Building Your Content Strategy for Engagement

Justin Laing discusses his initiative to repurpose content, with a goal of producing up to ten pieces of content from one hour with a researcher on campus.

6 minutes
By: Justin Laing

Learning how to build and create engaging content takes time, discipline, and a lot of trial and error, but the results are well worth the effort. A successful content marketing strategy can be a game changer in the way you attract new students or resources to your university.

Content creation is core to all academic disciplines, yet our researchers and subject matter experts are often busy in their work, so their time with us, as marketers, is limited.

Inspired by what I learned at Content Marketing World, as well as from other leaders in mainstream marketing, I realized there was an opportunity to shift the way we thought about content and start using some of the tactics employed by big brands.

In order to build engaging content that could help attract new students, donors, and prestige for our university, we had to understand how to best optimize time and go beyond our typical protocol of filming a video or producing a media release. In the last year, we set out to achieve a big but attainable goal: creating up to ten pieces of content from every one hour with a researcher on campus.

While developing more content and spending more time on this content requires a larger lift, engagement with our content has proven that the effort is worth it.

Set Your Efforts Up for Success

In the past, we would put together a media release or video, publish it, and move on. In order to push ourselves to create multiple pieces of content, we had to move away from that model, which took some trial and error.

You have to set yourself up for success, and that starts with taking the time to do as much research as possible in preparation for your interview. It’s harder to book time with faculty and alumni than administrators, so when you get their time you want to use it wisely.

We make a real effort to learn about them and about their research in advance so we can dig into the deep answers and avoid frustrating them with a lack of awareness. It’s important to note that we’re not always relying on a new piece of research that’s about to be published with this concept. Sometimes, we find a subject matter expert to weigh in on topical or current news and affairs, so research is a critical element of content creation.

More engagement internally as well as externally has quadrupled our blog traffic and raised our social media engagement by 20%.

We also do our best to prepare our experts by providing in-house media training. It not only helps when we have them on camera, but it builds their confidence when they have the opportunity to share their research with an outside journalist. This is something we make an effort to do a few times a year.

How to Transform One Conversation Into Multiple Deliverables

To maximize our hour-long interview, we have strategized the types of content that we can effectively create that will be worth the effort.

Before we do anything, we analyze search traffic on the subject to ensure our content has a substantial audience and our questions will produce answers that people want to hear. We record the initial conversation, which can be repurposed into a podcast or audio file that we embed onto our blogs. We also film the interview and capture some overlay footage at the end, which is produced as a long-form video as well as short social clips. A lot of this content goes on the editing room floor, but the more you have to start with, the more opportunities you create for unique pieces of content. Transcripts of the conversation can be repurposed into blog content, or a Q and A column.

We take photos before and during the interview, including a professional headshot of our subject matter expert. We use these on social media and also develop a new profile photo for the researcher’s website as a quick win. This tactic has been an excellent way to demonstrate immediate value with the researchers, who often have outdated photos on their lab page. We’ve also started to trial the use of a 360-degree camera inside the research facilities and hit record, giving a sneak peek at where the magic happens!

In the end, we can have a small library of content: a professional headshot, one blog post, a podcast episode, a few Instagram posts, some behind the scenes moments we use for an Instagram story, and two to three videos.

This process doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does require a shift in thinking. While we have scaled up production, we haven’t scaled up our staff. Our hardware investments have also been minor, with much of our early trial and error filming on iPhones. Eventually, we moved to a cost-effective DJI Osmo camera and more recently to mirrorless camera systems. More than any financial investment, it’s the mind shift that matters most.

Know and Understand Your Limitations

It’s important to be aware of how each piece of content fits into the grand content marketing effort. For instance, when you’re doing a number of interviews with researchers in lab coats, even really well-done pieces can start to feel boring. Do what you can to add variety, and don’t force visuals when they aren’t going to work. Not all content can have a visual element.

Some content is only going to be interesting in the academic community, so forcing it out on your Instagram page, for instance, isn’t going to win you any favors. But just because it doesn’t fit the mold doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity for marketing. Think about whether this content would be better served as an event or presentation.

The story you’re trying to tell, not the production, is key. While ten pieces of content is our goal, it’s not always the reality. In marketing, we have to be flexible.

Formalize the Process

Once you’ve tried your hand and experimented with content creation, you’ll naturally find what works best for your audience and your interview subjects. It’s at this point that you should try to formalize the process so you or your team can run with it when you have limited lead time.

Look at your annual calendar and identify as many pieces of content as you can that have longer lead times. For us in Queensland, we have Research Week, which we know about months in advance and can plan accordingly. This gives us time to brainstorm new ideas, set up our interviews, and effectively promote this content.

And even with limited lead time, there’s often an embargo window that allows us to gather as a team, brainstorm, and get our heads around the research. Because our content source is typically complex, we make a process of confirming our understanding and the implications of the research before scheduling the formal interview with the researcher.

Whenever possible, tie your stories to the human side. This means understanding and including the impact of our story on the community and inviting collaboration. When we have the opportunity to highlight the human element and tap into people’s natural emotions, it makes for content that’s going to perform well with a wider audience.

In an ideal scenario, advanced planning and a formal process allow us to create a cadence around each piece that may include teasing out content in advance of its release.

Build Advocates and Internal Influencers

As marketers, we’re not just selling our brand to an outside audience, we have to sell it to our internal stakeholders as well. By doing so, we create partnerships and opportunities to tell more engaging and nuanced stories.

We constantly look for opportunities to collaborate or share our efforts with our colleagues in other parts of the university. We work as partners to give them a heads up about content that may be useful for their efforts as well.

With our process in place, we’re better equipped to produce winning content at a moment’s notice. We’ve had a small number of academics with really great results that led to philanthropic conversations. For our researchers, this highlights the benefits of marketing and helps build more ambassadors for our work. Now, when we connect with a new researcher, we make an effort to share these success stories. It’s not a promise, but a tool that can help them connect with colleagues outside the university or potentially even lead to more funding.

While most of our content is branded to fit our social media outputs, we have also shared more ‘raw’ unbranded content with the researcher so they can share it on their pages. In doing so, we build relationships and create evangelists within the organization.

By identifying some of our top influencers at the school, we’ve also tapped into influencer marketing. We encourage these influencer researchers to share our content on their channels and provide them with unbranded content they can use that points back to us. This type of relationship works well for both of us, and they appreciate the access to rich content.

Investing in content creation is paying off in more ways than one. It’s nice to have top researchers telling their colleagues that they should connect with the marketing team, instead of always being in the position of chasing the story. More engagement internally as well as externally has quadrupled our blog traffic and raised our social media engagement by 20%. But what’s even more rewarding is the researchers who have shared how our marketing successes have opened them to new collaborators or patients who want to be a part of their work.  

Justin Laing

Justin Laing

Senior Manager, Strategic Marketing & Communications

Justin leads a marketing and communications team who are responsible for recruiting students, sharing groundbreaking research, and communicating with the 6,000 staff at UQ’s Faculty of Medicine. A content marketing advocate, Justin has built an in-house team of content producers whose (often niche) research and education videos have earned more than a million views in 2017-18. He is lucky to manage a team of outstanding staff who work collaboratively to achieve shared goals.

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