Ideas, insights and inspirations.

After the second world war, cold war ushered the era of government sponsored research. Government funding built and sustained higher education institutions. Workshops, conferences and journals ruled. Few media giants made and destroyed brands. As cold war came to an end, he world order changed. Governments reduced their research budgets. Hundreds of media channels were born. Internet was privatized and commercialized, Google came into the picture, social media flourished, and smart phones revolutionized communications. Academic capitalism funded by diverse corporate sources took on a new urgency. Power was distributed.

As the world order changed, a new set of rules emerged to build and manage the reputation of colleges and universities. Becoming known as a college of consequence now takes talent, discipline, money and digital smarts. Born out of our experiences in serving higher education institutions, here are the seven best practices for improving college/university reputation and brand perceptions in the digital age:

1. Invest in Branding
Leading universities invest in their brand and refresh it periodically to keep it resonant with society. In our view, a brand is the sum of all experiences, be they virtual, experiential or architectural interactions. It is the DNA of an institution that affirms its purpose, defines its core values, creates distinction and is the foundation of its reputation. Successful colleges are revisiting their brand once a decade.

2. Celebrate Heroes
Reputable institutions know that the real hero of their story is their students, alumni, faculty and partners — not the institution. Their never tire of telling their stories. If their people are involved in consequential endeavors, the institution will naturally build a reputation for being an institution of consequence.

3. Transform Flagship Publication to a Print/Digital Hybrid Publication
Successful universities reimagine their print university magazine as a print/digital hybrid publication. Instead of publishing it bimonthly, quarterly, biyearly or annually, they rollout stories digitally on a weekly schedule, SEO-optimizing each for search engine rankings and promoting them on social media. They are effectively weaponizing each story based on the institution’s thought leadership, innovation, and intellectual capital. They supplement the digital publication with a leaner and nimbler print publication.

To create the digital publication, they take the following steps:

  • Develop a Keyword Lexicon: Categories in the lexicon should include keywords for brand positioning, reputation, thought leadership, star faculty and their areas of research, leadership and their unique point-of-view.
  • Craft an Editorial Calendar: This will ensure topics coverage and cultivate the habit of routine publishing. Build in flexibility to take advantage of opportunities that surface over time.
  • Create High-fidelity Content: The high-fidelity content (such as videos, infographics, interviews, posters, field guides, animations, slide shows and microsites) elevates a college’s brand reputation and dislodges competitors from search engines for tough-to-rank keywords.
  • “Bake” Keywords into Each Article: Use SEO best practices to “bake” the keywords into each article.
  • Foster Social Sharing: The more an article is shared on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social channels, the more likely it will surface on page 1 of search engines.
  • Promote Content: Promote the high-fidelity content through your college’s earned, owned and paid media with the goal of reaching new prospect pools and encouraging peer-to-peer sharing.
  • Track and Measure: Measure reach and exposure to friends of the college, and more importantly to strangers who are unaware of your college. Measure keyword rankings to ensure your content ranks on Google. Sustain your rankings by watch your college competitors for signs of encroachment, and counter their moves on an as-needed basis.

4. Create Thought-Leadership Blogs
Most reputable universities are encouraging their thought leaders to follow these steps to create and manage their blogs:

  • Outline Goals: Create a readership that engages with their passion for their expertise by delivering practical, dependable and valuable content.
  • Determine Keyword Focus: Think of the keywords and phrases a college would like their blog posts to be ranked for. Search Google to see who else appears on page 1 of Google for those phrases.
  • Manage Personal Profiles: Curate and manage their personal profiles on their school’s website, their personal LinkedIn account, and other social channels. Grow and cultivate their personal network comprised of practitioners, peers, collaborators and most importantly influencers.
  • Define Target Audience: Speak to practitioners, peers, collaborators and influencers.
  • Content Focus: Write about research, studies, best practices, and policy issues. Educate. Quote other authoritative peers and aspirational brands. They lend you credibility. Tie content to the keyword or phrase.Limit the length of blog post to less than 500 words.
  • Articulate Unique Point of View. Provide authoritative perspective on their expertise and related topics.Share lessons learned. Risk yourself. Lean into controversy.
  • Voice: Be positive, real, helpful, accessible, insightful, professional and knowledgeable. Avoid jargon.
  • Engage Audiences: Encourage questions and comments on the blog. Share the blog on their personal social networks as well as on their college’s official social media channels. Respond to comments on the blog and social media.
  • Measure: Measure the number of shares and likes. Measure the traffic on the blog post. Monitor Google rankings for their keyword or phrase.

5. Create and Hold New Symposiums and Conferences in Areas of Competitive Advantage
As knowledge multiplies and is refined, needs emerge to foster fresh conversations in those new niches. Leading universities are funding their leading faculty to create and manage new symposiums and conferences in emerging and niche topics.

6. Create New Centers of Excellence
Top universities create porous walls between the institution and community partners. They are connected with the vitality of external communities including corporations, non-profits and civic organizations. They are creating new centers of excellence that fuse community and academic interests.

7. Implement Image Advertising Campaigns and Sponsorships
The strongest higher education brands reserve a portion of the marketing and PR budget for image advertising and sponsorships designed to shape the image of a distinctive, positive and memorable brand.

As more universities face demographic, endowment and government funding challenges, their pursuit of market-like activities will expand. The smartest ones are investing in protecting their intellectual property, marketing their unique thought leadership, building their brands and dominating Google and social media.

If you are seeking higher education marketing agencies to fortify the reputation of your college or university, view our higher education marketing capabilities and consider partnering with us.

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