Colleges and universities may use “brand journalism” for marketing and j-schools can help

Like any other product and service, higher education is a product that needs marketing and promotion. The explosive growth of digital and social media brings with it a new marketing opportunity that has not been fully explored by colleges and universities – brand journalism.

A detailed explanation of brand journalism is beyond the scope of this post; let’s consider a few scenarios: What if the highly regarded education website was started, and has been managed, by a university? In the area of journalism, what if some popular media-related websites, such as socialmediatoday and mashable, are managed by a journalism school?

If the above-mentioned sites indeed are managed by university or journalism school (which they are not), then that university or j-school is practicing brand journalism, which usually features a content site that is of value to target audiences. A well-received content site can bring exposure, prestige and students to a university or a particular academic program.

Colleges and universities have what is needed for brand journalism

A university can identify a few “strong” academic programs and build content sites focusing on the subjects of those programs. For instance, if a college has a leading nursing program, how about they start a content site that focuses on various “hot” topics about nursing education and practices? Or, if a university is a leader in online education, how about a content site that is devoted to online teaching practices, research and resources?

So exactly why and how does a university manage content sites? Let’s look at a good example of brand journalism content site –, a site managed by Adobe and targeted at Chief Marketing Officers around the globe. Here’s the mission statement of this content site:

We are the CMOs one-stop shop for digital marketing insight. Our goals are to help CMOs & marketing executives stay informed and save time by providing the best digital media marketing news from key players in the space. We want to help you find what is important and relevant in the easiest way possible.

Here’s an excerpt of “About” that describes the day-to-day operation of this content site:

The editors daily review relevant content from more than 150 leading content sources, including major business, advertising, social media, and marketing-industry publications and Web sites.  We scour posts from thought leaders and influential bloggers.  Plus, we publish articles by experts—Adobe’s own, as well as those from around the industry—agency leaders, and other CMOs that you won’t find anywhere else.

We also create our own “Exclusive Content,” though leadership, insight, features, news, and slide shows that you won’t find online anywhere else. It is in this way that we create far more value than a mere content aggregator.

For university content sites, faculty members of the selected programs can advise site staffs on content strategies: hot topics to pursue, useful resources to tap, not to mention the professors themselves can serve as experts and thought leaders for “exclusive contents.”

Journalism schools can and should play a functional role

A journalism school or program can help with the university-wide brand journalism strategy in two ways: 1) maintain a journalism content site for the journalism program itself, and 2) provide trained journalism students to staff content sites by other programs.

A content site managed by journalism programs can focus on hot topics media students and professionals want to know more about. For instance, I have been blogging about digital or multimedia journalism which, among others, could be suitable topics for a journalism content site. The topics I regularly blog about include:

When I started the blog in February 2012, monthly traffic was single-digit. After one year and more than 100 blog posts, blog traffic has been growing steadily – it shot to 6,000 page views in April. The point is, if I can single-handedly grow a content site (blog), then a journalism school can do better in growing a journalism content site by pooling expertise of a team of journalism instructors.

The university-wide brand journalism operation should be overseen by a salaried employee, and the university can use help from journalism students. It could be structured as a formal internship, or a capstone course every journalism student needs to take.

This will be a win-win situation: content sites can depend on j-students to research topics, conduct interviews, write up articles, produce multimedia contents, help with social media promotions, etc; on the other hand, this will provide hands-on opportunities for j-students to practice what they’ve learned in journalism classes.

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About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (, a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
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