Tag: web

It’s not just about Print and Web

Over on the Intermedia blog, Charlie Melichar recently posted Integration & Separation – print and web. I’d like to expand further on that with my thoughts.

When I was first hired as a Web Editor for a university in 1998, my position was created to re-purpose print documents for the Web. Print drove everything. Twelve years later this is still quite the hot, and rather unresolved, topic. The  transition now seems to be primarily financially driven. Due to budget cuts many are cutting back on printing to save money.

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Reining in the outliers for a university-wide cohesive social media presence

image of social media iconsEarlier this week we talked about a cohesive university-wide Web presence. Today we’re going to take that same theory, but explore it in the social media space.

The ease of access of social media tools, including blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, etc. have enabled people with little to no Web development or marketing experience to create an online presence for your institution. Most do this with the best intentions in mind, but many don’t have the skills or knowledge needed to make them truly useful and successful.

I believe the central Web and/or marketing units of a university should also be the campus experts to create and maintain a strong and effective social media presence. They should coordinate campus-wide efforts and serve as consultants to individual departments to help them with their efforts.

In recent months I’ve led social media workshops for our athletics department, which included just about every coach and administrator, and for faculty and professional staff who attended a full day of technology-related workshops.

The goals of these workshops were to:

  1. educate them about the tools available
  2. show them examples and best practices of these tools in use related to their specific interests
  3. have brainstorming sessions to determine which tools would help them better connect with their constituencies 
  4. develop 1-3 short term goals and implementation schedules

Secretly (or not so, since I’m saying it here in such a public forum), I also lead these workshops to establish my office as the a resourceful unit that others will come to for assistance in learning more about social media, and to help in determining how and if they can best leverage it. Others on campus have heard about these workshops, and I am now in the process of scheduling them with other units.

Whether you reach out to the first unit that you think could utilize social media, or whether they approach you – the ultimate goal is to not have competing efforts on various social networking sites. In addition, not every department/program/unit needs to be using social media. Take a step back, listen to what their goals are, and help them find the right mix of tools that will implement them. This may or may not include social media.

For most small- to mid-size universities, I think a tool like Facebook can be seen structurally as the university Web site. There is one main home page, otherwise known as a Fan Page on Facebook, for the university. That hub should provide easy access in a box on the Page with links to other university outposts on Facebook. Most of these are best done as groups, but there is becoming more and more value for other units establishing Pages, such as being able to view Insights (statistics) and target messages (updates).

Be a partner. Assist other units in setting up their outposts. Encourage them not to duplicate existing efforts. Help them think of ways to be unique. Social media is not a space to treat like Times Square or the bulletin boards scattering your campus. It’s not for the “hey look at my program,” or “hey, look at this awesome event we have coming up.” It’s for building relationships around them. Alumni who have graduated from the program and feel a strong allegiance to it are likely to talk about their experiences, and look to network with others that have previously gone through the program to assist in future career opportunities. If the event is a reunion, they may be more likely to rally around it to catch up with classmates in advance of the actual event. A one-time concert may not have that kind of pull into social media.

Regardless of the tool used and the way it is implemented, it needs to be done in a cohesive way that doesn’t create multiple outlets for very similar purposes and further disjoints the community using these tools. We have a discussion related to this going on the cuweb.ning.com site, as well.

Is it a wild, wild west show when your prospective students search for your university on Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, etc.? Is it easy to tell which is the official university presence vs. individual units within the campus, or other user-generated content? Or, do you think having a central presence is not even necessary? Let’s talk.

Taking the idea of a cohesive Web template in a slightly different direction

Photo of a cowboy falling off a horseEarlier this week I wrote about reining in the outliers for a university-wide cohesive Web presence. Todd Sanders (@tsand) from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, had the gall to disagree with me (“for the first time EVER,” I’ll have you note), arguing that the art department shouldn’t look like the business department Web site. While I kid about his gall, I actually had to break it to him that we didn’t make history – we actually do agree on this.

Before you run away calling me a hypocrite, let’s explore this.

Art programs should do what they do best – express themselves creatively. Business programs probably don’t need to be as bold and edgy as an art program would, as they attract a different type of student. I’m not saying business program sites should be stodgy and traditional. Just different.

There are great benefits to using templates across all units of the university, but I do believe there are projects where it is appropriate to stray a bit from the cookie-cutter template. These “other sites” should still be very clear they are part of the overall university identity, but there are a number of ways to do this visually, without forcing them to conform to the standard university template.

At the university I work for, we created a new template for the School of Fine & Performing Arts, and are nearly finished with our year-long project to convert all of the departments and programs within into this new template. Their template is quite different than the overall university template that all other academic and administrative programs use. However – their School still has a cohesive School-wide presence, and there are elements in their template that tie it in to the standard university template.

We’re embarking on a redesign project of the main template and site to go along with the university’s new branding initiative. Part of our challenge will be marry the different templates together, and still clearly project our new creative strategy. I love a good challenge.

I don’t think this approach makes my previous post null and void. I still think there are many appropriate times to use the steps I outlined and push for the standard template. But, I think in the case of the example Todd brought up in the comments, he’s right. What do you think?

 

Flickr photo by Bill Gracey

Highlights from E-expectations: Class of 2009

Stephanie Geyer, Associate Vice President for e-strategy and Web development at Noel-Levitz, released their latest E-expectations survey of 1,005 college-bound high school seniors in 2009 at the OmniUpdate Users Conference this morning. This is their fourth year doing this research study in conjunction with James Tower and the National Research Center for College and University Admissions. This survey is done by professional telephone counselors.

This presentation was jam packed with great insights and nuggets that I found enlightening, and some rather surprising. 

Demographics:

  • 250 from each of the four geographic regions in the U.S.
  • 50/50 male/female
  • 53% caucasian, 16% African-American/Black, 10% Hispanic/Latino, 9% multiple ethnicities, 4% Asian, 3% Indian/Native American, 3% declined, 1% other
  • Grades: A – 39%, B – 48%, C – 12%
  • Family income: 25% less than $50k, 23% between $50-75k, 11% between $75-100k, 7% between %100-$125k, 4% more than $125k, 29% don’t know/refused
  • 77% connect via DSL or cable, 11% phone modem, 3% handheld device.

When asked if the current economic crisis caused them to reconsider the schools they were applying to or may attend, 64% said no. 

62% said their parents/family are helping them with research and/or paperwork. Of that group, 21% say they help them look at Web sites and go on campus visits with them.

Content is king! Prospects are taking time to read details about cost and processes. 

content is king

 

50% said colleges and universities should use young, edgy and bold designs for their sites. 43% said schools should take a more traditional approach with their site design. When I tweeted this tid-bit, @KarlynM said it would be interesting to find out these students definition of body and edgy. 

Navigation and information architecture is so important. 85% report the links should take me right to the answers to their questions, where 15% said they don’t pay much attention to the link choices and head straight for the search box or site index. Either way – making information easily findable and searchable is key.

41% found your school via Google or another search site by typing in your school’s name. 38% use services like Zinch, MyCollegeOptions or College Board to match them to your school. Only 13% referred to a printed document with your URL on it. May be time to re-think handouts, such as postcards, just to advertise specific Web sites.

They want to do fun stuff. 42% say they want to find more to do on a college site than just click and read. 

What do they want to do most? I’m most shocked by “RSS feeds with admissions info and campus activities,” and where it fares in the list! They actually know what RSS feeds are? I’ve gotten the impression from other articles and survey results I’ve read that most don’t know, that RSS is just the plumbing behind the scenes. They may be using it, but they aren’t aware of it. Maybe they are, now?

what they want to do

 

Social Networking

And, the ever-popular Facebook vs. MySpace debate. 50% listed being on Facebook and 52% said MySpace. For the Facebook group, 56% were A students, 47% B students, 41% C students. Northeast, midwest and south all more likely to be on Facebook than MySpace. For the MySpace group, 65% black, 70% latino vs. 44% white and 43% Asian. 47% were B students, 58% were C students, and 44% were A students. Only 2% reported not participating in social networking. When asked if colleges and universities should create a presence within social networks/communities to promote their programs, 70% said yes! In addition, 75% said schools should create their own private communities, like Cafe New Paltz, that are password protected and for invited students only. 51% said they wouldn’t mind school representatives contacting them directly via a social network.

What content will make a different to them on a social network? They’re most interested in discussions about courses and academics (3.74, mean 1-5), student activities and extracurricular options (3.65), and insight into the school’s culture and diversity (3.37). They’re interested in communication with current students and faculty (3.10), communication with prospective students (3.01), profiles of current students and faculty (2.88), and posting profiles as a student who may attend (2.88).

 

Very few reported text messaging as a method they’d prefer for admissions transactions such as answers to questions or  acceptance notices. For all transactions, their preferred method was online over in person, phone, mail or text.

87% are willing to give their e-mail address to a school to communicate with them. 45% of them do it at the inquiry stage, 28% when they’re ready to apply to the school, 15% after they’ve been accepted, and 9% after they make their final decision.

Summary:

  • Economic issues mean that Web sites will have to work harder in lieu of visits to ensure prospects see value and compelling details.
  • Parents and families are inextricably linked and we should be talking directly to them — and often!
  • The experience prospects have on our site matters in their decision whether to probe further into your programs and offerings, and how they’d fit on our campus.
  • We need to focus more on content. Content, content, content. Make it readable, printable, referenceable, searchable. 
  • Focus on your navigation. Test it with college-bound students. Don’t use internal lingo. 
  • Focus on your design. Take a leap. Go bold.
  • Find your place on social networks. Be social. Be helpful. Find the right fit for your campus with the various tools out there. Re-read the demographics above – different sites work for different institutions, depending on their typical student base.

Reining in the outliers for a university-wide cohesive Web presence

A prospective student does a Google search for “English composition [university name]” and is brought to your English department’s site. While there, they find the program that intrigues them, and decide to jump off course to learn more about tuition and fees, housing, and dining services. Along they way they bounce through three additional department Web sites, but the prospective student feels like they’ve been to three completely different university sites. Each step along the way they have to figure out where the navigation and search bar have moved, how their content is organized, what lingo they use, and likely have a completely different experience on each site. Sound familiar?

photo of a cowboy with ropeDeveloping a university-wide Web design template that is flexible enough for all departments, programs and units to use is one behemoth of a challenge. In the case of large institutions where there are usually multiple Web offices throughout the institution, it’s even more challenging and unlikely to find. Small- to mid-size colleges/universities with a centralized Web and/or marketing unit can make this happen – but it takes quite a bit of work, commitment and patience.

Five steps to rein in the outliers

1) Create a strong template
Create a visually appealing, yet flexible enough template that is customizable for each unit. The flexibility needs to range from having a small to large menu of options, the ability to manage rapidly changing content areas, and be able to use customized photographs and images that best represent the unit.

2) Create a strong policy
Create a strong, clear, concise policy that is enforced, endorsed and supported my upper management. Make sure this policy is brief, yet contains information about why and how using the standard design template will benefit them and their audiences.

3) Blame the law
Many states, as well as the federal government, have policies and standards related to Web accessibility. Some are more complex and intricate than others. Regardless, the average faculty and staff member who is not a Web developer for a living will likely gloss over these laws, and not be able to produce sites that are in full compliance of them. Let them know you and/or your staff have become experts, or perhaps have even attended seminars to learn these laws inside and out. Encourage them to focus on the content and messages they want to deliver, and to let you (and your staff) handle the technicals.

4) Make the case
Don’t make it personal. When initially communicating with the department, don’t make it personal, don’t be defensive, but do expect resistance. Always phrase your statements in ways that remove yourself, as well as the other individual, from the equation. Using the standard template is in the best interest of all parties involved – it supports the university-wide branding initiative, the users of the site will have a much easier time hopping around from site to site when a common template is in use, their site will be in compliance with local and federal laws, etc.

Talk about the benefits of cohesiveness. Talk about their audiences. Talk about the strengths of the overall university brand that will help their department/program/unit.

Compliment things they’re doing well. Empathize with them. Become their partner. Get them excited about the variety of options the new template provides – being able to use the content management system for quicker updates, being able to easily post and update news whenever they want, the ability to quickly and easily add videos, photo galleries, etc. Whatever the benefits are of your template – make them known. Make sure if they’re doing “cool” things in their current site, they’ll be able to continue to do them in the new template.

5) Don’t pull rank.
We all know universities are filled with politics. Tread lightly, but don’t pull rank. Avoid involving “higher ups” and keep it at your level and below whenever possible. If you’ve truly tried everything you can at your level, only then should you take it up one level to your direct supervisor. Doing this may give you a fresh perspective and approach to try that you hadn’t thought of previously.

Vassar College is an internationally known institution with approximately 2,500 students, but they made a strategic decision to not impose an institutional layout. Their college’s site is one of the most well-known in the industry. They have a centralized Web office with five staff members. What do you think about this approach?

As I mentioned before – I know this is hard, if not virtually impossible, to do at many institutions. But, it has been done. Tell us who you are – I know you’re out there. Are there steps or tricks I’m missing? Can you share any secrets you keep up your sleeve?

 

Flickr photo by sibhusky2