Blogging at Hope College

Students and their families are interested in outcomes when they review prospective colleges. But often, specific stories resonate more deeply than percentages.

Statistics can be powerful, but it’s stories that bring the data to life. Telling a compelling collegiate story is a challenge now that print publications are in decline, and traditional media outlets are often inadequate.

Blogging is one solution.

How can universities use a network of blogs to communicate its stories in ways that connect with alumni, parents, and prospective students?

Jennifer Fellinger, Vice President of Public Affairs and Marketing at Hope College, came on the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk 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.

The Goal of Higher Ed Blogging

Successful media strategies start with a high level goal. At Hope College, a private, Christian liberal arts college in Holland, MI, the goal emerged from a campus-wide strategic plan that included increasing the college’s stature and reputation.

Jennifer and her team had just established public affairs and marketing as a brand new division in the college. They needed to build the school’s reputation and devise a storytelling strategy. Jennifer decided it was time to shake things up.

She began by reducing the number of alumni magazines and developing a new approach to email. “With this new strategy,” Jennifer said, “we aimed at being more coordinated, more frequent, more segmented in how we were communicating with our prospective students.”

Involving more campus community members became a secondary goal. Hope started with a single blog called Stories of Hope. It focused exclusively on faculty and student stories, but it had no regular, professional writer. Jennifer brought in a freelance writer who could craft the posts.

It wasn’t long before that single blog became an entire network of online storytellers for Hope College.

Search Engine and PR Benefits of Consistent Blogging

“We didn’t do this for better SEO,” Jennifer said, “but it’s an important outcome.”

Blogging lifts the campus’ entire web presence. A blog post creates more index pages filled with fresh content Google loves. Regular updates from a solid network of bloggers attract the search engines’ attention.

Plus, writers can create backlinks in blogs – even back linking to the school’s website pages. Google assumes that the more backlinks a site has, the more useful the site is. As Jennifer says, “If you get those links in your blog post, it’s gonna register with Google.”

Finally, many searchers are looking for “how-to” information, which is the kind of thing that turns up on blog posts more often that websites. Blogs may also be more responsive to searches, increasing clicks, views, and unique readers.

And what about PR benefits?

“Since we’ve had the blogs in place, and since the network has kinda taken off,” Jennifer said, “we have more stories to pitch.”

She’s seen more than improved quantity, however. Her team has also developed a heightened awareness of what’s happening on the Hope College campus, which has created a more integrated and robust approach to media relations.

Tactically, blogging has been a boon to media relations. Since Hope shares its blogs on social media, reporters can see what’s happening right away and jump on a story that interests them.

How to Create a Blog Network at Your College or University

Blogging is time-, labor-, and resource-intensive, so it can feel overwhelming. Busy and understaffed departments may resist launching a blog.

Another challenge revolves around expectations. “Faculty,” Jennifer said, “sometimes feel like a blog post needs to be scholarly writing. And I think when people understand it’s more casual…it feels a little more doable”

Sometimes, though, faculty are reluctant to put themselves in the spotlight by writing or appearing on a blog.

Still, as Jennifer says, “Blogs are a great way to showcase the students and the alumni. People are eager to contribute when you ask for ideas for stories.”

Blogging, however requires commitment, consistency, and time to be successful. Departments with flourishing blogs employ several bloggers, including students, and schedule their posts in advance. By creating a content calendar, these departments can mine holidays, news events, or academic cycles for content ideas.

We asked Jennifer for her final words of advice to university’s considering a blog network.

“I’d…say think holistically about the members of the campus community who can be champions,” Jennifer said. “Who are the idea generators? 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 gonna see the needle moving.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Jennifer Fellinger from Hope College. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.