Jonny Williams • 3 minutes
At a Higher Ed conference I recently attended, the phrase “you’re all saying the same things” was used multiple times. It was a statement that brought mixed reactions; everything from indignant frowns to beaming smiles.
However, if you look at the landscape of university content it’s difficult to find someone truly doing things differently. This raises an important question: If we all sound the same, can we truly build relationships with our audience?
Fortunately, the answer is yes. But that ‘yes’ comes with some caveats.
Institutions are very similar to us as individuals. There are all sorts of complexities at work under the surface that very few people understand, there are some essential survival requirements that have to be considered daily, and, like our own DNA, 99% of their substance is exactly the same. But even with these vast similarities, the quirks remain. Elements of personality and identity that define our institutions just as we would ourselves.
When thinking about relationships, a human perspective is always best. Relationships are one of the most natural things in the world. They were the driving force behind human evolution, and the whole reason we get to enjoy the company of dogs! However, countless corporations, especially those of the scary faceless monolithic variety, view relationships in entirely unnatural ways.
When considering content as a platform through which relationships can develop, it’s easy to jump straight into content marketing strategies that those scary corporations use on a daily basis. Attempts to bottle a fake personality into scheduled blog posts that almost nobody reads and website pages that may use fun language, but never actually let you know the information you’re really looking for. The issue with these types of content is that they aren’t natural relationship builders.
Consider for a second how you would feel about a stranger peppering directions you’ve asked for with wild wonderful words, but never telling you whether you need to go left or right. I doubt you would engage with a stranger stood in the middle of a crowded street attempting to explain how their product relates to the final season of Game of Thrones. This type of content does not work.
As universities, our unique qualities are something we can use to define our relationships in exactly the same way individuals do on an everyday basis.
Those institutional personality quirks we each hold so dear are informed directly by the people that make up our institutions. We are inherently focused on people. Therefore, we should create content that reflects our humanity.
If we want to build relationships through content our outputs should connect directly to what our audience needs. If we’re shouting into the void we’re probably doing something wrong because we would never do that as individuals. Instead, we have the opportunity to develop relationships with our audience that centre around trust and reliability, two values any university should constantly be striving to embody.
By attempting to ask the question “would a person do this?” we can move rapidly away from ineffective content marketing strategy and into effective content strategy.
The interactions we have with our audience should be built around experiences that they are actively looking for, and it is within these spaces that we can showcase our identity most effectively. For example if our content is easy to digest and accessible, in language and form, it indicates that we are inclusive.
When thinking about our institutional identities we might want to create content that actively describes who we are, but people don’t showcase their character traits by telling others “I’m funny” or “I’m kind”. We demonstrate who we are, through words and deeds. Through content and experiences.
While we may have institutional personality, if we try and prove that to others by explaining it, they’re likely to still see us as “just another university”. Instead, we can live our values through our content and provide a human experience for our audience.
As institutions, we may have 99% of the same substance, but we are unique because of the people at our core. If we can provide an equally unique human experience for our audience that delivers what they need before the things we presume they need then it won’t be long before we stop hearing “you’re all saying the same things” and start hearing “you’re all saying the things I needed to hear”.
Jonny is presenting a free webinar on March 21st (4pm UK time) where he will discuss in more detail why meaningful content matters in Higher Ed. Attendees will leave being able to:
There’ll also be time for Q&A after the main presentation. Reserve your space.