I’ve returned from my first full HighEdWeb conference (#heweb10), also full of other firsts: First time riding a mechanical bull, first time petting a penguin or shark, first time singing karaoke in a gay bar. The conference was full of win (not just two victories in Just Dance or our luck-infused undefeated record on the pool table at Madonna’s) as great information and connections virtually poured like Skyline Chili over pasta. I could never, in manageable length, blog about every takeaway, so I boiled it down to a top five.
1. People matter. Yes, we talk about tools and technology all the time, but this business is really about people. One of my favorite lines came from Mark Greenfield, on institutions not being brands or logos; they are all the people who attend (or attended or want to attend) that college or work at it. This ties in with my love for storytelling as well, and underscores that we’re really in the people business. Also, the conference is about meeting, interacting and learning from some of the best damn people on the whole planet.
2. Use it or lose it. Any conference where the keynote speaker is the king of usability, author Steve Krug (“Don’t Make Me Think,” “Rocket Surgery Made Easy”) is bound to teach a thing or two about creating user-friendly websites and why we need to test them to ensure they work. Krug is great at disarming all the usual excuses people (including me) have and essentially said: If you’re going through all this trouble to make a beautiful and rich website experience, is taking steps to ensure it works too much to ask?
3. Location, location, location. Given the explosion of geosocial media, I anticipated more sessions about location-based at the conference. But Tim Jones from North Carolina State did marvelously with a 45-minute overview that also showcased some neat things his college is doing … and a cross-platform aggregator they plan to launch. QR Codes and related services mentioned elsewhere offer tantalizing potential: Imagine a campus tour where a smartphone accesses text, photos, videos and other context from a chip on a building, or a code at a theatre performance gives more interactive information about the play, actors or academic program.
4. Count it up. One of my goals is to better understand and utilize analytics tools (where next week’s Stamats SIMTech also will help). Many robust and free services giving you figures exist, and Kyle James particularly brought it home simply with things to look for in your analytics to help improve your site (i.e., what gets hit most often and from where, whether people find what they want or bounce from your stie, what throws up the most 404/page not founds). Figures to back up decisions and new directions can prove worth their weight in gold.
5. Count your blessings. Yes, working in web communication is no picnic. We’re asked to do a lot with few resources. Deal with frantic emails that want things yesterday. Shudder at the mention of words like “meeting” and “committee.” And yet. Working with the web means what we do matters. It’s the medium of choice for most prospective students, general users seeking news/information/entertainment and some 500 million Facebook users. The web and what goes on with it is only expanding, so it’s an exciting field. And, as I learn every time I’m blessed enough to attend a conference like #heweb10, the field abounds with awesome people who are incredibly generous with their time, advice and energy.