Todd Barber – University of Tennessee Health Science Center
Islands happen. No matter what department you’re in, or how big your campus is, you often start out with natural gaps between groups of people…especially IT and content creators. And it’s not always easy to transcend the cravasse.
How do you do it? Todd Barber says you start with common ground: Align web strategy with university strategy to keep you on track.
He and his web team crafted a way of telling their story to content contributors in a way that will make sense to anyone, regardless of technical ability. Once IT and content contributors are speaking the same language, they can start to move forward on making their web presence better. After all, said Todd, “Content that is stale and outdated is worse than having no content at all.”
What do content contributors need? “You need to be empowered to change content when you need to. You need to be trained and retrained so it sticks. You need to be supported by the IT team. And you need to be reminded that content is king,” said Todd. “It’s the most important thing that’s going on, and our prospective students can see straight through the fluff.”
Likewise, web teams need to be able to retrain themselves to keep up with the rapid pace of change–and when they empower content teams to learn about web best practice, they have the breathing room to do so.
“We have to make what we’re doing make sense to you, and not just the nerds,” he said.
Building the Bridge
But this strategy doesn’t occur naturally. There’s a gap between the web and content islands. Todd’s strategy really became a bridge between those two areas.
His bridge starts with four pillars:
Emerging web technology. Yes, content is king. But the king needs a kingdom, and technology builds the kingdom. If you don’t have a server, the internet, a CMS, all your words stay on paper.
There are three main components of managing these technologies:
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use new development tools. Avoid doing things from scratch. Todd’s CMS does a really good job with that–can use assets and snippets to allow people to reuse content so it doesn’t have different meanings all over the place. Todd uses Grommet, Gulf, and Foundation, among others, to facilitate this process.
- Follow the leaders. “We need to know when to drop technology and when to adopt new technology,” he said. Higher ed moves at the “speed of a slow glacier,” so we could be looking outside the industry for inspiration on emerging technologies.
- Stay flexible. “We have to play the field and have an exit strategy. Whenever we evaluate technology, we have to make sure it’s easy enough to move out of the tool and move on to something else,” he said.
Web architecture. Websites should be consumable–not just for people, but for other servers and devices, accommodating the Internet of Things. Sites also have to be portable, able to point to multiple other servers. Web teams should also be able to move portions of the site around and ensure that content can be consistently named, located, and translate well from page to page.
Web Content. Content contributors need to make sure they adhere to plagiarism and copyright standards. “Google Images will get you sued, will get you copyright infringement letters–it is not your friend,” said Todd. They also need to follow SEO practices–good titles, good headings, and (wait for it) no “click here.” Content needs to be written at about a 6th grade level. The Hemingway app will evaluate your text to show whether it’s an appropriate level. If you can write or code it simply, do so!
Web design. Content contributors need to be aware that what they create should align with an intuitive user experience. When they have leeway to modify elements, a harmonious color palette–most pre-programmed, but good to know for special events. Typography should be legible and readable. And we want to make sure sections of our design can move from one part of the site to the other.
On top of those pillars, Todd outlined three “suspension” items for the bridge between communications and IT:
Accessibility. “We want to tell our campus that accessibility is important,” he said. Everyone who comes to our website should be able to get what they need.
Usability. We need lean, simple, learnable, repeatable content. “The more usable our content is, the more effective our websites are,” he said. When you’re creating content, you need to keep usability and accessibility in mind. Let’s say it again: Keep it simple.
Lastly, as an institution we want to foster campus awareness and involvement. We want to make sure we can learn from each other. That allows us to set the groundwork for web governance.
And the road itself on that bridge? The content itself: pictures, video, words–what content contributors, are best at.
“It’s not easy to create content,” said Todd. “I’d rather build websites. But we want to make sure that we remember our ultimate goal: To get all of our visitors to the content that they need as quickly as possible.”