Content Strategy for Higher Ed: Tips from Confab

by Rebecca Del Giudice

On November 11-12, 2013, Confab: Higher Ed took place in Atlanta. This was the first time that Confab, a content strategy conference founded by well-known content strategy expert Kristina Halvorson, held a session focused on a particular industry.

While I did not attend Confab, I did sit in on a great recap session put together by the folks at Meet Content, a web firm that specializes in content strategy for higher education. At the recap session, some of the people who had presented at the conference shared summaries of their own talks and what they had heard from others. There were also several people who had attended the conference and gave their views on the most important takeaways.

As someone who provides content strategy and editorial support to higher education clients (among others), I found the session very helpful. Here are five themes that emerged:

Empathy: One of the big themes of the conference, and one that every editor can relate to, was empathy. As Lisa Maria Martin, User Experience & Information Architecture Specialist at The George Washington University, said in her talk, “People make content. And people have feelings.”

The theme of empathy resonated with many of the recappers. Empathy means understanding your audience’s needs, and it also means finding ways to work with your content owners (in the case of higher ed, this could be everyone from the dean’s office and alumni relations to faculty and students, etc.) Sometimes in our day-to-day struggles with making and maintaining great web experiences, we forget to look at our work from others’ point of view. That could mean remembering to value your business partners (who may not understand what you do, but who contribute institutional and academic knowledge). Or it might mean taking a step back and thinking about how your latest web page or social media post looks to students, and whether or not it is meeting their needs. Staying in our silos with our blinders on does not allow us to grow and to help our audience get the information they need in the best possible ways.

The mobile mandate: Many of the recappers, especially Jenny MacIntosh of Boston University,  talked about the impact of Karen McGrane’s talk. McGrane, the author of an influential book on mobile content strategy, mentioned some striking statistics from the Pew Internet survey:

  • 35% of Americans still have no internet access at home
  • 20% of Americans have no internet access at all
  • 91% of Americans have a cellphone, and
  • 63% of Americans are using a smartphone

What does this mean for editors? It means we must champion mobile. The fact that a significant percentage of Americans, including prospective students, can only access our content via their phones, provides a renewed sense of urgency to ensure that our websites are easy to view and engage with on mobile.

Reuse and transmedia storytelling: The concept of COPE (create once, publish everywhere) resonated with Confab attendees. It is more important than ever in this era of shrinking budgets and understaffed departments to leverage content in as many ways as possible. But with this idea comes the equally critical idea that you should be prepared to meet your audience where they are. This means determining what stories you want to tell and making sure those stories can be told across multiple channels, not just where your university is comfortable or has an existing presence. One example came from Ma’ayan Plaut from Oberlin College. In her Confab talk, she mentioned that in one case she had posted an event to Buzzfeed instead of to Oberlin’s social media accounts, because she knew that was where her target audience was. 

The idea of transmedia storytelling takes COPE a step farther. It asks you to leverage the same story on different platforms, but also to take into account that you may tell different parts of the same story and the platform determines what you highlight. For example, you might have created a series of alumni profiles that includes interactive video, still photos, and text with pull quotes. You may decide to pin the pull quotes on Pinterest, post the still photos to Instagram, and highlight the interactive videos on Vine, and you might put all of the content on your website. For each channel, take into account how your audience engages with you and what parts of the story will resonate the most.

Speak in a language your audience understands. This one is near and dear to most editors, and in higher ed it’s no different. We struggle with overly wordy, non-web friendly text that our colleagues want to post on the website. Remember the empathy theme and look for ways to help your colleagues understand why it’s important to use clear, easy-to-understand language and avoid jargon. Jargon will turn off prospective students, alumni, and others who visit your site. Jargon is another example of lack of empathy, because it is as if you don’t care that your audience doesn’t understand what you’re saying. One recapper recalled a great suggestion: look through your analytics and search logs to see what terms site visitors are using. Do those terms match up with the vocabulary you’re using on your website?

Make students the hero of your content. As an editor in higher ed, you should ensure that the content you review puts the spotlight on students, not the college, whenever possible. There is a natural tendency to make the university the hero in an effort to promote your school to outsiders. But showcasing your amazing students is the right way not only to support their achievements, but also to show how much students can thrive at your institution.

For more on the Confab Higher Ed event, check out Meet Content’s recaps and the Confab site.


Do It Well: Addressing the Mobile Market

By Cathy Hodson

In a recent webinar on Responsive, Adaptive and Progressive website design that I sat in on, Bill Cava, the “chief evangelist” of Ektron, said that the proliferation of mobile devices is disrupting many businesses. He gave the examples of the newspaper business, which has traditionally been a print business but is and has been transitioning toward delivery of online and mobile content; and cameras – why would anyone want a standalone camera any more when you can snap an arguably good photo with your phone? Professional photographers might disagree with that, but Cava went on to say that it is predicted that there will be one BILLION smartphones in the world by 2016. If our heads haven’t already exploded from information overload, that is.

The mobile invasion
If you haven’t begun looking at how to address the mobile device market with your website and communication plans, you need to. According to a recent Pew Research study on smartphones, 56 percent of American adults now own a smartphone of some kind, with Android and iPhone owners accounting for half of the cell phone user population. In another recent Pew study on tablet usage, the researchers found that tablet adoption has almost doubled over the past year. “For the first time, a third (34 percent) of American adults now own a tablet computer, including almost half (49 percent) of those in their later thirties and early forties and a majority (56 percent) of those in higher income households.”

There are still hold outs. Maybe you know some of them. According to Pew, one third (35 percent) have some other kind of cell phone that is not a smartphone, and the remaining nine percent of Americans do not own a cell phone at all. So some people do still have a life.

Pew goes on to say that “ownership is particularly high among younger adults, especially those in their twenties and thirties (although a majority of Americans in their mid-forties through mid-fifties are now smartphone adopters).” Eighteen percent of Americans age 65 and older now own a smartphone, compared with 13 percent in February 2012.

Tablets Skew A Little Older
Tablets, on the other hand, also according to Pew Internet Research, skew a little older than the smartphone market. “Unlike smartphones, which are most popular with younger adults ages 18-34, we see the highest rates of tablet ownership among adults in their late thirties and early forties. In fact, almost half (49 percent) of adults ages 35-44 now own a tablet computer, significantly more than any other age group. Adults ages 65 and older, on the other hand, are less likely to own a tablet (18 percent) than younger age groups.”

How much mobiletraffic?
For my company, a nursing association, mobile traffic now accounts for 20 percent of the traffic that comes to our website. We implemented responsive design across our website in May, and we are looking forward to seeing how this helps our traffic numbers, particularly during our Annual Meeting in August.

Mobile design is a challenge for everyone involved in delivering content. Responsive design is one solution – one website catering to many devices. There are other solutions out there, and it is up to each company to decide what is best for their needs. If your company has not begun to consider addressing the mobile market, I suggest you get moving. The Information Superhighway continues to move at the speed of light. Don’t get left behind.

Responsive Design: Optimizing Web Content to Device Screens

Remember mainframe computers? Desktop computers? How quickly times change. Now people are accessing the Internet via PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and coming up rather quickly now – glasses and watches. Who knows what is on the horizon? In other words, more challenges to presenting our content in a meaningful way will continue to be developed. We are in another tumultuous time for keeping pace with a rapidly evolving environment, and how we respond to this challenging environment can be very tricky.

A new report from Pew Research Center, “Teens and Technology 2013” states that “Smartphone adoption among teens has increased substantially and mobile access to the internet is pervasive. One in four teens are ‘cell-mostly’ internet users, who say they mostly go online using their phone.” Adults aren’t quite there yet, only 15 percent of adults are ‘cell mostly.’

Even with the proliferation of cell phones, and the multitude of other devices with which you can access a website, it’s a wonder most servers haven’t exploded in trying to please each device’s screen (or the screen’s owner). We in the web business tend to be eager-to-please people. We want you to have the best experience you can have on our website, no matter which device you use to view our website, and even if it keeps us awake at night trying to figure out just how to do that.

So how do you serve up your content to adapt to those very different sizes of screens? If you have ever tried to go to a “full” website (PC version) on your smartphone, you know how tiny the text can look, and you have to scroll left and right, or pinch or expand the page to be able to read or click on something. Mobile versions of websites can be equally annoying because they are laid out differently, can lack certain features that are available on traditional websites, and may not feature the full content of the website. Usually they have an escape route that will take you back to the full website, but then you are back to scrolling, pinching and expanding.

You have probably heard of HTML 5. It is also known as “responsive web design” or “responsive design.” It is a website design that enables a server to respond to the particular device you are using to view the website and serve up your content in the most optimal fashion. If you want to try out an example of a website built with HTML 5, check out, home of the Boston Globe newspaper. Depending on which device you access the site with will determine what you see. It responds to the device, the size of your browser (you can minimize or maximize your window) and even the orientation. If you are exploring what to do with advertising locations on your web pages in such an environment, you can see that there also.

Flexible construction, coding and design make for content that can be presented to all types of devices. This makes more sense than creating various websites (and duplicating efforts) for various devices. It is not without its challenges, though.

  • If you still use tables to present and contain data, their rigid structure can be prohibitive to “flexible” page construction. Deconstructing the data and presenting it in a text format can be cumbersome and not as easily digestible, especially in this age of readers who scan pages. Presenting it in a Word document or PDF via a link on the page requires someone to click on a link to get information that is normally presented within the body of the content.
  • Wide images can also challenge a smaller screen’s width. Some solutions include creating smaller images for smaller screens, or to hide the image when a smaller screen accesses it.
  • Advertising, with its premium locations “above the fold” (or viewable in the first screen) can sometimes be sacrificed to a floating position at the bottom of a phone screen, or shoved to the bottom of a tablet’s page – not really an ideal location for someone paying to be seen.

How web content is displayed will continue to evolve. For more reading about Responsive Design, check out the following stories. Feel free to list your favorite resources in the comments.

Pinterest for Your Publication

By Jennifer Ford

Most publications have gotten started with the basics of a social media plan by creating a Twitter feed and a Facebook page. But there are many, many other social media tools that your readers might be using and where you might be able to reach them. Readers and consumers these days don’t much care how you get your content to them, but they want to be able to find you on every screen and every device and every network they use.

That’s why you might want to consider Pinterest as part of your social media strategy to share your content. Pinterest is a virtual pinboard that launched in 2010. In under 2 years it became one of the 10 largest social networking services. I can easily see why: its purpose is to share photos, which we all know innately (and gauging from the shift toward a more photo-centric Timeline, Facebook agrees) are the most enticing element of social networking. I joined Pinterest during its beta phase and it has since become a regular at my social media table along with Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Businesses selling products marketed with images on Pinterest are seeing better sales than through Facebook. In a comparison of 50,000 purchases via Facebook and 50,000 purchases via Pinterest on jewelry site, Pinterest buyers spent $180 to Facebook’s $85 per purchase.

That’s great for an e-commerce site, you say, but what about for publications? They’re getting in on the game, too. Publications like the New York Times curate images from lifestyle and blog areas of their site on Pinterest. And take the magazine House Beautiful, for example. As of the time I am writing this, they maintain 41 boards of various themes on Pinterest. And this year they became the first Pinterest-enabled print magazine by implementing a digital watermark tool, like a QR code but integrated into an image, called Print-to-Pin (Digimarc). You can actually take a photo of the printed page with your smartphone and create a pin that will reference the House Beautiful site. There are still some wrinkles to be ironed out, but there are so many possible applications it makes the mind spin.

But there are reasons you might not want to use Pinterest, either. Consider the way it works: a steady stream of photos that reference a URL. For example, healthcare publications could face HIPAA compliance fines or other legal action if Pinterest users ever shared photos that did not have identifying information removed or did not have the necessary permissions attached. Even if you’re not risking something as serious as legal action, you don’t want to risk wasting your time. You need to gauge whether your readers are on Pinterest and would want to see your content there.

If you have decided you want to get on the Pinterest bandwagon, start by downloading the Pin It plugin that you can put on your site. You can also look to see if anyone has already pinned something from your website by going to And, of course, you’ll want to develop a strategy for your activity on Pinterest and share it with other editors who are involved. When you pin your content, you’ll want to be sure that there are feature images that relate to the content, because the image associated with a URL is what users see in the pin, and if you don’t have one, Pinterest will try to use another image it can find, like your logo or an ad. Another resource that could be helpful is the book Pinfluence by social media expert Beth Hayden, which was published in July 2012.

Share your experiences! Leave a comment or tweet @jeniford or @thewebeditors.

Mobile Apps in Publishing

By Jennifer Ford

Is your publication already ahead of the curve with mobile apps? Many larger publishers have long-established mobile apps. One visit to the Newsstand in the iTunes store and you’ll get a better grasp of the kinds of publications that are already in this publishing space.

But maybe you’re still waiting to jump on the app wagon. Maybe you don’t have resources to build an app in house. Maybe you can’t spend the money on hiring someone to build one for you. Or maybe your readers aren’t there (yet).

Any way you look at it, though, mobile apps are a growing facet of publishing and they’re something I keep an eye on. Considering approximately 67 million iPads have been sold to date, it might be time to start considering a tablet app to be a priority. The publication I work for is in the process of building mobile apps, and to edify myself on the subject of publishing and mobile apps, I attended “Mobile Publishing: Repurposing Your Content to Create Highly Engaging Apps,” a webinar hosted by FOLIO: magazine, presented by GENWI, a mobile app developer. I found it to be pretty interesting and thought I’d share a recap here.

Sean Brown, digital creative director for Fairchild Fashion Media, was online to share his experience with building a mobile app. He is also past interactive creative director for Condé Nast Media. Some mobile projects he’s worked on are The Daily W, the Epicurious cooking app and GQ for the iPhone (which has been replaced by the GQ iPad app).

During decisionmaking about creating a mobile app, Brown and his colleagues ask themselves several questions:

  • What’s the best interface?
  • How can we capitalize on the device’s functionality?
  • How do we get content onto a mobile app?
  • What will be the best user experience?

The key, for Brown, is identifying what each unique publication has to offer and optimizing it as something interesting and different for users. Each publication has its own brand, and  as an editor you need to find your goal and then figure out what device will work best for your app. The most important offering from Epicurious, for example, was recipes, so they created an app that showcased their recipes in an easily searchable app.

PJ Gurumohan, cofounder and CEO of GENWI, talked about his product, too. Theirs is one of many cloud-based mobile app products. I do not pretend to be a developer, but I do know that cloud computing is cool. The way these mobile apps work is you upload your content to your content management system, and the app (once all its parameters have been set) pulls from that to deliver it automatically in the right way on the right mobile device to the app users.

“Mobile is a completely different beast” from print and web, Gurumohan said. GENWI was able to create the Daily W app for Condé Nast in two weeks, which seems to be much faster than the norm. My theory on the fast turnaround for that app is that the publisher already had a content management system that was compatible with the GENWI platform.

Both Brown and Gurumohan talked about an “engaging” experience. You’re no longer competing with other magazines, said Brown, “you’re competing with users’ time and availability,” so a mobile app can reach people at times when they can’t read in print or on a website. A mobile app should be utilitarian, content rich, targeted to readers, informative and personal. From the developer perspective, Gurumohan added that touch activation, real-time content delivery and analytics are ways that a mobile app can benefit your publication.

The draw for a mobile app, said Brown, is that a tablet bridges the gap between a standard website experience and print. Gurumohan added that many publishers lost an emotional connection to their readers by switching to the web, and the tablet is a way to regain that connection. For publications supported by advertising, it is great news that users can be more connected and that ads can be more intuitive and less obtrusive to users.

One question asked by the audience that I thought was particularly important was, “How do smaller publishers with less money enter the game?” And unfortunately, it seems, if you want to create an app, you’re going to need to spend some money, unless you’re already a developer. Another good question was, “What analytics are important to look at after launching an app?” Important analytics are somewhat similar to your web analytics: number of downloads, number of articles read, location of readers, whether an article was shared on social media. Pay attention to those analytics to deliver more targeted content. Also, Some generic content management system apps like Blogger (Blogspot) allow you to automatically render your content into mobile, so smaller publishers might want to explore those options.

A video of the webinar is available for FOLIO: subscribers at “Mobile Publishing: Repurposing Your Content to Create Highly Engaging Apps.”

Share your thoughts below! Does your publication have a mobile app? Are you considering developing one? My next post will be a Q&A about content strategy.

Shortie: How Do You Tweet?

According to a May 31 Pew Internet Report, “As of February 2012, some 15% of online adults use Twitter, and 8% do so on a typical day. Overall Twitter adoption remains steady, as the 15% of online adults who use Twitter is similar to the 13% of such adults who did so in May 2011. At the same time, the proportion of online adults who use Twitter on a typical day has doubled since May 2011 and has quadrupled since late 2010—at that point just 2% of online adults used Twitter on a typical day. The rise of smartphones might account for some of the uptick in usage because smartphone users are particularly likely to be using Twitter.”

It’s interesting that the growth is attributed to smartphone use. For individuals posting to Twitter, that makes sense. But for organizations, you would think staff would still be tied to computers, laptops, or tablets, unless they are tweeting remotely from a conference, tradeshow or event of some kind. It would be interesting to see what percentage of staff tweeting is done by smartphone vs. traditional avenues.

How much of your audience is on Twitter? How often do you tweet to your audience – daily, weekly, when news happens? Is it as useful a tool as Facebook or other social media for your organization? Are you seeing the kind of follower growth that is listed above? Most of all, do you and your audience typically access Twitter via smartphone? Please reply in the comments.

Thinking of Going Mobile? There’s an Infographic to Help With That

If you know your Web presence needs to go mobile but you don’t have the data to prove it to the decision makers, there’s an infographic for that.

A book, “The BOOTSTRAPPER’S GUIDE to the MOBILE WEB,” was published May 1, 2012, offering “tons of free resources to help you build your mobile web presence today” and to promote it, the authors have posted a data-intense infographic detailing where mobile Web is headed.

For instance, it says there are “5.5 billion current mobile device subscriptions” … and “there will be nearly as many mobile devices as people in the world by 2015”! Think mobile phones are mostly for calls and games? It says, “By 2013 browser-enhanced mobile phones will exceed 1.82 billion” and “40.1% of mobile device users access browsers.” The trends on browser use continues from there.

Of course, this is an infographic meant to sell books. But it can be a powerful aid in helping you make decisions about taking your Web presence to the next level, which may very well be mobile.

If you use Pinterest, consider looking at Wapple Mobile Web’s pins on Mobile Web Infographics. There you will find lots of information on mobile communications presented graphically. That’s where we found the Bootstrapper’s infographic.


Web Editors blog and its members not affiliated with the book or its authors. Not an endorsement, paid or otherwise. Book also available at Barnes and Noble and Alibris Books.