be seen and engaged with. They felt video was more likely to make an impression on their audiences than other mediums. They specifically invested in YouTube because of its demographics and what Tony Dobies, senior director of marketing, admits was a hunch (see Chapter 2). He shared, “I watch a lot of YouTube and understand the platform fairly well, I think, because of that ... I thought it had potential to be used as a recruitment tool.” WVU’s video views across Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube grew from 2.9 million in 2017 to 3.4 million in 2018, and almost doubled to 6.6 million in 2019. The documentary Breathe, Nolan, Breathe about the 2014 death of a student and how future deaths could be prevented contributed 2 million views to the 2019 total. We love this WVU video, posted natively to Twitter, surprising a future student with a full scholarship.

Audio: Mashed Potatoes

Like mashed potatoes and stuffing, audio goes hand-in-hand with video. And while potatoes have been popular for generations, right now audio is having a moment. According to PEW Research in 2019, 32 percent of Americans reported listening to podcasts monthly, up from 26 percent in 2018. Over half of Americans have listened to a podcast at some point. Listenership is growing quickly with ages 12–24. You shouldn’t just rip audio from your video and make it a podcast; while both formats are popular, their consumption habits are unique and deserve their own treatment. Audio presents an intimate storytelling opportunity, reaching listeners in their cars, kitchens, or while they’re taking their daily walk. Short clips from a longer audio segment, paired with an interesting visual and captions, make great social media content and aren’t difficult to produce. Marquette University uses the Headliner app to create social media teasers for the We Are Marquette podcast. Then they turn the recorded interview into long-form, written content.

Social Graphics: Cranberry Sauce

Like cranberry sauce, social graphics tend not to last long, and the simplest option (who doesn’t love jellied cranberry sauce that still sports the ridges from the can) may achieve the best results. If the underlying content is strong, social graphics don’t need to be overly complicated. They should capture attention and send a quick dopamine hit to the brain (just like dessert!). These will have a short lifespan, so you should create a process to churn them out quickly, on-brand, and ideally born of longer-form content. You’ll often find great examples of templated, on-brand social graphics on Instagram stories. Colorado State wrote about using Adobe Spark Post to create graphics for Instagram Stories.

GIFs = Dinner Rolls

GIFs are like rolls; they’ll fit into almost any menu. The popular motion graphic format deserves its own category, because once it’s created it can be used over and over, by many users (including your audience), in a variety of contexts. As long as you’re following copyright guidelines (see Chapter 7), make and share GIFs that support your content by snagging an appealing clip from a video, developing an animated sticker set, or scheduling a session with your mascot or president. 

Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy: A Guide for College Campuses

This article is an excerpt from the book, Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy: A Guide for College Campuses, by Liz Gross.

Every higher ed campus should treat social media as the high-profile, high-potential communication channel it is. Campus Sonar is on a mission to help higher ed social media managers approach their work strategically, and persuade their bosses to recognize the value and impact of their work. Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy: A Guide for College Campuses does just that—offering strategy, research, and best practices for social media managers. CEO and Founder Liz Gross (along with a few expert contributors) had so much to say, the book will be released in two volumes. Volume One will be available October 19. Reserve your free copy.

Webinar Recording

How to use social listening to uncover audience insights for effective content marketing

Hear about real-world examples of student social media updates that can influence your content strategy and marketing efforts on campus.

August 15, 2019

4:00 pm

Register now

Webinar Recording

How to use social listening to uncover audience insights for effective content marketing

Hear about real-world examples of student social media updates that can influence your content strategy and marketing efforts on campus.

August 15, 2019

4:00 pm

Watch now
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About the author

Liz Gross

Liz is the founder and CEO of Campus Sonar. A recognised expert, data-driven marketer, and higher education researcher, Liz specialises in creating entrepreneurial social media strategies in higher education. She is an award-winning speaker, author, and strategist who was named a 2018 Mover and Shaker by Social Shake-Up Show and a finalist on GreenBook’s 2019 GRIT Future List. Liz has more than 15 years’ experience in higher ed and strategic social listening programs. She received a Ph.D. in Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service in Higher Education at Cardinal Stritch University, a master’s degree in educational policy and leadership from Marquette University, and a bachelor’s degree in interpersonal communication from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

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