Donovan Group Insights

Why Your School Needs to Consider User-Generated Content

Your school has a story to tell. The question often is, how are you going to tell that story? Many times, your school’s story is best told by the people in your school—students, staff, parents, even community members. Rather than creating your own content, be open to the idea that stakeholders can create content for you (with their permission, of course).

To harness stakeholder stories, your team must gain a deeper understanding of user-generated content. Learn what it is, why it’s important and how to find it in your community.

What is user-generated content?

User-generated content (UGC) consists of audio, video, visual or written content created by consumers who are invested in a brand, company or organization. UGC discusses a company’s products or services, or at least mentions the company in some way. This form of content is typically associated with businesses that are trying to sell goods like beverages, clothing, technology or anything else. However, schools have much to gain from leveraging UGC in their marketing efforts. It’s not about making a profit—it’s about fostering a sense of pride and building a strong, thriving community.

Within the context of a school setting, UGC is anything created by your students, staff, families or community members. For marketing purposes, you and your team would look for user-generated content that highlights exciting events, how stakeholders are getting involved, what people love about your school and anything else that contributes to a positive school image.

One big distinction to make is that user-generated content comes from the people, not the school. For example, school-generated content would be a social media post that’s released on the school’s official profile. On the other hand, user-generated content would be a social media post that’s released on a school parent’s personal profile. Schools can incorporate user-generated content into their marketing efforts as long as they receive permission from the original creator.

Reasons to leverage user-generated content

User-generated content comes with many unique advantages. Since it’s created by stakeholders, UGC offers what school-generated content cannot, which is a fresh perspective on your school’s culture, values and quality of education. You can say why your school is so great, but when students, staff and families say why your school is so great, their words hold a lot more weight with the community.

Here’s what user-generated content can do for your school:

  • Amplify the people’s voices: Every single person in your school community has a story to tell. User-generated content allows them to share that story with the world. Whether it’s a photo, testimonial or social media post, UGC gives people a platform to stand on and speak up. By sharing their content, you can help amplify stakeholders’ kind words and experiences. Plus, sharing one person’s story can encourage others to share their stories as well!
  • Boost stakeholder engagement: UGC is an effective way to help stakeholders become active participants in their school community. It could be something as simple as encouraging students, staff and families to post a selfie in their school apparel. Or, you could release a questionnaire that allows stakeholders to share their school experiences. By encouraging them to generate content, you get stakeholders thinking about why they love their school, which can strengthen relationships and lay the groundwork for future engagement.
  • Develop trust and support: In the world of marketing, consumers are more likely to trust other consumers than the company they’re buying from. The same rings true for people in your school community. UGC is essential for building a positive school image because stakeholders trust other stakeholders to give their raw, honest opinions. Reposting content that praises and compliments your school can prompt more stakeholders to view your school in a positive light.
  • Create a culture of inclusiveness: School messaging can make some stakeholders feel like you’re talking at them instead of with them. UGC allows stakeholders to not only join the conversation, but stand in the spotlight if they choose. Through UGC, you can shine a light on underrepresented voices and individuals’ unique stories. You can show the public that your school community is made up of many diverse groups whose experiences are all valued equally. Don’t just include stakeholders in the conversation—make them feel included.
  • Grow your school community: UGC doesn’t just serve current stakeholders. It can draw in prospective stakeholders as well. For instance, the testimonial is a type of UGC that has been shown to help boost enrollment in schools. Families looking to join a school district heavily rely on the testimonials of current students, staff and parents to make a final decision, as their words paint an accurate picture of what it would be like to attend one district or another. Let the community speak for you!
  • Let people shape the narrative: Your school community is far more than a handful of leaders in a board room. There are students, educators, administrators, parents, caregivers, alumni and so many others who make up the community. They are an undeniable part of your school’s ongoing narrative. Stories are happening every day, and they all contribute to the larger story you’re trying to tell. Stakeholders add more richness and diversity to a school narrative than a leader could alone.

Examples of user-generated content

If you look closely, you’ll see that your community is full of user-generated content. UGC could range from social media posts to video testimonials to stakeholder survey responses. In fact, your school probably owns and uses many forms of UGC already! Learning to identify the various forms of UGC in your community will allow you to leverage them more effectively.

The following are common examples of UGC in school communities:

  • Testimonials: Testimonials are an excellent way to supplement your school’s current communication efforts. You can tailor the testimonials to fit your marketing needs by asking stakeholders specific questions, such as what they love most about the school, or what their favorite classes, memories, teachers and activities are.
  • Stories: Ask students, staff, alumni and family members to share fond memories or something exciting that recently happened at school. Questionnaires can help you collect and organize stakeholder stories.
  • Photos: Encourage stakeholder participation by launching a photo contest with prizes for the most creative photo. These contests can help spread awareness about a cause or simply get stakeholders to show their school spirit!
  • Hashtags: Create a school hashtag, and encourage people to use it on social media. When you search the hashtag, you’ll find stakeholder posts related to your school. Pick out your favorite ones, then ask the creators if you can repost them.
  • Videos: Video content is great for capturing moments you otherwise wouldn’t see. You could ask stakeholders to submit video clips from pep rallies, fundraisers and sporting events. Or, create a video collage of holiday greetings or students hard at work in the classroom.

Find the user-generated content in your school

User-generated content is everywhere you go. Each piece of content contains a valuable message that can help reinforce your school’s image. Next time your team has a brainstorming session, look to your community for content ideas. UGC is an endless reservoir of stories, insights and experiences. Let your stakeholders do the talking!

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