2014 Conference

Going GREEN with Content Strategy

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· The highest number of LEED certified buildings in the county (175).

· Two-hundred fifty miles of bike paths and lanes.

· The first major U.S. city to ban plastic bags.

With its 92,000 acres of green spaces, Portland, Oregon, is not just shades of olive, emerald and lime on the outside; the Pacific Northwest city also has one heck of a green mentality.

We higher ed web professionals can take a cue from environmentally friendly communities such as the ‘Beervana’ that is home to this year’s annual conference. By thinking of those ever-touted R-words—reduce, reuse, recycle—we can get creative and become more efficient as we grow our content strategy.

Reduce…Your Energy Use

Corie Martin, director of creative web services in the Office of Public Affairs at Western Kentucky University, has been a self-described “party of one” for about six years; she now has an assistant, but it’s still challenging to develop, create and curate content with limited time and money. Her solution? Reach out to her campus community.

“There is great talent that’s underused,” she said. “Maybe there’s an office associate who’s an awesome blogger…”

She said the idea behind it all is that others—even if their official job isn’t to create or inform content— have the desire, willingness and ability to share.

“It’s win-win. You get the word out and they’re helping us,” said Martin, who is speaking about collaboration at HighEdWeb 2014, Monday, Oct. 20 at 4:15 p.m.

This practice not only generates actual content, but also content ideas. Martin laughed as she said it’s a running joke that, sometimes, the department responsible for sharing news is often the last to know about the news.

Martin’s team partners with other university departments on content initiatives in other ways as well. For example, WKU’s enrollment management office contributes dollars to a Facebook application. Budget sharing helps ease the burden of limited expense accounts and prevents duplication of efforts.

“Individually, none of us have the time to pull off big projects on our own,” she said. But, together, we can make great things happen.”

While arguably not as fun or warm and fuzzy as creating and sharing content, evaluating administrative processes can reduce clunky or unnecessary efforts in content strategy that prevent us from getting work done. Jesse Lavery, director of web communications at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, knows all about this—he calls them “time sucks” and will speak about them and automation tactics at the conference Tuesday at 3 p.m.

Lavery and his team implemented a few free or low-cost productivity tools to help manage ideas and assignments. For example, an internal system brings RSS feeds from other college- related websites, which, he said, removes a lot of leg work from searching for story ideas. His team also uses the task management system Asana for assignments and project milestones.

Reduce takeaway: pool resources and streamline processes so you can spend less time organizing and more time creating and sharing.

Reuse… What You Already Made

Lavery says he “makes a deliberate effort to think about how to reuse content” from the point of inception. He and the rest of the newly reorganized College Relations department meet weekly about “stories on the horizon.” Bringing together people from different areas—media relations, social media, magazine, web and print— means more ideas on how to get content in more places.

“We try to think of stories in a platform- or medium-agnositc way,” he said. “Assuming we have enough advance notice, we try to think of multiple uses for stories and also account for future, unforeseen uses.”

For example, Lavery explained that a prominent alumnus is returning to campus for a lecture and reception. His game plan?

“We’re going to have someone from our social media team there to post a few photos or quotes in real time. We’ll also have our videographer there filming; we don’t have a specific use for that immediately, but it could be used in any number of upcoming video projects,” he said. “And we’ll have a writer there who will sit down with the alum after her speech for an interview that will be used as the basis for an article in the alumni magazine.”

Web content—specifically graphics—also can be reused in interesting ways. Danilo Yabut, director of web and new media strategy at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, worked with the school’s information technology services (ITS) department to create content for the half-dozen digital displays located around campus.

“We reuse our hero graphics from the .edu homepage and gateway pages,” he said, adding that the image sizes were thoughtfully considered so that the content and calls to action show up properly on the website and on the larger TV screens.

This collaboration also saves manpower hours; rather than members of the ITS team looking for content ideas for student-centric announcements and designing graphics (not that department’s forte), ready-made, quality, marketing-oriented messaging and design work is created once and used across mediums. This offers an important bonus benefit, too: unified imaging and messaging.

Reuse takeaway: plan ahead to find multiple uses and mediums for content.

Recycle…. Your Content into Multiplatform Goodness, or “Else!”

Recycling, in the context of our article, is similar to reuse, but differs because you’re taking an existing “something” and turning it into something else. That “else” is top of mind for Yabut, constantly.

“What else can we use this for?” is a common question he asks whenever he’s on a video shoot. What might be footage for an online extra for the College’s alumni magazine could also serve as a promo for an academic department.

“We can clip it all down at one time,” he says of asking a student or faculty member an extra interview question or two for later use. Also, b-roll and other footage can be re-edited in new ways to create a completely different video. For example, you could take pieces of many different student event videos and put them together for a single “college traditions” video.

A little northwest to E-town, Lavery also has been known to inquire “what else?” As noted, he likes to plan ahead, but he also is prepared for the spontaneity social media monitoring can bring. For example, an Allegheny biology professor Lavery follows on Twitter posted that his amphibian research was being published in the international journal Nature; he immediately retweeted it.

“It just morphed from there,” explained Lavery, adding that his team thought his paper and its publication merited a news release and more casual social media posts. If the idea wasn’t recycled enough, his team then took “live streaming” quite literally: a college videographer followed the professor and students knee-deep into a small stream and into labs during summer research on toads and salamanders. This resulted in “Saving Kermit,” a promotional video featuring a faculty expert and two student-researchers, which could be used in many places, many ways.

But let’s remember that the idea came serendipitously from a random tweet—Lavery’s office was not aware of this impressive publication: a fact that echoes Martin’s “last to know” joke. Having ears to the ground is important. Lavery, once again using tools to save time, keeps columns in TweetDeck, arranged by lists or specific keywords, so he can constantly keep an eye out on future recyclable ideas.

Online content can be recycled into use for print—and vice versa. For example, many colleges and universities pull social media posts and anecdotes into Commencement or other event recap print spreads.

Thinking “green” when approaching content— like Martin, Lavery and Yabut—helps the environment—our environment: the web. Lavery probably speaks for many higher education web professionals when he says, “We’re not perfect. There’s a lot we miss.”

But, just as Martin is confident that cross-campus collaboration is a secret weapon in content strategy, he’s hopeful that Allegheny’s approach will nurture a new mentality.

“We’re trying to shift the campus culture, office by office, event by event, and show that by working together we can tell much more compelling stories.”

Note: The facts and figures from the article’s opening came from Business Insider and Green City Times.

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By Donna Talarico

Donna Talarico, a Red-Stapler-winning HighEdWeb presenter and volunteer editor for Link, is an independent writer and content strategist. She is the marketing columnist for Wiley's Recruiting and Retaining Adult Learners, and her work has also been published in CASE Currents, The Guardian Higher Education Network, and elsewhere. From 2010 to 2015, she told the Elizabethtown College story as part of an award-winning marketing and communications team. Always a storyteller, before higher ed she worked in print and broadcast media, and for a leading eCommerce company. She is the founder and publisher of Hippocampus Magazine, a bimonthly creative nonfiction journal and small press. She loves road trips, board games, greasy spoon diners, and words.