Last month, we opened up our inaugural survey looking at content strategy in higher education. The goal of the survey was to gauge exactly how content strategy is practiced in higher ed. Thanks to 130 of you, we have a lot of information to help tell that story.
Here, we present the results from the survey, with some commentary of our own—but we’d love to hear your thoughts and follow-up questions in the comments.
Thank you again to those who took the time to complete the survey. We hope that the results are both interesting and instructive.
|In a central / university-wide capacity||53%|
|Within a school / college||15%|
|Within an academic department||5%|
|Doctorate / masters-granting institution||60%|
|Two-year college (community / junior college)||7%|
|For-profit secondary school||2%|
|Less than 1,000 students||4%|
|Between 1,000 and 5,000 students||23%|
|Between 5,000 and 15,000 students||22%|
|Between 15,000 and 30,000 students||21%|
|More than 30,000 students||31%|
Two-thirds of the respondents are from private institutions, with half working in a university-wide capacity. Among the “Other” responses for where people work within their institution, it was interesting to note that three work for a research program or foundation.
Only 7 percent of respondents report working at a community or junior college. It would be great to see more people in a content strategy role at these types of institutions, since two-year schools serve an important demographic and have just as much content to wrangle (if not more) as four-year institutions.
|Programming / web development||37%|
A quarter of respondents report a background in marketing, not surprisingly. Among the more notable responses for “Other” were psychology, arts administration, academic administration, creative writing, business administration, studio art, sociology, and nonprofit management. We are a diverse bunch.
A third of respondents are relatively new to this game, with just 1 to 3 years of experience working with content in higher ed. A fifth have been at it for a decade or more. What to make of these results? Is responsibility for the web generally handed to younger, newer staff?
|Email newsletters / marketing||45%|
|Photography and / or video||35%|
|News / public relations||29%|
|All of the above||18%|
In responding “Other,” three respondents noted responsibilities for print products. It’d be hard to ask this question, but I’d be curious to know how many people have influence in the development of print products. After all, our communications should be aligned across platforms, digital or print.
|My title includes some form of the term “content strategist” and that constitutes the bulk of my work||12%|
|My title is not “content strategist,” but my job description reflects content strategy responsibilities||49%|
|Neither my job title nor my job description reflect content strategy, but content strategy is still the focus of my work||32%|
|My title includes some form of the term “content strategist,” but I’m not able to focus on content strategy work||7%|
Half of the respondents are not “content strategists” by title, though they are by job description — this is not entirely surprising. And just 12 percent of respondents are content strategists in both title and role, but as we blogged last week, this number is growing.
Interestingly, 7 percent of respondents are content strategists by title, but are unable to focus on that work. What is the reason for this? Are people hiring content strategists but not providing the support and space for them to do that work?
|Marketing / communications||54%|
|A dedicated web communications team||24%|
|We outsource this work (vendor, agency, or consultant)||2%|
|We are not practicing content strategy||8%|
Surprisingly, only 2 percent of respondents say they outsource content strategy work — perhaps owing to low budgets overall, or just for external content strategy support.
Confidential to the 8 percent of respondents not practicing content strategy: It’s okay. You can start small. Any change is still a change for the better. You can do it.
|Graphic designer (print)||16%|
|Web developer / programmer||26%|
|PR / media relations||22%|
|News writer / editor||35%|
|Magazine writer / editor||18%|
|Executive (dean, vice president, etc.)||0%|
|SEO / SERP||41%|
|Content creator / producer||67%|
|Administrative (office manager, program coordinator, etc.)||17%|
Most respondents identify as a content strategist, with the next three most popular roles being content creator, marketer, and copywriter. But as expected, most people wear multiple hats. Here is how one person answered this question:
Content strategist, Graphic designer (print), Copywriter, Marketer, Videographer, Photographer, PR / media relations, News writer / editor, Magazine writer / editor, Director, Project manager, Content creator / producer, Creative services, Art director
And this sort of response was not uncommon. Amidst juggling all of these roles, it can be hard to find the time to focus on even a few processes that will help wrangle content.
|Enthusiastic and committed||17%|
|Some interest, but not committed||55%|
|Some skepticism, but not outright dismissal||8%|
|Negative or dismissive||2%|
For more than half of the respondents, there is interest in content strategy, but no ongoing commitment to its practice. Thankfully, only a handful of people reported a negative attitude, though I’d be mighty curious as to the reason why that attitude exists.
Fewer than a fifth are enthusiastic and committed, with about a quarter indifferent or skeptical. There’s still a lot of work to do. Selling content strategy is a challenging, ongoing process — but a necessary one.
|Limited staff resources||35%|
|Lack of support from senior leadership||15%|
|Limited content strategy expertise||21%|
|Lack of collaboration / communication among peers||26%|
Why no commitment to content strategy for more than half of the respondents? For about a third, it’s a staffing issue, though the other reasons aren’t far behind.
I thought it was interesting that a quarter of respondents cite lack of collaboration and communication as the top challenge. In one sense, that’s good, because it shows an understanding that people and relationships are key to an effective content strategy. On the other hand, it shows we have a long way to go in building those relationships. Perhaps initiating a campus content group could help bring people together, or improving your own relationships with some tips from improv comedy.
|Yes, we regularly offer training sessions||20%|
|Yes, we organize training sessions when we upgrade/change CMSes, update guidelines, or make some other change||25%|
|Yes, we provide training when asked||24%|
Frankly, this shocked me. 30 percent of respondents report no training whatsoever being offered to content contributors. If you’re concerned about the quality of content on your website, or users report problems, frequently, this may be why. The folks with the keys to the car don’t know how to drive. As Rick put it in his post on training and content governance:
If you’ve ever blamed content contributors for bad content when you haven’t provided them with the tools and training to do their work effectively, I’ve got some tough love for you: It’s not their fault the content is bad — it’s yours.
|Development of communications goals||65%|
|Content templates / page tables||59%|
|Content “how-to” guides||35%|
This was kind of a trick question. About two-thirds of respondents said that they establish communication goals as part of their content strategy work, but the fact is that developing these goals helps lay the foundation for all other work, from audits to user testing to analytics. While two-thirds is admirable, there’s room for improvement.
There were a few other results that were concerning. Just over half use editorial calendars or perform content audits, fundamental tools for planning or understanding content. Only a quarter have a campus content group, and just over a third offer or utilize content guides. That could be a barrier to adoption or understanding of content strategy within an institution.
|Yes, within my unit (central, college, school, department, division, etc.)||11%|
|Yes, as part of the university’s centrally managed content strategy||8%|
|No, it’s not a priority||29%|
|No, but we’re working on it||52%|
Only a fifth of respondents report having a content governance plan in place. Content governance is really just a five dollar word for the collection of roles, tools, and processes you have in place to manage and make sense of your content. It may be that various roles, tools, and processes are in place, but in an uncoordinated manner. Consult our checklist to see just where you are with regard to content governance.
|Analytics are regularly evaluated to inform content decisions||41%|
|Analytics are regularly reviewed, but they do not inform content decisions||45%|
|We do not review our site analytics||11%|
|We do not have site analytics set up on our website||3%|
To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by this result. Forty-two percent of respondents use analytics to inform content decisions! Bravo! Just over the same amount are looking at their analytics, but not making the connection to future content. We want to see that number decrease! Here’s a framework for making it happen.
|Content goals and needs||34%|
|Previous history with vendor||19%|
|Selected at random||4%|
|We don’t use a CMS||15%|
Another pleasant surprise: A third of respondents selected their CMS based on content goals and needs. To be fair, of the quarter that selected “RFP process,” content goals and needs could have conceivably (hopefully) been baked into those RFPs, so let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. More than half!
One-fifth picked a CMS based on a previous relationship with a vendor. Make sure that, regardless of your history with a particular business, they are well versed in best practices for web publishing and production. History means nothing if the resultant user experience is poor.
We hope this information leads to some reflection within higher ed on content strategy and its practitioners. This is all still fresh territory, and we need information to help us better understand how to move forward.
What’s your take on these results? What should we ask (or ask differently) next time?