Higher education institutions need to attract students, faculty, parents and potential business partners — and what better way to do it than demonstrating thought leadership with quality content marketing? It’s a perfect fit for institutions that already have so much expertise and authority in their ranks to draw on.

It’s far from common practice in the college world, but plenty of institutions are using smart content marketing to build their brands and connect with students and other target markets.

Related reading: How Higher Ed Marketing Can Use Content for a Strategic Advantage

Great content marketing holds off on the self promotion and advertising. Instead it concentrates on being helpful and answering questions for the target audience, building trust and authority that will pay dividends over the long term.

Here are six higher ed institutions doing content marketing especially well.

Boston University – Professor Voices

Boston University’s “Professor Voices” is a special “microsite” that collects articles and videos where Boston University faculty share their thoughts on timely topics such as upcoming elections, the United States’ relationship with Russia and corporate mergers.

It works well because parents, students and faculty who come across this content via social media or search are exposed to the unique viewpoints BU faculty have to offer and have more of a reason becoming part of the BU community.

Having members of a higher education institution express their opinions on topical issues allows them to demonstrate thought leadership. For example, prospective students might read BU Professor Tom Whalen’s article on gun control and start to consider studying law at BU.

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology — The Pillars

This is another great example of a microsite. The Chicago School of Professional Psychology worked with higher education marketing company Converge to create The Pillars, a blog with dozens of interesting and accessible articles on psychology. Converge created a persona for each of The Chicago School’s targeted audiences, which helped them write more relevant articles.

Marketers usually use buyer personas to to make sure their marketing tactics are aligned with an overall strategy. They’re usually associated with promoting a product or service, but Converge and The Chicago School of Professional Psychology demonstrate you can use personas to market an institution. Converge does not disclose what these personas are, but if you peruse the blog you you can infer that The Chicago School is interested in attracting veterans and Latino students.

Drake University Pinterest Channel

Content marketing is usually about “informing and helping,” but that doesn’t mean it all has to be focused on thought leadership. Drake University’s Pinterest page is about being informative and fun at the same time. One board is full of suggestions for dorm decor, another on healthy eating at college, another on life in Des Moines.

Of course, being on Pinterest, these pages are full of attractive photography. People use Pinterest to express feelings toward objects, according to research from social media management app Buffer. Universities have an opportunity to create visual content that prospective students (and the parents and high school teachers who influence them) can get excited about. If it evokes positive feels and helps people solve problems, it will receive tons of pins and create valuable good impressions.

Harvard Business Review

On the extreme other end of the fun/thought leadership spectrum is Harvard Business Review, which has become the leading business publication in the U.S. and is constantly building up the prestige of Harvard Business School. This is an example of a boutique brand publication. Other examples in this category are the in-flight magazines you find in the seat back on a commercial flight.

Brand publications such as Harvard Business Review are successful because they find a “content tilt,” a phrase the Content Marketing Institute’s Joe Pulizzi coined. This means the content is unique and the publishers know their audience well. It is consumer-oriented, which negates the risk of it seeming like a promotional tool.

Brand publications should not be about pushing the brand, but letting excellent work speak for itself, and Harvard Business Review knows this.

Higher Ed Marketing

MIT OpenCourseWare

Sometimes content marketing is described as “giving the goods away for free,” and MIT OpenCourseWare is a prime example of that approach. For 10 years, working on a massive scale, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology allowed anyone in the world access to recorded lectures and other materials from hundreds of MIT courses for free.

OpenCourseWare was a huge part of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) movement and many of the materials were the seeds of courses in the edX consortium.

Dartmouth University – Tuck Executive Education Blog

The Tuck School of Executive Education at Dartmouth University helps executives improve their skills by providing personalized learning. To attract these executives, Tuck’s blog publishes content on issues executives care about such as leadership and innovation.

This is probably most similar to typical B2B content marketing where the brand uses content to attract people who make purchase decisions for products or services for their staff. (This can be a useful tactic for engaging current and former customers also, which is an important part of any content plan.) If potential buyers see an interesting article on running effective meetings circulating around and land on the Tuck blog, that’s the beginning of a relationship that — over large traffic numbers — leads to a series of micro-conversions for some visitors.

Some will visit again. Some will sign up for a newsletter. And some will click on a call-to-action in the newsletter indicating interest in hearing about the program. The great thing about digital marketing is that it allows for measuring, learning and iterating.

Why Are These Cases Special?

These institutions excel at content marketing because they go beyond shooting promotional videos featuring stories from campuses and classes. These strategies are useful for nudging people along the sales funnel. The target audience will include a range of people from those who have zero awareness of the brand to those who are ready to make a serious buying decision.

Related reading: Give, and It Shall Be Given to You: A Definition of Content Marketing Based On What You Can Do for Others

A topical article from a faculty member can garner dozens of press mentions and get the attention of hundreds of people who may not have considered attending or working with that school. A video or press release touting the same professor will come across like an ad and having trouble capturing attention.

All the universities on this list provide content that benefits a wide range of people without drifting into advertisement territory. It’s time for the rest of the educational landscape to take some notes.

Do you know another higher education institution you think is killing it with content marketing? Let us know and we’ll consider adding it to the list.


Joseph Rauch

Joseph Rauch

Guest Author

Joseph Rauch is a content writer and journalist who plans to publish his novel and use his content marketing skills to ensure it sells.