In the world of digital marketing, educational institutions have several advantages that they don’t often appreciate. To start, universities and colleges can have a domain ending in “.edu,” which Google ranks higher in search. People naturally trust content from a university as having higher authority than your average website. A natural by-product of being in the academic industry is that universities and colleges frequently generate content, either through their students or their staff.
Higher education marketers have access to an incredible amount of content, which they can use to strengthen their SEO strategy, increase their brand’s reputation and authority, and attract prospective students.
Add to those advantages that students have a natural urge to share their thoughts with the world. In fact, any student honing their creative skills is eager to show off their talent for the world. Get a large enough liberal arts course catalog together, and you have a resource of writers, graphic designers, editors, web developers, and video artists at your disposal. It’s a win-win; they can gain valuable experience in creating marketing content, while your marketing team can augment their resources with fresh creative talent. Students enrolled in scientific programs are also keen to publish or present their work, which means your marketing team should have ample material to work with. You can write blog articles that share new research developments, findings from the field, or highlight the latest conference presentation.
This is not to say that a higher education institution should rely entirely on their student body for online content. The best campus media channels have a mix of voices including students, professors, visiting speakers, administrative staff, and even the dean. In this article, we’re going to explore some of the best examples of digital content marketing in the academic world.
Base Guidelines for Academic Digital Content Marketing
When creating content for the higher education industry, there are some core principles that you should follow:
- Create content that your target audience actually wants to read. It should either inform, connect, entertain, or help.
- Include rich media, preferably a mix of text, image, audio, and video.
- Use social media to amplify your reach.
- Discuss your school’s degree programs and courses, but don’t make it into a sales brochure.
- Showcase the achievements of alumni, teachers, staff, and students. Let the world know that you’re proud of what your people accomplish.
- Customize your message to the type of student that you want to attract.
- Update your technical SEO and ensure search engines can crawl your site.
With those basic tips in place, there are actually a wide variety of strategies and approaches that are viable for academic blogging. Now, let’s take a round-trip tour of the best university blogs that we could find.
Birmingham Business School – Faculty News Site Takes Honors
Here is an example of excellent content marketing. The UK’s University of Birmingham Business School Blog is published by a small group of contributing faculty. Once you scroll down past the pinned wall of text and get into the posts proper, this becomes a news blog as good as any by BCC or CNN.
There’s a wide variety of topics and tags in the sidebar, inviting us to dive in:
- The Curse and the Cure – Facebook’s Use of Artificial Intelligence – In the “responsible business” category
- The Rise and Rise of Craft Business – The Craft Takeover? – From the “entrepreneurship” section
- Black Panther, More Than Just a Superhero Movie – In the “culture” wing
- Would an Electric Car Be Right for You? – Under “consumerism”
- Less is Better: Guarding Your Privacy in a World of Micro-targeting – In the “advertising” category
This is what we mean when we say “build brand awareness by offering the public something they’d want anyway.” Anyone of these posts could have at least come from The Guardian. They address pending, relevant issues. Even if you never intended to have anything to do with a university, this blog still makes a good bookmark on your morning news menu. For prospective students, it’s a favorable first impression that leads them to want to explore the rest of the school’s resources.
One minor gripe is that the whole site isn’t as active as it could be. Some categories are a bit bare. But overall, it does the job it sets out to do.
MIT Graduate Admissions – Thoughtful Student Reflections
Being the nation’s premier tech university, you would expect the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to put the blog format to good use—and it delivers in spades! MIT Graduate Admissions blog has students sharing their thoughts on their experiences at the institution. It is a perfect “student ambassador” platform, with charmingly candid insights about campus life. The blog is a balanced mix of slice-of-life, expert advice, student advocacy, creativity, humor, and observant reflection. Here’s a sampling of articles:
- How Not to Die Alone – Free cats at MIT – A cat story
- Perfection versus Persistence – How I got into grad school – Practical advice
- A Techless Path To MIT – How I, an aspiring philosopher, wound up choosing the world’s most famous tech school – A unique personal journey
- A Different Kind of Long-Distance Relationship – Tips on how to make remote advising work for you – A timely topic during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic
- Biking Diaries of a Graduate Student – Why did I get a bike? I was just two-tired – Local perspective
We honestly cannot find a single criticism to make, except that a few of the academic departments are lacking representatives. While this is all student content, every single post is published by somebody who wanted to write it. You can tell that the writers are passionate about the topics and are eager to share their perspectives.
For prospective students, there is no better cure for “admissions jitters” than to check out the MIT blog space. You get a great feel for the kinds of students with whom you’ll be rubbing elbows and down-to-earth advice for navigating campus life. Reading here feels like coffee with a circle of bright, chatty friends.
CalArts 24700 – Wide Open Intellectual Space
“Media savvy” is the description that best sums up the lofty “24700” (that is its name) blog at California Institute of the Arts. The blog is mostly for promotion of CalArts University through celebrating the achievements of its faculty and students but also serves as a free-ranging arena for perspectives on current events and developments in the wide world of the arts. A handful of sample posts:
- Character Animation Student’s Graphic Essay Published in The Washington Post – Celebrating student achievement
- CalArts Among Top Five Fine Arts Graduate Schools – University celebrates listing in US News & World Report
- What to Read While Quarantined – General public resource relevant to current headlines
- Interview: Meet Jessica Wawra (Kesselring), Hauser & Wirth’s Summer Curatorial Resident – News relevant to students
- Honoring Chouinard Alum and Legendary Monster Designer Milicent Patrick – Alumnus book promotion and cultural history piece
CalArts 24700 is an entertaining and enlightening read for anyone, not just prospective students. Being an art school in California founded in the 1960s by none other than the Disney brothers, CalArts doesn’t have to reach very far to find vibrant arts and culture news. With its star-studded alumni, faculty, and visiting arts roster, the stories grow right in their own backyard.
We can’t find any bones to pick with 24700 except that maybe it’s a little too self-serving at times. That being said, the university itself has a lot to contribute to the art world. Bonus side channels include their Flash animations Tumblr featuring student projects, their YouTube channel packed with panels, symposiums, and performances, and a CalArts subreddit. You can’t go far on the web without running into CalArts.
MCC Writing Center Underground – Writing About Writing
Anybody reading through our list is probably thinking about the blog they need to start, improve, or maintain, so it’s fortuitous that we stumbled upon this one. The Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska, presents Writing Center Underground, a blog about the craft of writing. This is strictly an instructional blog published by faculty, which qualifies as a “writer’s workshop” remote learning resource on its own. Since it’s a general interest topic, it’s useful to anyone who stops by, while also being a showcase of their staff’s expertise and an online magnet to attract new talent.
- Poetry Analysis – A brush-up opportunity for non-English majors
- Dialogue 101: How to Format Narrative Dialogue – Keeping the conversation going
- Simple Steps to Organize an Argument Essay – Research paper tips
- New Year’s Writing Resolutions – A small grammar pop quiz
- Productive Writing: 5 Questions to Help Manage Your Writing Project – More research paper tips
Writing Center Underground is a single-minded, blue-collar blog with one task, which it accomplishes with vigor. One feels as if reading through the whole blog was as good as taking a course since it comes complete with exercises.
Far be it from us to criticize such a resource, but the only issue with this blog is that it’s a little too selfless. It’s easy to miss the fact that this blog is produced by the Nebraska MCC. It’s like an exercise in brand awareness without the brand. They even link to other universities such as Purdue’s writing program. Of course, it could be that the blog is strictly intended for student’s eyes only and they trust links like the page at MCC Writing Center to do their promotion. Still, at least including the MCC logo somewhere on the blog’s home page couldn’t hurt?
Baylor College of Medicine From the Labs – Blogging Through the Microscope
As a university resource, which is also a platform for informally publishing medical research and news, “From the Labs” is a solid medical academic blog. Published by Baylor University in Waco, Texas, this blog puts you right in the lab just as its title suggests. You can view cell slides through the eyes of medical researchers, get a bench-side seat to new medical discoveries, and hear about medical school life through the occasional student piece.
- From My Perspective: Victoria Tenge Shares Her Experience as a Graduate Student at Baylor – Student ambassador post
- What Extensive Protein Analysis Revealed About Cancer – Cancer research
- The Making of a ‘Couch Potato Mouse’ – Applied research investigates the genetics of obesity tendencies
- From My Perspective: Dr. Jeremy Schraw Shares His Experiences During Postdoctoral Training – Alumni experience
- E-cigarettes Disrupt Lung Function and Raise Risk of Infection – Recent study publishing
“From the Labs” is an exceptional blog by any standard, with all the excitement of the frontiers of modern medicine delivered in every blog post. It takes a nicely balanced approach between small bursts of self-promotion for the university and news to serve the medical research community at large. It covers a broad range of topics within biological sciences, and it’s fun to hear students geek out over their findings.
Our only nitpick is that it could be a little more accessible to the general public. With titles like “Sox9 reshapes the biliary tree in Alagille syndrome,” the best some of us layman can say is “I know almost half of those words.” But From the Lab is not for the general public’s consumption. We imagine any aspiring doctors out there might follow this blog breathlessly, yearning for the day when they can join the ranks of these pioneering scientists—at which point, the blog has done its job and wants for nothing more.
Conclusions – What Have We Learned?
We’ve learned that there are many faces of the flexible content platform of blogs. They can be personal perspectives, an educational resource, an avenue to share research findings, creative outlets for the visual arts, or any mixture of the above. The most successful university blogs we’ve seen make their schools come alive. By sharing the passion of the school’s mission, the blog becomes an electrified narrative—it makes prospective students want to be a part of it.
For a final thought, the whole point of the blog is that it’s an improvement upon the static web HTML page, which never changes. Blogs were invented to deliver a stream of fresh content so that readers can check back and find something new. With that said, a blog is not doing its job unless it pulls the reader to come back later. By intriguing and provoking curiosity, blogs act on our natural instinct to check back and see what’s new.
As we pointed out at the beginning, colleges and universities have a natural advantage when it comes to digital marketing through the blog medium, because they’re always creating fresh content. As a blog author, editor, or publisher, you get to share the narrative of your university’s place in the world and how you’re changing that world around you. You can involve your staff, your visiting experts, your past alumni, your students’ parents, and any other nearby voices to tell the story. You set the pace for the story and hitch it to your students’ dreams.
What will their story be, and what wonders will happen along the way? Feel free to reach out to me. I’d love to help you craft you create a truly amazing digital experience that attracts prospective students.