March 31

How to Leverage Student-Produced, Authentic Content


Students and the content they create can be tremendous assets for content marketing. Authentic content may require some sacrifice of production quality, but it can be worth it in the end.

We all want to represent our education brands in a professional manner. 

The best cameras, the best editing equipment, the best lighting, using scripts – all these things are great for producing exceptional content.

But when we make things look too-good-to-be-true, it can turn prospective students off from our brand. 

In today’s world, filters and movie magic are available to everyone. 

As a result, members of Generation Z have developed a highly sensitive “BS filter.”

They know when they’re seeing authentic content or not. 

This creates a real dilemma for the higher ed marketer.

Sometimes when marketers get all gung-ho about creating work, especially content that looks “professional,” it can blur the authenticity of the message.


What I’ve been seeing over the years, is that Gen Z tends to prefer content that’s a little imperfect, which makes it come across as authentic content.

In this episode, we spoke with Nate Jorgensen, Director of Marketing and Communications at the University of Cincinnati – College of Engineering and Applied Science, about when marketers do too much work and how to let their institutions sell themselves.

Let Students Tell their Own Story

Authentic content begins with the author. Who is telling the story?

As higher ed marketers, we have a good idea of what is important to our target audiences.

But only our audiences themselves truly understand what they want and what matters to them. 

Nate shares how letting students tell their own story leads to authentic content.

[Almost all the work of our new] Assistant Director of Marketing, Sara Mullins, is pretty much telling us to stop doing what we’re doing – being 40-year-old people telling 17-year-olds what they should care about – to having our students tell that story. And surprise, surprise! That’s what prospective students would rather hear. 

Our most successful content has been our student blog posts. 

They’re not all 100% positive. And that’s great. We learn a lot from that. The authenticity of that pays off way more than being super protective. 

I think anyone within higher ed knows that no institution is perfect. Once you accept that and let people share their own voice – that has resonated so much! It’s really dedicating ourselves to that authenticity that has just been a game changer for us.

Letting students tell their own story is counter intuitive. 

We always want to put our brands in the best light possible. 

But authentic content means showing our strengths and our areas of opportunity.

That’s because the story is about the students, and not so much about our institutions. 

While it’s scary for us, it’s really attractive to prospective students who are looking for a place to write their own story.

Create a Student Ambassador Program

I’m a big fan of student ambassador programs

Nate shares how they leverage the power of these important programs.

We have a group of students, the ambassadors, who almost completely run our campus visits for prospective students. And they really just do it because they want to do it. 

[They also help with] feedback. A lot of times on the marketing team, where we might say this, or this, “What do you think?” And they’ll say “Neither.” It’s very helpful. 

Our enrollment management team really does a good job of connecting with students across majors and departments and having those students available [for focus groups]. When they connect with some of those students, they usually send them our way to say this student would be a great [help to our enrollment team]. Then, the student would do a great blog post about their experience. So [our student ambassador program] kind of just feeds itself. 

This goes back to the college selling itself again. I really think that at times you do just have to let the college sell itself. Sometimes it’s detrimental to what we’re trying to do with me getting in the way and trying to do more work. 

Being okay with [student-produced, authentic content] is hard at times. You always think you have to fill your day with grinding out the work. But I don’t think that’s the best strategy.

Nate Jorgensen of University of Cincinnatti shows us how to use student-produced materials to produce authentic content.

Authentic content keeps you from being too salesy. 

Allowing your student ambassador program to feed itself. Letting your education brand sell itself.

All this sounds counter-intuitive, but I think Nate’s on to something important. 

There is a line we can cross as marketers where our brand statements can become cliché, or “salesy.” 

If we’re pushing too hard, we could be driving away new students.

No one expects our institutions to be perfect. In fact, if we come across as perfect, we could come across as disingenuous. 

For me, the biggest takeaway from this conversation is that we should relax a bit on the “quality” side, knowing that authentic content from students is more valuable than highly polished institutional content.

Mixing our professional content with a transparent, student-produced approach should resonate well with Gen Z prospective students and their families.

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Listen to our interview with Nate Jorgensen to get even more insights into:

  • Growing your institution’s footprint
  • Authentic communication strategies
  • How to use student-produced content that may not be all positive
  • The impact of video: from Nate’s engineering video series to candid iPhone filming

Market More. Spend Less.

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  • How to leverage low-cost technologies to reach your target market,
  • How to craft a content marketing strategy on a bare-bones budget,
  • The number one thing your website needs to do,
  • The key to getting free, organic traffic to your website, and more.

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