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47 take aways from #ContentEd17

Estimated read time: 15 minutes

Last summer I spent two days in London at the inaugural ContentEd Live conference – Europe’s first-ever conference dedicated to content strategy in education.

If that sounds a little geeky and more than a little niche…well, that’s because it was – but in the very best possible way. I came away with a head full of ideas and a notepad full of scribbled notes, which is usually the sign of a conference done well.

Anyway, I’m always a fan of blogging some learnings after a conference and sharing them with anyone interested enough to read it, so here you are – 47 take aways from #ContentEd17 (do check out the hashtag to see what other delegates had to say too).

47 take aways from #ContentEd17

Why create a conference all about content strategy? Because, where we’re at right now, it’s needed! Educational institutions are being asked questions on value, teaching and student experience are under the spotlight and our marketing needs to address this and answer those questions. That’s why eduction marketing is quickly shifting towards being content-led, hence the need for something like #ContentEd17.

There is a difference between using content strategically and content strategy.

Conference co-chair Andy Blair set out why he thinks education is suffering from ‘morbid content obesity’ – our websites are stuffed with content and we have a problem with binge posting.

Opening speaker Mike Atherton – the content strategist for Facebook, not the former England cricket captain – made a great point about websites; your website is about you, not for you. Bearing this in mind can really affect the content you create.

If you buy a vacuum cleaner from Dyson, you’ll be entered into an entire life cycle of content around your new device that runs for more than 2000 days after your purchase. You’ll be emailed reminders of when to clean your filter (with instructions of how to do it) or even just general cleaning tips for your home (you’ll be amazed what mayonnaise can be used for, aside from as a condiment). Why do all this? Well, it means Dyson is offering useful and usable content on a subject – in this case cleaning your home – rather than a product.

Abbigail Ollive from York St John delivered a breakout session on user-generated content and handing over control to your accounts. That’s kind of a scary prospect, isn’t it? I mean, as marketers, we’re used to being the control, rather than giving it up!

It’s worth doing though, because those brands and organisations that give up control and let you in and more likely to be the ones you connect with and respond to.

User-generated content doesn’t have to just be about sharing stuff on social media…how about getting a student to write the introduction to your prospectus instead of your VC?

Coffee breaks at conferences are just as likely to inspire you as the sessions themselves. How do I know this? One quick catch-up with the always excellent Barney Brown and I’m now plotting a future speaking session pitch on what Pearl Jam can teach us about content strategy.

One of my favourite sessions of the whole conference was Ellie Lovell’s session on metrics and measurements – not just because I’m a nerd for things like that but because it was packed full of useful resources. But also because I’m a nerd for things like that.

Measurement shouldn’t just be something you do at the end of a project – it is crucial from the start and throughout.

Thanks to this session I also now have a new book on my reading list – Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson

Institutional objectives are often/always a bit vague, which is probably why plenty of us in the room worked with analysts, but few of use felt they had clear objectives to work towards.

Some web metrics can be tricky to look at. Take exit rates for example – are people leaving your site because you’ve given them what they were looking for and you have done your job, or are they leaving for the opposite reason?

It’s important to get an idea of where you’re at now before you launch into a new project, so be sure to use tools like Hubspot’s Website GraderPingdomTest My Site with Google and Alexa Rank.

You should also pay attention to how your content reads. Ditch the jargon and aim for a reading age of around 15 – use readable.io to help tweak your content if needs be.

After some social media measuring tools? Point your mouse over to FollowerwonkTwitonomyKeyholeFanpage Karma and Simply Measured.

Make sure you report on stuff! But also think about why you’re reporting.

Day one was rounded off by Tracy Playle imploring us to embrace chaos. Chaos has a big role to play in our sector, but most of like order. However, it’s worth making ourselves uncomfortable, as chaos can lead to some amazing things.

Are you making the most of your content? For example, you’ve probably got a load of alumni case studies, right? They’re probably on the ‘alumni’ pages of your website, right? But how many of you have also added them to the course pages that are relevant to what that alumnus or alumna studied? Just think how much more value something as simple as that would add!

Don’t be afraid of white space. As Tracy pointed out, white space allows for imagination.

The most powerful question you ask is…really?

Echoing the first speaker of the day, Tracy pointed out that your content needs to be useful and usable.

Organising a conference? Delegate bags with fancy water bottles, comfy socks and pencils you can plant in your garden once you’re done with them are an excellent idea!

Day 2 started with my favourite session of the whole event – Harvard’s Mike Petroff talking about distributed content strategy. What’s that? It’s creating content specifically for different social media channels, rather than being obsessed by getting people to your website – you know, the kind of thing that Buzzfeed does.

Why do this? Well, much as people will get information about you from your website, they get the emotional side of who you are from your social media, so you want to make sure your content on there has the best chance possible of doing well.

We might call it social media, but those channels are actually increasingly visual and private said Mike.

How does Harvard approach content? They make it relatable and relevant. They make sure their owned channels (their website essentially) is mobile-optimised and loads quickly, while their social channels are full of native content, not just a load of links.

A top tip from Mike about Facebook – if you’re creating content for that channel don’t just be satisfied with how it looks on your desktop. Most of your audience is likely to consume that content on their phone, so make sure you’ve checked it on that smaller screen too!

Press releases. They’re great at being press releases and being a means of communication with journalists. They’re not so great at being posted on Facebook. So, be bold, be brave and create some great content based on what that press release is about. For example…just look what Harvard created to reveal their commencement speaker in 2016. Clue, it wasn’t a press release!

Clues to Harvard's 2016 Commencement speaker?

Strange things are appearing on campus as Commencement approaches.

Posted by Harvard University on Thursday, 10 March 2016

The above video and approach actually represented a massive shift in thinking for Harvard. I think you’ll agree, it was far better use of a Facebook post than a simple press release or news announcement.

On Instagram, Harvard don’t just rely on my old favourite – campus porn – to build a following. They’re trying to use it to tell stories and humanise the institution. That’s why they started their #myHarvardJourney hashtag.

On social media in general, people will decide whether to watch a video within the first 3-10 seconds, which is why the recipe videos of pages like Tasty do so well as they just jump right in and get on with it. Harvard took this approach with a film about someone doing some pottery – despite having a really nice documentary piece to tell the story, the recipe-style version was viewed over a million times on Facebook!

Using Twitter? You need to understand the voice of GIFs.

You also need a sense of humour at times too.

Be sure to establish a voice document for your social media channels to define the tone of voice and character or your accounts – don’t simply use the voice of the person running your pages. Why not? Well, aside from it probably not matching your brand, if that person leaves then you’re screwed.

Amanda Faulkner and Robyn Bateman from the Open University got the breakout sessions on day 2 off to a start with a session on content for mobile and using mobile for content. As it happens, most OU videos are actually done in-house and on phones.

Robyn is also the author of InstHEgram – a guide to using Instagram for Universities.

Top tip from Amanda and Robyn…if you’re posting an image to Twitter, make it 700x400px to avoid key parts being cropped out when viewed on mobile. These dimensions work well for Facebook too.

There are plenty of apps you can use to make your phone photos look far better and far more worthy of sharing on your institution’s channels. Robyn recommends checking out PhotosplashPrismaCamera Plus and Snapseed. I would also throw in VSCOcam.

There are some video apps worth a look too, namely iMovieSplice and Sparkpost.

Are you filming video interviews on your phone? Make sure you light the face of your subject, place them off-centre and get good audio!

The final breakout session attended was Gemma Moore’s talk on gaining trust to make the changes that matter where, among other things, she talked about some work she did with Cancer Research UK’s website. Said website had 10,000 pages about cancer, all of which were written by nurses, not writers. Whipping those pages into shape was no easy task.

How did Gemma go about changing those pages? Actively listen to those nurses that had written them and work together to make changes.

A style guide is really important in changing things for the better – you could even include references in your guide to help give it more clout.

The conference was closed out with a call to arms from Kevan Gilbert – download his ‘Change makers’ challenge’ card game and start changing things!

Having a conference dedicated to content strategy is a really worthwhile thing – high five to Pickle Jar for organising it. Same time next year?

Bonus take away! Pickle Jar boss and #ContentEd17 speaker Tracy Playle has pulled together a planning model for your content strategy based on discussions at the conference – boom!