Aligning your content strategy to your university’s strategic plan
Let’s start this one with my definition of what I mean by a content strategy:
The process of supporting organisational goals by planning, creating, distributing and maintaining content in a way that is useful and usable to your audience, and understandable and adaptable to machines and intelligent systems.
I tend to talk quite a lot on this blog and elsewhere about aligning content to your audience. Today, however, I want to take some time to reflect on the first segment of this definition: supporting organisational goals.
Ultimately, when working for a university, we can spend our lives coming up with great ideas that deliver useful, usable, relevant and relatable content for our audience. But if that content doesn’t serve an institutional goal, then what’s the point? Beyond wanting to be liked, of course…
More often than not I see institutions retrofitting institutional goals to content that they have already created. But in the work that I do, I strongly advocate the need to find the starting point and early inspiration for your content strategy in your university’s strategic plan.
Why am I doing this?
Starting any content strategy with your strategic plan offers a great many benefits to you and your institution:
– It creates the thinking space for you to really align yourself and your work with your institution. This is a great way to re-calibrate the work that you do and see how it serves the bigger picture. It also gives you a framework to say “no” to those curveballs that work likes to throw at you
– The process of articulating how content strategy aligns to institutional goals helps you to create your own dialogue, and demonstrate the value and relevance of your work to others (as well as how you’re helping them achieve their goals)
– It gives you the opportunity to see the big picture, and how content needs to connect to serve those different goals. Content modelling also helps you do this by re-shaping your organisation into an information ecosystem, instead of a set of departments in a hierarchical structure.
What should I work with?
Most universities publish their glossy strategic plan (usually with a five-year vision) for all to see. The challenge with these is that they rarely say anything that every other university isn’t also saying. So, if you can, get your hands on the more detailed version of the strategic plan – the working plans that aren’t always published. Even if they don’t exist, work with what you have, because that is what matters to your institution and leaders within.
How should I approach this?
Often the person taking the lead on content and content strategy within a university sits within the marketing, communications, advancement or external relations function. It’s all too easy – therefore – to only focus your content strategies on the objectives of those teams.
However, the work to align content strategy with your institutional strategy should extend well beyond external relations objectives alone. While you may not ultimately implement that whole piece, the strategic process is your opportunity to form connections and relationships in the way that content (and – dare I say – information management) plays across the institution.
So, what I am saying is this: align your strategy to the whole university strategy, even if you’re not responsible for those areas. Sit down with that strategy document and start working through it line by line, goal by goal.
What does this look like then?
I do this differently every time I do it for a client. Different formats and structures of university strategies give way to different approaches to how I align them. But in a nutshell the format for thinking it through looks something like this:
The University has a goal to ____________________ which means that we much reach and engage ___________________. To achieve this, our content must ___________________ .
Essentially, you repeat that for each goal in the strategy.
Let’s take a few random examples from a whole range of university strategies, and I’ll show how I’d do this alignment piece. Each line in this table is from a different university strategy and reflects a different type of strategic goal.
The University goal is…
…which means we must…
…and our content strategy will…
|To develop and sustain a range of strategic partnerships with peer institutions.||Connect with and inspire others at universities around the world at a university level but also at an individual level, ensuring that they want to work with us.||
|Further embed entrepreneurship and innovation in teaching and learning.||Inspire students with a spirit of entrepreneurship, support staff in understanding how to do this, and connect with others who can inspire both staff and students.||
|Increase the proportion of highly ranked research disciplines and research leaders.||Attract with and excite high profile academics from institutions around the world to come to work here.||
|We will continue to deploy robust processes for quality assurance and use these processes as vehicles for innovation and enhancement.
|Ensure that staff and students understand the importance and role of QA, and the expectations. Instil a strong sense of pride in teaching standards and innovations.||
|We will develop lean and effective processes and systems to support our operations.||Ensure that our approach to content and the systems we use are efficient and effective.||
It’s a pretty simple table that you can copy for yourself, or adapt to your own purposes. Go ahead and copy this one straight off, or invest in something that suits you better. Either way, go through the process of considering how your content strategy could serve the whole institution and help to achieve university goals.
If you need any help with these, then I absolutely ADORE writing these for universities and going through this process. It’s normally only a couple of days work, so not a massive investment in consultant time either. Do get in touch if you’d like my help in developing yours.
Want to learn more about content strategy from the best in the sector? Come along to ContentEd, Europe’s only content strategy conference for the education sector. Super early-bird tickets are available now.