Top 5 Themes and Takeaways from Confab Higher Ed 2016

Blog | 16 Dec, 2016

Written by Kelly Pollhammer and Kim Patel

In November, our team traveled to Philadelphia, PA to attend the Confab Higher Ed conference.

Confab hosts content strategy conferences throughout the year, and this conference focuses on the challenges and opportunities that web content strategists and digital marketers within the higher education industry encounter.

We put together our top 5 themes and takeaways that, while presented in reference to higher education, can be applied as content strategy best practices across many industries.


1. There is beauty in brevity

Poor user experience is often caused by content clutter; there’s too much information for the user to sift through, so they bounce. Identify and get rid of excessive navigation links within your site that are not ultimately helping your user progress in their journey.

This concept not only applies to the website as whole, but within the content itself. Ravi Jain, Senior Associate Director, Digital Media and Web Development for Boston College, discussed how short-form video content could be valuable if executed properly. Break up your message into smaller bites instead of trying to tell too many stories in too many seconds. Let the story dictate the length of the video and you may find that shorter is better.

Takeaway: You may not realize that while you are trying to be helpful, providing extra detail or incentives for the user, you are actually distracting them from the goal. Consider making this clean up exercise an objective for one of your upcoming tests.


2. Be the communication champion

Ever heard the phrase “communication is key”? Well, no exceptions can be made for this rule when you’re working on a site redesign project, a new campaign, or even just a simple refresh of current content on your site. Being the communication champion means owning the responsibility of keeping everyone #intheloop.

Make sure that you include all stakeholders in early strategy discussion; you might be surprised what insights each department has to offer.

Then, have a strategy statement or document that is accessible at all times, which will answer questions like:

  • What are the high-level and tactical goal(s) of this task/project/campaign?
  • What information do we have to support that this content (addition or removal) is necessary and/or will work?

Takeaway: People will support what they help create. Even if they were not part of the actual creation or execution, if stakeholders feel that their voice was heard, they will be more likely to promote the project and its long-term goals.


3. User journey is more than just good user experience

Always keep in mind how important your site’s visitor’s decisions truly are. Someone who has made the decision to pursue a higher education degree should not feel underappreciated when they visit your site; they should feel respected, welcomed, and excited. Aim to give them a valuable user experience, not only through optimized site navigation and information findability, but also through the look and feel of your site as a whole.

Tracy Playle, a keynote speaker at Confab Higher Ed, discussed the idea of helping users feel like they are descending through a portal, the way Alice does as she finds self-discovery in her imagination in Wonderland.

“How can we as content strategists in higher education create portals that condition the minds of our audiences towards curiosity, joy and love? We can consider this for the physical spaces of our campuses, but also the ways in which people enter our communication platforms and spaces, too—our websites, our print materials, our exhibition stands. How can we craft portal- style experiences to make people fall in love with us, and fall in love with learning?”

Come up with some creative ideas to captivate your users when they visit your site (or come into contact with your brand in any channel) so they feel like they are truly entering the experience that you have created for them. Video is a great medium to experiment with.

Takeaway: By taking a step back to consider the full sensory experience that the user may have when visiting your website, you may identify some previously overlooked gaps where you can fill an emotional void.


4. Be prepared for the user who creates their own journey

With tons of published content, ad streams, and potential digital touch points, it’s inevitable that some users will not follow the pre-designed path to conversion that we have created for them. Be prepared for users to enter the cross-channel journey at different points, and make sure that, while many of your ads, videos, landing pages, etc. may be part of a larger series/campaign, they can each stand alone if they have to.

When creating new content, always refer back to your strategy statement as a gut check and question the purpose:

  • What is the goal of what you are communicating?
  • Where will this be seen, and does that make sense for each channel?
  • Will this make sense to a new user?

Takeaway: Provide enough context in every piece of content where the user can understand the message, how it is relevant for them, and the intended next steps you want them to take.


5. Design for real life

Especially within the higher education industry, it’s important to make your content and user experience personable, honest, and understandable. While prospects research your brand to make sure you meet their requirements, it won’t hurt to charm them along the way, especially as a way to introduce yourself into their consideration set. If it’s appropriate for your brand, consider using comedy as a way to expose and/or discuss human truths.

Use human emotion and real experiences to captivate and grab attention. Many brands are finding success using videos with no set pieces, no subjects clearly talking to camera, and no lower-thirds caption overlays. Ravi shared an example where a university increased engagement with a video shot by students on move-in day, showing common issues like a full car trunk not closing properly or a box being dropped.

Takeaway: Relatability goes a long way; mix up your messaging themes and break out of the industry norm by trying something with the opposite set of emotions that you normally use in your campaigns.

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