Content Marketing on a Mission
Teach For America's four pieces of advice for using excellent content to better understand, target, and convert audiences.
The great Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
This quote inspires our mission to recruit, train, and place teachers in high-needs classrooms. It also fuels our marketing efforts, because the more we learn, the more we know about our community. And the more we know about our community, the more powerful our content is. That authoritative content leads to engagement and conversion.
We call this cycle our Content Loop, and its premise is simple: to listen, create, publish, amplify, and iterate our content on a daily basis so our audiences know us, find value in our offerings, and feel part of our community.
At the heart of the loop is our Content North Star, which leads us to publish personal, clear, and relevant content that ignites conversations and makes diverse audiences feel confident about their commitment to the organization, empowered to take action, connected to Teach For America, and engaged in the movement for educational equity.
The North Star is our beacon, a constant guide back to the change we need to make in the world. To ensure that our content facilitates action, we've devised strategies for each channel and content themes for our key audiences. These different themes and engagement strategies play out across our digital channels, focused on getting the right content to the right audience in the right place at the right time.
Here are the four points that make up our North Star and drive content marketing success.
1. Listening for audience insights
All content creation begins with listening. We do two kinds of listening to inform our content:
- Audience insights: Our data scientists do qualitative and quantitative research to create audience personas that help us understand how different segments interact with our brand. For instance, we have one persona for a college senior who's considering what to do after graduation, where options seem limitless, and another for career professionals looking to transition to teaching. For the former, we create more informative content that shows how teaching can contribute to their lifelong goals, while for the latter, we often have to show them that our program is not just for college seniors and is a smart career transition.
- Real-time listening: We use social listening tools to understand the conversation around our brand in real time. But the real fun comes in lurking on other social media platforms to see what our audiences are sharing and talking about; doing so helps us understand how they think about other issues in education.
Listening determines what our audiences need or find valuable at any given moment in their journey with us. Let's say, for example, that you're thinking about joining Teach For America. We know from our insights that, at the top of the funnel, you're looking for stories that help you see yourself as a teacher. But once you're ready to submit an application, you're looking for tips to make the process easier. We can now create content that matches both of these phases.
2. Powering a brand publishing hub
We launched a brand newsroom on our new website to create and house stories about teachers and education that would be valuable and informative (and sometimes fun!). With the Content North Star at its center, our editorial strategy is based on our listening and audience personas. A small editorial staff runs the newsroom, balancing content created for audiences with real-time news.
The stories we create travel the Internet and compete against the BuzzFeeds and Upworthys of the digital world. Ultimately, they bring people back to our own site, instead of leaving them to wander among sites that already receive a million hits a day. Once they're with us, we guide them toward subsequent actions and engagement, such as applying for the program, reading more information and stories about applying, following us on social media, or joining our email list.
3. Publishing and amplifying stories
Now that we have the right content, how do we ensure that we get it to the right people in the right place at the right time? We have detailed, platform-specific strategies for each of our digital channels. These strategies take into account everything we know about our key audiences (e.g. prospective teachers), as well as the key audiences for each particular channel. We know exactly why one story needs to be told one way on Facebook and another story shared in a different way through an email newsletter, though both eventually lead back to the same place: our newsroom.
4. Listening to Iterate
Good content is more than just good listening. It's also about using real-time data that comes back as a focus group to make stronger, more targeted content. Here's where having your ear to the ground and a nose for news comes in. If we're seeing people in our community reacting strongly to one of our stories, we look for other opportunities to continue it. For example, we ran a story about a former NFL player who gave up football to teach that drove a great deal of engagement. As luck would have it, we ran into the former Carolina Panther on Super Bowl weekend and seized the opportunity to give our audiences the timely follow up we knew they wanted. It was a touchdown.
Because we're always listening, we're always learning. And that is power.
About the authors:
Lauren Sanders is the senior managing director of digital content and engagement for Teach For America.Sanders runs content initiatives across multiple platforms at Teach For America, and heads its publishing efforts. Previously, she was director of marketing and editorial at Lambda Legal, a LGBT legal organization.
Stacey Jaffe is the managing director of national social media and paid ads for Teach For America in New York City. Jaffe oversees vision and strategy for Teach For America's owned, earned, and paid social media accounts. This includes using social media data as “focus groups” to improve the social media experience for its audiences. Previously, she was research director and associate producer for Nickelodeon's Team Umizoomi, where she conducted focus groups to aid content development and maximize ratings.