• Issue #24

Are You LARPing Your Content Strategy?

Medieval armor and helmet over a chainmail floor.

Are you live-action role-playing your content strategy?

Do you remember about a year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit when Anne Helen Peterson dropped the article titled “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation”?

Overnight, Peterson transformed into a sort of spokesperson for these new burnout symptoms so characteristic of the time:

  • Errand paralysis, or the struggle to complete seemingly simple “adulting” tasks.

  • Living in perpetual financial brittleness and the anxiety that comes with it.

  • The feeling of Live Action Role Playing (LARPing) your job.

Almost a decade earlier, Thomas J. DeLong wrote about The Busyness Trap for Harvard Business Review. In that article, he also describes this LARPing your job phenomenon. He mentions talking with former MBA students who admitted to leaving “their suit coats on their chairs at the end of the workday to make it seem that they hadn’t left for the night — that they were somewhere in the building doing work — when in fact they had gone home.”

DeLong explains that the trap of busyness obscures the actual state of things. It drives us toward a mindless production and actually impedes our abilities to achieve our goals.

In higher education marketing and communications, I think we suffer from the busyness trap, and we LARP a fulfilling, student-focused campus environment full of engagement.

We produce a steady stream of emails, newsletters, blog posts, and social media posts. We create anxiety-inducing, jam-packed content calendars that we would have trouble maintaining even if everything went perfectly. And, we set out with intentions to measure everything - really, we do - but when forced to choose between producing more or measuring what we’ve already done, we choose to produce.

You might be asking yourself, how is leaving a jacket on the back of a chair the same as scheduling photoshoots and interviews? How is producing content for the web a LARP?

Fair question. It’s all in the illusions. In DeLong’s example, it’s the illusion of dedication. In higher education content production, it’s the illusion of necessity.

Half of the time, we don’t know if what we’re doing is effective or not. We don’t know who engages with our content and to what end. The specificity and understanding come second to the quantity. And, we feel this ever-present desperation for the downtime that never arrives.

The reasons we do it seem pretty sound on the surface:

  1. The frequency of posts can affect your search results.

  2. Many recent posts give our audiences the impression that they will be able to find events, opportunities, connections, and inspiration in our communities.

I mean, it’s obvious why you need regular content. But, it might not be as obvious why too much content can be detrimental.

  1. Too much content creates a confusing web environment where it can be hard to know what to give attention to, which has downstream effects.

    • Too much content creates the itchies. Faculty, students, and administrators will secretly start their blogs, social media, and even program pages because they don’t see a good channel for getting their messaging out.

    • Too much content also encourages a blistering amount of repetition. If your website is at all difficult to sift through, administrators and faculty will start asking for more content duplication and crosslinking to ensure that people who come to one page don’t miss out on the critical stuff featured on another.

  2. Too much repeated or duplicative content can be annoying, especially if the content is devoid of relevance or quality.

  3. Content begets more content, and unless you have well-articulated content standards, the content that comes to you could be far away from what your audiences are actually interested in.

As content creators, we often run ourselves headlong into burnout while undermining our own effectiveness.

People see our busyness and communications’ reputed importance. And they stoke the pressure to produce more content to fend off a possible drop in engagement or results. The cacophony erodes sense-making, but we don’t know what exactly to stop doing or how to fix it.

Here are some steps for getting out of your higher education content LARP adventure:

  1. Stop posting content that falls short of your audiences’ standards for engagement. Focus on quality and relevance over quantity and calendaring.

  2. Stop posting the same things across all of your channels at the same time. If you want to promote the same story in different channels, vary and stagger your posts so that your posts don’t feel like a cut-and-paste job.

  3. Stop posting without measuring. Track open rates and engagement. Create a monitoring apparatus more impressive than any one article or newsletter issue is, and when people ask to see what you’ve been working on, show your measurements off.

  4. Stop working on irrelevant and uninteresting communications. You can’t be effective if you’re burnt out. Prioritize the topics and stories your audiences care about.

All of these require some autonomy over your work and decision-making. So, don’t quit writing content for a center if that center director could write you up or cause instability in your employment. But, in the spaces we can control, make wise choices. In the spaces we can influence, offer resources, reasoning, and data.

- Kristin Van Dorn


Listen to Appendix B: Higher Ed’s ONLY Short-form Podcast

Cover image for Episode 1 of Appendix B. Text says "If you build it, they won't come," against a white background with courier text visible under it.

There’s an old adage that says, “you know what the world needs? Another podcast!”

Just kidding.

That hasn’t been said in at least ten years.

But what about a super-short one that packs in a lot of insight for Higher Ed Marketers?

YES. Everyone has time for that!

Bravery is delighted to introduce Appendix B, a weekly podcast where Joel and Kristin chat for 10 minutes about what’s happening in Higher Ed.

You can listen to the first three episodes wherever you get your podcasts.

We hope you will!

- Carl Gratiot