In Monday’s post, Georgy talked about transmedia storytelling in higher ed—using multiple content delivery methods to support your institution’s story. This topic opens the door to a discussion on how you plan for content delivery and consumption that are contextually relevant for your audiences. With all the content delivery methods at our disposal, how do we know what content is most effective for the message, content type and target audience?
Content consumption is now an integral part of our daily lives. We consume content via email, web search, RSS feeds—including blogs. We follow tweets on Twitter, updates on Facebook, video on YouTube, product descriptions on Amazon. We use smartphones to read location-sensitive reviews on Yelp and Fandango, recommendations by friends on Foursquare, as well as news alerts and texts. And, of course, there are newspapers, magazines, radio and television programs, billboards and so on.
All of this content is made relevant by the context in which it is perceived. I don’t read food blogs, but if I’m out with friends and looking for a spot with good guacamole, a local restaurant review is exactly what I need on my smartphone. When I research topics online, I prefer text over interactive content as it’s easier to search and save, but when I’m with friends or browsing with my Sunday morning coffee, interactive content can be more entertaining.
How can higher education institutions take advantage of different content delivery methods to improve content relevance for their audiences?
Evaluating Content Delivery
Content delivery is the way in which we make content available to our audience. Our aim is to publish content using delivery methods that increase relevance by enhancing usability and usefulness. But how do we plan for the context in which content is consumed? How do the content delivery methods themselves affect the context?
One area where the topic of delivery is particularly pertinent is mobile content. The shift from consuming content on desktop computers to anywhere challenges publishers to plan for more diverse content consumption scenarios. It’s not enough to consider what our users want, we must also plan for how, where, and when they want it.
A content strategy helps determine appropriate delivery methods to target audiences with useful, usable and contextually relevant content. To deliver our content effectively we need to answer some tough questions.
How are people consuming our content?
"In today’s new digital landscape both consumers and businesses are reading (and publishing) for different reasons, in a completely different manner, because of the different mediums," says Ian Alexander of Eat Media. Indeed, we have to break our traditional publishing mindset and imagine the new ways people find and consume our content.
Do people use a desktop or laptop computer? Do they use an iPad or iPhone? Do they use RSS, Google Alerts, Twitter, Facebook? How about Instapaper, Svpply or Readability?
What content of ours are people consuming?
Are people viewing event photos or admissions-process information? Are they following tweets or reading articles in the library database?
To understand what content is useful and valuable, you can evaluate what content is consumed and sought. In addition to analyzing existing content, also analyze non-existing content. What are people searching for on your website but not finding? This insight is incredibly valuable for content planning.
Where and when are people consuming our content?
Are users consuming your content in their house, in Starbucks, in a car? Are they consuming content during the morning, afternoon or weekend?
Video content is increasingly popular, but if your audience is consuming content during the day from the library or their office, they may not be able to watch videos without disrupting people around them. Conversely, if your audience is consuming content with friends during the evening or weekend from their dorm room or apartment, video may be more engaging and shareable.
Why are people consuming our content?
"Why?" is the cornerstone question for any content strategy. The answers inform what content is needed to be useful and relevant.
Are people looking for directions? Are they trying to register for classes? Are they trying to find faculty members’ email addresses? Are they looking for the dining hall hours? Are they looking for employment benefits information?
If you don’t establish your users’ intent for consuming content, then you won’t be able to effectively meet their needs.
Who are the people consuming your content?
Once you understand the how, what, where, when and why, you can start to answer who?
For content delivery planning, creating personas is a valuable exercise. Understanding your different audiences allows you to imagine real-life examples of how people interact with your content.
To learn about creating user personas, check out:
- How to Understand Your Users with Personas, by Brad Colbow
- Creating effective user personas, by Nick DeNardis
Making a Plan
You’ve done your research. You know your students prefer printable outlines for process information and dynamic content—photos, videos, Facebook discussions—for student-life information. You know faculty and staff consume content during the workday on their desktop computers and want easy access to the events calendar, holiday schedule and Blackboard. Incorporate these insights into your content plan, keeping your eye on context.
Understanding context is the key to effective content delivery. A good post by Daniel Eizans discusses establishing elements of personal situational context to understand when and where people consume content. This process allows you to plan for contextually relevant content by playing out user scenarios.
Planning for content delivery will be increasingly challenging as new applications and mobile devices expand delivery methods. This may appear daunting, but it provides tremendous opportunities for making existing content more useful and relevant for our audiences. I’m excited by the potential. How about you?
What content delivery methods—new or old—offer promise at your institution?
Photo by Ed Yourdon / Flickr Creative Commons