44: Blogging at Hope College w/ Jennifer Fellinger

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Jennifer Fellinger, Vice President of Public Affairs and Marketing at Hope College, talks about all the reasons institutions should take blogging seriously and about how to move from blogging at a small scale to managing a network of blogs.

Our goal was to really strategically create our own opportunity to share those success stories, and then, I'd say, a secondary goal has been to engage more of our campus community members. In our efforts, we were developing the stories of hope blog and really thinking more about a network, a robust network. We were also at the same time developing or rethinking our media relations strategy. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connected to you podcast network. I'm Eric Olson, ATP of marketing at Helix Education, and we're here today with Jennifer Fellinger, vice president of Public Affairs and marketing at Hope College. Jennifer, welcome to the show. Thanks so much. Really excited to talk with you today about all the reasons institution should take blogging seriously. But before we taking to that, Jennifer, can you give the listeners a little bit better understanding of both hope college and your rule. They're sure. Hope College is a private Liberal Arts Undergraduate College in Holland, Michigan. We are academically excellent and vibrantly and ecumenically Christian. And my role at hope is public affairs and marketing. In our office we have creative services, web communications, media relations, sports information and then also events and conferences, falls under our division. Awesome. Let's kick this off, Jennifer. What are the high level goals behind Your Hope College blog network? Yeah, I'll step back and give you kind of an overview of how we got to the network. When I started at hope four years ago, public affairs and marketing was a brand new division. So it was an opportunity to really rethink how we were doing things.

So three years ago this was the situation at hope and specifically in our office. We had just ushered in a strategic plan as a college and so there was a goal in there specifically about or there is a goal and there specifically about stature and reputation and building that for Hope College. We were also thinking about our storytelling strategy. So we had a we have a media relations manager and he was getting a lot of requests from faculty and staff who had great stories but they weren't really pressed release kinds of stories. So we really needed to tell them, but in a better, more effective, more integrated kind of way. We also had made a decision to shake up our alumni magazine. So we just understood that people are consuming their information differently. So we cut back on the number of alumni magazines from five hundred to three. We wanted to increase the quality even as the we as we were reducing the frequency. So we lost two issues, but we didn't want to lose the opportunity to share two issues worth of content. And then, finally, we were developing a new strategy for email communications for prospective students and families, and so this new strategy, with this new strategy, we aim to be more coordinated, more frequent, more segmented and how we were communicating with our prospective students and we knew we would need content for the level of frequency that we had in mind for the email. So we had blogs in place, but not a strong blog network. So we knew it was an opportunity to build and invest on a foundation that already existed. So we started with a really manageable scale of meaning kind of small and focused. First we launched what we call stories of hope, which is a blog that focuses on scholarship and academic innovation, so really focusing on faculty and students. We didn't have a writer on staff. We don't have a writer on staff, so we decided to invest in a freelancer that we knew and trusted to kind of own the blog and work closely with us and write the post frequently. And then from there...

...we really have expanded into building a network of blogs. So we identified kind of power users who we knew could blog. So we went from stories of hope to building a network that today includes a lot of blogs, but kind of the the ones that are the most AC active are admissions, history department, knusiology department, English Department, our Career Development Center, alumni off campus study, our office public affairs and marketing, and then we have some programs that are connected to our academic majors and miners that have their own blogs as well. So that's kind of the overview of where how it started and the goals. I mean, simply put, the goal is to share the hope story. Yeah, we know that students in their families are interested in outcomes. Of course we all know that, but often the success stories about specific students and families are really resonate more deeply than percentages, even though those percentages are can be really powerful. It's the stories that bring those kind of success percentages in the data to life. So we knew that we have, we had a lot of great stories to tell. We know if we relied on prick pieces, there wouldn't be enough opportunity, if we relied on email and social social media, there wouldn't be enough space and if we relied on media coverage, there just wouldn't be enough frequencies. So our goal was to really strategically create our own opportunity to share those success stories. And then, I'd say a secondary goal has been to engage more of our campus community members in our efforts, so have more people helping to build our visibility by telling their own story. So it's kind of like a crowdsourcing approach in a way. And more specifically, we've had a goal to to provide new and better content for our web based communications, so emails to perspective students, but also newsletters to our constituents, alumni, trustees, parents and families, even employees.

And on the topic of goals, I'd also say the most effective blogs that we have in our network are the ones that really own their own goals for the blog, and I'll give you the example of our history department blogs. Like so many humanities programs, they face this challenge of students and families asking, well, what can you actually do with a history degree? Yeah, and you know, like I feel like those programs are often put on the defense of a little bit, and our history department has taken a different kind of approach. Their goal with their blog is to illustrate really the value and the versatility of a hope degree, and they do this by sharing faculty scholarship but also a lot of alumni stories. So our office really doesn't even need to provide guidance. They just have a rock star Chair and a rock star faculty who are really focused in, disciplined and creative, and so our office really just needs to share their posts of social media. It's awesome. Love it and I really love that background and specifically that history department example, because I'm curious, from a content focused are you tasking these faculty in these department contributors with certain Pov's or, you know, subject matter guidelines, or you give them kind of free rain. We give them pretty free rain and and most often the blog post happen organically. Sometimes times we will either develop a blog post out of our office stories of hope blog, or will ask somebody develop a blog post for specific purpose. So if, for example, we know we're going to send an email to prospective students about the residential life experience on campus, we might ask a res lifestaff member to work with us on a blog post. So sometimes they are really specific and we'll work with the Department or we'll just ask the department to write something and they will. But really often they're organically. They just happen organically and they're great. But we do want the content to be distinctive to hope. So you know, ultimately...

...we want to share content that highlights what is distinctive about the hope experience. Sometimes it is a little more aspirational than realistic, but we do ask ourselves the question, could any student at any school or could any faculty member at any school have written this post? And if the answers yes, we may be missing the mark. So we try to kind of hold ourselves accountable to that. There is an exception to that. Our admissions folks have a blog, mostly student written, but some of our best performing blog posts were written by one of our academic counselors who just we just happen to discover she is interested in this and she's a great writer, especially great blog writer. So she wrote topics like or post that had topics like ten tips for writing an unforgettable college application essay, six questions to ask on your college tour, five things to know about the FAFSA. So those are a little less specific, to hope, but a little broader in kind of their higher education relevance. And so what we're trying to do with that is kind of enter into a higher education conversation and gain some visibility by offering perspective on common topics. So there's a little bit you know, when we do go broad, there's a strategy for doing so. I really like that advice of only telling the story when it's hopes specific story to tell. That that's really good, Jenifer. Let's talk about the search engine benefits of getting regular content creation from all of these folks outside of your own marketing comms department. Yeah, sure. So I would preface this by saying we didn't do this for better Seo. That's not what we set out to achieve, but it's an important outcome, so we don't. Well, it's not priority to make sure that we're getting that SEO. It's certainly is something that we're seeing effects from. So I'd say three things. You probably could have a whole a whole podcast just on this topic. But one is a blog post just creates more indexed pages. So...

...when you think about each post as a new page on your website, it's fresh content and Google is going to give preference to fresh content, content that's more recent or that's updated regularly. And if you get a solid network of bloggers, you're going to get that fresh, updated, regularly updated kind of content in your blogs. Also, you can create your own backlinks to your school's website pages and Google assumes that the more backlinks, the more useful a website is. So therefore it uses backlinking as a factor and it's ranking. So if you get those links in your blog posts, it's going to register with Google. And then I'd also say a lot of people, when you think about people doing searches on Google, they're often do searching for how to kind of information and those are more likely to turn up blog posts than just website. So blog and kind of allows your content to turn up in more search queries or inquiries, which can mean more clicks for you. Awesome. Awesome, Jennifer. How has your blog network helps from a PR standpoint in terms of positioning your faculty as thought leaders and Repurposing, you know, that content for media facing pitches? Yeah, so at the same time that we were developing the stories of hope blog and really thinking more about a network, a robust network, we were also at the same time developing or rethinking our media relations strategy. So we had relied really on one person, our media relations manager, to respond to media requests. So we went in another direction, which I'm sure a lot of your listeners and so there's about five of us. We meet every other week for about an hour and we discuss potential stories and potential pitch is for the media. So, in other words, we're just trying to be more proactive and also more integrated. So it's not just one person writing press releases, but it's a group of us that have connections in the campus community that are coming together and talking about what the possibilities...

...are. Since we've had the blogs in place and since the network has kind of taken off, we well, number one, we have more stories to pitch. For sure, we just have just the quantity has increased, but also it's just raised our own awareness about what's happening on campus and so when I'm connecting with a reporter, when our media relations manager is connecting with the reporter, we have in the back of our mind a whole selection of stories that we can always suggest or work into the story if possible. So it really has created, again, more integrated, but just a more robust approach to pitching content to the media. I'd say the media interest and coverage that has come out of the blogs, that has been kind of been a direct result of the blogs, really comes from the social media posts that share the blog. So, you know, you don't just have a blog and then just let it set idol. It's all about sharing at sharing the content, which we do, you know, mostly through suit social media, and so if we have reporters who are media who's following us on social media, they'll see those posts. I'd say the admissions posts I mentioned before about college tours and college essays and FAFTS. Those were shared via social media by by hope and then they were shared by a lot of organizations and individuals that we'd consider influencers in the college selection and application process. Awesome. You mentioned how you are sharing and disseminating these blogs after they are created. How House are you able to repurpose the blog content itself for your other channels and publications? Yeah, so we would, you say, a blog post, we could use it on the website, so it could turn into a home page story and admissions emails. How it's been. The network has been just such a valuable resource. So we are sending emails and a much more strategic, much more frequent way and segmented way, as I mentioned before, to students but also...

...to parents and families, and then, you know, hopefully we'll be doing a little more with counselors as well. And so to have this content and to be able to frame a message and link to the content is has just been tremendously helpful and successful to we also have electronic newsletters that we send to alumni and parents and families and trustees and even employees and so it provides content for those newsletters and we encouraged apartments to think about the blogs as an alternative to the print and even some of their electronic newsletters. For a lot of them, electronic just means a PDF that's emailed out. So we're trying to get them to think about a blog as serving the same purpose as a newsletter and but actually serving that purpose more effectively. Of course, repurposing it on social media. Are Share it through social media and then, I would say, some of the blog stories have turned into, or have led us to stories that we use for our alumni magazine or other print pieces. I love it, really, really, really great stuff. Any next steps? Advice for institutions who are hearing this insane what is really interesting? Any next advice for them in terms of how do you go about creating a formal blog strategy under campus? Yeah, you know, the first thing I would say is it can be really overwhelming, so approach it kind of in bite size pieces and ways that feel manageable to you. It's overwhelming, especially to departments that that are really, really busy. I don't know, I don't have any colleagues or counterparts in higher education who think that they have all the, you know, the staff that they need. You always feel like you're kind of stretched beyond bandwidth and asking people to write or to launch a blog just feels like one more thing. So I think there's a few reasons for that. Faculty sometimes feel like a blog post needs to be scholarly writing, and I think when people understand it's more casual. The voice, the tone styles more casual, feels a little more doable, a little more accessible. And we've also found that sometimes faculty and staff are a little humble and they don't want to put themselves in the spotlight, but they're really eager to put their students...

...in their lums in the fact and the spotlight because those are their kind of points of pride. Blogs are a great way to showcase the students and the alumni, and so people are eager to contribute in that sense. When you ask for ideas for stories, they're eager to contribute. We are really honest about the need to commit to a blog. It does take time and you need to be consistent. We found that the the departments that are most successful are the ones who have several bloggers and most often that include students and also those who schedule out their blog posts. So and schedule them out kind of foreign advance. And when you do that I encourage people to think about the calendar. Are there times of year that would make certain blog posts more interesting or more relevant or more useful? So holidays and news events and admissions deadlines, academic cycle or academic calendar. Sometimes those can prompt ideas and then sometimes those can boost those particular times of the year can boost the blog activity. I'd also say think holistically about the members of the campus community who can be champions. So not just who are the potential bloggers, that's really important, but who are the idea generators and who are also the social media power users? Sometimes they're not bloggers, but you might have staff members or students or faculty members who are just rock stars on social media. If you can get them sharing your content, I think you're going to see the needle moving a little bit. We realize we weren't getting the posts into or in front of the folks who are social media users, so we created like a daily digest of blog entries and then also a weekly digestive curated blog entries, just so people know what we're putting out and then they're more likely to click on it and share it. Really good stuff. Jennfer, I can't thank you enough for your time today. What is the best place for listeners to connect with you they have any follow up questions? Yeah, I would love to take follow up questions and talk to people about this. My email is fellinger and...

...that's fell I M G are at hopet a to you, and then I'm also on twitter at Jen felly Jean Felll I. Awesome. Thanks against so much for joining us today, Jennifer. Thanks Rek, I've loved it. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges, downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom. Slash playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education to ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (264)