The University’s public website is first and foremost the face of the institution to the outside world. It is likely the first point of contact for many prospective students, their parents, prospective faculty members, future employees, and many others. It may be the first and only impression of SJU for those who’ve never stepped foot on campus. As the face of the institution, it functions as the primary source of information about the University for the general public, news media, prospects, alumni, donors, among many other constituents.
Our website is also a reflection of who we are. As a Jesuit university, it is important to show off our uniqueness and leverage our distinctive ethos to convey who we truly are and what we genuinely stand for as a community. For this reason, our website serves its purpose as a manifestation of the people who attend, teach, and work at the University; the website functions as a synopsis of the culture, principle, and values of the people who make up the community.
Saint Joseph’s University’s website at its core, therefore, is a window through which we allow the world to witness us.
The Web as a Collective
Because the website represents the University community, planning and maintaining the online presence needs to be a communal effort. And because no one person, department or office is the definitive expert on all topics that could ever be represented on our website, it is a necessity for the University to have a strong network of representatives who plan, produce, and maintain the website’s content through a well-defined set of processes.
This network of people and the procedures for managing the workflows are commonly referred to as “Web Governance.“
While the word “governance” may carry an oppressive connotation in the context of cross- functional collaboration, Web Governance is not a top-down form of decision-making; it is rather a collective approach to defining the website content through orderly processes in an effort to allow the content contributors to routinely plan, implement and evaluate the publically visible content on our site and to ensure that the many parts and pieces that amount to SJU.edu are orchestrated to be useful, accurate, up to date, and timely for our website visitors.
User-Centered Content Strategy
As the saying goes in the retail industry, “the customer is always right.” Whether or not this philosophy agrees with you, examining the customer experience from a customer’s perspective is always beneficial for increasing customer satisfaction. In the case of higher education, “customers” can refer to prospective students, parents of prospective students, current students, parents of current students, alumni, donors, corporate partners, and more. Placing the user experiences, as diverse as they may be, at the very heart of formulating our website content strategy is crucial for having an effective web presence for Saint Joseph’s University.
In order to develop a user-centered content strategy, market segmentation is a necessary part of being able to cater to the varying needs of the various audiences. For this reason, segmentation is a balancing act between overly generalized content for the generic audience vs. hyper-personalized content for the specific audiences. If the segmentation of the audience is too general, some content may not satisfy their needs. If the segmentation is too granular, the maintenance workload to keep the information up to date may become unrealistic, and the website will be at a greater risk of becoming obsolete and useless over time.
Segmentation, therefore, is also necessarily a process of triaging the target constituents and focusing on the select objectives that best benefit the University. This prioritization of customers is something that should be discussed openly through the process of Web Governance so that the respective content owners can focus their strategic efforts on speaking to the same target audiences.
Know Where to Go & How to Get There
Knowing the objectives, planning the path to achieve them, and measuring the effectiveness of driving toward the goals are becoming increasingly important for non-profits and for-profits alike. All organizations inevitably have limited staffing and fiscal resources. Determining the key success metrics and routinely measuring our progress against them allow us to optimize the successful initiatives while sunsetting the rest that are simply taking up time, money and space.
Clearly defining what and how to measure, however, can be an enormous challenge at a large organization like Saint Joseph’s. Pinpointing precise key performance indicators for measuring how the website is contributing to brand awareness, customer satisfaction, lead generation, cannibalization, or net profit is especially tricky when business processes are not well measured in some areas of the institution. Garnering the participation of key stakeholders across the University becomes essential in trying to measure the effectiveness of any strategy. This, of course, requires a
very transparent and unbiased collaboration between divisions across the University. For anyone who’s ever worked at higher education institutions, we know this to be particularly challenging.
Because the intimate knowledge of divisional objectives and metrics often reside with the respective units, defining the goals and metrics is a process that should be formulated through the collaborative process of Web Governance. Collectively defining the success metrics, establishing procedures, and identifying the sources of metrics that ultimately offer a three-dimensional view of the University’s progress will be a key step in making sure that the web/digital initiatives conduce toward the institution’s overall strategy in measurable ways.
The strategy for driving an initiative from Point A to Point B will fail to materialize if the goals and/or the means to achieve the goals are unrealistic. Purposefully aligning the budget, time, staff, and objectives for optimizing the outcome is an essential part of building a web strategy, and keeping the key stakeholders in the loop on the webteam’s allocation of resources should help in setting realistic goals and expectations across campus.
At times, Saint Joseph’s University should carefully review the staffing and fiscal allocations to evaluate whether or not the resources are sufficient for sustaining the institutional demands. The role of web and digital marketing has dramatically expanded in the last decade, and it will continue to have an increasingly integral and ubiquitous influence on the University’s marketing, enrollment, fundraising, community engagement, etc. Many higher education institutions are still retroactively adapting to the quickly shifting demands, and Saint Joseph’s University faces the same shifting demands today. The operational needs for the University’s web presence shifts at a swifter pace than many other areas of operations and will likely warrant a more frequent reevaluation of its staffing and budgetary resources.