5 Things We Learned at the 2017 EduWeb Digital Summit

By Laura Rives — Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017 at 11:00am

Earlier this month, the Hannon Hill team ventured to Boston for the 2017 EduWeb Digital Summit, joining some of the best and brightest higher education professionals to learn new tips and tricks for advancing the communications field in education.

Now that I have been home for a couple weeks, I’ve had time to reflect on the concepts my team and I found most valuable.

Have Fun, Say Hi, Write for Readers

During the keynote presentation, “Life Lessons From a Reluctant Marketer”, C.C. Chapman shared many interesting anecdotes including the importance of a planned strategy versus shiny things, the idea that done is better than perfect, and vanilla is boring.

But for the Hannon Hill team, the key takeaway was C.C.’s urge for all of us to remember the human element when creating marketing assets for all channels and audiences. He reminded us that stories from alumni, investors, international students, and more are far more interesting than copy pasted / repurposed text. He also urged us to simply say “hi” more often and engage in as many conversations as possible throughout our daily lives.

Finally—something that stood out to me personally—C.C. told us to “create from the heart”. While SEO is important, your readers are human beings who deserve real and honest communication.

Web Teams Require Governance, Ownership, and Accountability to Be Successful

During “The State of Higher Ed Digital Teams”, Jason Smith and Georgiana Cohen shared the results of a nation-wide survey of in-house digital teams in higher education. The survey produced insights on common team structures, hierarchy and org charts, and what an ideal team might look like.

The concept that resonated with us most came at the beginning of the session: lack of governance, ownership, and accountability inhibits web teams from functioning optimally as strategic communication units. It reminded us that dedicated teams of 20 and solo webmasters alike need planning, guidance, and leadership in order to be successful. Without it, reporting structure, team member skill sets, and overarching strategy can be moot points.

In regards to survey results, the Jason and Georgiana shared that:

  • 57% of organizations have just one web team
  • 46% report to Marketing / Communications
  • HTML /CSS, analytics, design, project management, social media, and CMS development skills are most desirable
  • Digital marketing, photography, SEO, and marketing automation projects are commonly outsourced
  • 56% of medium-sized higher ed organizations have four or fewer full-time web team members
  • 61% of large higher ed organizations have more than five full-time web team members
  • Common web team roles include Manager or Director, Front End Developer, Back End or CMS Developer, Content Strategist
  • The least common role is Accessibility Consultant / Specialist

Accessibility is an Inherent Part of Creating Better User Experiences for Everyone

In today’s world, most web and marketing teams have a keen understanding of the importance of creating accessible assets. But perhaps they feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start or how to maintain compliance. After all, we just learned that accessibility is an understaffed position among higher education organizations.

In “The Administrator’s Guide to Accessibility: Compliance and Beyond” Keana Lynch gave us 10 tips for going beyond the minimum requirements of inclusive web design.

  1. Make a plan. Define and document your goals and strategy. Think about accessibility at all stages, not a last-minute checklist.
  2. Know your audience. Each audience is unique. Keep in mind that one in five Americans have a disability. Consider including a wide range of users in your Strategy phase focus groups.
  3. Keep it simple. Cluttered designs make it difficult to concentrate on a task. Don’t be afraid to use white space. Use CTA’s wisely.
  4. Create a clear visual layout. All users can benefit from a clear navigation, helpful illustrations, and organized content.
  5. Remember that information is critical. Users may have trouble reading content for many reasons including low literacy, rushed, stressed, cognitive problems, reading a second language.
  6. Check for scannability. Logically structure a page. Provide good headings. Start with an overview. Make it easy to scan. Break up blocks of text.
  7. Create a clean, solid structure. The way the code is written can determine the quality of the user experience. Create a solid, clean structure. Use tags like <title> and <h1...6> to communicate content structure. Use scalable fonts (% and em). Follow web standards and best practices. Code should meet WCAG and Section 508 requirements.
  8. Focus on navigation. Support Keyboard Interaction. Provide a logical navigation tab order. Don’t require point and click interaction. Show which element has keyboard focus. Be sure to include skip links. Make search prominent, easy to use and accurate.
  9. Test. Test across browsers and devices. Utilize human testing.
  10. Maintain. Develop a management process. Monitor websites. Adapt to new technologies. Regularly review content, processes, and resource training.
For more on content accessibility, check out this white paper.

Generation Zs Desire Authenticity, Community, and Immersive Experiences

During “You are Not Your Target Audience”, Jeanne Ivy and Ian Dunne explained that Generation Zs, individuals born in the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, use an average of five screens up to 10 hours a day, and have an attention span of eight seconds.

Gulp. Reaching Millennials is tough, so will Gen Zs been even tougher? Not necessarily.

While Gen Zs contrast Millennials, as long as social media and web managers use platforms to foster community and build trust (rather than expecting readers to come to them), they will successfully engage this population. And, obvious by Gen Z’s connectedness, remaining mobile-first is a must.

Furthermore, thinking your website design is awesome is one thing, but remember that you are not your target audience. Test your ideas with students to gather feedback and make continuous improvements. Gen Zs want dynamic experiences, so focus on what resonates with them, things rich imagery, prominent CTAs, social media, career-readiness, connection to the city, and more.

As the College Selection Process Becomes Increasingly Student-Driven, a Robust Online Presence is Non-Negotiable

Each year, Ruffalo Noel Levitz, OmniUpdate, CollegeWeekLive, and NRCCUA examine the differences in how college-bound students use digital tools to propel their college selection process. Their 2016 E-Expectations report analyzes how the student perspective changes over time.

A few highlights that resonated with the Hannon Hill team:

  • Searching on location is a widespread technique among both juniors and seniors, making location-based keywords in content and metadata extremely important.
  • Paid advertising is an underutilized lead generation strategy in undergraduate recruitment, but data shows that juniors are clicking on ads schools for schools they are already considering.
  • Videos and images should not be overlooked. Focus less on stock classroom photographs and more on authentic campus life by featuring things dorms, campus aerial shots, athletic events, and more. In general, give a sense of people and place.
  • Encourage opt-ins by keeping forms brief and easy to find, with optimized confirmation pages inviting them to take another step.

Were you at this year’s EduWeb Digital Summit? If so, share what you learned or tweet us @hannon_hill.

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