Three of the Best Books to Transform Your Digital Marketing Company

Over the last few years, our team has been looking for ways to transform our company, push our creative abilities, and ensure that we are constantly evolving to provide better results for our higher education clients. So, our leadership team asked a tough question: How do we ensure that we’re not getting stagnant? Well, the solution was pretty simple. We needed to learn from other professionals, inside and outside of digital marketing. We’re not in the higher education space simply because we believe there is an opportunity in the industry to provide better marketing efforts; we’re in higher education because we believe in the power of higher education. Therefore, we personally challenge ourselves and all of our employees to never stop learning, and I have read a few books that I think are important to help transform any digital marketing company.

1. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

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Cal Newport, an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, asks a simple question in his new book, Deep Work: How can an invidual focus on the tasks that matter most? This is a question I have been pondering for a while. In the digital world, there are so many distractions, and our clients’ goals are big (rank #1 for computer science online), and they take sustained effort and creativity.

But when you break down the types of work that digital marketers have, it comes down to deep and shallow tasks. Shallow work consists of all the emails, the admin, the busy work that is necessary but doesn’t require a lot of brain power, and Deep Work consists of the big tasks that can move a company forward. For example, filing a report for your client on how many links you built in Q3 is a necessary task, but it’s somewhat superficial work. However, creating a strategy overview that will help that same client rank number one for a relevant student-generating keyword can directly impact a company’s bottom line.

Cal Naughton examines how to build a working life where there is more focus on the deep work. Some of the biggest takeaways from his book are as follows:

  • Social media is a distraction: Yes, I know this sounds like blasphemy. Even though digital marketers need to have a social presence and maintain the knowledge of trends, the constant chirps of tweets and notifications from Facebook and other platforms will distract you from deep, focused work. Turn off your notifications—or completely remove yourself from social media when you’re under a deadline or working on a big project.
  • Slack and other workplace communication platforms can be great, but they can also kill your productivity. If you’re on Slack, then you are probably aware of how many times you’re interrupted by a notification or a message. This constant form of communication helps teams stay connected, but it also distracts individuals. Turn off the Slack function or hit the snooze button and allow your mind to stay immersed in the bigger projects.
  • It’s important to think about focus as a muscle. It’s something you can train. The more you focus on deep work, the more your mind develops. You’re literally developing your neural circuitry. If you can focus on a task, you’re not just being more productive, you’re working on the very structure of your mind to perform at a higher level. Time productivity sessions and follow the Pomodoro technique.
  • While there is a lot of focus on being productive and efficient in the workplace, it’s important to take the same lessons for deep work in the office and apply them to your personal life. For example, Cal Naughton mentions that your mind isn’t like your bicep, which tires after exercise. Your mind never stops, but what it needs is different forms of activity. So, while you might have an important deadline to meet with your client, it’s important to take the time away from your work and focus deeply on relaxing or another activity. Give your mind a break and schedule “free” time for your mind to wander.

2. The Undoing Project: A FRIENDSHIP THAT CHANGED OUR MINDS.

9780393254594_198Michael Lewis is, of course, famous for many books, including Money Ball, but what Lewis didn’t know when he wrote Money Ball was that he was going to miss something critical to the history and logic of his most famous book. In the beginning of the book, readers learn that Lewis owed many of the lessons in Money Ball to two Nobel Prize winners and Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky.

Basically, the book is about how Kahneman and Tversky created a Nobel Prize-winning theory and how that theory altered our perception of reality. It sounds complicated but there is a key lesson that digital marketers can take from the book: Humans are inherently emotional, not logical. What Kahneman and Tversky were able to show through their studies was that people were making poor judgments in uncertain situations, and they relied on their gut rather than data and logic.

So, what does this have to do with digital marketing? It comes down to a key lesson in communication that can help digital marketers talk to their clients and co-workers. Since individuals make decisions based on emotion, it’s important to recognize how issues are framed. Kahneman and Tversky’s studies showed that people changed the way they responded to situations depending on how it was framed. This is an important lesson for digital marketers. If we can think about how to frame strategies, ads, content, etc., to our clients or to the marketplace, then we may be able to push initiatives that are risky yet rewarding and help educate our clients on the benefits of a digitally focused strategy in the world of higher education.

3. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

creativity_incOut of all the books, Creativity, Inc. might have been the most enjoyable. It’s not just because it’s an unbelievable treasure trove of advice on how to build a creative organization, but it also goes into great detail about how Pixar was created as well as behind-the-scenes insight into their movies.

Storytelling is the root of great digital marketing campaigns, and Pixar and Disney are the best storytellers in our world. What is key about the book is that in order to build an organization that is focused on quality storytelling in their messaging, it’s essential to build candor and positive feedback into their organization. If a company does not share the ability to be candid with each other because of hierarchies that stranglehold opinions, then the organization will never grow.

Everyone in the Pixar building, according to Ed Catmull, from the janitor to the director, has the ability to create an idea that will move a project forward. (Think about Ratatouille and the expression: “Anyone can cook.”)

In our organization, we’re trying to find ways to strengthen the structure that breeds candid and constructive feedback. One suggestion in the book is to hold “Notes Meetings.” It’s a simple concept. Individuals in the company submit questions to a leadership team on things they are struggling with. It doesn’t have to relate to a specific department, and the leadership picks the questions and sends them to the team. Then they have a meeting where everyone freely tries to problem solve the issue. This is an opportunity to improve the way feedback is delivered and develop candor. Great ideas can not become great unless they are challenged by people who care about mutual success.

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Joseph Lapin M.F.A. is an author, creative director, and journalist, and his writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Narratively, Salon, Slate, and more. He is a former adjunct professor at Florida International University, and he has worked on PR campaigns for Ernst & Young, Brentwood Associates, and more.

The Value of Digital Public Relations: SEO Case Study for Computer Science Master’s Online

In the higher education industry, digital public relations is a new yet important approach for any SEO strategy. By leveraging traditional public relations strategies for the digital world, digital PR not only influences brand awareness and thought leadership for universities, but it also directly influences organic traffic that leads to conversions and new students. In collaboration with on-page SEO elements, content marketing (infographics), and other link building strategies, digital PR helps bring prospective students to a university and serves as a significant contributor to a diverse link profile for an authoritative website. Digital PR sends the highest quality links to a website, and these links serve as a powerful indicator for Google and other search engines to recognize the site as valuable and authoritative.

In order to illustrate the value, I have created a case study from one of our clients that showcases how digital PR can play a major role in achieving a diverse SEO strategy to accomplish lead goals. This particular client is an online computer science degree program. Below you will see an overview of  the types of traffic coming to our client’s website, and as you can see, organic search is a major supplier of traffic for the online degree page. It’s imperative to find new ways to grow the amount of organic traffic to the site since prospective students who are visiting the page are there because they are naturally searching for similar degrees to the one that our program tries to rank for. Organic traffic therefore provides some of the most valuable and promising leads. Plus, that traffic is free.

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Computer science is a competitive degree online, and in order to compete in the search results for students searching for computer science degree programs, it’s important to show up on the first page–or as close to it as possible–and have a diverse range of links pointing to a site. According to Search Engine Watch, “Google’s top organic search results receives 33 percent of the traffic, compared to 18 percent for the second position, and the traffic only degrades from there.” Here is a snapshot of our rankings when digital PR was paused due to faculty vacations and research initiatives.

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Since the new website was launched in February of 2015, we have seen significant jumps in rankings. (The green arrows showcase how many spots we have jumped.) These rankings are related to a robust digital marketing strategy that includes digital PR, infographics, and manual link building. However, the above rankings showcase the results today, at a time when we are lacking active professors to participate in the digital PR strategy. However, if you look below at the rankings of April last year when the digital marketing strategy was fully running, then you’ll see that our rankings were better overall.

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An increase in rankings directly contributes to an increase in traffic and potential students. By leveraging a robust digital marketing strategy that combines on-page SEO with link building strategies from infographics, we can help our site rank for our targeted keywords. While infographics help with creating a large volume of links, digital PR is currently the best source for leveraging the highest quality links while reaching potential students. The secondary benefit is that digital PR expands the brand of the program and pushes the faculty’s research and personal brand.

So how do you determine the value of a link? Links are generally calculated by a Moz score, which analyzes a site on a scale from 1 to 100. For instance, The New York Times has a Domain Authority (DA) of 99, and a link from The New York Times pointed to the online page would send a tremendous amount of link juice to the site, helping us to rank higher in the search results. Some of the links we have created for the program include The Huffington Post (DA 98), Information Week (DA 92), and CIO (DA 90).

Throughout the course of our digital PR efforts for this program, we were able to create 39 media placements, and we were able to secure links with tremendously high domain authorities. Overall, digital PR is a part of a larger digital marketing strategy, and in order to compete and continue to rise in the rankings, it’s a strategy that we strongly recommend. In collaboration with infographics, this strategy helps universities and programs gain ground in the search results and compete for the best students.

 

joeJoseph Lapin M.F.A. is an author, creative director, and journalist, and his writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Narratively, Salon, Slate, and more. He is a former adjunct professor at Florida International University, and he has worked on PR campaigns for Ernst & Young, Brentwood Associates, and more.

5 Reasons Why Digital Public Relations Should be a Part of Your Marketing Budget

Within higher education, digital marketers are lucky, because we have access to professors who are thought leaders on the cutting edge of their respective field. Clearly, professors are incredible resources for their students inside of the classroom, and outside of the classroom, professors function as brand ambassadors for their programs and the larger institution. Of course, marketing teams are aware of a professor’s value in order to attract students, and they build videos and web assets around them to create trust and illustrate value. But when it comes to student generation, are marketers effectively leveraging professors to accomplish larger organizational goals, such as increasing organic rankings, acquiring traffic to their website, and creating new touchpoint? What is clear about higher education digital marketing is that even in 2016, when changes in the SEO and social media industry have forced marketers to rely on the highest quality content, professors are not being leveraged effectively. Here is what they’re missing:

Marketing teams can utilize their professors to acquire more students by leveraging traditional public relations practices for a digital world. This is commonly referred to as digital public relations.

Digital public relations uses the larger media in order build brand awareness, increase the thought leadership for professors and university stakeholders, improve organic rankings, and, ultimately, generate more students. In order to illustrate the importance of digital public relations for higher education digital marketers, I created a list below that focuses on why all higher ed digital marketers should strongly consider incorporating digital public relations into their marketing strategy and budget.

 

1. Digital Public Relations Influences Search Rankings

Digital public relations is the best way to build the highest quality backlinks, which serve as indicators—or votes—that convince Google your site is relevant, trustworthy, and valuable. These indicators will in turn help to place your university program higher up in the search engine results page (SERP). When you land a backlink from a domain authority of a website that is strong, then that helps to strengthen your own website. (The higher domain authority of a website, the more value for Google.) The larger media landscape is one of the best avenues to land high quality backlinks, because they have incredibly strong websites, and they are constantly looking for content.

By leveraging faculty members, a skilled communications team can build stories around professors and pitch them to the mainstream media as sources. It’s very difficult to acquire a profile in the Wall Street Journal or CNN, but a digital public relations team can pitch professors to take part in a larger conversation. For instance, as the news broke on the controversy between the FBI and Apple over an encrypted phone, a digital public relations team can pitch their professors in criminal justice and computer science to provide expert commentary on the story. Reporters will include quotes from the professor, and the public relations team will ask for a link within the article. To see more about our successes, you can read the following article: Tracking digital public relations with SEO goals.

Byline articles are another way to leverage faculty members to create high quality backlinks. (It’s best to have a team who understands how to pitch articles to publications, and it takes someone with a background in journalism or public relations to land these types of opportunities.) In order to build backlinks at high quality publications, the team will pitch article ideas generated in collaboration with the professor to editors. By collaborating with the professor, the team will send an approved article to the editor, and in the bio information on the site, the professor can add the link. The best communication teams provide ghostwriting services.

Expert commentary and byline articles are essential strategies that digital public relations teams implement to reach the highest quality publications, and by landing a link on these sites, it will help build your site’s domain authority as well as send indicators to Google that your site should be higher in the search results. Students will then find your program organically for your targeted keywords, which creates leads without spending any money.

 

2. Increase Brand Awareness

Online education is more competitive than ever, and one way that your program can position themselves in front of your targeted audience is by creating media opportunities at publications with large reaches. By leveraging publications that are trusted, you’ll establish your program as being on the cutting edge of their industries. This will send signals to potential students that not only are the program’s professors actively engaged in the research they’re teaching, but show prospective students that they will be a part of the most relevant conversations and receive an education that will propel their careers. This type of publicity can serve as an opportunity for a prospective student to interact with your brand in a unique way.

While many online programs have marketing strategies that focus on creating interactions with potential students through landing pages, social media, and websites, those brand assets might not initially convert the student because of a lack of clout. Brand awareness and trust can be an issue. Digital public relations begins to create interactions with potential students by leveraging vetted organizations in order to build upon their brand. By interacting with prospective students in a natural way, the message will sink in easier, and the brand assets as well as the larger content marketing strategies will only be strengthened.

 

3. Create a Path for Students

As digital marketers, we’re always trying to imagine the research process of how prospective students come to make a decision about signing up for an online degree program. When a student searches for information about a degree program further along in their decision process, what will they find? Will they simply come across the program’s web assets—or will they find that their program is in the news and that their professors are not just engaging in an academic community, but that they are trying to tell their program’s story to a larger audience?

Digital public relations changes the way that a student researches a degree program by creating a new digital narrative. For instance, a prospective student will benefit by encountering a story about a professor who is quoted in a larger article at the Los Angeles Times, discussing the future of their profession. Perhaps they will remember a professor’s name in the Wired article on the future of 5G technologies. Perhaps students can also come across how a professor is a part of the evolution of digital education and dedicated to creating the optimal environment for students to grow. Or perhaps a prospective student will benefit from seeing a profile highlighting a professor’s advancement in their field based on a new grant. What digital public relations helps with is creating a path, an outline, for students to follow in their research, which illustrates the career options they will have when they graduate.

 

4. Build Relationships with Professors

One of the thoughts that many stakeholders consider when investing in digital public relations is whether or not a marketing team can handle the complex nature of the academic world. In order to have professors invest their time into a digital public relations strategy, they need to trust the team they are working with and know that they will represent their work in the highest regard. So a digital public relations team working in education must have the ability to understand and translate complex academic topics into something that would make sense for the mainstream media.

It’s essential that digital public relations professionals are experts in the art of turning complex academic jargon into something more informal and journalistic. Often, our team has found that professors have no idea how to change their style, so we help them learn to tell their stories in a way that can attract major media outlets. Our team accomplishes this by staying up-to-date on industry trends, interviewing professors the same way a journalist would engage with them, and doing our homework on a professor’s research and background so we can prove to professors that we can not only represent their university but their own personal brands.

But most importantly, we help professors shape their stories outside of academia, and this often creates great relationships with the team and the professor. They value our hard work and expertise, and when professors see their names or bylines in leading publications, they appreciate the value of a larger marketing strategy. Digital public relations benefits both the program and their professors by supporting their research and academic interests. This helps bridge the gap between the marketing team and the individual stakeholders that make up the program. The more a professor’s work is promoted, the more they become thought leaders in their industry, and they will be sought after by other journalists and editors, leading to the opportunity to create new backlinks and touchpoints.

 

5. A Long-term Investment

When it comes to deciding how to spend resources in a marketing budget, the fundamental question every stakeholder wants to know is: What is my ROI? With paid search, a stakeholder in an online program can see how their money is being spent in the short term and evaluate their cost-per-lead as well as their cost-per-acquisition and quickly understand whether or not their strategy is working. While this is an essential part of the larger strategy, a diversified marketing approach will take into account how to leverage all available tactics and try to think about ways to maximize the budget spent on paid ads.

Digital public relations is different than paid search in the sense that it is a long-term approach, and it is essentially free advertising. By building up the number of touchpoints potential students have with your brand as well as the number of backlinks from high quality publications, digital public relations helps online university programs increase their organic rankings, and students will naturally find the degree program without paying for keywords or social impressions. It’s a strategy that pays long-term dividends when it is a part of the larger digital strategy, and it’s an worthwhile investment in the long haul.

To learn more about our digital public relations strategy, see our process here: Circa digital public relations

 

JoeJoseph Lapin M.F.A. is an author, creative director, and journalist, and his writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Narratively, Salon, Slate, and more. He is a former adjunct professor at Florida International University, and he has worked on PR campaigns for Ernst & Young, Brentwood Associates, and more.

How Digital Public Relations Can Build High Quality Backlinks

Building high quality backlinks is a major component of any SEO strategy, and over the last two years, we incorporated a new approach to acquire those backlinks: Digital public relations.  Our process is simple: We leverage faculty members’ expertise and research to create media opportunities with the goal of getting a program link included. Our goal is to land placements in some of the best publications in the country (and the UK [Not an easy task]) in order to create a branding opportunity for our professors as well as build quality links to our programs targeted page to influence rankings and organic traffic. We created a visualization of our successes for nine master’s degree programs (some of which weren’t running the full year) and whether or not the publication added a link. We wanted to compile a list for other individuals running digital public relations for SEO purposes to have a guide on what publications add links — and those that don’t — as well as share other valuable information. Following the visualization, we have jotted down seven conclusions we drew from this analysis.
Digital Public Relations and Backlinks

1. General Insights from our Digital Public Relations Strategy

For the media placements we landed in 2015, the average Domain Authority (DA) was 72.42. During the year, the total potential reach of each publication resulted in a net of 919,690,441 unique monthly visits. (We actually only saw a small percentage of that traffic.) Our goal was to align DA and unique visitors per month and analyze any correlations. Our probability of acquiring a link after publication was 66%.

2. Best Sites for Landing a Link with a DA over 90

Landing an opportunity with a link for a publication over a DA of 90 is incredibly difficult, but we have found that the best site to accomplish this goal, so far, is the Huffington Post. It’s also great because once accepted as a blogger, you can create and post as many articles as you want. This is a great strategy when you incorporate some growth hacking principles that can build more traffic to those individual pages. We have also realized that Scientific American and Elsevier Connect are excellent opportunities to land a DA link of over 90 if you can supply high quality content. This is where a true PR professional needs to come in and pitch an editor on an idea that will provide value to such a high caliber audience.

3. The Higher the DA, the Harder to Acquire a Link

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to any SEO specialist, but what we have seen through our data is that it’s very difficult to land a PR opportunity in a publication with a DA over 90, but it’s even harder to acquire a link. We have found that bylines are the best way to guarantee a link, whereas expert commentary–lining up interviews with journalists–has a smaller chance of landing a link but is a much more scalable process, because it takes more time to write an article than it does for a professor to speak with a journalist.

4. More than a Link: Branding Opportunity

While we primarily leverage digital pubic relations for SEO purposes, it’s also about brand recognition and potential reach. It’s also very important to understand that digital PR for professors accomplishes more than just acquiring high quality backlinks. Professors will become more excited with digital PR, because we’re helping tell their stories and put their research in front of a larger audience, which further establishes them as thought leaders.

5. A Need for a Certain Type of Story?

Certain programs did better than others. For instance, our computer science program had a total of 21 placements and the athletics program had 17 links generated from our PR efforts in 2015. Some of our other programs had less. What is hard to define from our analysis is whether or not a program’s subject matter relates to the ability to attain high quality links, because each of our programs have different budgets and varying numbers of participating professors. I can say that computer science, with the amount of tech blogs and the interest in new innovative technologies, is a fertile ground for higher education marketers because our professors are on the cutting edge of an extremely popular narrative. There is no doubt that reporters and journalists would like to speak with these individuals. 

6. To Link, or Not to Link

Another key takeaway from our analysis is that it’s difficult to know whether or not a publication will link or not. Sometimes we’ll ask for a link to be added to the article featuring one of our professors, and the reporter has no problem hyperlinking to our landing pages. Other times we’ve had reporters get upset we even asked or afraid that it will make them look poorly to their editor. We have also heard from reporters that certain publications have policies against adding links. For instance, an editor at MediaPost insisted they had a policy against adding links. That one is easy to cross off the list for adding links, but take note of Inside Higher Ed in the visualization. They have included a link for our program, and in other posts, they have not included a link. So our conclusions: Unless directly stated that there is a policy against adding external links, assume it’s possible. Just track your progress and update as you go. 

7. Probability of Success

Digital pubic relations takes work and creativity, but over the course of 2015, we saw positive results. Our probability of adding a link was 66%, and our goal is to get that closer to 75%. Through building relationships with journalists and editors, we’re confident we can make that change.
If you have any comments or questions about our analysis, then please feel free to comment below. Feel free to also share the graphic of our analysis using the embed code below.
JoeJoseph Lapin M.F.A. is an author, creative director, and journalist, and his writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Narratively, Salon, Slate, and more. He is a former adjunct professor at Florida International University, and he has worked on PR campaigns for Ernst & Young, Brentwood Associates, and more. 

 

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Four Lessons from my Internship in Digital Marketing

Entering a digital marketing internship can be intimidating, especially when the field is in higher education, where you’re being counted on by universities to professionally represent them and help spread their messages. While the responsibilities at Circa Interactive can be greater than many other internship settings, they ultimately drive you to become dedicated to your work and learn new skills at a high level. Here are four empowering lessons I learned during my time at Circa.

1. Ask for Criticism: It’s How You Grow

Throughout my internship, new concepts and ideas were constantly flying my way. Building out a social calendar, creating media lists on Cision for pitches, and writing pitches that will reach editors of major publications are likely new tasks for someone just entering the digital marketing field. In order to become familiar with one of these new tasks, digital marketers should take their time, but mistakes are bound to happen (which isn’t a bad thing). But sometimes you don’t know if you’re approaching a list from the wrong angle or if your pitch isn’t quite tailored to your list in the most relevant manner possible, which is why asking for criticism is so important. I’ve always thought of positive feedback as criticism only half-baked, so I made it a goal to seek out what it is I do correctly AS WELL AS incorrectly, using the talent pool in the office as a resource for any questions or problems I encountered.

2. Be Flexible and Experiment (with Pitches)

The work environment at Circa is about exploring better ways to accomplish your goals. This can be seen in everything from daily collaboration to how the team shares ideas in the online chat tool called Slack, as well as the weekly editorial meetings that serve as a mini incubator session. You’re given the green light to be flexible and experiment with how you market content and connect professors with the media, so do it! For example, when writing dozens of pitches per week, a little tweak in the subject line or the way you introduce your infographic can really make a difference in the number of responses and publications. You won’t know what works unless you try.

3. Use Social Media as a Daily Learning Experience

Writing copy for social media at Circa Interactive is a truly unique experience, because Circa works with a diverse range of higher education programs. That means every time you build a Facebook/Twitter social calendar for one of the dozens of programs, you’re keeping up to date with the industry news, trends and innovations taking place in such diverse fields as computer science, marketing, and engineering. The goal is to educate the program’s current and prospective audience, which means the person writing the copy for the social calendars has to put in a lot of research. This is why I embraced social media, because it allowed me to keep learning while coming across content that could end up being the lead in the next perfect pitch for our media outreach.

4. Peg ‘em

The ultimate goal when pitching to a journalist is to satisfy the question, “Why should they care?” It’s usually not enough just to have crisp, educational, enticing content. Like most things in marketing, a pitch should be relevant and time sensitive. Attaching (or “pegging”) a recent event in the news relevant to your prospect and pitch can help answer the above question. Think about it, you’re competing against dozens if not hundreds of emails at a time to get an editor’s attention. Just like everything in life, that extra step can be the difference between hearing crickets and landing an opportunity.

Working in higher education has given me a great appreciation for how important digital marketing is to the success of our programs, their students, and the educational system as a whole. These past 4 months at Circa have been instrumental in packing my digital marketing arsenal, which I plan to use for my family’s business as well as for my future business endeavors.

Dennis Donchev is a marketing intern at Circa Interactive and a student at San Diego State University.

Four Lessons from my Internship in Digital Marketing

At Circa Interactive, we pride ourselves on building a team of leaders and placing individuals in the best position for success. There is no greater example of this goal than our internship program. We not only work in higher education as marketers, but consider ourselves teachers for future digital marketing professionals. Through partnerships with local universities and organizations, Circa Interactive brings young professionals into our company with the hope of teaching them practical skills in SEO, digital PR, social media, design, copywriting, and PPC in order to build the foundation for their future professional careers. Below you will see an article from one of our first interns, Sarah Song, an exceptional young woman who took the changes in the SEO industry by the horns and learned about the crossroads of traditional PR with SEO. Learn more in her article below.

As the digital strategy and public relations intern at Circa Interactive, my experience has taught me aspects I could have never learned at a typical PR agency. Here are four lessons I learned that were essential in understanding the future of SEO and PR.

4. The Convergence of Public Relations and SEO

Public relations has become an integral aspect of any successful SEO campaign. While at Circa Interactive, I learned that through traditional PR practices, such as pitching and list building, SEO can also benefit from relationships with journalists and editors. By reaching out to the media, I was able to offer journalists quality experts from credible and cutting-edge university programs to provide commentary on trending topics. In turn, the journalists supplied our clients with a link to our targeted landing page within their story.

3. Don’t Have Content? Make Content.

Online degree programs have a plethora of resources for PR and content marketing professionals, which can be repurposed and pitched to the media. Often times it may seem like online programs do not have as much fodder compared to other campus-based programs; however, with online programs, it is quite the opposite. With an audience and program completely online, “pitchable” content is virtually everywhere. From online resources, to videos and research studies, the possibilities are endless. The content you create depends on your creativity and insight.

2. Find a Way to Stay Creative

Creativity is king. Often times Circa Interactive would work with a program that specialized in a topic which didn’t initially appear media friendly, and it would be difficult to gain traction with the media without creativity and innovation. As a higher education marketer, it’s important to dig deep into the programs through analyzing their syllabi, research concentrations, and faculty members in order to create publishable and relevant content that is brand specific. During this process, newer, more unique ideas surfaced. With that, we were able to provide journalists and media gatekeepers with fresh ideas.

1. It’s All About the Links

One of the main differences between a typical PR department and an SEO firm is that SEO professionals focus on attaining backlinks to their main landing page. This is another area where traditional PR and SEO are coming together. PR could have a much more digital focus if they took lessons from SEO professionals. I’m fascinated to watch how these two industries continue to converge.

Overall, throughout my time at Circa Interactive, I have learned invaluable lessons on SEO and public relations best practices. The specific nuances and insights I have gleaned here will still be relevant and beneficial to me regardless of the field or emphasis I am in moving forward.

Sarah Song is a senior at Biola University, majoring in Public Relations, and she hopes to attain either an internship or job at a PR firm or department.
She loves to use her creativity and passion for technology to help companies effectively and personally connect with their audiences. She is currently the brand and social media intern at BCBGMAXAZRIAGROUP.

Storytelling in Higher Education Marketing

Great stories are all about conflict. Audiences care about stories and characters because they want to see a journey or a struggle to overcome a problem. They also have a beginning, middle, and end and appeal to a larger theme. In a basic way, these are the elements of story that I’m constantly thinking about when creating content as creative director at Circa Interactive, and it’s one of the most valuable tools at the disposable of higher education marketers. So how does storytelling correlate to higher education marketing, especially in the digital space?

Our team is focused on helping university programs increase rankings, generate leads, and build enrollment, and as a journalist and author with a master’s of fine arts in creative writing, I approach higher education marketing from a unique viewpoint. I’m focused on building content that the best publications in the country will want to publish in order to build links and increase program visibility, and attention to storytelling is the key to landing these high level publications.

Media Outreach: Professors are storytellers

Because of recent changes in the SEO industry, Google has placed more of an emphasis on organic and authentic content, and it has caused digital marketing professionals to pay closer attention to backlink quality over quantity. Luckily, because we work with universities, we have access to invaluable content creators: professors. This is where individual faculty members come into play. They are on the pulse of industry trends and research, and while it seems obvious now, they are exponentially valuable as content creators. So our focus has been finding ways to leverage their expertise and tell their stories within the media.

What excites me most about higher education marketing is the access to individuals who are on the cutting edge of their fields. I have the opportunity to interview thought leaders in computer science, criminal justice, engineering, and more in order to  learn about their research in groundbreaking areas (cloud computing, homeland security technology, data mining in sports, and countless others). Our job is to present their research, the materials they teach in class, and their viewpoints in order to tell our programs’ stories in as many ways over as many platforms as possible.

Often, faculty members are more focused on publishing in academic journals, because that’s what will help them reach tenure. They tend not to consider mainstream media, and they write in a different style than publications like the Los Angeles Times, Forbes, Ars Technica, PBS, and more. So our job is to help guide them. This is where thinking about story is important. It might help to think about faculty members as central characters in the narratives being told in the media. They are actively seeking answers to problems and conflicts through academic writing and their research, and they are in the middle (in media res) of the action. It’s important to remember that faculty members aren’t just teachers; they are professionals. Most have theoretical and practical knowledge, which makes them the ideal candidate for the media.

For example, recently we helped a professor understand his place in the news. One professor was researching how leadership can help LGBT members in the workplace, and we helped him acquire an article on a major publication where he argued for more direct leadership action among mangers in order to create inclusive workplaces. He was addressing a problem and conflict. This is what caught the attention of the editor.

Another example comes from the tech field. A professor we work with is currently interested in how mobile computing will impact urban life. What he was pointing out was the conflict between the infrastructure of our cities and the updates these urban landscapes would need to handle the projected innovations, while suggesting solutions. The great thing about stories like this is that it’s a large scope, and the changes he’s currently writing about might not take place for another 15 years. This leaves us with a lot more room to tell his story and add to it as it develops.

Once the most relevant and interesting stories are targeted, pProfessors can write articles about the problems they hope to solve with their research. From the creation of these articles, it’s possible to have a link posted in their bio back to the program. This accomplishes several things for marketing purposes: helps increase rankings, builds traffic, and expands the program’s brand. If you’re able to offer ghostwriting services, then this helps with the consistency and volume of articles. (Professors are busy people.)

But the way to accomplish this strategy immediately is to start asking: What stories do my professors have to tell? What conflict or problem are they addressing in the media? And who would care? That final question is important because it helps dictate potential audience and outreach strategy.

The Narratives in the News: Digital PR and Infographics

Right now, the biggest stories in the media are the CIA torture practices; Ferguson and criminal justice; the drop in oil prices and the effect on the economy; and the future of mobile devices and cellular networks. By asking what our professors can add to these stories, we’ve discovered a new way to build links. This is the traditional side of PR that we have incorporated into our SEO practices. We reach out to the media, aware of the current state of a narrative, set up an interview with a reporter, and ask the reporter to include a link if they use their quotes. The reality of this strategy is that some publications won’t put a link and some will, but this has become an important part of our larger marketing strategy, leading to links on publications with high DAs (Forbes, Gov Tech, IB Times, and more) while marketing content to a larger and diverse audience.

In addition to pitching our professors to the media, we actively focus on turning their research and the program’s concentrations into content that connects to the larger stories within the media. Some of our most successful pieces of content have become infographics, and we’ve have had these visual resources published at such incredible places like PBS, Mother Jones, Inc., Entrepreneur.com, CIO, Arch Daily, and many more. We have found that our success is based on access to high-level research and the ability to build engaging and rich stories. Countless marketing professionals use infographics as a part of their strategy, but effective story telling is what separates the quality infographics from the mediocre.

At Circa Interactive, we have created countless infographics on subjects such as juvenile detention, cloud computing, sports psychology, and we’re learned that for an infographic to be effective it’s essential to address some sort of problem (the lack of female computer scientists; the rise in school shootings; the problems facing the smart city) and tell this story with a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning should set up the problem or conflict, the middle should address some of the ways that this problem is affecting a community, and the ending should conclude the story with a call to action or summary. Once these infographics are created, we then look at where they fit into the larger narratives in the news.

Most marketing agencies know that content is king. It’s a cliché thrown around in most webinars and workplaces, but what digital marketers need to consider is what separates good content from mediocre content. For me, it’s all about storytelling, and in the higher education world, we have access to endless amount of stories and content that any editor, any reporter, or general reader would love to experience. The first step is recognizing that value and then finding ways to take advantage of it.

Joseph Lapin is the creative director at Circa Interactive. His writing has been published at the Los Angeles Times, Slate, Salon, and more.

Digital PR: Three Major Trends in the Media

At Circa Interactive, we work with a wide array of university programs, and in order to create high quality links and media placements, we need to be aware of the most cutting edge conversations surrounding our programs to build an effective digital PR strategy and generate backlinks. In order to accomplish this goal, we scour the Internet and industry specific publications to keep an eye on the trends and narratives developing within our program’s community. This requires watching the media and the story lines for programs like computer science, information systems, coaching education, civil and electrical engineering, management, finance, and many more. As we monitor the changes in the major narratives, we look at the faculty in the program and think about how we can leverage them as experts. Below you will find a list of three major trends in the media we see on the cutting edge. It’s our job to see how the professors can add original ideas and commentary to the story lines.

What content or strategies are you utilizing to keep your university or degree program on the cutting edge?

The Internet of Things:

Concussions and CTE:

Mobile Marketing and Big Data:

NJIT New Jersey Institute of Technology – Online MBA