If you want people to read your content, share it, and come back for more (which, of course, you do) then there’s an important rule you need to remember:
Write for your audience.
This sounds easy enough, but it’s something a lot of schools struggle with. Your instinct (or training!) might be to “sell” your school at every turn. Yet that’s not going to help your content marketing plan succeed. A focus on prospective students and families will.
Here’s how to get in the audience-centric mentality:
You’ve probably already defined your target audience, but it’s not enough to stick to the basic demographic information. Have you uncovered what your audience is interested in, what they worry about, how they prefer to consume information—even how they spend their free time?
The broader the picture you have of each audience group, the easier it is to write in a way that feels like you’re speaking directly to them. Surveys and even informal polls on Facebook can help fill in the answers you’re not sure of.
When you know their interests and concerns, you can start writing content that will impact your audience. Your editorial calendar shouldn’t be filled with content that solely drives an internal agenda. Rework or delete content ideas that fall into this category, even if it means starting over with a blank editorial calendar.
Now, put together a brainstorming session. Include people from throughout your school—with an emphasis on anyone who interacts with prospective students and families. Start by asking them the questions and concerns they hear most often. You’ll have a long list within minutes, and each of those questions can be used as the basis for a piece of content.
There’s no better example of how well this approach works than Marcus Sheriden, a well-known content marketing success story. He attributes $1.7 million in sales to the first blog post he wrote, which addressed his customers’ most frequently asked questions about the pools his company installed.
That’s an incredible ROI for a short blog post that Sheriden and his team already had the knowledge to write about (no research or focus groups required). So how can a pool company’s success story help a school? What Sheriden taught us is that too often, fundamental questions get overlooked because they seem too basic. But that’s usually because the knowledge the seems fundamental to you only seems so because of your experience, and therefore isn’t known by your audience. Your content doesn’t need to be complex, and every idea doesn’t need to be groundbreaking, as long as its focused on what the audience cares about.
When your content is created with the audience in mind, it’s more relevant, helpful, honest and interesting. And therefore, so is your school.
Once you’ve published your content, start listening. Pay attention to the signals that scream more loudly—the comments, likes and shares—along with the softer signals—the amount of blog traffic, how much time people are spending with your content. When looked at together, you’ll have a good idea of the overall sentiment towards your content.
Now you can refine your content, update your editorial calendar and focus on getting it right every time. Or at least almost every time. No school is perfect, and in your quest for amazingly relevant content you’re probably going to fall short a few times. Instead of bemoaning your failures and flops, devote yourself to understanding why it didn’t work.
When a piece of content doesn’t work, you can revise it into something more meaningful to your audience. When it does work, repurpose it in another form to get more life out of it. As long as your actions are driven by audience feedback and data, you’ll be on the right path.
If your content isn’t resonating with your audience, it might be caused by one (or more) of these common problems.
The good news? They each have completely doable fixes, so even if you have gone slightly astray, it’s not too late to bounce back.
#1: YOU AREN’T BEING REAL.
Your brand voice should be clear in every piece of content you produce. Anything that’s wildly out of line with who your school is will be instantly detected by your audience. It’s like when your grandpa tells you he’s “jiggy with it”. He is actually so disconnected from modern slang that he’s using terminology that instantly dates him—but he thinks he’s being cool. It’s inauthentic and…awkward.
The fix: Stop being something you aren’t and just be you—that’s what your ideal student and family want.
#2: YOU BORE PEOPLE WITH DATA.
Stats can be powerful, and there is definitely a place for them, but too many statistics can make a school website feel like a research report. You are more likely to create content that resonates with people if you weave in real-life stories and examples.
The fix: Whenever possible, find testimonials and other examples that can both illustrate your point and create more of a narrative. Numbers can also be a powerful tool to provide support for opinions, but use them sparingly (think bullet points, not rambling paragraphs).
#3: YOU ALWAYS DO THINGS EXACTLY THE SAME WAY.
There are so many times consistency is good, but when your predictability extends to always using the same content formats and platforms, the same topics and structure, you might be boring your audience.
The fix: A vital part of maintaining a healthy school storytelling approach is to regularly evaluate your progress. Every three or six months, sit down with your team to brainstorm new approaches. This might mean developing a presence on a new social network, expanding your content to include video, adding new topics to your repertoire, etc. By keeping things fresh, you are more likely to keep you audience engaged.
#4: YOU DON’T KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.
When you aren’t sure who you are creating content for, you end up guessing. And most of the time, you end up guessing wrong—or just writing content that makes your department happy. Things can really start to unravel when your audience doesn’t feel like your content is for them.
The fix: Gather all the analytics you can. Survey your readers. Find out who they are, what they care about, and start creating content for them and no one else.
#5: YOU DON’T THINK ABOUT WHAT MAKES CONTENT INTERESTING.
A weird thing often happens to marketers when they create new content—they’re so focused on the jumble of ideas they want to make in any given piece of content, that they forget to try to make it interesting. But what good is fitting all 57 of your very important talking points if your audience is so uninterested they tune out after the first three?
The fix: Think like your audience. What makes you want to read, watch, or listen to things? Take a look at what grabs your attention and figure out why and how it did. Then seek to recreate that same pull in your own content.
#6: YOU JUST REGURGITATE OTHER PEOPLE’S THOUGHTS.
Your audience doesn’t have to pay attention to you. In fact, you’re likely competing with at least a few other schools who might offer similar programs or have a similar philosophy. If your audience finds themselves watching your video, reading your blog post or listening to your podcast, what they want to hear is YOU. So if you aren’t sharing any original thoughts and ideas, they are almost guaranteed to zone out.
The fix: Look at things from a unique perspective. Add in your unique point of view, encourage a different way of thinking, highlight new points. Give your audience a little more of you, and don’t be afraid.
#7: YOU CAN’T ANSWER “WHY?”.
If you created an eBook because your boss said you had to have one, bad idea. If you developed a video just because you had leftover money in your budget, another bad idea. The point of each piece of content you create should be clearly defined, and you should choose the format accordingly. If your goal was just to create something, that apathy will come through. That’s bad for your audience (they aren’t likely to be motivated to do anything as a result of that content) and bad for you (because you have an unmotivated audience who is also a bit unimpressed).
The fix: Define your goals and refer back to them often; they should drive your approach to everything you do. Think in terms of both short- and long-term goals, since what you do now affects both.
#8: YOUR CONTENT IS FILLED WITH JARGON.
Insider terms and buzzwords might make you feel professional and elite, but the reality is that they often confuse your audience, diminish your point, and make you indistinguishable from your competition. Simple and straightforward is better.
The fix: Review your content for the buzzwords and phrases you use often, and seek to immediately eliminate that language from your vocabulary.
#9: YOU’VE CREATED A ONE-WAY STREET.
People like to connect with schools, and the rise in blogs, social media and website functionality has provided more ways than ever to engage in conversation. It has become expected that you will not only provide multiple ways for your audience to connect with you, but also that you’ll talk back. So if you are ignoring blog post comments and don’t engage on social media, it’s likely that seems pretty harsh to your audience.
The fix: Set up notifications to make it easier for you to respond to each comment. Even a simple “thank you” message in response to a compliment can do wonders for upping your brand image—in the eyes of the person who left the comment, as well as others who see it. Take every opportunity to make the conversation a two-way street.
#10: YOU DON’T FLAT-OUT ENCOURAGE ENGAGEMENT.
If you don’t ask people to leave a comment, read a related article, or download your eBook, guess what? They probably won’t. So every time you aren’t encouraging your reader to dig a little deeper, you’re missing a huge opportunity to position yourself as even more of a helpful resource.
The fix: Include a call-to-action on every piece of content, and take advantage of opportunities to point your audience to related content that might be of interest to them.
Have you been making any of these common mistakes? It’s ok, we see them all the time—and we’ve also seen some clients recover from them beautifully. If you need extra guidance, learn more about how your school can work with Cursive.