Kristin, one of the first things I look at when we’re doing a website audit is if an institution has a bunch of news stories on their homepage. And I do this because, well, a few reasons. Usually we are trying to figure out how we can increase conversion rates of prospective students, and prospective students don’t care about news.
They don’t care what news stories, but even worse than that, even if they do care about a news story, I’ve just found over the years that most institutions aren’t using news in ways that will actually support their enrollment goals. And so it’s like there’s this mentality that like, well, if we post this cool story, it’s going to just magically make all the connections in someone’s head and they’re going to want to explore the site and find the thing that we’re you know, we’re talking about.
The problem is that they don’t link to like the programs that are being highlighted or to the specific content that could push someone over the edge to applying or making an inquiry. And in general, I just don’t think most institutions have a good news media strategy. And it drives me a little nuts.
Kristin Van Dorn:
You’ll never guess, but I have lots of opinions.
Listeners will be shocked to know I have opinions on this.
Kristin Van Dorn has opinions.
So normally when you think about the goals that people have for why they include new stories on their website, like for one thing, they want to be able to promote the stories of their campus. So that might be through, that might be new research that’s come out, that might be awards that people have won, good community engagement stories.
Generally the website is the wrong strategy for doing that because people aren’t coming to your website to read that kind of content. What you want is you want your public relations staff to get out and pound the pavement a little and get those stories published in your local newspapers and local blogs. You need to find where the readers that are interested in that content would logically be and push those stories out through those venues.
Another goal of having blogs or having news stories on your site is to offer faculty or students or sometimes even staff recognition. And oftentimes that recognition comes instead of giving them money. And I’m sorry, but no one has ever been satisfied with a blog story as opposed to just getting some cold hard cash.
So cluttering up your site to do so. But then I think, you know, if you want to highlight your own news coverage, like sometimes you do get a study, like something covered in the Boston Globe or something like that. For one thing, that’s a little bit of vanity traffic, like you’re just looking to show where it’s been covered before. That’s great content for social media, that’s terrible content for your website.
I think that there is this like mistaken idea that like repurposing content everywhere all over the place is a good strategy, but it is not if you really wanna engage your community. If your community is seriously engaged with both your website and your social media accounts, they don’t wanna read the same thing over and over again on every platform. So you have to think seriously about what your goals are. And the worst case scenario is that you’re actually scooping your own media. So when you actually have something that’s worthy of media attention, and you post a blog about it, or you post it on your website, what’s happening is you’re diminishing the interest of real news outlets from posting anything about it later on.
And I think that you’re also mixing in communications and marketing. So sometimes you might have really great marketing content, like a good story that would make sense as an ad or would make sense as a newsletter content for prospective students. And what you’re doing is you’re posting it in the wrong place. So ultimately, you’re just diminishing your strategy by an over-reliance on a news blog.
So going back to one of the first things you said in there that came up a couple more times, I think there’s this mistaken approach to media relations that if you post it on the website, the media will come and find it. And… to your point just now, like if you’re essentially scooping yourself. And so, like, what those people should be doing is the inverse. Like, you shouldn’t be worrying about your website. Like… No one’s coming to your website. No one, you know, the people that work at newspapers and television stations, whether it’s local, whether it’s national, whether it’s whatever, they’re not thinking about you.
And they’re not thinking, oh, it’s a slow news day. I should go to, you know, X and X University’s newsroom and see what they’ve posted lately so that I can repurpose it. It’s just not how that works. Your media relations people should be focusing less on creating that content, and more on developing those relationships with news outlets and being persistent in reaching out when you have news to share because the news that most institutions put out there is not for prospective students and so when you put it on the home page of your website you’re just getting in the way of the journey that a prospective student might have to or might be taking to apply or request information, like you’re getting in the way of that that potential conversion, right?
And what you should be doing is making sure that the news is going out to the people that appropriately care about it and will use it in the right ways. And usually that’s going to be for fundraising or it’s going to be for getting, I don’t know, like national decision or state decisions made from a government perspective. It’s going to deal with things that are happening in your community. Like, it’s not content for prospective students. It shouldn’t be in the places where prospective students are looking. And it should probably not be on your website at all. It should be in the newspapers, radio stations, and television news media in your local area because that’s the only place it matters. That’s the only place people are gonna actually find it.
Yeah, I think there’s a lot of different news media strategies that you can take. You can look at the type of research you have, for example. If you have research on consumerism around the holidays or on what happens when students graduate from high school and that summer before they transition to college, you know, you can start to time your editorial calendar about when you’re sending around press releases about your expertise and how you have media experts that are available to talk about timely topics that come up every single year.
You can also position experts that come up when certain things happen. So if you have experts that are knowledgeable around, say, gas prices, you know, you can position them as the person that’s going to talk to your local news station every time there’s a story about gas prices going up or gas prices going down. So, you have one that’s tethered to the calendar. You have one that’s tethered to the subject matter. So there’s those kinds of strategies for getting experts into the news. But then there’s also the story-driven PR media release kinds of insights. And those, you can either go National Newswire Services, and you can go develop a list of your favorite people that write stories about Higher Education, that cover education news.
And you can make sure that you develop personal relationship with them, but you also have to have newsworthy content. And so that takes a lot of time, and it takes knowing your faculty members. And it takes knowing your students and knowing what’s actually taking place in your colleges. When I worked inside a department, I remember one time a faculty member sent to me a news story where she gave a keynote address at a conference in Venezuela, and she sent a photo and I said, what was the talk about? Everything you’ve sent me is in Spanish. I can’t post any of this. And she’s like, just post the photo. I mean, so I’m on Duolingo, but the level of sophistication needed to convey her talk was not possible with what I could do.
No doubt. Ha ha ha.
And this photo is just meaningless. It’s not news to say that someone gave a keynote. No one cares. What people need to know is how research is actually changing practice, or how it’s creating new habits for consumers, or how it’s creating new advice and insights for how you should live your lives, or how It’s changing the way that businesses operate so that you can be more savvy as someone that participates in a marketplace. Those are the kinds of things that will really touch people’s lives and make a difference when someone’s looking for a story to cover or fill an editorial calendar.