It was a heady realization, almost shameful: my salary is pure overhead. And though I know most workers contribute to their companies in less than perfectly quantifiable ways, my work in particular—our content—is a 100% money suck.
Not only do we not receive any revenue for those pages in print or online, but we invest in paying others, such as our crackerjack freelancers (not to mention, you know, me) to develop and create our content.
But before the despair and blind panic following this realization could set in, I thought about some of my favorite bloggers, the ones whose content tends to make me think to myself, “I can’t believe they’re giving this stuff away.” I find their insights valuable. I trust what they have to say. I return to their sites regularly. And, yes, I even buy their products.
It’s not as though investing in content is new to us either. The first issue of Private Colleges & Universities launched long before I arrived at Carnegie, and though they could have printed a magazine simply composed of informative college profiles, they chose to include articles that further improved the magazine’s usefulness to its readers. What to look for in your college search. How to find scholarships and fill out the FAFSA. What questions to ask during a campus visit. From there, those editorial offerings grew, and its companion website, CollegeXpress.com, now features 20 editorial sections, each with a unique blog, and almost 800 college-related lists. (Even on this, our corporate website, we provide free webinars and white papers!)
Of course, the point of our content was never to make money. Articles that cover everything from those first uncertain steps in the college search to schools with active Quidditch teams: the schools that work with us certainly don’t need them. It’s all there to help students, families, and counselors make informed, meaningful decisions throughout the college journey. In turn, it also solidifies our relationship with those constituents and our place in higher education, where we conduct our business.
What does this mean for you? You can’t just swing open your institution’s gates and allow untold students to audit classes—but then again, maybe you can. Students can test-drive college course work offerings with the edXes and Courseras of the world (we encourage them to do it all the time), and for a high school student considering colleges, perhaps a taste of what your school has to offer further draws them into not just your academic offerings online, but inspires them to visit campus, to chat with a coach, to apply, to enroll. You know your school is the perfect choice for a certain group of students. But do they know you’re out there? Better yet, do they know you’re the perfect fit for them too? The traditional educational landscape is changing, making differentiating your institution an imperative. Engaging students with content too good to give away can be a great means to that end.
Maryville University, for example, recently launched a helpful college prep portal of its own that I find quite interesting. Called My College Path, it features tons of articles covering the admission process, student life, and beyond (not unlike another awesome college resource I know . . . ). And in the corner, there’s a link to the school site. They’re not giving away the farm; they don’t have to. But they are developing a rapport with prospective students and families.
At the end of the day, it’s that kind of content—the articles that make people think “I can’t believe they’re giving this away”—that keeps them coming back. And in my own little corner of the Internet, it seems to be going pretty well: the traffic on CollegeXpress increased 129% in the past year.
So, perhaps my work (and the work of the many content developers out there) doesn’t generate revenue. That doesn’t mean it’s worthless.