Managing a centralised content strategy

Managing a centralised content strategy

5 minute read

Managing a centralised content strategy

5 minute read

Managing a centralised content strategy

Ashley Budd

Director of Digital Marketing for Cornell University’s Alumni Affairs and Development

As the token millennial at my first job, I was given all the digital projects–managing our blog, email marketing, and building a social media presence. I’m good at taking in-person events and translating them to online programs. In the last recession, my alma mater saw a decrease in families visiting campus. We knew how much interactions with our student tour guides influenced a prospective student’s decision to enroll. I took five students and put them online. They created a video series, hosted live chat sessions, and created virtual tours. 

Even though converting in-person experiences to digital can be rewarding, I found many hurdles in creating online offers that were planned for an in-person audience first. The digital content is almost always an afterthought or add-on. The online audience is second, third, or fourth on the priority list.

An increased demand for digital content

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we communicate. Stay-at-home orders have halted our ability to meet in person and increased our capacity and interest in connecting online. Now, in-person events are a non-starter. Digital content is in high demand and our entire world is being forced to think digital-first. Digital content producers are rejoicing! 

If you’re like me, you’re now getting hit with a firehose of digital content requests. Folks are forwarding ideas they want to be produced and sharing old content they want to resurface. Event planners who are used to packaging content for groups around the world now find themselves planning for a global audience in one location–the internet. 

In this new world, your content strategy needs to match how our communication styles and preferences have changed. Digital communication is replacing in-person interactions. As a result, there is a need to offer more digital content. Channel preferences are also changing. Email communication is noisier than ever. Video conferencing is more accessible. The demand for digital downloads and streaming content is exploding. 

If you work in a decentralised environment, as I do, now is the time to prioritise collaboration. At Cornell University, we are curating digital offers from across all of our colleges and units and making them accessible to the communities we serve. In my role, those community members are alumni, parents, donors, and friends of the University. We also recognise the need to create original content for our audience to meet their needs. The digital content that we feature should represent a variety of content types (videos, downloads, stories, etc.) and themes (entrepreneurship, the arts, career development, etc.) to reflect the diversity that makes Cornell so special. 

As we are adopting a centralised approach to gathering content, we’re also centralising alumni communication. In an effort to streamline communication, we are collaborating with university partners on an email calendar and approval process to get the right digital content out in front of alumni at the right time. 

Six steps to managing a centralised content strategy

1. Bring everyone together

It’s important to cast a very wide net from the start. Use all the channels you have to communicate your effort. For groups that you need on board to be successful, opt them into regular updates. Ask folks to share your effort with others they think might have an interest in collaborating. 

2. Identify decision-makers

You can’t streamline communication without some authority. Identify who can approve a centralised approach to content strategy and communication, and ask that person to be the executive sponsor for your work. Find leaders across your organisation that can help you set guidelines and enforce them.

3. Create various ways for people to help

In addition to a steering group of decision-makers, you’ll need a variety of ways for people to contribute to your effort. Survey your broadest group of stakeholders and ask them how they’d like to contribute. Here are some examples: 

  • Share content ideas
  • Provide already produced content
  • Support marketing efforts
  • Support production efforts
  • Review and approve content
  • Coordinate with campus/organisation partners

4. Get organised

I can’t stress enough the need for a system to organise your work. It starts with documenting who you are working with and what roles they will assume. Next, you need a place to store content ideas, tasks, production and marketing calendars, and completed work. While there are many project management tools available that could fit this need, there is one that never works–your email inbox. Avoid using your inbox at all costs. 

5. Create content themes

It’s important to showcase the breadth of what your organisation can offer. Strive for variety and balance. You can organise content by topics (like entrepreneurship, wellness, and creativity) or by engagement focus (learning, career support, and stewardship), or both! Tagging the content you collect will help you identify gaps in your offerings and give you clear direction for prioritising what gets featured and what needs to be developed.   

6. Create a production flow

There are lots of ways to produce content and many factors depend on your organisation, staff, and other resources. As a manager or content strategist, the key is knowing what that path looks like and flagging any roadblocks you might encounter. Lean on your steering team of decision makers to break down barriers. And, if there is a person or group of people that stand in your way, invite them into the process. 

Quick recap

Here’s how you can go from a firehose of content to a streamlined product that’s ready to share. 

  1. Rally a big team with decision makers at the helm
  2. Collect content ideas and suggested features in one place
  3. Prioritise your content by theme and timeliness 
  4. Assign production tasks
  5. Publish and promote

Working in an all-digital world requires systems in place to keep teams hyper-organised. If you weren’t a digital team before this, organising your work is going to take some time. When you find yourself getting flooded with digital content requests and asks, and all of a sudden everyone needs to know how to do everything digitally, push back on those expectations a bit. Give yourself time to organise your resources and collect information in one place. 

As the token millennial at my first job, I was given all the digital projects–managing our blog, email marketing, and building a social media presence. I’m good at taking in-person events and translating them to online programs. In the last recession, my alma mater saw a decrease in families visiting campus. We knew how much interactions with our student tour guides influenced a prospective student’s decision to enroll. I took five students and put them online. They created a video series, hosted live chat sessions, and created virtual tours. 

Even though converting in-person experiences to digital can be rewarding, I found many hurdles in creating online offers that were planned for an in-person audience first. The digital content is almost always an afterthought or add-on. The online audience is second, third, or fourth on the priority list.

An increased demand for digital content

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we communicate. Stay-at-home orders have halted our ability to meet in person and increased our capacity and interest in connecting online. Now, in-person events are a non-starter. Digital content is in high demand and our entire world is being forced to think digital-first. Digital content producers are rejoicing! 

If you’re like me, you’re now getting hit with a firehose of digital content requests. Folks are forwarding ideas they want to be produced and sharing old content they want to resurface. Event planners who are used to packaging content for groups around the world now find themselves planning for a global audience in one location–the internet. 

In this new world, your content strategy needs to match how our communication styles and preferences have changed. Digital communication is replacing in-person interactions. As a result, there is a need to offer more digital content. Channel preferences are also changing. Email communication is noisier than ever. Video conferencing is more accessible. The demand for digital downloads and streaming content is exploding. 

If you work in a decentralised environment, as I do, now is the time to prioritise collaboration. At Cornell University, we are curating digital offers from across all of our colleges and units and making them accessible to the communities we serve. In my role, those community members are alumni, parents, donors, and friends of the University. We also recognise the need to create original content for our audience to meet their needs. The digital content that we feature should represent a variety of content types (videos, downloads, stories, etc.) and themes (entrepreneurship, the arts, career development, etc.) to reflect the diversity that makes Cornell so special. 

As we are adopting a centralised approach to gathering content, we’re also centralising alumni communication. In an effort to streamline communication, we are collaborating with university partners on an email calendar and approval process to get the right digital content out in front of alumni at the right time. 

Six steps to managing a centralised content strategy

1. Bring everyone together

It’s important to cast a very wide net from the start. Use all the channels you have to communicate your effort. For groups that you need on board to be successful, opt them into regular updates. Ask folks to share your effort with others they think might have an interest in collaborating. 

2. Identify decision-makers

You can’t streamline communication without some authority. Identify who can approve a centralised approach to content strategy and communication, and ask that person to be the executive sponsor for your work. Find leaders across your organisation that can help you set guidelines and enforce them.

3. Create various ways for people to help

In addition to a steering group of decision-makers, you’ll need a variety of ways for people to contribute to your effort. Survey your broadest group of stakeholders and ask them how they’d like to contribute. Here are some examples: 

  • Share content ideas
  • Provide already produced content
  • Support marketing efforts
  • Support production efforts
  • Review and approve content
  • Coordinate with campus/organisation partners

4. Get organised

I can’t stress enough the need for a system to organise your work. It starts with documenting who you are working with and what roles they will assume. Next, you need a place to store content ideas, tasks, production and marketing calendars, and completed work. While there are many project management tools available that could fit this need, there is one that never works–your email inbox. Avoid using your inbox at all costs. 

5. Create content themes

It’s important to showcase the breadth of what your organisation can offer. Strive for variety and balance. You can organise content by topics (like entrepreneurship, wellness, and creativity) or by engagement focus (learning, career support, and stewardship), or both! Tagging the content you collect will help you identify gaps in your offerings and give you clear direction for prioritising what gets featured and what needs to be developed.   

6. Create a production flow

There are lots of ways to produce content and many factors depend on your organisation, staff, and other resources. As a manager or content strategist, the key is knowing what that path looks like and flagging any roadblocks you might encounter. Lean on your steering team of decision makers to break down barriers. And, if there is a person or group of people that stand in your way, invite them into the process. 

Quick recap

Here’s how you can go from a firehose of content to a streamlined product that’s ready to share. 

  1. Rally a big team with decision makers at the helm
  2. Collect content ideas and suggested features in one place
  3. Prioritise your content by theme and timeliness 
  4. Assign production tasks
  5. Publish and promote

Working in an all-digital world requires systems in place to keep teams hyper-organised. If you weren’t a digital team before this, organising your work is going to take some time. When you find yourself getting flooded with digital content requests and asks, and all of a sudden everyone needs to know how to do everything digitally, push back on those expectations a bit. Give yourself time to organise your resources and collect information in one place. 

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About the author

Ashley Budd

Ashley Budd is a digital strategist and designer working primarily with higher education institutions and non-profit organizations. Through speaking, writing, and research she offers insights into contemporary issues in enrollment, fundraising, and communication technology. Ashley is director of digital marketing for alumni affairs and development at Cornell University. Prior to joining the digital team at Cornell, Ashley spent over five years at her alma mater, Rochester Institute of Technology, where she led social media strategy for undergraduate admissions. Ashley serves as producer of the Higher Ed Live podcast exploring innovations and trends in higher education. Connect with Ashley on Twitter, @ashley_budd.

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