It's summer, we're floating along, and then all of a sudden — BAM. The fall semester is upon us. Every semester seems busier than the last and, inevitably, some things get lost in the shuffle.
Don't let communication with your students be one of those things.
I know my blogs are usually about things and features exclusive to your University website, but this blog applies to all the ways you communicate. Your website is only a part of that communication strategy, but it can provide a big boost in effectiveness if you do it right.
There are always some messages that need to be relayed without much warning, but those are generally few and far between. For the announcements that you know are coming, like those about advising, graduation applications, scholarships, (pretty much anything that happens on a semester-ly or yearly basis), you can stay ahead of the game by creating a content calendar.
What's a content calendar?
A content calendar is exactly what it sounds like: a way to plan out your content updates for the month/semester/year. It can help you plan out your content updates for your websites, as well as your email communications, flyers, classroom announcements, etc.
You can do this on a paper calendar, the calendar attached to your email, a spreadsheet — whatever works best for you. Personally, I've used the email calendar method and the spreadsheet method. The spreadsheet is best for planning that requires a lot of detail, which is why we used it to plan out the original content that will go in the @Louisiana e-newsletter throughout the semester. However, I planned out my blog schedule on my email calendar because all I really need to remember is the broad subject matter that I'll write about.
For both calendars, I planned out the posts to correspond with various events that were happening during the semester. For instance, the week after Homecoming, you can expect to see a blog about all of the web traffic and impressions we saw during the week of Homecoming. During the week before graduation, you'll see something in the @Louisiana e-newsletter about our favorite mortarboard decorations from years past.
As you can tell, our @Louisiana e-newsletter content is more about entertaining, while this blog is more about informing. On your websites, you can do both! I'm not saying you need to create something new every week, but planning ahead would make it a lot easier to do the fun and interesting stuff, as well as the informative stuff. All of these things should be created as a news piece on your website.
Making Your Own Content Calendar
If you're looking for an example, here's a very bare-bones news content calendar for academic colleges and departments you could adopt for this semester:
- As soon as possible: Make sure your curriculum information reflects the most recent academic catalog, if you didn't do it over the summer. This is imperative, because viewing the curriculum is the No. 1 reason current students visit your website.
- Week of August 31-September 4: The last day to apply for a degree is September 11! Direct students to the Commencement website's information about the application for graduation and tell them where the Dean's office is (where they should bring the application). Tell them where they should direct questions, should they have any.
- Week of September 21-25: Your chance to insert some original content. What compelling research is happening in your area? What's unique or interesting about your area this semester? Do you have a new staff or faculty member who is worth doing a Q&A with? Have you received any accolades recently? Anything that makes you think, "Oh, that's pretty neat" is worth posting about.
- Week of October 12-16: Advising starts on Monday, October 19 and lasts through October 23. Tell students how to sign up for advising, how to find out who their advisor is, what they need to bring to their advising appointment (and where to find them), what questions their advisor can answer, and any other important information you think they should know. During this week, you should also check your Advising page to make sure it has the most relevant and up-to-date information for your students.
- November 1-6: At this point, you were bound to have an event during the semester. Post a quick news story about the event telling what the event was, why it was important (i.e. why we should care), and some iPhone photos from the event. This is something you can do earlier in the semester, and you should do this kind of recap for just about any event you have during the semester.
- Week of December 14-18: Congratulations to our graduates! These are our outstanding graduates for the college and departments, this is the list of our bachelor's, master's and doctoral graduates.
On top of these content ideas, you should always post a news piece any time another media outlet writes an interesting or flattering story about you. Whenever the Office of Communications and Marketing writes a story about your office, college, or department, that should definitely go on your website, as well. You can also post about student worker job openings and office closures, if you want to share that information.
For offices, your news updates will probably be more closely tied to new information. If you know that your office receives new information from the state, from within the University, or anywhere else during a certain time of year, make a note on your calendar to share that information via your website during that time.
It would be best if you post something at least every three weeks. Updating your site frequently is the absolute easiest way to get more traffic, if you're aiming for that sort of thing (cough, we're all aiming for that, cough).
As always, if you need a little help with creating your own content calendar or have any other questions, you can contact me at email@example.com.