Tag Archives: web content

#ConfabEDU takeaway: we’re all in this together

The best conferences create intentional or unintentional threads and themes that come home with you. For the recent #ConfabEDU conference in New Orleans, a message of togetherness was the main one stuck in my head and soul. Whether about working together with others on your campus, trying to bring communities together or the togetherness of the higher ed content strategy family, this message came through repeatedly — sometimes as reinforcement, other times as revelation.

Lisa Welchman discussing collaboration and web governance.

Lisa Welchman discussing collaboration and web governance.

Lisa Welchman, author of the web governance guideline Managing Chaos, set us in the right direction. She advised us to collaborate, enable and encourage all our website editors instead of trying to tell them what to do. She talked about workteams, and how the ones that worked together to set and follow standards do the best job.

In “A Four-Step Framework on How to Succeed at Practically Anything,” the University of Rochester’s Lori Packer talked about creating opportunities for our communities to share things on social and the importance of telling each other about our cool ideas and projects. Pat Brown from Purdue, in discussing “Optimizing Organizational for Web and Other Futile Pursuits,” said change management is a key part of web management today and added successful efforts need to fill four roles: change advocate, change agent, sustaining sponsor and executive sponsor.

Myths and realities

Kicking off day two, “Myths of Innovation” author Scott Berkun cited, among other things, the myth of the lone genius. All of the greatest inventions, he said, came from people inspiring and inspired by the ideas of others and often from groups conducting experiments … not from the myth of epiphany of a single inventor. He also mentioned how the former Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (today better known as 3M) suddenly had its most lucrative invention in the form of masking tape, manager (and future president/chairman) William McKnight realized an important change in management structure — by instilling a culture of delegating authority and trusting experimentation, he helped 3M turn into a company where true innovation could (and did) come from just about anywhere within the organization.

Tweeting this in the morning, and Georgy Cohen posted it in the afternoon. What is this sorcery?

Tweeting this in the morning, and Georgy Cohen posted it in the afternoon. What is this sorcery?

Jeff Stevens from the University of Florida offered a fresh take on the silos we find around campuses or within campus systems: perhaps instead of isolation they can serve as watchtowers that can alert and communicate with others. Georgy Cohen of OHO Digital followed up on that in her presentation on building internal communities for content strategy, which encouraged actively engaging your editors and experts in making your web community better. Sarah Maxwell Crosby and Susan Lee from Dartmouth discussed amplifying voices within your community to build a better web presence.

Amanda Costello of the University of Minnesota closed it on a high note with “How Silos Learn: Working in the Idea Factory.” We may dread the silos on campuses, she said, but there’s no reason to die in them. She encouraged working horizontally with others to share ideas, institute projects and seek success. Quoting the late Paul Wellstone — “We all do better when we all do better” — she said connecting people is a form of teaching.

Less loneliness

My own presentation, “‘Am I the Only One?’ Personalizing ‘Social’ to Connect with Students” went better than expected (it’s a tough topic that’s very different from the rest of the conference) in large part because I had an empathetic audience willing to engage in discussion. The problem: College is a mentally challenging time for students, who deal with new situations, the feeling they have to meet impossible standards and that everybody is doing better than they are (their connections post social-media highlight reels that aren’t reality). Audience members talked about what they’re doing at their colleges, what they want to do and ways we can change the situation for the better.

Erin Supinka and Ma'ayan Plaut making the New Orleans airport more awesome.

Erin Supinka and Ma’ayan Plaut making the New Orleans airport more awesome.

And, almost as if I needed a bonus lesson, what is usually a solo trip and wait in an airport reconnected by with conference friends. I bumped into (SUNY Oswego grad) Tim Senft of Cornell University, and we split a cab to the airport and a bite of late breakfast. Then the wait for the plane was made more pleasant by hanging out with friends Ma’ayan Plaut from Oberlin and Erin Supinka from Dartmouth.

Indeed, everything is better with others. Working (or just laughing) together improves our work … and our lives.

Leave a comment

Filed under Web

Without content strategy, even a great CMS won’t help much

We’re in the process of redeveloping oswego.edu — which includes a switch to the Drupal content management framework and migration of 10,000 pages — but we’re also trying to redefine why our website exists: for our users and why they come to our site.

Rick Buck, our web technical lead, and I gave a Winter Breakout session that we thought would attract maybe a dozen or so people … only to learn it was moving to an auditorium with more than 60 people anticipated. Yowza! But this definitely means we have many stakeholders very interested in the process, and that’s a great thing.

While the new content management system is one attraction, our presentation also focused on what’s most important: content. As I like to say, “A content management system creates neither content, nor management, nor a system.” The other two involve a lot of work but without good content that helps the people who come to your site do what they need to do, you’re really limiting how many improvements you can make, no matter how great your CMS is.

To start the journey toward content strategy, we sent the editors of 140+ accounts a web content brief (below), a Google fill-in document that asks four important questions:

  1. Who is/are the audience of your pages?
  2. What are the most important tasks your site(s) visitors want to accomplish?
  3. What are the primary actions you want site visitors to take?
  4. What are your top priorities for your web presence this year?

Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 1.21.54 PM

Screen shot 2015-01-28 at 1.22.06 PM

(Disclaimer: We borrowed ideas for the above from other colleges, because they are awesome.)

Since we sent the form on Monday, we’ve been quite impressed with submissions. Editors are putting a lot of thought toward audience, tasks and goals … some of the foundations for content strategy. We haven’t been in a position or had the staffing nor time to go with this approach previously, so I expect it to change a lot of the site’s content going forward. And that’s a lot of work, but worth it in the long run.

We’ve already started content audits on various accounts — identifying what’s there, if it’s working, if it’s relevant — that we can share with site editors and then collaborate to see how it all lines up with the web content brief. We’ve also introduced questions — the 5 Ws of reviewing web content I’ve posted previously — to ask while evaluating every page and/or deciding whether to create a new page.

We’re still very early in the journey toward sitewide content strategy and a more awesome oswego.edu. It includes a CMS, yes, but we hope that it’s ultimately defined by improved content. How will it go? Stay tuned.

2 Comments

Filed under Web

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 3 rules for web content

OK, FDR probably never met the Internet, but he would give three rules for public speaking that also apply to creating web content: “Be brief. Be sincere. Be seated.” (Note: This has also been ascribed to Winston Churchill, but the same rules apply.)

fdr

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Be brief. Be succinct. Omit needless words. Say what you need to say (in a conversational manner) and keep moving. Users scan the web more than they read anyway because they’re pressed for time. If you need to send readers elsewhere for more information, give them a phrased link. (Don’t say “CLICK HERE!!!!” Ever.)

Be sincere. Say what you mean; mean what you say. Use a friendly, encouraging tone. Be honest. Don’t exaggerate, overpromise or mislead. (“Several Oswego physics students earned internships at NASA, some with job offers.” = good. “Getting a physics degree will get you a job at NASA!” = not.)

Be seated. Even for people who’ve created hundreds of webpages, it isn’t always easy to know when you’ve finished a page. But you don’t want to get caught in the 90/10 trap where you spend 90 percent of your time trying to figure out the last 10 percent of your task. Don’t let indecision lead you to just adding more images, more links, more needless words just because you feel you need to do more. It’s often a good idea to set a webpage aside and come back to it later to see if it needs anything.

Leave a comment

Filed under Web

The trouble with the CMS paradigm. Or considering constant and casual editors.

stairsgraphicFor anybody dealing with a large amount of distributed web content, the content management system (or CMS) falls somewhere between a blessing and curse, between a true solution and a necessary evil. But a couple things last week made me wonder if it’s being approached all wrong.

First, my excellent co-worker Joe Fitzsimmons sent me a great article by Paul Boag titled (aptly) Everybody Hates their Content Management System. A few quotes stood out, articulating things I’ve long pondered yet not seriously considered:

For a start most content management systems are not fit for that purpose. That is because content management system vendors overestimate the skills of the average user. The majority of content management systems are not easy to use. They contain far more functionality and complexity than the average user needs.

Furthermore, with this distributed model, most CMS users only update the website occasionally. This means they are not becoming familiar with how these systems work and forget any training they have received.

The second paragraph correlated with the second thing that stood out to me last week. Our longtime web coordinator and head CMS support whiz, Pat MacNeill, recently took a well-earned retirement and our bright new webcomm associate hadn’t yet started. So I was fielding a lot of questions from people who hadn’t touched the CMS in months who needed help. They are all bright, engaging people for whom remembering how to navigate the vagaries of a CMS isn’t quite their specialty.

After troubleshooting several requests, none of which involved terribly complicated things, I suddenly had an epiphany: I’m spending 15 to 30 minutes explaining to them how to solve a problem that I might have solved in 15 to 30 seconds. I’m a big fan of efficiency in repetitive tasks, so this struck me as a grand waste of time for several people.

Boag’s article articulates this well. You have casual users who don’t often use (or even want to use) a CMS having to make an annual contact to our office for a refresher. Knowledge comes through repetition, but if tasks are hardly ever repeated, they can’t be learned easily. Throw in the bugs, glitches and complications of any CMS, and your user-support time piles up.

One of the biggest problems with CMSs are that implementers tend to train on the system, but not on the most important part — which is creating quality content. Without people understanding content, a CMS is no solution; a set of stairs only takes you to the next floor if you make the effort to climb. Without human effort and investment, a content management system will not give you content, management, nor a system.

But does it have to be this way? When you have scant central resources, as we do, is spending so much effort reminding or retraining editors on how to do something like insert an email link really a good use of time? A CMS editor is not a one-size-fits-all description. After having some kind of role in web management for around a decade, I’d have to say the majority of such editors fall into one of two categories:

Constant editors: Many higher ed web pages require frequent updates. There’s no getting around it. And we have an appreciable amount of what I’d call constant editors, updating pages at least once a week, especially during busy periods. Constant editors make regular use of the CMS and gain a considerable amount of skill and experience, so we only hear from them if they are bouncing ideas off us or attempting something ambitious. They are the stars of the distributed editor model because they bring subject matter and technical knowledge together to provide exemplary web experiences.

Casual editors: A college’s casual editors may touch the CMS as little as once a year to make updates to staff or events or other annual rituals. Or maybe every six months or so, or about how often many people have a dental exam — and they might find using a CMS about as enjoyable as visiting the dentist. Maybe they’re a swamped department secretary who has to go in and add new faculty and remove the departed. In higher ed, the jobs of department secretaries are among the most busy, demanding and valuable on campus; using a CMS is one of nearly 100 tasks on their plate. They simply don’t have time for trial and error for what should be simple.

All this comes into focus, and I believe it lays out the problem — that it’s flawed to consider a universal CMS “solution” that encompasses the dichotomy of experiences spanning from constant to casual editors. But what about the solution?

I have some thoughts on that … stay tuned!

7 Comments

Filed under Web

#hewebmi top takeaway: technology is nice, but collaboration is key.

944243_10152839784535591_696585687_n

HighEdWeb Michigan (#hewebmi) staged an outstanding conference earlier this week, and the theme I took away from it more than other involved the importance of collaboration.

Perhaps that sounds a strange takeaway from a conference about web communication in higher ed, but then I’ve always viewed the web as a huge gathering of people moreso than a mosaic of technology. Perhaps Ron Bronson of Eastern Wyoming College put it best in “Unboxing Yourself: Reaching Out for Professional Growth,” when he encouraged everyone at the conference to share what they know with others. At its most basic level, isn’t higher education about sharing knowledge, about collaborating? Whether it’s teachers sharing what they know with students, students sharing helpful information with each other, or teachers sharing what they find works well with other teachers, collaboration’s roots run deep in the history of American education … the trend of establishing specialized departments and info-hoarding silos is much more recent.

A wonderful keynote speech by Kristina Halvorson (co-author of the much-cited Content Strategy for the Web)  set the tone, emphasized many times, that working together on anything from creating great websites to telling compelling stories to attracting marvelous students (which, come to think of it, are all related) is the true key to success in this business. Christopher Ankney of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business discussed how to build engaged (and engaging) communities; Shawn Sieg and Matt Snyder, from U of M’s human resources department, probed using social media to motivate internal audiences; Aaron Rester from the University of Chicago Law School pondered the dream web org chart; while Nick DeNardis of Wayne State, Kyle James of NuCloud and I explored how colleges and vendors can work better together.

Other fine sessions looked at tools and tactics — such as Wooster College’s Alex Winkfield on how to launch a video operation on campus and #pancaketweetup co-creator Lane Joplin on social media analytics — but even these pointed out how no one can do their job alone. Bronson also noted a need for clarity in our jobs and how we see ourselves, with two of my favorite quotes from the conference: “There’s no space in the calendar for doubting yourself” and “You don’t have to be the best ________ in the world. Just be the best YOU.” Fantastic advice.

Coming back from the conference, I already have two collaborative blog projects in mind, plans to finally launch our use of Vine in a way that connects our huge Oswego family to campus plus designs on creating a group that will champion better web content across our ecosystem. I’m also more determined than ever to get folks across campus to work together on not just their piece of the puzzle but the bigger lifecycle picture — the journey from prospective students to alumni — and how to make that more seamless.

“Don’t think about how you’re communicating as channels,” Halvorson said in the opening keynote, but instead as “touchpoints across a lifecycle.” Let’s all collaborate on making the lives of today’s prospective and current students, today’s and tomorrow’s alumni and everyone working on campus as successful as possible. Let’s tear down the silos and make this a huge barn-raising instead … where we work together to build something awesome.

2 Comments

Filed under Web

Content is more important than channel.

For all the discussion on campuses, at conferences and in corporate cubicles about which social media channels are reliable or “the next big thing,” one fact remains: Without good content, your channels are not useful.

This lesson jumped out while I worked on our web and social media analytics report for March. Usually Pinterest drives virtually no traffic to oswego.edu (less than 50 refers per month) yet suddenly, for March, we had 1,076 referrals. Does this mean Pinterest had suddenly broken through to undeniable relevancy?

Screen shot 2013-04-03 at 10.50.28 AM

Not exactly. Almost all of that traffic (1,067) went to one page — a piece by Norman Weiner, emeritus director of our honors program, called How to Do Really Well in College. This was not the first time this page brought out-of-left-field traffic from a social network, and it appeared from several boards across Pinterest offering college advice.

For several months straight, StumbleUpon was always our third-biggest social referrer (behind Facebook and Twitter), except this month when Pinterest pushed it to fourth. What drives almost all of that StumbleUpon? You guessed it, How to Do Really Well in College. Weiner said he hears often about other colleges using it, and stats show now it has spread into the social sphere.

Screen shot 2013-04-04 at 8.07.49 AM
So those two channels have been viable traffic providers only because of one piece of content. How to Do Really Well in College is our 39th most-visited page on oswego.edu, and almost all of its traffic involves straight entries from offsite, many from social media referrals. As if we needed proof that content drives channels and traffic, not vice versa.

So I’m amazed about people always running to the newest, shiniest social media platform without any content strategy … it’s like deciding you’re going to open a business without any idea what you plan to sell. Content that tells stories — in text, photo or video — is the building block of every channel. That’s what you should pay attention to, first and foremost.

1 Comment

Filed under Web

launching a mobile site: content and users come first.

After much behind-the-scenes work, we finally just announced the launch of the SUNY Oswego mobile site. Our traffic via mobile device has climbed from 1.5 percent in October 2010 to 4 percent in October 2011, so clearly we’re seeing increased demand for something optimized for mobile.  Thanks in large part to tips from other colleges and conference presentations — and especially the skilled hands of our talented developer Rick Buck plus some trial and error — this lengthy and not-so-simple process taught us many lessons along the way.

It’s about content. I was pleased that presentations on mobile development at HighEdWeb11 emphasized thinking about content before the technology. Sessions like “On Your Mark, Get Set, Mobile!” from William & Mary and mStoner and the University of Central Florida’s “A Utility Belt Approach to Mobilizing Content” focused on existing content you can mobilize and optimize for your mobile platform. Knowing the content and building around it is made easier when you can employ a good framework and template like WVU’s Dave Olsen assembled through Mobile Web OSP. (Dave’s name always comes up when presenters mention mobile and higher ed, and we are among the many who owe him a debt of gratitude.)

It’s about users. We needed to think about how our users might interact with location-based content as well as the things they access the most on our website. As such, the mobile map was a given. The interactive directory that allows users to email or call a professor or staff member with a single click provides real convenience that takes use-care scenarios into consideration. News, an events calendar and emergency information provide timely and relevant information at (literally) the touch of a button.

Testing, testing. We did a soft rollout for New Student Orientation this summer, with an emphasis on the orientation schedule and locations. It went well and also taught us about user behavior at a (relatively) slow time before we did the main rollout. We’ve done spot testing from time to time, a practice we expect to continue.

Think mobile before apps. While all kinds of characters roam the fringes of academia trying to sell apps, anyone of any expertise emphasized how important it is to develop a mobile site first. The advantages are many — it works on all platforms and one need not negotiate with an Apple or Droid store, and wait for the process to play out for months so your users can access updates. This Cappex survey of parents of prospective students adds more support, as 79 percent of respondents preferred a mobile-friendly site to an app. While apps developers emphasize shiny objects and one-trick ponies, the mobile site is the big tent where you welcome all your users.

It’s a continuing process. We look at launching the mobile website as a beginning, not an ending. We’ve already made tweaks and upgrades in its first “official” week, and we have many other features in the pipeline. And of course we’ll keep an eye on analytics both for mobile and the regular sites to see what’s working/not working and what other features become relevant.

2 Comments

Filed under Web