University website governance straddles marketing and information technology. In some cases, a third-party resource such as a CMS vendor enters the mix. Since the web is the largest marketing tool a university has, website ownership is critical to enrollment management.
Keeping a consistent brand, voice, tone and overall content strategy on the site while simultaneously tending to the technical aspect can challenge even a large university’s structures.
Who should own an institution’s website? IT or marketing?
Zoe Jacobs, Web Content Manager at DePaul University, joined us on the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk about the pros and the cons of different website governance and ownership scenarios in higher education focusing on the collaboration between IT and marketing.
Critical Elements of Website Governance when Working with a CMS
Balance is crucial. According to Zoe, subject matter experts and stakeholders at the college and department levels can be power users. They understand their programs and the details of what the institution offers at a granular level that marketing doesn’t.
“We have a sort of hierarchical system,” she says, “where we have power users in each area who approve content and oversee a larger pool of editors as a way to handle this.”
That strategy means creating strong and honest relationships between the online marketing team and the academic leaders and professors in the university’s departments.
Department-level faculty and staff may believe they know all there is to know about their field and how to express it to students. While that could be true, they often don’t have the expertise to communicate online – especially in mobile-based environments – with prospective students who have notoriously short attention spans.
Zoe’s solution at DePaul was to create a tiered approval structure, which the school’s self-designed CMS allows. She says it is a great way to keep a consistent voice and to reign in overwritten content without micromanaging everything.
“We’re a really large institution,” Zoe said, “so it would be nearly impossible for us to oversee every single bit of content that needs to be approved across all of our properties.”
That’s why they rely on power users at the department level to sift through the material from subject matter experts who are not well versed in online content marketing.
Web Governance Based on the Talent You Have in Place
A tiered system make sense if your university’s faculty members and program directors are excellent writers with an enrollment mindset. If a single department or an entire small college lacks that resource, is it important to create a governance system that has flexibility based on the talents that you find within departments.
In Zoe’s dream world, DePaul would have a standardized evergreen governance model, but instead, like most universities, DePaul relies on a custom designed approach. When several employees turn over, customer models can create sustainability problems. But being flexible and able to adjust to the influx and egress of personalities and skill sets is critical to making any realistic governance model work.
As Zoe puts it, “We implement solutions that work across the enterprise…rather than those piecemeal solutions because we’ve seen the value in them.”
It helps by giving the institution a fail safe or backup when job descriptions change or people leave. That’s why it’s also important to have a process in place to onboard new power users.
What Works in Mixed Model Website Governance
IT and the power users from each department each have their unique roles, but marketing creates and designs the content. “We serve as the central knowledge base of experts for web content,” Zoe said. “We own the information architecture and site structure for all of our sites, which is something that’s built into our CMS.”
The web editing team of each unit includes content creators and site editors who check in with the Super Users who have the role of overseeing, editing and approving content before new content or edits go live. When they have questions or need help with strategy, they can come to the university web marketing team for help and advice.
At DePaul, the marketing department writes and owns the content, but it partners closely with the colleges and departments to gain the right information about the programs, organize, and structure it in an enrollment-directed way. This collaborative style works when everyone everyone is doing the part they know the most about.
“Anything outside of those program pages,” Zoe said, “we’re allowing the department or the college to own anything that’s non recruitment focused.”
Web Governance Pitfalls to Avoid
Zoe ticks off a few suggests: You can’t establish governance out of nowhere. You’ve got to systematize things. Timing is really important.
“Getting buy-in from stakeholders, subject matter experts, and making sure that when you’re establishing governance it’s not police officer vs. civilian,” Zoe added. “It’s a collaborative effort and should be transparent.”
If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.