Highlights from eduWeb Spring Showcase

From content strategy during a crisis to data analytics to the future of higher ed, the eduWeb Spring Showcase sessions offer not-to-be-missed insight that will shape higher education work long-term. Meet the speakers and sign up for live or pre-recorded sessions on the event website. Follow on Twitter: #EduWebShowcase

Here are highlights from the first day of the showcase:

What Will the Higher Education Industry Look Like in the Next 5, 10, or Even 20 Years?

Moderated by education marketing expert Seth Odell and featuring panelists Beau Brooks, Dr. Cherron Hoppes, and Dr. Adrian Haugabrook, this action-packed-panel dove into the future of higher ed.

Student needs have changed drastically over the past years, and universities have a hard time catching up. “We lost sight of being student-centric” Dr. Hoppes said – it is crucial to fully understand who our learners are, to really listen and respond to their needs and expectations. The coming student generation wants to be more involved, have individualized classes and shape their own experience. 

The pressure is on! Universities will have to adjust conventional degree models with flexible formats like boot camps, stacked credentials and shorter certification courses to stay relevant. Innovation is hindered by budget constraints and employer demands, who often still require traditional degrees. To stay relevant, learning institutions have to return to their core, define their program strengths and highlight what they do exceptionally well. We need world-class instructional design to deliver student-centric quality experiences that are relevant to the job market. Private/public partnerships can provide new ideas and opportunities.

The university’s marketing department is essential in this development: proactive staff can give the leadership a sense of what’s happening outside the institution, and see how learners respond to messaging and experimental programs:  Seth Odell concludes the session saying “It has never been harder to be a marketer in higher ed, but it has never been more valuable either. We have never been more needed.”

How to Build and Grow a UX Community on Campus

With the goal of breaking down UX silos at the University of Arizona, Rebecca Blakiston, User Experience Librarian and Strategist, introduces the UX@UA grassroots learning community. Grown from an effort to bring together students, staff, faculty and community experts, monthly in-person meetups were initiated (now virtual, of course). Here, participants can learn about UX topics and strategize user research together. The cross-departmental team of organizers quickly built a community of more than 380 people who meet, discuss topics on Slack and consult at the university. Free tools like the UX cookbook are shared on the website, and users can sign up as study participants. Since March 2020, virtual events allow even more participants and speakers to join UX@UA, now the largest community for user experience learners and professionals in Southern Arizona.

How to Position Your Brand When the Media Spotlight Turns to You

Since Kamala Harris’ was announced to run as the 49th Vice President of the United States, the media attention also turned onto her alma mater, Howard University. Alonda Thomas, Director of Public Relations, shares how the university seized the historical opportunity to highlight Vice President Harris’ time at Howard and feature former and current students’ stories and experiences.

Thanks to her offices’ intensive research and preparation, international media was able to share personal interviews with Harris’ alumnae sorority sisters and University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick. Stories about the Showtime Marching Band who escorted Kamala Harris and Joe Biden in the 59th Inauguration parade captivated the audience. In January 2021 alone, 140+ interviews totaled in 763+ million media impressions. The popular social media campaign #HU2WH yielded over 4.1 million impressions, and reached more than 1.5 million individuals.

Showcase Session and eduSnack Talks

How Well Do You Know Your Audience? Modeling Inclusive Language

Dr. Alan Mueller, Assistant Dean of Students at Salem College gives a fantastic overview of how diverse audiences receive messaging through their varied lenses. He delves into clear definitions of race and gender as examples of the social constructs that influence the way we communicate. Racism and genderism can show up in language, symbols and messaging and can deeply affect the relationship between the university telling a story and the audience receiving the same story. Always be aware of intersectionality when you communicate, and adjust your style guides which are often built around Euro-centric communication norms and still considered “correct” although they can be inherently harmful. Ableist terms like “standing meetings” or talking about what people will “see” or “hear” can alienate people with varying abilities. Rethink your language to be truly inclusive and model the ability to constantly learn.

Up next was eduSnacks, three 8-minute “bite-sized” presentations full of nutritious, actionable takeaways. This new format allows attendees to get a quick overview of relevant tools and strategies with immediate takeaways.

  • Optimizing Your Email Campaigns for Conversion (Daniela Hyuh)
      • Collect accurate data, segment your email marketing list, make your emails more impactful with A/B testing
  • An Eight-Minute Data Dashboard (Kris Hardy)
      • Comprehensive overview of Google Data Studio
  • Sparking Joy with Adobe: A Brief Overview of Adobe Spark Video (Mary McLeod)
    • Overview of Adobe Spark Video for easy design of video content

Using Your Analytics to Guide Your Web Structure

Aaron Baker, Associate Director for Content Strategy, Harvard University describes the research and outcomes in building the new structure for harvard.edu.

OHO Interactive was hired to help with the initial research phase and determined the main goal of the redesign to establish an effective navigation, refocusing it around engaging storytelling with inspiring and inclusive messaging. To break down silos across university departments, the marketing team aimed for a consistent collaborative approach to content creation. 

With the help of Modern Tribe, a new design system and WordPress theme was built, aiming to be a model of accessibility with an intuitive navigation that enables effective wayfinding. Then it was up to the content strategy team to determine the right use of data: “Data is never going to suggest trying something new, your data just shows what you already have.” Baker says. The tension between quantitative data and qualitative insights exemplified the disconnect between user expectations and current content. Looking at data from user flows, event tracking (scroll depth, multimedia interaction, click paths), and on-site search, the team used analytics to see how users react to new design strategies. Future testing is part of the strategy to ensure continuous improvement.

PADS: Higher Ed’s Starter Guide to Measuring Recruitment Marketing Right

Corynn Myers, Strategist at Convince & Convert opens her presentation with her quote “I get unreasonably mad when looking at social reports with no context for the data or metrics that tie into business goals.” Learning from her previous industry position, she shows how to effectively determine and measure deliverables in the prospective student journey.

He higher ed acronym PADS (People, Agreement, Data, Strategy) smoothes the way of understanding how to break down silos and own the enrollment funnel.

  • People: Create an anti-silo! Admissions, marketing and university decision makers should join the same table to define a common goal.
  • Agreement: It is vital to agree on what success looks like, and determine SMART goals, objectives and KPIs together, as well as hash out the (often complicated) student journey, outline responsibilities and reporting deliverables along the way. This includes a shared terminology, the kind of reports, ways of delivery and how often they are shared.
  • Data: Historical data is essential to understanding the student experience as well as gut-checking KPIs and goals. Teams should openly share data with each other and determine benchmarks to fully understand budget needs.
  • Strategy: Reporting deliverables do not measure themselves, so at the beginning of each campaign, a comprehensive tracking and measuring strategy has to be implemented.

Highlights from Day 2:

Onboarding early-career team members in a fast-paced environment

Emily Gaylord communications and engagement director at the Center for EcoTechnology, has hired several young professionals recently, and outlined her onboarding and training process for integrating that talent to a high-functioning team. 

  • Gaylord crafted a program for a two-week orientation that is held in person or remote, during which the fellows meet the marketing team, receive key software training, establish their professional goals, iron out HR logistics and learn all about the voice, tone and brand guidelines for social media, blog content and video production.  
  • New student employees build sample posts for social media, proof blog content by checking for correct use of branding and editorial directions, and create and deliver a presentation on a topic of their choice to the marketing staff.
  • Whenever there is “downtime”, they follow a task list they can work on when there is nothing else to do: audit the website, watch existing videos, follow relevant social media channels, examine the org chart, learn office basics by sharing their calendars, scheduling meetings, setting up their email signature or quizzing each other about what they have learnt.
  • The learning doesn’t stop after the orientation: professional development is highly encouraged! Consistent education gives fellows a foundation to build soft and hard skills, network successfully and gain experiences that help them thrive.

Channel Your Inner Time Lord: Regenerate Your Storytelling Potential

Ravi Jain, senior associate director of digital media and web development at Boston College, is fascinated by the transactional communication between storyteller and recipient. 

  • That neural connection is made when listening, processing and reacting. In fact, brain patterns synch between narrator and listener, creating a unique connection between individuals.
  • What often happens in higher ed however, is what Jain calls the “Groundhog Day experience,” in which it’s the same stories about commencement, move-in day, finals week, graduation, etc. that are being told over and over again. 
  • Rather than telling the same old tale in the same old format, Jain advocates for experimentation: finding new, creative and exploratory ways to share stories across various platforms.
  • To be successful, you don’t just have to know your demographic and how the audience accesses your content, but know your organization, be secure with who your university is and what it stands for. 
  • Jain shows how an organization can share authentic, charming stories that share legitimate information in new, more effective ways. 
  • Examples include “Fresh Takes”, instagram stories featuring unedited student interviews, TikTok scavenger hunts, 360 videos that show spaces and allow viewers to change angles and shape their own experience. He encourages us to start trying new things and lean more fully into creative storytelling that creates engaging stories. 

Why storytelling matters more than ever

The value of higher ed has declined in public perception. “This is our problem,” says Andy Fuller, director of strategic content at the University of Notre Dame. That’s why it’s imperative that higher ed marcomm demonstrate the importance of higher ed. The secret sauce to being effective is good storytelling:

  • Be intentional and interesting, building stories with the classic elements of characters (i.e.faculty, staff, students), setting (the campus, engineering lab, etc.), conflict (real-world context), plot (what problem are we trying to solve through knowledge) and resolution (which actions have been taken). 
  • To make the most of it, content should be produced once and used in multiple formats.
  • However, Fuller says, “a news release, Twitter thread, campus beauty montage, letters from the Dean, Mission Statement will never be storytelling,” because these almost always fail to evoke emotion. 
  • To find that emotion, identify work that matters, topics that give the audience an understanding of the university they didn’t have before, layered with storytelling elements: “We inform with facts, we influence with emotion.”

Create content that comes alive

Sydnee Logan, senior social media & digital content specialist at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing presented a jam-packed session full of practical tips for creating the best content. 

  • First and foremost, as many of us are teams of one, we have to set and manage realistic expectations. 
  • Think ahead and schedule a calendar of promotional content across the year like choosing awareness days that align with organizational priorities and community interest; love it or hate it, Canva allows you to quickly create templates and professional designs.
  • Find stories by following top-performing themes on social media and around the web, tell the stories that you’ve heard about that are still unwritten and build meaningful relationships with others. 
  • Embrace user-generated content: Reach out to schools or individuals for photo submissions or accomplishments, try social media takeovers, submit blog posts or even consider giving them a series. If you find something people are excited about, they will participate and share their pride in your organization or program.

The most “aligned” content features a good story, resonates with the community and highlights a campus program or initiative like the article Advice from Black Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners that Syndee published during Black History Month.