Happy Days for Content at HighEdWeb 2012

Bronze Fonz

We’re pleased to report that content has not jumped the shark!

Another HighEdWeb conference is in the books. This year’s event, hosted in beautiful Milwaukee, Wisc., featured cheese curds, beer, the Bronze Fonz, bratwursts—and of course, tons of incredible insights into making our university’s online experiences awesome.

As for content, there were two compelling themes that ran through the various sessions, and I’m going to get to my recap faster than you can say “Laverne and Shirley.

Creating a Culture of Content Sharing

It was heartening to see so many sessions touch on the importance of user-generated content and strategies for managing such efforts successfully.

In her best-of-track session, Elizabethtown College’s Donna Talarico talked about the value in creating a culture of content sharing. Talarico and her team solicited stories of alums who found love on campus, used new employee orientation and new student acceptance packets as an opportunity to emphasize the importance of sharing stories, and created a team of student social media ambassadors to promote and cover events.

How about highly concentrated content sharing? John Lucas and Nick Weaver from the University of Wisconsin-Madison shared the story of #UWRightNow, a 24-hour real-time multimedia editorial project held on April 18, 2012 that depicted a day in the life of campus through 1,000 pieces of staff and crowd-sourced content. While there have been several projects like this in higher ed over the past year or so, this one was particularly meaningful to the UW community after a turbulent year rife with labor and leadership issues.

To counter that turbulence, the project emphasized the people that make a college campus a vibrant, rewarding place to be and the value of their authentic content. Ultimately, said Lucas and Weaver, this kind of engagement will help create relationships for life with people who are then motivated to act on your behalf in the real world. (Stay tuned for more from Lucas on #UWRightNow and other projects in an upcoming Meet Content post!)

You need to make it “stupidly easy” for your audience to know who you are and contact you with stories and feedback.

In their talk about efficient social media management, Oberlin College’s Ma’ayan Plaut and mStoner’s Mallory Wood discussed the importance of building a network that will result in stories being fed directly to you. To acquire that network, you need to make it “stupidly easy” for your audience to know who you are and to get in touch with you. This is exactly what Gabriel Nagmay did at Portland Community College in soliciting content from members of the campus community in connection with the college’s 50th anniversary. Nagmay emphasized the importance of frictionless access points—don’t let your interface get in the way of the user’s desire to share content.

You can even consider news comments as user-generated content, said Nagmay. He embraces the policy of “leave the good and the bad, but get rid of the ugly,” managing comments with a “post first, moderate later” approach. As Nagmay put it, conversations are already happening about our schools, so why not bring them into our site?

Magen Tracy from Berklee College of Music, who discussed approaches to sourcing student content, gave a shout out to the Boston University Dean of Students office, which encouraged students traveling to campus to share photos of their journey with the #ProudToBU hashtag and compiled them on the Terrier Touchdown Tumblr. I also really liked the way she described Berklee’s student blogs— “a first-person complement to berklee.edu, where you go for the real story.”

It’s All About Relationships

The late Clash frontman Joe Strummer once said, “Without people, you’re nothing.” The importance of relationships—both internal and external—got its due in a slew of sessions at HighEdWeb.

It takes time to build trust, but one successful content partnership can set an example for others.

In a session that won best-of-conference, University of Minnesota’s Amanda Costello discussed strategies for working on web content projects with faculty. It may take time to get past previous negative experiences and build the trust that leads to a productive relationship. But one successful content partnership, says Costello, can create demand among others who desire similar success. Emphasizing that you’re all on the same team, and that you can’t do your job without their information and expertise, can go a long way.

So can creating opportunities for face time, said Costello—office hours, group and solo meetings, you name it. But once you have those opportunities, you need to make the most of them, and more often than not that means being an effective listener—to both what is being said and what is not being said. Costello recommended the social strategy worksheets used by the Minnesota Historical Society as a valuable resource to help faculty understand website goals.

Plaut and Wood echoed the value of being accessible and transparent about who you are, what you do, and how others can be a part of it. Plaut regularly holds social media office hours at Oberlin, publicizing her availability and setting up shop with a bucket of candy. That’s a pretty sweet invitation!

Jamie Oberdick of Penn State University said in his session on communicating successes with learning technologies through stories that one of our most valuable tools in seeking great content is a good pair of shoes—we need to get out of our offices and talk to people around campus.

We can begin developing relationships with students through our content channels before they even arrive on campus.

We can also build meaningful relationships with our audiences through content. In her session on social media management, Providence College’s Alana Riley talked about developing a relationship via Twitter and Instagram with a parent driving her daughter to campus. Riley asserted that we can begin developing relationships with students before they even arrive on campus and carry them forward as those students become alumni.

Berklee College of Music’s Tracy said we can also develop trust by allowing unofficial content platforms that support your university brand to thrive, rather than trying to co-opt, shutter or compete against them. One example is the Berklee Compliments Facebook account, which anonymously publishes compliments that students submit about their classmates.

An Explosive Keynote

I would be remiss if I did not give proper acknowledgment to this year’s outstanding keynote talk by “Mythbusters” co-host Adam Savage, who touched on several themes relevant to doing creative work. Some particularly resonant points, in brief:

  • We need to shut out our own noise in order to tackle the problem at hand.
  • It is imperative to find our own voice and bring it to bear in our discipline.
  • Failure is inevitable—and necessary for progress.
  • We must never stop learning. And the more we learn, the more we’ll find we have yet to learn.
  • Only by acknowledging our weaknesses and wrongs can we have effective working relationships.
  • We will always have to work with people we don’t like, but productivity is based on mutual respect.

What were your favorite HighEdWeb takeaways?

Photo by lorigonza / Flickr Creative Commons

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About Georgy Cohen

Georgy Cohen is director of online content at Suffolk University and principal of Crosstown Digital Communications LLC, a consultancy focused on helping institutions of higher education tell their stories on the web. From 2004 to 2011, she worked at Tufts University, where she led the university’s forays into multimedia, social media and online news. Keep going »

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