The role of content in digital/AR is essentially the backbone of any delivery in the space. The ability to discover and curate content lies at the heart of a sustainable programme. However, almost no infrastructure – either people, processes or technology – seems to exist today. I’ve noted a few recommendations below to try to address these.
Content discovery seems to be holding back almost every institution. Pulling together all the content for magazines, newsletters, content for social media, direct mail and telephone asks is an enormous task. Content is the research that is happening, the lives that are being led by students, the athletic programmes, the arts, culture, music, the campus improvements/developments, and the stories of alumni and staff. Relevant, timely and interesting content is what drives engagement on digital channels.
However, most institutions have not yet adapted to the need to be much more reactive and responsive to the opportunities that emerge. For example, if an institution is used to sending one magazine a year, there is a proactive and period editorial process which the institution follows. If a story comes up that is of huge potential interest one week before publication, it’s almost impossible to do anything about it. As a result, this is how organizations have structured their content discovery programmes. Several I spoke to have editorial boards which meet a couple of times a year to try to gather and curate some of the bigger stories from different departments. Some have embedded communications professionals inside departments to try to get close to the emergent stories. These are slow moving and extremely expensive in time, human resources and coordination.
Digital moves substantially faster than this, and to be successful, it’s not enough to just have some interesting stories a few times a year (or even month). Digital is driven by a rapid series of micro-interactions, effectively news cycles of a few hours or a few days, and with a much wider context in mind. We expect our digital communications to be relevant (related to real issues in the real world), timely (relevant now), and interesting (something which delivers value to the reader through intellectual curiosity, humour, learning or insight). A proactive, editorial process is unlikely to be flexible enough to generate content rapidly enough to meet these needs.
This is exacerbated by the creation of centralized communications and/or alumni relations teams who are charged with generating all the content. These teams by definition of being centralized have few real connections into the wider institutional world, where they are able to find and discover the relevant, timely and interesting content.
New methodologies for listening and discovery are needed – both organizational and technological. It’s clear that vast amounts of information is being created – on webpages, on social media – and yet much of this never sees the light of day when it comes to external communications.
I believe from my conversations that this is an emergent problem and that solutions may evolve too. Organizations are rapidly becoming more decentralized in their communications – departments run their own communications and social media teams already, researchers and students alike use their own social media and webpages, and the idea that a university speaks with one voice when it comes to external communications is a myth. What matters here is how an organization listens, curates and amplifies the best of what is being said so that strategy can still underpin the new reality of communications.
The main issue, I believe, lies above – in the discovery phase. However, curating content to ensure it lies within the remit of strategic objectives before magnifying it is challenging, as this is a “new” role – responding to the rapid and substantial influx of new communications, filtering out that which does not meet strategic priorities, and appropriately connecting the dots between the incoming communications and the correct place to amplify content.
Again, new methodologies are required. This is not a job I found identified in any existing institution, and from my conversations there were no technological tools or processes that had been developed for rapidly assessing new content against strategic priorities and external brand positioning.
If the best content emerges from within the organization or its networks, is curated by an office, what then? We have a pipeline of new content, and a potentially enormous network we could communicate it too. At the simplest level, we could add it to the next newsletter to send to everyone, or we could share it on social media. To go one step beyond this – and start identifying those for whom the content is both interesting and relevant – we need to much better understand the audiences we’re talking to, and how best to engage with them.
At the heart of this lies the ability to appropriately segment – not just based on interests, but also on engagement. If organizations have a clear understanding of their purpose, the reasons why engagement is important, the journeys they expect different types of “supporter” to take, and what these personas actually are, then it’s relatively easy to identify the audiences and channels for each story. It’s also easier to the analyse where these stories are going to come from.
This is, of course, a relatively well understood area of content marketing, and rather than reiterating a large body of work in this area here, I suggest the reader explores content marketing, particularly personas, journeys, and segmentation. The part not covered by content marketing is advocacy/amplification by specific, engaged ambassadors. This is a relatively new area and one covered earlier in the “Chasm Model” section of this report. The substantial shift in attention away from broadcast media towards social means we no longer want stories from organizations – we want stories from people. This means both discovery and dissemination need to become decentralized, and delegated. This is a major shift for organizations, as it requires delegation not just of responsibility, but also of brand and trust. We cover these areas: reputation and risk, later in the report.
- Stop writing content, start discovering and curating it
- Start investing in active listening tools, monitoring departmental and internal web pages and social media for new stories and content
- Invest in processes for rapid curation of content around strategic priorities
- Invest in audience personas, segmentation, journey analysis
- Invest in individual advocates or ambassadors for each segment, to reflect the attention shift from institutions to individuals
Read on for Technology and Integration.