I see this all the time. Universities who intend to showcase their school via “stories” on their website, who end up posting award, achievement, and event announcements instead.
It’s often a fine line between writing a dry announcement because the administration requests it and writing a compelling news story that will generate interest from media outlets and social media posters, as well as spark the interest of prospective students and their parents.
What can you do to rev up your news stories on your website and make them more compelling?
Start with the headline. Think about the stories you like to read online. What would be more interesting to read—a story with the headline “Student Receives XYX Fellowship,” or “XYZ Fellowship Winner Studies New Technologies for Wind Energy”? Use a more descriptive headline, but still try to keep it concise. The headline can help you focus the story.
Focus on people and their stories. Avoid writing about “things”—events, awards, etc. Instead, write about people. When a professor wins an award, don’t write about the award. Write about the professor. Who is the professor? What is the professor passionate about? What did she do to win the award? Why did the professor do what she did? What is unique or interesting about this professor, her teaching style or her research?
Find a fresh angle. The angle is key in writing compelling stories. Challenge yourself (or your staff) to identify what is unique or compelling (i.e. why someone else would care to read the article) and focus the story around that angle.
For example, if your college always posts the same story each year—perhaps a story on fall enrollment or a story on spring commencement—try to find new angles each year. For fall enrollment, tell the amazing story of one of your new students or create a photo-style feature of students moving into the residence halls and use captions to tell the enrollment story.
Differentiate between events and news. Know what constitutes a news story or a Calendar of Events listing on your website.
The headline for a recent “news” story on a college website was “Gospel Choir Christmas Concert.” This website also has an Events section on it homepage. Where should information on this concert go? Should the information have been placed in an Events listing instead of the News section? The headline isn’t very descriptive (for example, is it just announcing the event or is it giving you some other background or behind-the-scenes information about the event?).
If the main purpose of a post is to give the details of an event, consider posting it only in your Events section. If there’s a story behind the event you want to tell—perhaps how students are preparing for a concert—then the story would be a news story.
About Dana’s Creative Services
Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. She frequently writes and edits copy on higher education, genealogy/family history, health, and business topics. Twitter: @DanasCreative
On average, it costs colleges and universities $1,641 (not including admissions staff salaries and benefits) to recruit a student through enrollment, according to the recent 2013 State of College Admission report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC).
In the same report, colleges ranked the university’s website as one of the top three most important aspects in their new student recruitment strategy. Even though websites (and even other online tools such as blogs and social media) are considered important, not all colleges and universities are using them to their fullest potential.
So how does your school’s online presence compare to other colleges and universities? Let’s check out some more stats from the NACAC 2013 State of College Admission report to see how your online presence stacks up.
1. Content for parents and guidance counselors. We know it’s ultimately the student’s decision where to go to college, but parents and high school guidance counselors (particularly at private schools) are big influencers (whether the students admit it or not). However, only 85 percent of colleges and universities reported offering information on their website tailored to parents of prospective students and only 68 percent said they offer information for high school counselors.
Does your website have information for parents? How about for high school counselors? If you’re in the minority here, you may want to consider adding content directed at those important influencers.
2. Contact methods. Does your website prominently display the school’s phone number as a way to contact the college? If so, you’re not aligning your methods of contact with the ways students and parents prefer to contact schools.
According to the 2013 State of College Admission report, e-mail/Internet is the most popular way for students to contact colleges, with 40 percent of all admission inquiries being received via e-mail or the Internet. Of all the methods used to contact schools (college fairs, high school visits, written sources), phone calls were the least popular method for contacting colleges. So, make sure the admission office’s e-mail address or an online contact form is displayed prominently on your site.
3. Social media tools. The report found that 96 percent of schools provide links to their social networking sites, and an increasing number (52 percent) have blogs by current students. Some colleges even have blogs by admission officers and offer podcasts. What’s your social media presence like? Are you in the 4 percent that doesn’t link to your social media sites? Is anyone from your college blogging?
The report didn’t go into specific social media platforms used by colleges and universities, but many news outlets have covered how the social media tools used by teens are changing. Some studies show teens are moving away from Facebook, and moving toward other social media tools like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. In fact, a recent survey shows that Twitter is now more popular with teens than Facebook. Is your school in the online places where your target audience is spending time?
4. Visibility of online application. How easy is it to find (and fill out) your online application? In our technology-driven world and with the change from targeting Millenials to Generation Z (aka “digital natives”), online applications are becoming increasingly important. According to the 2013 State of College Admission report, for the Fall 2012 admission cycle, four-year colleges and universities receive 89 percent of their applications online, an increase from the previous two admission cycles.
If a link to your online application isn’t prominently located on your college website, now’s the time to make a change.
Hopefully these insights from the 2013 State of College Admission report will help you as you evaluate the state of your current online presence, maintain your college website, and determine where to put your resources (particularly valuable staff time).
Image credit: Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
About Dana’s Creative Services
Dana’s Creative Services is a writing and editing services company that helps businesses communicate better with their target audiences. Dana McCullough, owner of Dana’s Creative Services, writes and edits copy for brochures, newsletters, websites, blogs, magazines, and books. Her clients include universities, nonprofit organizations, magazine publishers, and book publishers nationwide. Dana has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and frequently writes and edits copy on higher education, genealogy/family history, health, and business topics.
Have I mentioned how much I love writing articles and blog posts for My College Guide? One of the reasons I enjoy this so much is that I get to talk to college administrators, admissions professionals, and financial aid staff all around the country and get their best advice to help high school students prepare for college.
These professionals often have so much great advice to share that we can’t include it all in the magazine articles. This was the case with information on finding and applying for college scholarships for a recent article. Because of this, I compiled the “extra” advice into a new blog post. See expert scholarship advice from professionals at Iowa State University and William Peace University in my latest post.
My colleagues at Mount Mary University (formerly Mount Mary College) launched the redesign of their website early in September. The university completely revamped its website, including all of the content.
I assisted the university with its website project by writing several pages of content and editing copy for a majority of pages on the new website. Check out the redesigned university website. Particularly see the Fast Facts, About Milwaukee, A Women’s University and Academic Excellence pages, which I wrote for the site.
If you’d like to see samples of pages I edited (original content vs. edited content), please contact me.