“Creating and sharing your school story is amazing and all … but how can it be measured?”
This was one of the many on-point questions I received when speaking to a group of leaders and trustees at the Connecticut Association of Independent School’s Governance Conference. We were talking about storytelling, and looking at examples from both big brands and stellar schools who have been able to find success with content marketing.
So the question became, what does success look like?
And the answer: it depends.
Vague, yes, but also accurate. Because content marketing success truly depends on your content marketing goals.
I like this quote from marketer Rebecca Lieb—it’s directed toward businesses, but the relevance for schools is clear:
“How you measure the quality and success [of your content] depends on what your goals are. So I’m throwing it back to you with that classic marketing answer which applies to any marketing related question: it depends. But what you have to do is develop a set of metrics around your content that are tied to KPIs: Key Performance Indicators. So is your content meant to raise awareness of your product or service? To sell your product or service? To increase lead generation? To lessen calls to the customer service department? I can’t tell you what your goals are, but once you tell me what those goals are I can help you create ways to benchmark your content in order to determine if it’s meeting those goals.”
In order to measure your success in a content marketing initiative, you need to know more than just how to measure, you need to know what to measure. Let’s take a look at how to first set your storytelling goals, and then gauge their effectiveness.
Strategy is key to content marketing. During the strategy stage—before you produce any actual content– you must identify your intended audience, document your goals, and outline the tactics that will help you reach your goals.
So what goals can be connected with a content marketing initiative? Most often, your goal is a metric you want to increase, such as:
These metrics should also be connected to an overall development goal. For example, connections don’t matter unless they are part of a strategy to get potential new students or families into a marketing funnel that will lead them to admissions, donations, etc. Or, if you know that you convert potential students into enrolled students very successfully after a school visit, you might want to target an increase in visits as your goal.
Knowing what you want your content to achieve is the critical first step in any content marketing plan. And don’t just plan it out— write it down. One study showed that 60% of those who document their strategy report that they are highly effective in their content marketing efforts, as opposed to 32% who have only a verbal strategy.
In order to do great work that is meaningful to your audience, you first need to put strategic thought behind your goals — yet goals are often set for arbitrary or misguided reasons.
Deadlines need to be set in order to achieve goals, but careful consideration should be given to why a deadline is chosen. Many deadlines are driven by a false sense of urgency.
Would it be great to say your revamped school blog launched on the first day of school? Sure! Would it be great to launch a revamped blog on that day if you didn’t take the time to focus on strategy and a long-term plan for its success? No.
Craft your deadlines based on what needs to be accomplished. Once you develop a reasonable deadline, you can adjust if needed without sacrificing crucial steps.
Words to live by: “Anything worth doing is worth doing right.”
There is no magical number of website pages, blog posts or videos that will make increase your enrollment or send inquiries skyrocketing. There is, however, a number website pages, blog posts, and videos that you can create given the time, budget and manpower you have available. There is also a number and priority of topics on which you can focus your content efforts. And there is a number of content pieces that you can do an outstanding job at creating.
Those are the numbers you should focus on.
It is easy (and common) to approach the quantity question differently. Completing a video per month, for example, is an arbitrary and dangerous goal. It puts you in the position of “needing” to create 12 videos per year. As a result, you find yourself scrambling just to produce videos so you can say that you did. Those topics might not be meaningful; the amount of work it takes to complete them might not be necessary.
The better way? Identify the areas in which your school is an expert and can speak with authenticity and authority. Then focus on developing killer content in those key areas using the resources you have.
Formats & Channels
The newest social media platform might be generating a lot of buzz amongst marketers, but it doesn’t mean you need to be there.
The stats on the effectiveness of video might be compelling, but video might not be your best next step.
The schools you’re competing with might be on Instagram, but that doesn’t make it the right platform for you.
When goals surrounding content formats and channels are set based on irrelevant influences—such as hype or the fear of missing out—things can go downhill, fast.
An initiative should be evaluated based on your goals, audience, message and resources, and how well that aligns with a platform or format.
Once you have your strategy in place and your goals set, you need to create amazing content that is designed to move your audience forward in the decision-making process. And the key there is AMAZING. Because if you’re creating mediocre content, you can expect mediocre results.
Before you begin sharing your story — or before you STOP sharing it because you’re afraid your efforts are being wasted — think about what makes content truly great. Here are some considerations that will help:
Find your content focus.
Finding your content focus is critical, especially in this saturated storytelling world. It’s too easy for even great content to get lost in the clutter if it’s not targeting a specific audience’s specific needs. By writing with focus, you prove you know your audience and that your school is one they can trust. The right people will appreciate your expertise and point of view. Will others pass you by? Probably. But those people aren’t the ones that will be a fit for your school community.
Create content marketing, not just content.
The foundation of content marketing is creating content that will benefit your target audiences, but that’s only the beginning. The strategy that you develop to get your content to the right people at the right time? That’s the critical part. That’s the marketing part.
Consider these words from Content Marketing Institute’s Joe Pulizzi:
“If you are not changing behavior for the good of the business is some way, you are just producing content, not content marketing.”
Yes, you want to create content that feels good to your audience. But if it doesn’t benefit your school, you aren’t content marketing– and you’re not getting closer to your goals.
Examine and criticize your own story.
Here’s what often happens when you really know your story: You get so used to reading something about your school, or viewing something on your website, that you don’t really see it anymore. Images are blurred. Words become meaningless. It happens to everyone.
But it doesn’t happen to the person reading it or seeing it for the first time. And that person is looking at it, or reading it, and making snap judgments and decisions about you. That’s why it’s so important to be your story’s biggest, constant critic. This article tells you how to do it effectively.
When you begin to build your audience, you need to deliver what you promised. And what you promised is (I hope) valuable, interesting content. You can’t build trust with your audience overnight. It’s that slow, steady act of showing up, over and over again, with content that matters, that will build a relationship with your audience.
Now that your content marketing strategy is up and running, you need to be on its heels. Know where it’s going. How it’s doing. What’s working, and what’s not.
First, give it some time. Content marketing is not a quick-fix, so if you aren’t seeing things change overnight, or even in one semester, don’t give up.
When you’re ready to analyze your data, what you analyze, and the tools you use for that analysis, will depend on your goals.
You may need to ignore the traditional metrics (gasp! pageviews might not matter) in favor of a new set of data can be uncomfortable at first. Heidi Cohen lays out an extraordinarily helpful list of content marketing metrics segmented by goal. This is not just one big long list of metrics because the data that matters depends what you set out to accomplish. She, too, echoes the goals-first approach to content marketing analysis:
“Start by determining your business and marketing goals for your content marketing. Then select the metrics that are most effective to track your progress towards achieving these goals.”
If you’re looking for another way to approach your analytics, Convince & Convert’s Jay Baer has an approach to content marketing measurement that involves metrics from four segments: consumption, sharing, lead generation and sales, each of which answers a key question. Instead of getting hung up on what the numbers mean, his straightforward questions provide a focus—and make it clear why the numbers matter. As Baer explains it,
“If you know the answers to all four of those key questions, you have a holistic content marketing measurement system that will help you efficiently and effectively judge content pieces and archetypes.”
Once you’ve taken a clear look at the right data, you can honestly answer the ultimate question: “Is this content marketing approach successful?” Then you can move forward knowing you’re on the right track, or make adjustments to get there.
Content marketing takes a different approach than traditional marketing, so is it any surprise that it also turns the traditional marketing analytics approach on its head, too?
Ready to start measuring what matters? Remember, it starts with strategy — and we have tools to get you started. Access them for FREE in our Resource Library.