Reimagine Content in Higher Education

Reimagine Content

Reimagine content and realize its potential.

Last week, the Content Marketing Institute blog asked contributors, "What is the most useful thing you learned about content marketing in 2011?" I chimed in and gave the badge to Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman for their lesson "reimagine; don’t recycle," found in their book Content Rules. This is a valuable content marketing lesson, but it’s also an important content strategy lesson.

The idea is to not simply repurpose content in new formats but to build a content ecosystem by which large and small pieces of content — such as magazines, ebooks, videos and tweets — become new and ongoing sources of useful, relevant and on-brand content.

That’s not to say there isn’t ever value in repurposing content in new formats or for new audiences to improve usefulness and relevance. It’s just that these are short-term tactics, not a strategy.

The value of reimagining content is that you’re considering the content life cycle and ensuring that new content relates to broader established themes in support of communication goals. Creating and sustaining content that communicates clearly is the mission of content strategy. Content that doesn’t communicate clearly is clutter.

So, what are the opportunities for higher ed websites to reimagine their content? Here are some ideas to get you thinking.

Start Big, Think Small

You can reimagine content from the top down or bottom up. Let’s first look at how we can use large pieces of content to support smaller ongoing content needs.

1. Alumni Magazines

On several occasions, I’ve heard the question, "Are alumni magazines still worth it?" It’s a fair question considering how expensive alumni magazines are to produce and how difficult it is to measure their effectiveness. However, one thing they have going for them is that they are a tremendous source of high-quality content. They often contain high-level editorial content and photography, as well as compelling stories that represent your brand.

What this content doesn’t typically have is a long life cycle. Alumni magazines are a great opportunity for reimagining content.

Does your alumni magazine include a faculty interview? Sounds like a great profile piece for your academic programs site.

Does your alumni magazine include stellar photography? That could make for a great photo gallery or campus tour.

Does your alumni magazine include a story about a successful graduate? Isn’t your career center looking for blog content?

2. eBooks

eBooks can be one of the best places to look for reimagining content because they represent college-wide themes that support unifying communication goals. New content created from these sources then takes on the same attributes. This is where the magic of reimaging content comes to life.

Action Trumps Everything, an ebook on entrepreneurship co-authored by Babson College president Leonard A. Schlesinger, is a good example. With a content strategy (and applicable copyrights) content owners at Babson College could use this book as a foundation for valuable featured articles, blog posts, social media conversations, admissions content and more. With some planning, the opportunities are endless.

3. Videos

Video is a compelling and increasingly popular content type. However, as engaging as video can be, it’s not always the most appropriate format — especially those web videos that are frighteningly long. Who wants to watch a 60-minute lecture video on microformats? Okay, well, I would. But, you get the point.

Don’t let your content be bound by its format. Those long videos can be repurposed in other formats to increase accessibility and relevance. Reimagine those videos in the form of a case study, a program description or training guide.

You can also trim that 60-minute video into a two-minute summary or provide excerpts highlighting the most compelling parts of the lecture.

4. Student Handbooks

Yes, I’m talking about your 80-page student handbook PDF that’s required reading for current students. While these guides often contain policies and procedures, they also hold information about academics, student resources, organizations and facilities. A wealth of valuable content.

Ask yourself, “How can this content be made more useful and relevant in smaller chunks by using different content types, delivery methods — or by considering different themes and audiences?”

Start Small, Think Big

Reimagining content doesn’t need to start with large content sources. It also works to evaluate smaller pieces of content to discover opportunities for creating something larger. However, as always, keep your eye on the prize: focus on your communication goals.

Having a library of content won’t help your content strategy if it’s irrelevant, outdated or off-brand. As Handley and Chapman say, "Whether you start small or large, your idea or theme is always the foundation, and each piece of content you produce should have a place in that larger picture" (Content Rules, p. 64).

5. Tweets, Comments and Photos

Your community creates content every day — blogs, tweets, Facebook comments, photos. All these small pieces of content tell a larger story about your institution. Reimagine this content to help people see the bigger picture.

In a recent post on content and community at Boston University, Jenny Mackintosh talked about listening to your community through social media to identify valuable sources of content that support your content plan. What themes or topics are prevalent in your community? Consider how you can put user-generated content to use for larger content needs.

Social media also provides a wonderful opportunity for content curation — bringing new meaning to existing content. On .eduGuru, Mike Petroff recently discussed social media curation for events using Storify, along with some good examples.

6. Blogs

Blogs are great for reimagining content because if they are well tagged and categorized, it’s easy to curate content by established topics and themes. Create a plan for using this content in new ways as part of its content life cycle. Maybe every six months you curate blog posts in the form of an ebook, manual or guide?

Don’t limit this process to blogs within your department. Look elsewhere on campus for shared topics. There are many types of blogs on a college website: admissions, community news, career services, student organizations and so on. They may not appear to have much overlap at first glance, but imagine the opportunities to collaborate on new content.

What are the common blog topics that bridge the gaps between these departments or services? How might career-services topics support the content needs of student organizations? How might community news support admissions’ content needs?

Discuss reimagining blog content with your campus content group and start planning!

7. FAQs

I often gripe about the irrelevance of so-called FAQs pages on higher ed websites, but if done well they can provide a valuable source of content in support of your content strategy. Nick DeNardis and Mallory Wood’s Penn State Web Conference 2011 presentation, Give Your Content Legs and Run With It, suggests reimagining FAQs in new or better ways. Great thinking.

Your ability to create relevant, valuable content depends on your understanding of your users’ needs. If you have a record of real frequently asked questions at your institution, this provides kindling for larger pieces of content. Perhaps your FAQs (and answers!) can be integrated into your student handbook or academic program descriptions — or even your enewsletter to make it more useful.

Reimagine and Plan

Remember, rather than repurposing content to solve an immediate need, consider reimagining content as part of a content strategy. Plan ahead to make content useful and relevant during its entire content life cycle.

What are the opportunities for reimagining content at your institution?

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About Rick Allen

Rick Allen has worked in higher education for over twelve years, helping to shape web communications and content strategy. As principal of ePublish Media, Inc, a web publishing and content strategy consultancy in Boston, Mass., Rick works with knowledge-centric organizations to create and sustain effective web content. Keep going »


  1. Love this entry! On the topic of FAQs — actual FAQs, as opposed to trumped up “What is the mission statement of the department of pedagogy?” FAQs — we took three questions that came up over and over on Formspring and developed a short video with students giving the answers: Not slick by any means, but a couple hours work, helpful and fairly timeless.

  2. Mallory Wood says:

    Rick, thanks for including the FAQ piece from my Penn State presentation with Nick. FAQs can be very helpful to your audience, when done correctly. I love how Tim combined #3 and #7 from your list to create a great video that I am sure was really useful to prospective students.

What do you think?