Why Your School Needs a Content Strategy – and How to Implement It

March 6, 2017 Jim Cianca

A parent once complained loudly about a “blown opportunity” my team had allegedly missed in the coverage of our school.  Her son had won an extra-curricular academic award, and this mom was incensed that this recognition hadn’t made the school headlines.  Fortunately, my team had a well-thought out content management strategy, so we avoided feeling obligated to post as knee-jerk reaction, and we were able to explain to her and others why we post what we do.  Having a content strategy plan made all the difference. 

What exactly is content strategy (and what does it mean in your school)?

It has been said that “If content is king, then content strategy is the king-maker” (UX Booth, 2016).  You share information in your school about admissions activities, athletics and fine arts events, advancement efforts, academic successes, and so much more.  But how do you choose what to post, where to post it, how you should deliver it, and who should be doing it?  That’s what a content strategy is for.  It sets you up for success in the delivery of your content.  Consider the following four quadrants in developing a content strategy:

SubstanceWhat should be included in your content?

There is no way to overemphasize the following point: always stay mission & vision focused!  Don’t post for the sake of posting.  Faculty, parents, or even board members may press you to post content with no more reason than “it’s interesting…”  In my experience, that often means the person requesting the post has a child involved in the activity or has a vested interest in the event they want posted.  There is nothing wrong with someone having that desire, but it is up to you to resist the pressure! Everything must be sifted through a “mission filter” – if the content highlights the fulfillment of your school’s mission, it’s a worthy candidate for coverage, and if not, it isn’t.  The Content Marketing Institute explains that “At its core, your content marketing strategy is your “why” (CMI, 2016). You produce print publications, web content, social media posts, videos, live production, and more.  You must have a clear mission-driven reason for everything you present to those inside and outside your school.   


Workflow: What outlets do you use and how do you use them strategically?

My rule of thumb is straightforward: match the outlet to the user, and cross-post whenever it makes sense.  Moms use Facebook.  Kids use Instagram.  Sports fans use Twitter.  Everyone uses the website, but they all use different parts of it.  A lot of content also has cross-posting potential.  A print piece can be broken up piecemeal and re-distributed through a broad array of channels, drawing the reader to explore the print piece more deeply.  A single photo on Instagram can have a link that brings you to a photo gallery on the website.  An email can be paired with a direct mail Admission piece – a hybrid approach that saves money and increases effectiveness.  A major event (like hosting a special speaker) can make use of print, email, web posts, social media, news releases, and live streaming – all of which have a slightly different tone and presentation.  Cast a wide net.  Plan your distribution process ahead of time, and get in a rhythm where your team knows how and where to post content. 


Governance: Who posts what?

I am a huge fan of a decentralized approach to content distribution.  If all the information in your school has to pass through the narrow funnel of one office (be it the IT department, marketing & communications team, or the headmaster’s office), you will severely limit your content scope and quality.  It is simply not logistically possible.  Instead, trust your people -- train them, and set them free.  No one knows more or cares more about the library than the librarian, no one knows more or cares more about the college office than the college advisors, no one knows more or cares more… well, you get the idea.  Let your division assistants manage their own web pages, let the athletics department manage their own Twitter accounts, let the art department manage its own Instagram account.  I have even turned over a student activities Twitter account to student leaders – yes, you heard that right; you’d be amazed at the fantastic content students produce, and how they step up when they know you trust them.  A central team that trains, organizes, and sells overall vision is essential, but shared responsibility increases your effectiveness exponentially. 

Teamwork pays great dividends as well.  We established a “Facebook Five” group to manage our official Facebook account, and we had someone from each of the following teams: admissions, advancement, academics, athletics, and one “open” day where the marketing & communications team chose whatever they saw fit.  It was a great model that distributed the workload and types of content. 


Structure: What type of content should you post? 

I always recommend structuring your content to match the message.  For instance, if you are communicating details of a building project, make sure you include mock-ups and visuals to bring it alive.  The excitement of a State Championship may be communicated best with a highlight video, or even live-streaming – and sports are always represented well with photo galleries.  Academic program changes need in-depth text – 140 characters just won’t do it, but student activities and announcements are served well with clip art and a phrase.  Use a variety to reach various constituents, and cross-post your content when possible. 


Content is essential, and managing it with a deliberate content strategy makes your efforts worthwhile.  I encourage you to take the time to step back and formulate a content management strategy, and once you have one, let it guide your efforts.  You will be glad you did. 


About the Author

Jim Cianca

Dr. Jim Cianca has been involved in high-quality private education in many roles, including as a head of school, an academic administrator, director of marketing & communications, an academic department chair, faculty member, and parent. He is currently the executive director of Alliance Academy International in Quito, Ecuador. He has been involved in educational leadership and marketing and communications efforts, both as a business leader and as an educator since 1998. To learn more visit: http://www.edcomassociates.com/

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