As higher education departs the shores of government sponsorship and enters the era of academic capitalism (which unites the scientific search for truth with economic maximization of profits) improving the reputation of a college/university becomes mission-critical. However, becoming known as a college of consequence takes talent, discipline, money and smarts. Included below are the five best practices for improving college/university reputation and brand recognition:
1. Invest in Brand
Begin your journey for building reputation and brand recognition by investing in a brand. 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.
2. Transform Your Flagship Publication to a Print/Digital Hybrid Publication
Reimagine your print university magazine as a print/digital hybrid publication. Instead of publishing it bimonthly, quarterly, biyearly or annually, consider rolling out stories digitally on a weekly schedule, SEO-optimizing each for search engine rankings and promoting each on social media. You’ll be effectively weaponizing each article based on your schools’ thought leadership, innovation, and intellectual capital. Supplement the digital publication with a leaner and nimbler print publication.
To create the digital publication, 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.
3. Write Thought-Leadership Blogs
Encourage your 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.
- 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.
- Determine Keyword Focus: Think of the keyword or phrase you would like their blog post to be ranked for. Search Google to see who else appears on page 1 of Google for that phrase.
- 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.
4. Strengthen Ties with Community Partners
Create porous walls between the the institution and community partners. Get connected with the vitality of external communities including corporations, non-profits and civic organizations. Create centers of excellence that fuse corporate and academic interests.
5. Implement Image Advertising Campaign and Public Radio Sponsorship
The strongest brands reserve a portion of the marketing and PR budget for image advertising and public radio sponsorships designed to shape the image of a distinctive, positive and memorable brand.
As more colleges face demographic, endowment and government funding challenges, their pursuit of market-like activities is only expected to increase. Colleges must begin investing now — in protecting their intellectual property, marketing their thought leadership and building their brands.