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College towns abound across the country and around the world. From Berkeley, California, to Burlington, Vermont, and Cambridge, England, to Beijing, China, these cities welcome thousands of young adults each year to make their communities places to study, live, work, and play.
Today, colleges and universities are increasingly seeking ways to connect students with their college towns to offer them unique experiential learning and community service opportunities. While much of higher education marketing focuses on admissions, institutions of higher learning shouldn’t ignore the impact they make on the cities and towns in which they’re based. Engaging content marketing efforts to foster college–community relations can help colleges and universities promote their roles as active stakeholders in their communities.
Image via Flickr by Germanna CC
Online magazine Inc. reports that 80 percent of consumers say that authentic content can compel them to engage with a company. Given that statistic, it’s no secret that more and more brands are using storytelling as the strategy to connect with their audiences — and colleges and universities are no exception. Shannon Lanus, a content strategist for mStoner, Inc., offers the following guidance for institutions that seek to incorporate storytelling into their communications plans: “You must find the stories that only you can tell.”
York College of Pennsylvania, a private liberal arts college of about 4,700 students located in south-central Pennsylvania, offers an example of how institutions can use storytelling to promote their roles as community stakeholders through local publications. The college’s Center for Community Engagement works with the York-based YRK Magazine to share stories about and highlight the ways the college partners with downtown York businesses and nonprofits to foster innovative experiential learning opportunities for its students. Through these stories, York College has been able to demonstrate its role in contributing academic capital to promote research, service, and economic development in the City of York.
According to a University of Massachusetts Dartmouth survey on the use of social and digital media by universities, 86 percent reported having an institutional presence on YouTube alone. Given that percentage, who can ignore the use of video as a highly impactful form of content marketing?
Video offers ways for institutions to allow their audiences to hear from students collaborating with government leaders on feasibility studies for proposed bike-only lanes on city streets, for example. The highly shareable nature of video content itself gives university communications officers the capability to distribute a well-executed video presentation across multiple forms of social media and websites.
Creating great community engagement content for video, however, involves planning and resources. Investing in a piece of video content is just that, an investment. To create a professional-looking product that reflects a university’s brand persona while communicating its intended story requires videographers and visualists. If your institution doesn’t have access to video professionals on campus, contracting with an external video production team can provide the resources needed to execute a video project. When planning for video, think about maximizing use of the footage you gather: A one-minute video presentation could be segmented into short 30-second clips for sharing on social media.
Communities thrive because of partnerships. Colleges, too, can thrive with community content marketing partnerships. Many of these partnerships can be formed organically and some may require cultivation. Places to start include businesses and organizations where members of the college may already be involved, such as student internship host sites or businesses where board members, staff, or faculty work.
Use resources such as blogs, e-newsletters, publications, mailers, and social media to best advantage. Perhaps a content sharing partnership could involve a college agreeing to share regular stories of students working as interns at local businesses in a recurring department column in the college’s alumni magazine. The business, in turn, could promote the story of its involvement with the college via social media posts or through an article in its company newsletter. Content sharing in this sense operates a bit like influencer marketing, which essentially relies on having others promote your business and your marketing message for you. In this case, community partners can serve as key communications resources to bring stories from college campus to customers.
College marketing professionals can use their own students to tell stories of community involvement. These can be anything from music majors performing in a community symphony orchestra concert to the quarterback of the varsity football team volunteering to coach an after-school youth sports league. College students are actively involved in clubs and activities on campus and community, and they’re active on major social platforms. A 2018 Pew Research study confirmed that young adults, especially those ages 18 to 24, embrace a variety of social media platforms and communicate through them heavily. Seventy-eight percent use Snapchat, and 71 percent of young adults in this age group use Instagram.
College communications offices thus possess natural content marketing storytellers who can amplify their marketing efforts. Recruiting students as content ambassadors can bring what may be some untold stories of great work being done in the community to light. Perhaps your college communications office can start a “students in the community” blog that allows students to serve as guest contributors. Don’t know where to find the students you need? Ask leaders of campus organizations, residence hall assistants, faculty and staff, and athletic coaches for student recommendations.
The use of content marketing to create links between colleges and their towns can awaken communities to the work that educational institutions are doing to create avenues for student learning beyond the classroom. Colleges themselves can also awaken their own campus communities about what awaits their students in their college town through effective content marketing. By using communications resources, networking and content sharing partnerships, and storytellers within and beyond their campuses, colleges can foster positive college–town relations. Indeed, content marketing can effectively demonstrate the roles educational institutions serve as active stakeholders in and stewards of the communities in which they’re based.