User generated content is any form of digital content which has been created by the people using or experiencing your product or service, as opposed to the people selling, promoting or managing it. In the field of education, we’re talking about content produced by students and teachers as opposed to the traditional kind of content which is produced by the sales & marketing department.
Content can include video clips, photos, answers to interview questions or full pieces of text.
User generated content – the benefits
Getting your students to generate relevant, interesting and believable content for your website or blog is a really great idea. Student generated content gets the voices of your students heard, and it also proves to other potential students (and Google) that your site is relevant, up-to-date and that you genuinely deliver great learning. It ties in neatly with the big change that the internet has brought about – namely that it no longer matters what you say about yourselves, and that it’s all about what your clients say about you.
The problems with getting student generated content
It can be difficult to get this process started.
In the educational context, sometimes your teachers don’t like the idea of the marketing department asking them to ask students for content. That might be because your academic team don’t understand how very important user generated content can be to the organisation overall. It could also be they have a syllabus to teach and there’s simply no time to ask students to do anything else. Or that they don’t care about the website, because that’s not their job. These are all valid responses.
But if more students are talking about what is important to them, this increases the chances that your website appears in search engine results pages where other potential students are looking for similar courses. The more effective your website is at recruiting new students, the more successful the school.
Student generated content – how to start the process
This is all about stakeholders and internal relationships.
Teachers are often the stakeholders we think of the most as they are the link between digital marketing and the students. Phrased more negatively, teachers might seem to be standing in the way of your students and their lovely user generated content.
But in reality, there are other stakeholders who may well have very differing opinions, for example:
School owners and managers
If you’re looking after the money, you’re usually interested in cutting cost and increasing sales, brutal and irrelevant as that might sometimes feel in an education context. School leaders have a good opportunity to reduce the cost of advertising (including things like Google Adwords) by appearing more highly in organic search engine listings. If the content you produce as a school is what you know to be important to students, then you stand a likelihood of Google featuring you more highly in results pages. Students booking directly through the school is a very cost-effective way of getting an enrolment.
It’s important to remember that it can be highly empowering for students for their voice to be heard. If a school values the opinions of their students so much that they’re prepared to post their utterances online, it’s one indicator that the school indeed listens to its students. Sure, anyone can edit those comments, but once you start to hit a critical mass, these comments start to become reliable and believable. This is especially the case if feedback, for example, appears on external review sites such as Google+ and Trust Pilot.
It often falls to admissions staff to answer the same old question time and time and time again. Sure, each time the answer is tailored to individual needs, but in essence that information is pretty similar. It can be a tremendous service to agents (promoting the school from overseas) and students alike, if all that information can be found in one place. Over time admissions staff spend a little time updating information but much less time regurgitating the same thing day in day out.
5 easy ways to get user generated content from your students
One school we work with received an email from a student after they’d returned home with a link to a beautiful, perfectly shot video that the student had recorded during their stay and edited when they got back home. They turned out to be a famous blogger in their own country and had given the clip to the school as a thank you for their excellent stay. That’s just brilliant luck combined with a job well done.
If you’re not so lucky as that school, you’ll need to find a way to crank up your user generated content machine!
Here are some of our favourite ways for you to try on for size:
1. Collect user feedback
Feedback is such an essential part of educational delivery, that it’s pretty rude these days not to ask for it. You also don’t have to wait until the end. Check on first impressions, check on the first day. You can build in at least one question into most feedback surveys which requires a freely written reply of a certain length. Not all comments will be perfect from a content perspective, but as you start adding these up, the content benefit will multiply.
2. Interview someone
You can interview a student anywhere, for example, in the corridor or student lounge (provided your general privacy guidelines are being met). Language schools also frequently offer social programme events where international students get to know the culture of the country through outings and excursions. You could interview students during or just after an excursion on the coach home.
Interviewing is great because it’s safe and structured. If your students aren’t native speakers, you can adapt the content appropriately for them. You can also record what they say and write it up later. It might take a while but you do get hundreds and hundreds of words of user generated content in a very short space of time.
3. Interview someone in their own language
For international students it might easier and safer for them to speak in their native language. This is all good. You have a couple of options of what to do with this kind of user generated content. You can either leave it as it is and post it (whether it’s as a video, a podcast or a written piece). You could totally run the risk of not even knowing what they say (but most likely you won’t!). This has the huge benefit that it’s even more authentic feedback, it’s spoken from the heart, it will feel genuine to potential students interested in coming to the school AND they will most likely say much more to you (as they’re speaking faster and are more confident) than they would have done if using a second language.
If you get a video interview, you can even ask them to transcript it for you. Then, make sure you translate it. If the student can’t do it for you (and remember it would be another great language exercise for them), there will almost certainly be someone in your school or one of your international agency friends who could do this for y
4. Ask for a micro article
You ask your students to reflect on one tiny aspect of their stay, and write a small piece about it. So rather than set the question “What do you love about your stay in London?”, ask them to write 250 words on “the benefits of staying with a homestay provider”, or “the top 5 excursions for an international student in London” (take a look who currently ranks for this keyword search!). Over time, as more and more students complete the task, you can build up the content so it remains fresh, and increasingly relevant. The top 5 excursions today might end up being the top 50 excursions a year from now and several thousand words of relevant content later.
5. Set a blog-writing competition or class exercise
This does require some collaboration with teachers, but if you can plan ahead an incorporate a useful student theme with a useful class exercise, you could get students writing full, passionate, hilarious or otherwise engaging articles for the school blog. It could be something as simple as “Funny misunderstandings I’ve had since being in England” or “6 things I never knew about English culture”. The lists are endless and the grammatical applications or ways of tying an article to a teaching point, numerous. For a fun twist, you can then get students commenting on each other’s articles via the blog, and you can share the blog on social media and tag in the author. The first thing that student will do, full of pride, is share that post on to their like-minded friends.
User generated content is e very best kind of digital content for your website. It’s authentic, it is rich and it is likely to reveal over time what is truly valued by your actual students. If you are clever, you can tie the content very specifically to what you already know to be important to your students through conducting your own keyword audits.
But either way, by asking the right questions you’ll begin to build up clear personas through what is essentially a form of primary market research. It might be digital, but at the end of the day it’s still marketing.