Content, Content Everywhere

How can communications professionals mine high-quality content from our college communities?

October 8, 2015

"Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink." — Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

I sometimes feel this way as a communications professional thinking about the vast stores of knowledge and expertise held in each of our institutions. Each lab and seminar, each scientist, philosopher, student, and alum is teeming with tantalizing content, and accessing it should be as effortless as scooping it up into one’s cupped hands.

But it isn’t.

Providing relevant quips for Twitter, timely blog posts for the website, and soundbites for the local NBC affiliate isn’t top-of-mind for our faculty and students. They often just don’t have the time or inclination to do so. Inside lecture halls and laboratories, they are focused on teaching, learning, research, assessment, and the hegemony of Taylor Swift, as well they should be.

Building a Reservoir of Content

You’ve probably noticed however that user-generated content is proliferating just outside our walls – Amazon reviews, YouTube videos, Spotify playlists, Internet memes, LinkedIn profiles, Wikipedia entries. Spend just a few seconds on a site like The Internet in Real-Time, and it’s enough to make a thirsty content marketer go mad.

One of those companies with an abundance of user-generated content is Unigo.com, an online college matching platform featuring over 700,000 student reviews and 1 million visitors each month. The site was founded by Jordan Goldman who, at 18, gathered 30,000 responses from students via an online survey to create the Students’ Guide to Colleges published by Penguin.

I asked Goldman what we in communications offices could do to mine high-quality content from our college communities without depleting the sources.

Provide Prompts, Leverage Technology

We have to respect people’s time and acknowledge that our requests go above and beyond their obligations to our institutions, so try to make the process as easy as possible.

When asking for comments on a current event, testimonial for a continuing education course, or career success story, ask specific questions.

“People are busy,” says Goldman. “And it’s hard to come up with something from scratch. Giving them questions helps them unlock the insight they already have.”

The right tools are important as well. Give them a form to fill out. Allow them to record a quick video on their webcam or audio file on their phone and provide a link to a drop box. Anything we can do to make the process easier will increase their participation.

Showcase Authenticity

Our faculty offices and student lounges may not be manicured. Our students’ faces may be shiny, the pics they take a little grainy, the video a little orange-y, but Goldman implies that our tolerance for shiny, grainy, and orange-y has increased with the amount of content we consume online.

“When user-generated content is so prevalent, it’s the highly-produced, slick stuff that starts to look suspect.”

Ask Regularly, Deliver at Scale

One 15-second video of a student describing why she chose to major in Engineering is nice. 30 videos of students describing why they chose their major is an initiative. One alum posting an old picture with their first college roommate is cute. 30 alums posting is viral.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for content en masse,” Goldman urges. “If you get 20 professors to create two-minute videos describing their research, you’ve got a database.”

Establishing a routine process of collecting content in bulk (with the proper release and disclaimer information) also takes the pressure off of any one source and helps manage expectations of how the content will be used overall.

“Knowing that a regular solicitation for input will be coming once a month to a group allows people to manage their time, to participate one month but not the next, and to understand that their contribution may be used or may not.”

Making the Case

Goldman reminds me that harnessing these natural resources isn’t just about click-throughs, impressions, and search engine optimization however. It’s an opportunity for colleges and universities to showcase relevance.

I couldn’t agree more.

At a time when the worth of a college education is being questioned, when it’s being measured solely by the earning potential of our graduates, we must find more ways to tell the world about our scientific discoveries, cultural insights, and social innovations. We have to open the floodgates.

Donna Lehmann is the director of online communications at Fordham University in New York City.


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