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.


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.

Web Editor: Alan Eggleston

Editor in Geek?
By Alan Eggleston

Do you have to be a geek to be a good web editor? I don’t think it’s in the job description, and in many cases it’s probably more important to be a good editor than to be a good geek, but it was being good at being a geek that got me a shot at working on the Web. So I’m going to say, if you want to be a Web editor, you should consider whether you’re also a geek.

I’ve been a web editor since 1995, when my supervisor at the corporate publications office realized I was a geek playing around on the Internet and asked me to tackle the company’s first website. I then found myself advising the company’s affiliates on their websites, and when the company put together a department for global online communications, I became its web editor. A year later, I was invited to join a new e-commerce team as web editor to help develop a new online model for the company. In 2001, a week and a half before 9/11, I left the corporate world and became a freelance web editor, which I continue doing to this day. I love editing and as a geek, I love Web editing.

Not all web editors need to be geeks, but as web editor it helps to have played around with various browsers, html editors and WYSIWYG programs, content management systems, CSS attributes, and mobile apps. It’s also useful to be familiar with Web design concepts, mobile conversion, and know the difference between jpgs, gifs, and tiffs, and be able to work with Web video and audio. While you’re at it, it will help your cause to know about search engine optimization (SEO) and site analytics, although not absolutely necessary. All this you may learn through experience, although much of it you can learn through Internet searches. I was fortunate enough to be curious and learn it on my own – a sure sign of being a geek.

My next article: Why SEO Matters

As a web editor with a lot of experience in search engine optimization, I’ve noticed it’s an area a lot of other web editors don’t understand. I recently ran a series on my own blog on SEO Basics for Web Editors, and I hope to bring some of that knowledge to your aid in this blog as well. Up next in my first article will be, “Why SEO Matters.” Join me!