Extreme makeover for your #highered online course catalog: How to turn THE catalog into an influential publication

September 27th, 2011 Karine Joly No Comments

Yesterday I got a peek at what Colleen Jones, author of “Clout: the Art and Science of Influential Web Content,” will talk about in her master class next week – on Oct 5, 2011 – on Influential Web Content Strategy for Higher Ed and this got me thinking about ways to make the dreaded online course catalog more influential and engaging.

As Mike Fienen wrote about a year ago, good online catalogs are the white unicorns of higher ed web teams. Everybody is looking for them, a few think they might have spotted one, but nobody really petted one.

Yet, course catalogs are the ultimate publications for a university. So, how comes they get so little love?

Mike attributes the issue mainly to tradition. Course catalogs used to be done in print only, and let’s say that the transition to online hasn’t been optimal (cut and paste, anybody?).
Thanks to some CMS or vendor solutions, the trend seems to be to make them more data-centric. First, you focus on the data (course titles, course descriptions, metadata, etc.) and then you package this data for print (I think a few printed copies are still required by law) and the Web or mobile.

This is definitely the right approach and the right process, but this solution seems to only focus on fixing a problem, i.e. dealing with this cumbersome task of putting the course catalog together, instead of treating is as a central part of the publication asset of any institution.

Where am I going with this? I think it’s time to stop seeing the online catalog has a necessary evil, a behemoth of course data and try adopt an extreme makeover strategy.

How could we make the course catalog more appealing, attracting and influential – not only with current students but with prospective students and their parents? Would it be possible to transform this mom-jeans-like publication into a sexy-black-dress-like piece of content?

Anything is possible as long as you put your heart to it, right?

In her master class next week, Colleen Jones will explain how universities and colleges can use the principles of rhetoric and psychology at the different stages of the marketing funnel.
Here’s a quick recap from her book:

Principles of rhetoric and psychology in Clout p 103

Figure 5.20 from Clout by Colleen Jones – Consider both rhetoric and psychology to make your content influential

From this table, we see that credibility, logic and emotion are important in the early stages of any marketing funnel (this could be a prospective student on his college search, or a current student looking for the courses she’ll take next). We can assume that degree requirements and course credits offer the logical elements for these decisions.

But, how could we instill emotion and (even more) credibility in an online course catalog?

Simple, by making them more social or human (as I’m not talking about adding twitter or facebook buttons).
Imagine a course catalog where you could search and find courses as you can today, but instead of getting a very dry description of the course, you could watch a 1-minute video highlighting learning outcomes and/or cool projects.

Since we know that faculty members can make a big difference in the recruiting process (any recruiting even internal), some of these short course introductions could be done by the professor who developed the course or who teaches it on a regular basis.

Watch the first 40 seconds of these videos about a journalism course and an international development course, both created for another purpose, by Carleton University and picture an online catalog offering this kind of sneak peeks into the academic experience in the classrooms of your institution.

Because some faculty members might be camera-shy or too busy to commit to this kind of project, the next best thing would be to have a student who took the course give this course introduction on camera. According to the table above, this would definitely be a very good strategy as identification and social proof are core factors in decisions later in the process.

I realize this would be a big project – especially for large institutions – but you would not have to implement it all at once. This could definitely be done via a pilot program with a specific academic department or all the courses of a new program you’re trying to market. Moreover, the videos could be shared on departmental websites and via your social media channels.

So, what YOU think? Anybody out there already doing it?

Influential Web Content Master ClassWant to make your content work harder for your web and mobile websites?
Register for the Master Class by Colleen Jones: Influential Web Content for Higher Ed Websites (October 5, 2011) to learn the principles of compelling content for higher ed.

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