Tips for Effective Content Strategy in Today’s Changing Environment

May 14, 2020

Male education marketer working at desk with photos

Editor's Note: Melanie Deziel is Founder of StoryFuel and Author of The Content Fuel Framework: How to Generate Unlimited Story Ideas.

We are all continuing to adjust to major changes in routines, behaviors, and workspaces. In step with this new reality, marketers must adapt their messaging, so that it’s both contextually aware and continues to drive engagement and response.

But adapting content to suit our new reality doesn’t require a complete overhaul. Simple changes to our strategy can have an outsized impact on how effective it is during this time.

To help Higher Education marketers adapt their messaging and content to keep it relevant and engaging in these evolving times, I recently presented a LinkedIn webinar to share best practices. Here are five recommendations from that session for how to adjust your content and messaging during evolving times:

1. Audit

Research by Element-R Partners showed that 61% of people found “business as usual” emails annoying or highly annoying amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and a survey conducted by Adtaxi showed that 68% of people found it helpful when ads showed regard for the current scenario.

In order to ensure that your content and messaging are contextually aware, it’s important to audit your existing content—such as your website and email sequences —as well as any upcoming or scheduled content set to be released on social media, sent via email or published on your blog. You want to audit your content and messaging so that your language:

  • Reflects New Realities: It may be necessary to insert words like “digital,” “virtual” and “online” for some actions that can no longer take place in person, or to add caveats like “if possible,” “when safe to do so,” or “according to your state’s recommendations.”
  • Acknowledges New Meaning: Words like “viral,” “spread,” “distant,” and “curve,” have taken on new meaning in the current environment. Look for language that has taken on unintended new meaning and should be adjusted.

In addition to audit your words, you should also consider auditing your imagery for context:

  • Bring It Online: Where possible, replace images of in-person meetings, activities and interactions with their virtual counterparts, showing individuals on phones, laptops, and tablets.
  • Back It Up: Social distancing is becoming second nature for many people, so replace images of crowded places, large groups of people, hand shaking, and similar interactions that may now seem out of date or generate anxiety.

2. Build

In addition to auditing your existing content, build new content and messaging in response to the current environment. Today, people are learning new skills, both out of necessity and with great intention. Necessity has driven people to take on tasks they would normally outsource, complete processes they wouldn’t normally, and create items they would normally buy. In this time, creating instructional content is a hyper-relevant opportunity. Google Trends data shows that March brought about increases in searches with the phrases “how to,” “tutorial,” and “DIY.”

Higher education marketers should leverage their expertise, and that of their faculty, to create relevant instructional content. This kind of content can include instruction on working from home, using remote technology, homeschooling, meal improvisation, home fitness, making protective equipment, healthy living, managing mental health in isolation, and so much more.

Searches for more formal online education are also on the rise. According to LinkedIn Data, searches for “online courses” are up 225% in March. Additionally, searches for “online learning” increased 113%, and “online education” was up 46%.

Ensure content clearly articulates your offerings, demonstrates the expertise and thought leadership of your faculty, and answers key questions and concerns that prospective students may be having in these times.

3. Confirm

Invest in marketing, if at all possible, because our audience is still responding to marketing messages. Adtaxi data shows that American consumers are still drawn to purchases that make them feel comfortable, healthy, relaxed, or safe and secure.

Through content and messaging, we have an opportunity to prove that we’re a trusted source.

Confirm value and detail changes in updated messaging that focus on:

  • Services: Confirm availability, hours, access, and any other basic details about your products, tools, locations and offerings.
  • Deadlines: Confirm the static or updated deadline for applications, testing, paperwork, payments, and other time-sensitive tasks.
  • Contact: Specify clear contact points for questions and next steps for anyone needing additional support.

Reassure and build trust by checking content for:

  • Transparency: Clearly explain decisions and choices so your audience feels confident they have all relevant information and full understanding.
  • Citations: Cite reliable sources in your content, hyperlink to sources you cite, and make clear where any data or information is being pulled from.
  • Experts: Use outside experts and sources to objectively validate and confirm claims and recommendations.

Audiences also judge content based on the way they receive it and the platform where they view it. Be platform specific in your messaging. Invest your marketing dollars in places your target audience not only spends time but also trusts. (LinkedIn, for instance, ranked as the most trusted social platform for the 3rd year running , according to a 2019 Business Insider Intelligence Annual Digital Trust Report

4. Deliver

Meet your audience where they are—both psychologically and technologically. As part of adjusting your content strategy, consider whether it may be helpful to shift your usage of various content formats and channels. Now is the time to lean into live and pre-recorded video content, if you are able, and haven’t taken that leap.

Advantages of video:

  • Fewer workplace barriers: Working from home means they may have better time availability and fewer distractions for watching a video, depending on their living situation.
  • Connection: Video can help connect and build a personal feeling in a time where face-to-face communication is lacking.
  • Engagement: LinkedIn data shows that Live videos on LinkedIn drive 7x more reactions and 24x more comments than native videos.

5. Empathize

Spend time truly putting yourself in the shoes of your audience. For many, this has been an incredibly challenging time.

Actively listen to pain points, complaints and concerns students and potential students express. Create content to acknowledge concerns, such as the potential need for alternative timelines, balancing childcare, adjusting to working from home, and dealing with health, emotional, and financial struggles.

It’s also especially important to humanize your content. Include real people (instead of hypotheticals) as often as possible. Consider content such testimonials, featured alumni contributors, and interviews. According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, relatability is twice as important as popularity, meaning that consumers prefer endorsements from those they see as peers above celebrity endorsements. Your audience needs to see themselves— or people like themselves—in your content for it to resonate with them.

Resist pressing pause on messaging or ignoring the current challenges.  Messaging needs to adapt to help your audience understand what you’re offering and how it relates to them now.  These five tips for content can help weather the storm, stay relevant amidst change and create deep, long-term relationships that carry on beyond the current reality.