Many of us work at institutions without top-down content strategy and may be “lone rangers” when it comes to content at our respective schools or departments. It can even be lonely at the top (a.k.a. central administration) if we’re not in the loop with others around campus. But if we look beyond our own dusty saloons, we’ll see many folks just like us, trying to bring the rule of law to the wild west of content.
The challenge—and opportunity—lies in bringing all of these lone rangers together to learn, share information, enhance the quality and better ensure the consistency of content across our institution. The key to this is creating an effective campus content group.
Why Do We Need Campus Content Groups?
Two heads are better than one, right? Then imagine what a network of a few dozen content contributors from the same university can accomplish?
Whether it’s providing case studies, pooling resources, sharing templates, brainstorming ideas, or simply being able to talk to someone who understands the nature of what you do, the value of a community of like-minded practitioners—particularly one that resides on your very campus—cannot be understated.
In the wrap-up from our “Content First” episode of Higher Ed Live, we talked about the value of content groups for finding strength in numbers, making those endless desert landscapes a bit easier to bear. My experience with the Social Media Working Group at Tufts has shown this to me in spades, and I’m eager to transfer some of these lessons to our own editorial group.
Here’s one poker match where it pays to show your cards.
Campus Content Group Benefits
The most precious resource we all have is information, and there is without a doubt some piece of information we have that would be a boon to someone else. Information sharing is one of the most beneficial outcomes of a content network, whether it’s an editorial calendar or the details of an upcoming special event. You can use a wiki, a Google Doc, a Facebook group, an e-list—whatever tool works the best for getting people to share their info. Imagine the ideal: through everyone’s regularly shared information, you could create a university-wide editorial calendar. Ahhh.. a girl can dream.
Organizing a campus content group is a great opportunity to begin an accounting of campus content channels, whether it’s a list of newsletters, a spreadsheet of social media accounts and their managers or a chart detailing the different video production resources available on campus. Sometimes, simply having a list of what’s out there can help spark content relationships.
A campus content group can be a great crucible for collaboration. While every department and center has different events and priorities, there are many milestones we all share—the beginning of the school year, commencement, reunions, executive leadership transitions, you name it. We also (hopefully) are all working from the same core brand messages. This is a lot of common ground to start from. Can we strengthen our coverage around these events and themes by learning, or even partnering, with others?
Professional (and personal) development
A content group can take advantage of professional development opportunities such as webinars, online conferences or brown bag lunches with content experts, saving money and time for all involved. (Chas Grundy wrote a great post in March about the value in shared professional development opportunities for building a community of campus communicators.) Heck, maybe once a semester, just go out to lunch and hang out, no content talk required. Well, maybe a just a little.
Good personal relationships can breed more effective collaborations. After all, where would the Lone Ranger be without Tonto?
Making it Work
Every editorial group will have different goals depending on the university, available resources (human and otherwise), and stakeholder priorities. Do you need to coordinate campus-wide editorial content to feed a central news channel? Are you sourcing content to link to on the homepage or via social media? Are you trying to create a shared process and style around website content? Do content creators and contributors around your campus simply need a group to address shared challenges and resources?
Whatever the goals are, structure the group in a way that supports them. (And structure the meetings in a way that supports the goals of the group. Agendas rule!) Keep the focus on content. This is not the forum to complain about CMS functionality, debate digital asset management systems or inquire about a campus-wide video hosting service.
Don’t call it a committee
The word “committee” is hopelessly linked to time-sucking endeavors and inaction. So, pick another word. Call it a content group, an editorial working group, a content cabal, whatever you have to that gets people to realize that this is not a waste of time, but rather a means to achieve real progress. Also, as we are fond of saying around here, content is process, not a project. But if you are already convening content people from around campus for a project, extend that beyond the project launch and make it an ongoing group.
Right now is the perfect time to get the cavalry together—or together for the first time, as it were. Most campuses are relatively quiet in August, but people are thinking about the fall. Who’s out there? Set up a preliminary meeting (spring for some fruit salad—it’s warm out, still) and figure out what people’s needs are.
Make it their meeting
A campus content group should not be about making your job easier; it should be about improving content university-wide. Thus, your job is to guide and facilitate, not to own. Find opportunities to let people weigh in on top-level topics, such as style guides or branding guidelines, or even collaboratively develop such documents. If there is a common need for, say, page templates or editorial workflows, let the group solve the problem together. If everyone is invested, everyone benefits. (For some other good ideas, I recommend checking out Susan T. Evans’ recent blog post about managing effective committees.)
Creating a campus content group could be the first step toward taming that wild west of content and building a real “content first” culture at your institution. At the very least, it helps people feel less alone and more empowered in the work they do, elevating the quality of your web presence to boot. And you know what? That’s a pretty darned good outcome for the price of some fruit salad. So saddle up, partner, and happy trails.
Do you have a campus content group? How does yours work? If not, what’s the obstacle in creating one?
Kate Johnson says
We use Yammer as an online collaboration space. It’s been relatively successful. So far we’re probably using it more for pushing out information than getting engaged conversation, but we’re working on that and gradually getting more people to start talking and asking questions. We also have some meetings on various Web topics.
The tough part about getting people engaged in these conversations is that, for pretty much every other department on campus, the person working on content does it as a small fraction of their job, and it’s hard to ask them to one more thing on their plate. So part of my job is trying to recruit people into the conversation and show them why it’s worth it.
One of the most successful things I’ve done is have some one-on-one coffee meetings with people around campus. Once we chat a little and they relax, I can sell them on how very wonderful Web content is and why they should join our groups. Now I just have to schedule individual coffee meetings with everyone on campus…
Georgy Cohen says
Hey Kate – thanks for the great comment! I’ve good things about Yammer w/r/t internal communications, but I was under the idea it was just IM. More to it than that, it seems?
Yeah, even the folks we have who are dedicated communications people are often balancing web content against media relations, marketing campaigns and other tasks. But the coffee approach is great, building investment one-by-one. Honestly, I think half of campus content strategy is having coffee with people :-)
Talmadge Boyd says
Actually, I’m working with some schools where we’re doing something similar. In order to take advantage of the distributed model, we’re making sure that every person working on the front lines of content has a ‘hive’ of support. That is, they don’t have to be an expert on everything, but they can rely on resources from other members of the teams on campus to help them with ideas, content (and general support).
Kate Johnson says
That’s an interesting way to think of it. And that way I could tell people to surrender and join the hive mind. :)