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Free range content

Posted by on Friday, April 15, 2011 in Info.

More stories. More platforms. Shrinking media market. Same amount of staff. What’s a content producer to do?

Set your content free. Allow it to graze and mingle where it, and its readers, listeners and viewers are. Let it reproduce on any and every site that wants it. House it in a flexible and adaptable barn that meets its unique needs. In short, put your content to work for you.

Here’s what we’ve learned in University Web Communications and the News Service about how to create and implement a content strategy that not only meets the needs of the institution but even better meets our audiences where they are with content that is fresh, engaging and completely portable.

Focus on the story

Forget your magazine, your website, your Facebook page, your Twitter, your YouTube channel. Forget about them for a second. Why are you here? For the story. Focus on the story first and then decide where and how it need to be pushed. As a feature presentation in your magazine and on that magazine’s website? Summed up for your news site? Made chatty for Facebook? Slimmed down to a nugget for Twitter? Filmed for YouTube? Recorded for iTunes U? One story, multiple uses, greater impact.

Blur the boundaries

Our goal is to engage with people in conversations about Vanderbilt. They shouldn’t have to care if they’re on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and certainly not which area of our website they’re on – all we want them to walk away with is that Vanderbilt engagement. To accomplish this – we’re blurring the lines between these platforms.

Not just enabling liking and retweeting of our content, but integrating Facebook and Twitter functionality into our sites – enabling comments on a Vanderbilt website for example to show up on your Facebook wall for your friends to see. Pulling your tweets into our comments section on our news site using Disqus. Pulling news from other campus sources onto the VU homepage and news sites. Housing our official photos in Flickr and pulling them into sites all across the Web presence – search engines love this and visitors do too.

Be platform agnostic and focus on engagement.

Don’t tell me, show me

We all know the competition for readers, viewers and listeners is absolutely intense and only growing. How can you elevate your content above the flotsam and jetsam of the Internet? Great, big visuals. Original photography. If you have the talent and budget, generate original illustrations when possible. When in doubt, find stock photography that tells the story. With Flickr and other tools, you can also use many more images from a photo shoot than the one or two that used to show up in print. Every story needs compelling images to go with it, period.

Short headlines, please

Sixty characters or less. Much longer and you’ll lose viewers’ interest, particularly on mobile devices.

Say goodbye to effort duplication

Focusing on the story in a coordinated way gets you out of the business of having one writer producing a story about Professor X for the alumni magazine, another one writing a press release, a third populating Professor X’s website, a fourth interviewing her for campus radio. One great story that looks at all of these angles on the front end not only frees up time to cover all the other compelling and timely stories, it enables you to finally be strategic about your content.

While you’re at it, say goodbye to bureaucratic buckets

PR pros know this, but it bears repeating. You care that this story is coming from the Center for the Most Amazing Discovery Ever in the Department of Excellence in the College of Rock Stars at Big University. Your audience only hears “Big University.”

Stop hiding your content under the bushel of its administrative home and instead think about all of the different places people who are interested in your topic are visiting and get your content there and simplify your language – none of that administrative language needs to be in your headline. Yes, include the story on your administrative area’s homepage, but don’t stop there.

Use a great CMS

A robust and nimble content management system makes this all not only possible but a lot more fun. We use WordPress for our news and magazine content and are constantly customizing it to meet our unique needs – building help pages directly into the interface for content managers, enabling the same story to appear on all of our news presences with a click of a button, and tagging, tagging, tagging. For us, WordPress has vastly reduced the amount of time needed for content posting while simultaneously expanding the reach of a single story.

Make it easy

Easy subscription, sharing, emailing and printing options on every page. Prominent RSS feeds. Embed code for all video. The easier you make it to share your content, the broader its reach will be.

Effectively freeing your content requires collaboration. Talk to the people managing the sites and social media presences where your audiences are on your campus or in your organization, your professional field, your community. Tell them your story. Ask them to share it. Ask them to share theirs with you.

Budgets aren’t going to grow and staff aren’t likely to increase. Use the many, many tools now at your disposal to do an even better job sharing your stories and engaging with your audiences than ever before.


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  • Honor Hawkins

    April 20th, 2011

    This is fantastic, Melanie — both in content and voice. YOU are a rockstar!

  • clips4sale

    April 21st, 2011

    This is great stuff. I like that you use wordpress as your cms.