-
By: Joseph Master

Are Analytics Strangling Higher Ed Storytelling?

Marketing & Branding /
By: Joseph Master

5 minutes

We’ve got the metrics. So, what happened to the narratives?

In college, I studied creative writing and learned early on that “you are not your characters.” For young fictioneers (a sect prone to self-indulgence on the page), this is prudent advice: Don’t write about yourself. Kill your darlings. Fast. By focusing on yourself, you miss the story.

A photo of our Building Your Alumni and Donor Relations Digital Communication white paper

But here’s what I’ve learned about storytelling in higher education: Our stories are that interesting. Our students are superheroes. Our faculty are wizards. Our alumni are rock stars. But we are often overwhelmed with such numinous doubt.Or — to be blunt — your story just isn’t that interesting. I call this doubt Google Analytics.

My relationship with GA is much like my relationship with my phone. I love it. It’s so much smarter than I am, and comes in a more attractive shell. But if I stare at it for too long, tracking the engagement of my digital doppelgängers, I can miss out on my actual life — or walk into traffic (same difference?). I have spent entire days salivating over analytics — creating reports and making recommendations for page optimizations and content changes, redesigns and overhauls. I am also not afraid to admit that GA has caught my own mistakes before I have — from 404s to ads showing up in unsavory places (thanks, referral insights).

Higher Ed content marketing is at a crossroads. Our capability to measure and track overwhelms our capacity to create.

But I must admit: For what we do, in 2018, the darling that must be killed is the mindset that execution must always start with analysis. Don’t freak out. I’m not saying to ditch your metrics. Just don’t let your metrics kill your stories before you have a chance to assign them.

Once Upon a Time
Write for us.
Right for you

create. Our CRM software works at odds with our RCM budget models. Our own acronyms have become obstacles we must dodge on the page and on camera. If you don’t agree, I have a few questions for you

Kill your darlings (or at least start with stories first)

Higher Ed content marketing is at a crossroads. Our capability to measure and track overwhelms our capacity to create. Our CRM software works at odds with our RCM budget models. Our own acronyms have become obstacles we must dodge on the page and on camera. If you don’t agree, I have a few questions for you:

  • How many times have you asked a student or alum to repeat the actual name of a college, program or institute so that your video doesn’t sound like an ad for a youth basketball league?
  • How many times do these acronyms show up prominently on your website’s inner pages and on institutional social media accounts?
  • How many times have you been told you need to “own” and build content around keywords that Google tells you are viable due to search volume — yet your own child could tell you otherwise: that those keywords are only viable in the vacuum your institution has created for itself?
  • How many times has writing the opening paragraph of a news item or long-form story felt like an exercise in obfuscation? Or self-flagellation?
  • How many times have you killed a story or campaign you knew had serious legs because you sat in a room with your superiors and were told that subject shouldn’t be the focus of project because of metric?

I love data. But, it’s time to get back to the source. Storytelling is simple. So why have we insisted on making it so complicated?

  1. It starts with an interview.
  2. That grows into a story.
  3. That resonates with a brand.
  4. And then we do our best work to share it in ways that will engage prospects, peers and press. And by best, I mean that we already know what we are doing, without having to consult Google. A good story is the best trench SEO.

At the very least, these stories engage and build a larger narrative. Sometimes, they set the foundation for multichannel campaigns. If we are lucky, we build things right. When the structure is sound, people will notice, and the metrics will corroborate. Metrics are vital, but sessions and open rates and CTRs are impossible without excellent stories. Paul Redfern, a friend of mine who also sits on the board of CUPRAP (College & University Public Relations and Associated Professionals) addressed this back in April in his Inside Higher Ed blog:

It’s our job to tell great stories that help support our brand strategy; to find a way to tie strategy and story together.

Paul nailed it. Our work doesn’t always have to start with an antiseptic analytics exercise. It should start with our people. We should tell their stories. They are the brand. They are the promises we keep, not the promises we make. The engagement will follow. So, as I venture into 2018 armed with an armada of analytics that allows my team to track everything, on every site, down to the granular level, I plan on closing my analytics dashboards for long enough to get some storytelling done. Google will let me know if the stories have legs. I’d just rather kill my own darlings.

Joseph Master

Joseph Master

Executive Director of Marketing and Digital Strategy

Joseph Master is the executive director of marketing and digital strategy at Drexel University in Philadelphia. His freelance work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, television commercials, and on tiny screens across the nation. He studied creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh. He serves on the Board of Directors for the College and University Public Relations and Associated Professionals (CUPRAP). 

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
A coral red background with the words "Thank You" written 5 times

Why Thank You Pages Are A Missed Opportunity

Thank You pages are the easiest lead nurturing tactic you’re completely forgetting about. Read on to learn the what, why, and how.

Marketing & Branding /
By: Angela Sanders
A coral red background with the words "Thank You" written 5 times

Why Thank You Pages Are A Missed Opportunity

Thank You pages are the easiest lead nurturing tactic you’re completely forgetting about. Read on to learn the what, why, and how.

Marketing & Branding /
By: Angela Sanders