What are we not doing well – reflections on the higher ed community

I have been thinking about lots of things strategy-wise recently, things that I need to work on and decided to open it up to the bigger community. I do have a future post in the works about what we are doing well so expect that soon.

What do we need to work on:

  • Single sources of authoring for our assets – think news posts, calendar events, rankings, directory listings etc. We don’t do a great job at leveraging single sources for our assets which leading to multiple and many times erroneous listings
  • Web services/ api’s – this is part of the solution for the above single sourcing of assets, we need to think off all our assets as multi use chucks if we can have them in central data stores and provide the ability to easily get them out this is better for everyone, there are many ways that we can do this RSS, XML, Json, SOAP etc. This will help us tie together all the loose ends
  • Tying together user tasks – an example of this is an inbound student, students have a huge checklist of things they need to do housing, meal plans, register for classes, get financial aid. We could do a better job at trying to pull together the processes and getting the right info from one source rather than sending them to multiple sites. I wrote a post about How you can be successful with a one stop centralized enrollment model
  • Mobile content strategy – i will give a bit of a pass since even CS for desktop is a new idea, there are a few groups making strides with responsive but I think we need to have more focus on typing together the mobile experience and user needs at times responsive vs mobile site are at odds with each other
  • Sharing amongst ourselves – higher ed has lots of creative solutions for many of the same problems, while we are very open to share the how and whys of our solutions, I would love to see more code sharing, there are very few higher ed open source projects, I can pretty much name them all on one hand
  • Saying NO – as a community we all seek to please. Which is a great thing at the face of it. We will take on most anything I think we need to be better at saying NO for things that don’t align with our missions. I have to acknowledge that NO might not be an option so at least be able to reframe or reroute the leaderships wishes into outcomes the benefit our audience and align with our mission

I am as guilty of these as anyone else, what else do you see that we need to work on?

Posted in Leadership, Strategy | 5 Comments

How you can be successful with a one stop centralized enrollment model

Imagine this scenario: a student gets sent to financial aid to take care of an issue only when they arrived the registrar has places a hold and they are sent across campus

This is a scenario that has played out on most college campuses. We have a separate office for each enrollment function. We push our division of enrollment departmental structure on the students though they are full of overlap for most common student needs. Based on an “in real life” (IRL) initiative to handle current student enrollment needs via one aligned and cross trained front called Concierge Enrollment we had the opportunity to create the online presence to align these offices.

So what does this look like?

FIU One Stop Enrollment

When we went to start this project we determined that IA would be one of the most important parts of this project. We needed to break down the ORG Chart structure and look at common functions and tasks that students needed to complete.

We had a few good examples from higher ed to look at

From these we wanted or have a portal type of layout where people could quickly get the info they needed and move on. We tried to break the sections up by easily identifiable and common terms rather than the someones very internalized enrollment terms.

Our biggest milestone thus far is just this past week we were able to shut down our old financial aid and registrar sites and move to this streamlined and centralized model. But in the end I think the biggest success will be in marrying a cross unit team to a website that mimics the functionality of their team.

See our work at http://onestop.fiu.edu/

Posted in Governance, Strategy | 3 Comments

What we can learn about event coverage from the “second screen” tv experience

While watching an episode of Conan I saw an ad for the Conan second screen experience called the “Team Coco” app. For those of you who have not heard of it, it encourages you to watch the TV show and follow along with your tablet for other viewer’s commentary and extended content. So this made me think about our coverage of events

What do we do today?

Most schools prove ones of these experiences

  • Cover an event and after the event provide a news post which might include video, photos, etc (Verdict: Not real time, does not engage users during the event)
  • Cover event with Storify (Verdict: Captures the pulse of user when they were engaged in the event, provides lasting archive)
  • Cover the event with Twitter or CoveritLive (Verdict: Real time and captivates the experience of the event)
  • Provide an interactive event portal (Verdict: Combines real time streaming, user engagement and lasting presence see UALR Live Commencement)

What could we be doing?

Based on the experience I had with the second screen I think there is room for growth. Here are some suggestions, a site similar to a live interactive event page that includes streaming, photos, twitter and or Facebook comments. There opportunity for growth is around providing extended content. In order to do this we need to plan our content prior to the event. We need to know the program and have prepared extended content.

Examples include

  • Highlighted student profiles videos
  • Retrospective of student life
  • Historical footage of the university
  • Extended versions of sections of the event
  • Polling to get the pulse of the audience
  • Gathering of student experiences, graduation is a day where many might reflect on their journey so try to capture that reflection

Again, I encourage you to take a look at the Team Coco app during an episode. Think about how it could augment your event coverage with some content planning prior to your events and create a more engaging experience.

Posted in Social Media, Strategy | Comments Off

How a timid marketer can become comfortable with web

I have worked many a time with people who are competent and confident marketers who are intimidated by the web.

When I encounter someone who is having this experience I always talk to them about their marketing goals, what they are trying to accomplish in other mediums. I coach them through the idea that their goals are the same across mediums and we simply need to learn to carry them out over the web.

Barriers to entry:

  • Technology – sometime we put far to much emphasison technology being difficult, most CMS’s today enable marketers to convey their messages successfully with little to no tech knowledge
  • Grumpy or unwelcoming web person – many times a web person, (from a more IT than marketing background) has problems communicating about technology in laymen’s terms, i think in this case both sides need to empathize with the other person and find a common ground
  • Failure to contemporize – integrated marketing requires you to keep up with marketing trends whether social media, web, qr codes or whatever the future might hold. In order to be relevant you must be where you message is most effective. Simply ignoring channels because you dont understand them is not an option

So again I challenge you as a marketer to work with your web experts and speak the common language of goals and how to get there. You need to get beyond lingo and slang and find a middle ground where you can communicate in a clear and simple to follow format. I have numerous times helped bridge the gap between a marketer and a web person. It only needed that initial push to start what can be a very successful and fruitful relationship.

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What social media can teach us about marketing in other mediums

Social media has brought about one of the biggest shifts in marketing and communications planning in years. Many are still trying to catch up. We should spend some time reflecting on what social media can teach us about marketing via other avenues.

In social media the accepted norms are all about being simple, truthful and timely. Here are a few things I suggest you look at

  • Keep in concise – while in other mediums we are afforded the luxury more space for content than the sometimes restrictive 140 characters of twitter this doesn’t mean we have to, or should us it. People want clear and quick communications regardless of medium; get the point and get on
  • Be real – we have learned to expect transparency from social media. Those that are not, are called out and publicly flogged. We should strive to keep this same idea in all other forms of communications. We feel we can hide since there is no instant feedback to our words in other mediums but our consumers are much more savvy than in the past, so be real
  • Be yourself – people can connect when they get a peek behind the curtain. In social media this can mean putting a name or face; in other forms it can mean providing real students, real experiences and communicating in a conversational tone
  • Be accurate/ be timely – every one expects the right info and fast in social media. This should also be expected in other mediums, don’t let your websites, brochures, etc flounder into inaccurate dinosaurs, be sure you have a plan to create sustainable accurate communications in all mediums
  • Know your audience – you should understand the people you are trying to communicate to and the standards of the medium you are trying to communicate in
  • Add value – this has been the hardest lesson learned for most in social media. There are still those who provide no value for those who we are trying to communicate with. Is your brochure providing value? or is it simply checking something off a list? is it simply to toot your own horn or provide bureaucratic information of no value to the audience?

What other lessons can we learn from social media to make us become overall better communicators?

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Build YOUR institutions “right” web team

You now have your ducks in a row and are getting the resources you have desired. How do your build the right team? Get your mission and campus needs and it is easy.

In order to provide web leadership for campus you must have a solid mission and goal in mind that is provided from your campus leadership. You should also do a gap analysis of what is missing across campus so you can provide for missing skills or services. When you have these basics covered it is pretty easy to dictate the structure.

Disclosure: I was never really provided these basics in my current position so it was up to me to determine the need and mission. Because of this it took longer than it should have to iron out our core mission which we have since settled into. As you may guess politics played a part in this.

Mission / Role

Ideal team

Image from Tales from Redesignland http://redesignland.blogspot.com/

From here you need to determine your teams mission. Here are a few roles many web teams fill:

  • Initiative driven – these teams deal with high-profile sites examples include (Univ. homepage, brand campaign sites, capital campaign sites, virtual tours, etc)
  • Services driven – these teams tend to provide services to units across campus these could be services including but not limited to (web design, web development, editorial/ content strategy, system administration, cms implementation) for departments across campus
  • Leadership/ strategy driven – these teams tend to create policies, provide templates/ web standards, work on best practices/ governance, sit on and lead committees, provide campus wide communication about the state and direction of web, step back and look at the big numbers
  • Hybrid team – this is a team that will work across all the mentioned areas above, they tend to be the largest teams and have many roles and specialized team members

Team members

I will look at this in an ideal world where funding is not an issue and make some suggestions about team members I would suggest you think about.

Note some of these might represent more than one person in that role depending on need

  • Web designer – talent in web standards, graphic design, accessibility and usability
  • Web developer – talent would range from coding to basic sys administration, database administration and interface design
  • Content strategist – with skills in editorial, web writing, communications and information architecture
  • Project manager – ability to juggle all the teams projects and keep things on point as well as work with clients for the best outcomes, usually these are used for services driven teams or at times large initiative driven teams
  • CMS administrator – a person to lead and drive the CMS implementation across campus
  • Interactive web marketer – a person with a bit more of a marketing background not 100% from a technology background, many times the department leader fills this role, they tend to be involved in creating interactive initiatives
  • Support staff – these people provide support to all the moving parts of the web team, many times there are used on service driven teams
  • Others – here are some positions that may or maybe not always fall on the web team, but may be included based on your teams function sys admin, social media coordinator, photographer/ videographer

 Funding source

Many times the funding source or structure will directly dictate the types of services or function of your team.

  • Central funded – these teams tend to be more initiative and strategy driven, they are there to focus on the big picture and provide other units with the tools to be successful on their own, the centrally funded teams that do services tend to have oversight from a committee or leadership as to what projects are taken since they can’t expand to meet demand
  • Revenue generating – these are teams that need to make money to pay staff therefore most revenue funded teams tend to be services based teams that are not able to focus on the big picture since they, similar to lawyers have to focus on billable hours
  • Hybrid funding – similar to the hybrid team hybrid funding tends to lead to a team that serves many purposes

This is a big post that I have been wanting to write some time. I might need to revisit this a few more times to fully collect my thoughts. I plan to also write a follow-up about how to build your team from nothing.

I have probably left a few ideas on the table to that I will come back to later but what do you think I have missed? Do you disagree?

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Moving from an army of one to a team of many

It a hard transition to go from doing it all to breaking up responsibilities and relying on others to do things at the caliber you expect but it is necessary to be a successful leader or team member.

Thinking back about my transition over the last few years from being a person deep in the trenches to being a leader of a team has been a trying challenge; though one I have grown from immensely.

My background can be best explained as jack of all trades, I have been the army of one for almost all my career. If you fall into that category I highly recommend you check out Higher Ed Solo. It is a site that is near and dear to my heart since I lived that life for so many years. Having come from this role is part what makes to difficult to let go of things that you had to do in the past with no help from anyone.

Making a new job role for yourself

I tell people I feel like every year since I have started my new position I have created a new job for myself. I started my team from scratch and so when I first started I went to my wheel house and comfort zone of design and strategy. It was what I was used to and where I felt I could do the most “damage” in a good way. However, as our team grew I hired designers. At first I would micro manage and oversee the code but after a few months or so I realized I had to let go.

Year two I had to transition into the role of a manager or really more of a project manager, we had various projects across campus that our multi functional team had to carry out and it was my job to oversee them and their delivery. I then hired a web team assistant whole helped move forward a lot of the day-to-day functions. After some time the assistant grew into the role of a project manager. This PM handles almost all of the day-to-day project work with some minimal oversight and mentoring by me.

So it was yet again time for me to grow into a new role for year three. This was probably the most difficult transition for me, since it was the role I really had the least experience in. However, I have had more growth and more reward from this transition that probably any other in my professional career. From here and since this point I have become more than anything a strategist and a leader. I spend probably 50% of my time leading, 30% managing and 20% doing. This will shift from week to week but I find that is more or less my balance now a days. I tend to focus on things like policies, campus wide governance, web standards, serving on committees and developing new products to fill gaps on campus.

To continue my growth I have taken various approaches including: an on campus multi month leadership course, I did the HighEdWeb Leadership Academy (which I highly recommend if you are new or senior in your role as a campus web leader) and last but not least I have read lots of leadership books (these start to get a little repetitive with each authors spins after a while, if I had to read just one I would recommend The Contrarians Guide to Leadership. hat tip @markgr) I now look for any opportunities to provide leadership across campus whether or not directly under my purview or even related to web. In the end your just need to remain agile and open to change which will bring about the most personal success.

Find your faithful soldiers

In order to be successful as a leader or team member you have to trust others. You have to put faith in people that they will come through for you. When on a team you will be more successful when you make those around you more successful  So it is beneficial to help your team member do their best whether that means removing barriers or providing opportunities which challenge and engage people on the team.

From the role of a leader  you have to find your go-to people. The ones that you know, no matter what the issue or the challenge they will step up and deliver. The flip side of that is to work with and mentor the others to become that person. This is one of the big differences between a manager vs a leader. A leader motivates people where as a manager manages people. You also need to surround yourself with people smarter than yourself in areas that you are deficient. Some people can’t get over themselves, they can’t let people who work for them shine. I suggest you check out RebelPhD from Karlyn Borysenko if you are into the idea of deficient leaders and how people handle this.  An example for me, I am not a developer, I wish I had that background, I can BS and I know enough to hold a relevant and logical conversation but I cant do it myself. So I surround myself with talented developers who I will bring with me when I am unsure on things and trust their judgement.

In the end I have learned and grown more over the last few year that any other in my life. To many I might seem far more under the radar than I was previously in my professional career but I am doing this growth for myself. I suggest you look at those around you and look at how you can make them successful. Then, similar to karma it will pay you back.

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Crisis communications the unplanned scenarios

When running our emergency scenarios we many times focus on perfectly packaged events in which things all going as planned. This goes against the very idea of a crisis, things are not planned.

Here are a few scenarios or situations I think are worth looking into:

  • Immediate evacuation of all of campus – everyone including communications/ emergency management staff have to leave campus immediately
  • Key administrators gone – people with which things tend to be run by are not around (E.G. President, Provost, Director of Emergency Management, Director of Media Relations)
  • Operations Center unavailable – all the systems and solutions you had planned to use are no longer able to be put in play, can you go manual
  • Campus technology infrastructure goes down – servers, email, phone lines, etc
  • Others I didn’t think of

Please leave comments to scenarios I may not have thought of or how you would handle the above situations in the comments

Posted in Crisis | 2 Comments

CMS selection for YOUR institution

On all higher ed web listservs there is a monthly discussion that comes up about what CMS to select. My advice trust no one, myself included.

Content management system selection is a long, unsexy process but it is a process that you need to spend the time to do for yourself. A CMS needs to be the right choice for your campus and the culture of your campus. The question always asked is what CMS should I choose? The inevitable responses on the listserv are something along the lines of  ”I use [insert CMS name] have used it for four years now and are very [happy/unhappy] with this CMS”. Again, I would never listen to anything beyond basic recommendations as to ones to look at. This is like asking someone for what kind of car to get. There are many types of cars with features, options and sizes that fit everyone. Some people need a minivan, some needs a sports car. You would never get a car without kicking the tires based on someone else’s word with our a test drive so I suggest the same for you.

Here are a few examples of cultural fit to your CMS some campuses have decentralized vs centralized, do you plan to use the CMS to create more than one site, do you have people to support the application, do you need to support more than one programming language, etc.

Beyond these basic points you will start to realize that all CMS’s at the core more or less do the same thing. They all have similar features and according to sales people they all do everything you require. If possible you need to get a hands on demo with the system. Get not only your tech team but also some end users to interact with the CMS. Be sure that the system works with your campus workflows.

Get in the right mindset

You need to be sure to properly frame the CMS selection process. Be sure that people understand a CMS is a tool to facilitate it is not an army or workers/ content creators or a magic wand to fix your issues. This has become more and more important with the practice of content strategy. A content management system is not a content strategy. Also, be sure people get the scope of how you plan to use the CMS, is it mandatory? Is it open to anyone on campus? Who will provide support?

Dealing with the real issues

Be sure to remember a web site wont fix content, it wont make your site attractive  Just because someone did a great site in [insert CMS name] doesn’t mean your should use that CMS.

Work your process

If possible you should work a full project process in a CMS before purchase. Try to get a sandbox, create content, make templates, create roles, do some workflows and see how the system works with your team.

Here is a resource that you might find useful

[Results] Higher Ed CMS Usage Survey, 2011

Trust your own instincts

In closing, you need to find a CMS that works for you. Some of the things I recommend may take some time but considering the amount of time and sweat you will pour into this system you owe it to yourself to get one that will work for you not against you.

Posted in Governance, Strategy | 1 Comment

Social medias role during a crisis

Many times I think people look at social media as one of the mediums where you canned releases or text messages go.

I think this is a bad practice, social media needs more of a focus and more immediacy in an emergency situation. I think across the board we need to step back and evaluate each tool in the crisis communication toolbox for its own merits. For the purposes of this post I will focus on social media. Only 59% of universities with crisis communications policies address the use of social media for communications.  We many times focus on our institutions communications needs and not those of the user. This idea of user focused communications is even more important in a crisis situation which could mean lives.

I once had a person where I worked previously who told me when he was in the military they had a cork board in the mess hall where all their important messages were posted and we should expect the same from our students. “They should come where we post our message.” This story was given to me as a reason not to communicate via social media but I think it paints a pretty solid picture here.

Right place, right time

We need to have our message where our student, faculty and staff are and not the other way around. Assuming your university is active on social media and there is a certain amount of trust with your twitter and Facebook accounts there is an authenticity and an expectation that anything that happens will be addressed and quickly. Why would anything less be expected during a crisis.

We have a tendency to want to craft, craft and over craft our messages. Run with through the ranks but we know when it comes to the emergency scenarios we don’t have the luxury of time. I know most schools do drills but I think we need to do unplanned and time constrained drills and then see what mediums we can get our messages out on quickly. I think a lot of this is about setting a cultural tone on campus for how to deal with messaging. This culture needs to be set before the emergency as culture can not be created during a crisis.

Not only should be look to craft messages for social media but we also need to monitor social media in your emergency planning to get information and get updates on the situation that we might otherwise not be aware of.

There have been a few examples of when universities have had to rely solely on social media for communication recently. You can see a Fordham University that had issues do to Hurricane Sandy which took down their website and made them rely on twitter and Facebook as their only communication mechanism.

Here is a great infographic about social medias role in crisis communications.

Has your university discussed how to craft messages quickly for your social media presence  If not I suggest you start the discussion soon.

Posted in Crisis, Social Media | 3 Comments