Universities and colleges are producing better content than most brands or marketing agencies.
There. I said it.
It makes sense. So much goes on at colleges. Sports, art, politics, music and more can all happen within the borders of a single school, leaving content creators no shortage of amazing stories to tell. But it takes expert marketers and a cohesive strategy to pull it all together.
While I can’t track down every single college pumping out great content, here are a few doing it really well.
The Best University Content in 2020
[Ed. note: MaDonna here, with a 2020 update.] When Nels first published this article back in 2017, content marketing looked a lot different. Back then, if a college had a social media presence, you thought it was kind of neat. But now, it’s not novel for higher education institutions to have Instagram accounts — it’s a no-brainer. You’d think it would be pretty weird if they DIDN’T, at this point.
While our initial examples still are interesting case studies on how colleges and universities can incorporate content marketing to grow their brand and stay relevant, they’re a little outdated. And if there’s one thing college kids can smell a mile away, it’s a marketer who doesn’t have their finger on the pulse.
While not all colleges can have their own Netflix docuseries like Cheer and Navarro College, there are a few other ways to stay relevant through marketing tactics. Here are some examples of universities with the best content marketing in 2020.
How many marketers here have wondered, “Should we start a TikTok?” Well, to answer that, you need to look at your brand and your audience to see if it even makes sense in your strategy. However, when a large majority of who you want to target are college-aged kids, TikTok definitely is a must-have.
The University of Florida became an early adopter of this new social media platform and has fit in perfectly. They’ve already earned over a million likes and post-game-day footage, student life snapshots, campus views and general gator-related silliness.
Located in Milwaukee, Marquette University is a private college that’s home to a student body of 12,000.
One of the colleges within their system is the Diederich College of Communication, which includes departments like Theatre Arts, Public Relations and Digital Media. A creative bunch, right?
It only makes sense that a college like that is responsible for Be Connected, a student-led podcast that “features stories about alumni, current students, and other happenings in the college (such as building renovations and what faculty are doing outside the classroom).”
Medium is a free blog platform that many marketers use to expand their earned media library. While we all know why it’s beneficial to host a blog on your own website, it’s just as helpful to post guest articles offsite.
The UK’s University of Northampton has their own Medium account, where they post blogs featuring student and staff members’ personal experiences, news about campus events and other helpful subjects.
Reading these articles helps to humanize the university and adds a trustworthy and engaging aspect to their brand.
Yes, including video in your content marketing strategy isn’t a groundbreaking tactic in 2020. What’s game-changing, though? Including video in an actually helpful way.
UND’s YouTube account is packed full of fun and useful content. You can watch “day in the life” videos featuring students, learn how to handle the winter in the chilly north and find more information on different departments within the college.
But, the videos we like the most are the virtual tours.
These videos take views around campus, no doubt helping the admissions team work with incoming freshmen and giving high school seniors a look into the school where they’re applying.
There’s something to be said about a solid, helpful resource hosted on your site.
Nothing flashy, not gimmicky — just no-frills, legitimate HELP.
That’s what the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) is.
As described on the OWL page, “students, members of the community, and users worldwide will find information to assist with many writing projects.” And while this tool is mainly in place to help Purdue students and professors, it’s accessible for anyone who needs help with writing, grammar, punctuation and academic formatting.
And now, back to Nels’s original examples:
When I think of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I think sports. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
But their content paints a much more comprehensive and compelling portrait of the Big Ten school. Their Instagram account alone highlights so many aspects of student life and living in Madison.
What really impresses me is how well they’re using multiple platforms. Lots of brands share similar links on multiple platforms and alter the message slightly (or not at all). The social folks over at UW share only content relevant for each platform and craft their message based on where it lives. For example, there seems to be content they only share on LinkedIn with messaging that resonates with that audience.
Based on these examples, they seem to really understand their audience and what’s meaningful to them. Good on ya, Badgers.
SCAD is a private, nonprofit art and design school in Savannah, Georgia (with satellite campuses in Lacoste, France; Atlanta, Georgia; and Hong Kong). It should come as no surprise that a school packed full of artists and creatives can crank out beautiful content.
Claudio Vera, an award-winning illustrator and creative director at Traktek Partners, is most impressed with their website.
SCAD “has the best web presence I’ve seen in the higher ed community,” Vera said. “Its layout is unique and works beautifully with the content.”
I’m blown away by their H1 right on the front page: “The University for Creative Careers.” It’s a short description that tells me everything I need to know about the college. The rest of the site is as concisely designed with really intuitive UX features.
SCAD also seems to have their own little influencer network. They partner with either current or prospective students who also have a significant YouTube following (or simply just attract vloggers that want to sing their praises) to make videos of anything from tours to “Top Ten Things I Learned” and tips for incoming freshmen.
Whether it happens naturally or it’s a SCAD marketing directive, it’s working really well.
Santa Fe (confusingly located in Gainesville, Florida) is the only community college on this short list.
But they deserve to be recognized.
If you look at their website and social media content, you’d have no idea they were a two-year college. They seem to have all the content resources of a major four-year institution, including an engaging website that is easy to navigate. It features vibrant student-life images and tells the story of a tight-knit, engaged community.
Their social media is great, too. The school interacts with its audience in meaningful ways and does a great job highlighting campus life, student stories and upcoming events.
BONUS: They have a teaching zoo near campus and feature tortoises on their Instagram.
The Harvard Business Review (HBR) is a management magazine published by a wholly owned publishing subsidiary of Harvard University. Their print magazine and blog cover an array of topics and feature lots of primary research.
Stan Tan, the digital marketing manager at the Australia-based event branding company, Selby’s, says he’s most impressed by how genuine their content is.
“Their blog alone is a goldmine of information,” Tan said. “Each piece there is well-researched and written by experts in their field. They do the research and back up their findings with data. Talk about a great way to retain customers.”
Personally, I often end up on the HBR website when I’m researching content. I hardly ever think of it as a university-sponsored resource. Perhaps that’s what makes it so great.
[RELATED: Check out our first installment of “Universities Winning at Content Marketing“]
Temple University is a relatively large school tucked in the north side of Philadelphia. It boasts a rich history, unique culture and some pretty impressive content.
Meg Hogan, solopreneur and founder and chief strategist of Stunning Strategy in Pittsburgh (and thriving Temple alum) sees Temple University doing it right. Their content “perfectly and consistently captures what it stands for: integrity, reaching higher and producing graduates who make a difference in the world,” she said.
Their Instagram and other social media perfectly capture their culture and ideas in a compelling way. They use a hashtag (#nextstoptemple) to engage prospective students.
Temple has also mastered video, creating compelling professional-quality video and featuring their students in a student-centric “Day in the Life” YouTube series where Temple students get to be vloggers. Through their content, they capture their campus from so many angles and show what student life is really like, so prospective students can imagine themselves attending in the future.
Yes. The University of Phoenix.
Cristian Rennella, CMO and co-founder of Brazilian-based loan and insurance company elMejor Trato (QuotesAdvisor in the states), has followed their content for three years and believes it’s one of the best in higher ed.
According to Cristian, they’re having the biggest impact in how they highlight their alums with user-generated content. They frequently use the hashtag “#PhoenixAtWork” on their Facebook page and ask alums to share photos of themselves on the job. When they do, University of Phoenix community managers are quick to like the photo and engage personally with their former Phoenicians.
They also create some pretty awesome videos.
Who did we miss?
Have we made a glaring oversight? Do you see an obvious post-secondary snub? Let us know! As long as universities and colleges are creating amazing content, we’ll keep highlighting it.
Note: This post was originally published in November 2017 and has been updated for clarity and relevance.