A Love Letter to my CMS

When you wear a lot of hats (as we tend to in higher ed), it’s a relief when you have a tool that makes your life easier. For me, it’s our CMS. As we gear up for a redesign, I can’t help but reflect on how great my experience has been over the last four years since we became a LiveWhale school. Working with the CMS let me fall in love with content strategy and has helped me see the bigger picture of our website.

LiveWhale CMS is tailored for higher education. Faculty, offices, student clubs—everyone can easily edit their own static content, create stories and events, or upload full photo galleries. The WYSIWYG editor is as simple as Microsoft Word, and the dynamic content creation echoes the ease of popular social media that these folks use anyway. The back end organization makes it even easier to control who has access to edit what, but dynamic content can be shared easily from group to group.

What I like best is that I don’t have to say “no” often. If someone comes to me and asks, “Can I do X with my content?” I can usually figure out a way to do it with LiveWhale in 10 minutes. My favorite example of this is Path to Passion, which came out of an idea our Volunteer Coordinator had. She asked me, “Can I make a searchable thing with profiles of alumni?” and we went from “I think so” to “here you go” in record time. This was made much more simple by having a profiles module in our CMS where we could update or create profiles for our alumni. One of the coolest results of this project? We got to present it at eduWeb Digital Summit.

The support from LiveWhale is also top notch. I mentioned the hats? Well, sometimes quirks and bugs are outside my wheelhouse, and I just can’t fix them. The support team at LiveWhale is amazing at diagnosing and correcting any issues with the CMS. They’re just an email away. Plus, the entire LiveWhale family—you know, other schools who use LiveWhale CMS—is part of a Basecamp where we can discuss ideas and developments for the CMS, which is an open development platform. The sharing with this crew and with the Whales themselves is a unique atmosphere I can’t imagine with any other product. Like I said, it’s a family. We may all be in the business of recruiting students—some of us possibly in direct competition for the same kids—but we’re also always there to help each other with ideas!

To be completely honest, LiveWhale is one of the reasons I love my job in higher education. Working with the LiveWhale team, the extended LiveWhale family, and the faculty, staff, and students at my college make my days better. I’m constantly learning, and as a liberal arts grad working at a liberal arts school, I couldn’t appreciate it more.

Inspriation from eduWeb 2016

 

This is going to be the year I delegate more.

I’ve been at Washington College for nearly five years, and with each year I’ve taken on more responsibilities. I found out that I love content strategy and information architecture—something I might not have known had I not become our resident CMS guru. And these days, I’d rather spend my time developing strategies that will serve our audiences than crafting tweets about campus events.

Maybe this is what happens when you wear many hats at an institution. I’ve reached critical mass, and I need to make room for the new ideas and goals that I’m bringing back to the office through professional development. It’s time to stop postponing diving in to data and analytics because I don’t have time; if I want our strategies to be successful, I need to make the time. Several of the sessions I attended at eduWeb spoke to the importance of analytics strategy and data-driven changes. I want this information to inform my decisions—whether it backs up what I think or changes my views. (Now the big challenge is getting the data I want out of Google Analytics.)

Two of the sessions I attended—“Empathy for the Digital Age” with Kevan Gilbert and “Project Kickoffs that Work” with Allison Manley—prompted some additional thoughts on breaking down those wonderful silos we have in higher education. In a perfect world, I would incorporate so many of these tactics into larger scale projects, but I don’t typically get to start the big stuff. As it stands, I will take bits and pieces of each presentation and incorporate them into the smaller-scale CMS trainings and content strategy consultations I perform. I want the people I work with to feel empowered to use the CMS. I want them to feel comfortable coming to me with ideas that seem crazy and asking me if what they want to do is even possible. That is, after all, how Jenny and I ended up presenting at this year’s eduWeb.

This year will be more strategic, but I won’t implement all the ideas that support the strategies I create. I will use my time wisely—and encourage others to do the same too!

Leveraging Alumni Stories

“Can we do something like this?”

It’s one of my favorite challenges—and in the case of Path to Passion, a very promising question. When Jenny first came to me with her idea, she had been shot down because it seemed complicated. We talked about what she wanted, and in 10 minutes we had the basics hammered out.

How It Started

When Jenny moved into the Volunteer Coordinator position, 450 alumni had filled out an engagement survey stating that they wanted to give back as career mentors and admissions champions. Unfortunately, at that time, those opportunities weren’t really available to them. Career development wanted job placement, internships and job shadowing instead of mentors; and admissions wasn’t ready to onboard alumni volunteers. Jenny was confronted with the challenge of making sure these alumni still felt valued even though we did not have the volunteer opportunities that they wanted. While she was thinking up ideas, she was also watching her firstborn look at colleges. He had a strong interest in economics and finance but no desire to be a banker. Jenny knew that our liberal arts majors went on to great things regardless of their majors—so how could she show this to her son?

Path to Passion solved a conundrum. The opportunity to create a profile and make your way to Jenny’s rolodex of volunteers would keep our alumni engaged beyond that initial survey, and creating a searchable directory of outcomes would benefit prospective students like Jenny’s son.

In its first year, we’ve developed and expanded our searchable directory to include academics and career fields. We’ve increased engagement with alumni—some of whom were previously hard to find. We’ve placed various alumni on panels and found inspiration for new events. With alumni who participated in Path to Passion we saw twice the conversion in monetary giving. And finally, we generated numerous story leads and social content.

How We Did It

After we realized that the CMS side of things would not be a problem, Jenny set out to create a form that was in depth but not daunting. The questions shape the narrative for the alumni, focusing on their experience with Washington College and the liberal arts. Any school can create the narrative it wants with specific questions. If yours is a research-based institution, ask questions about what kinds of research influenced the alumnus’s path. If your students transfer on to four-year programs from your school, tell the story of how starting at your institution helped them achieve longer-term goals.

We use paid third-party service Wufoo to run the form because it can employ logic and also allows for file uploads; it goes a bit beyond what our CMS’s forms can currently handle.

Lists of alumni were built through the aforementioned survey, through personal contacts, and through some good old-fashioned detective work. Jenny found interesting alumni via Google and then stalked them (in a completely appropriate and legal way). Some of the connections she built from this seemingly simple research provided incredibly interesting stories and fantastic opportunities for these alumni to work with faculty and students.

After they are contacted and complete the form, profiles are created and tagged in our CMS. We use LiveWhale, which makes the idea of profiles super easy because it has a profiles module we were already using for student (and alumni) profiles. If your CMS doesn’t have a profiles module, you can use some sort of dynamic content to make profiles. If you go that route, make sure you come up with an established style guide so your profiles look consistent!

The tagging nomenclature is vital, as it drives the search function of our widgets. We decided ahead of time that we would use academic programs, but as we were creating the form we came up with general career fields to use, and we haven’t expanded these too much. The academic program tags are somewhat overwhelming; we don’t need career fields to get out of hand, too! In the future, we may add tags for athletics—it will depend on the buy-in we get from our coaches and athlete alumni.

How It Turned Out

I can talk in depth about the varied experiences we had reaching out to alumni with personalized emails, with letters from professors, and through general word-of-mouth discussion of Path to Passion—but that’s a long story for another time. The TL;DR version is that our first year went pretty well. We’ve gathered a plethora of profiles, Jenny found inspiration for a new event (Lead Like a Girl), and we’ve continued to grow the program. Recently, we presented our journey at eduWeb Digital Summit in Denver, Colorado. That experience helped me feel like we’ve got something good—and I look forward to continuing to work on this project.

 

 

Things I’m Not Ready to Talk About

The Recent Tragedy at my Alma Mater

I’m completely drained. Since waking up to that text message on November 16 to now, it’s just been hard to wrap my head around the whole ordeal. I’m blessed to have an amazing support system and a wonderful husband who got me through this. And sadly I have too many friends who have experienced suicides of classmates and friends and family. My own husband has lost family members.

I hope that Jacob’s death can open the door to talk about mental health—especially on college campuses. Right now the focus is on bullying, which is in some ways just leading to more social media bullying (from grown ass adults!). We need to honor his memory by learning from this tragedy.

For the upcoming LiveWhale Developers Conference, I am presenting on our web response to the crisis and how we handled our communications. I’ll be thinking it out over Thanksgiving break, so maybe I’ll be able to talk about it after I sort out all the thoughts in my head.

ConfabEDU

I’d actually love to talk about this, but I haven’t had time to process all the awesome. After the conference was over, my husband and I stayed a few days in New Orleans to be tourists. We saw some floats, ate a ton of food, and I got a tattoo. I have a lot more to say about our trip.

I also have a lot to say about the lessons I learned while at the conference, and the new ways I want to approach our web content. Unfortunately I haven’t had time to read over my notes and properly geek out since we’ve been home.

The Dog

Yeah. Uh. We got a dog. We fell in love with a dog at a rescue before we left for New Orleans and were approved to adopt him. Unfortunately, while we were gone, someone else adopted him. We kept our appointment and let a dog pick us. Sadly this particular dog has major separation anxiety. He’s a great dog, though. Pugsley Addams is a cuddle bug and he’ll eventually adjust and not destroy the world when he’s left alone. We just keep telling ourselves that.

Chicago: eduWeb 2015

Every time I go to a conference, I wish I had a time turner a la Hermione Granger. Having to choose between multiple sessions? It’s too hard!

For the past few years, my job has focused on social media and becoming a LiveWhale CMS guru. This year, to expand my wheelhouse, I attended sessions that primarily focused on analytics, advertising, and teamwork.

I flew away from O’Hare with a ton of ideas to bring to the upcoming school year. I want to expand our use of Google Analytics and use social advertising to support our recruiting messaging. And, per usual, I want our team to function more seamlessly. That will come up again when I go to ConfabEDU in November, I’m sure. The editorial calendar and my Virgo organization tricks will catch on. They will!

Sometimes a picture can say more than any note-taking can.
Sometimes a picture can say more than any note-taking can.

Since I have over 50 (small) pages of notes, I’m going to limit this blog post to talking about the opening keynote from Sree Sreenivasan. I was lucky enough to meet with Mr. Sreenivasan, Chief Digital Officer for The Metropolitan Museum of Art before the conference began for a quick look at Washington College’s social media. I’ve already implemented some of his tips including a more striking Twitter profile picture and more engaging Twitter description.

According to Mr. Sreenivasan, we need to focus on the mobile experience and making content available in formats our audience want. Our institution is targeting teenagers; this audience often engages with our content through mobile devices. If the content isn’t created with them in mind, will they consume it? As we focus on our stories and our videos, pitting them against Buzzfeed and the never ending supply of cute cats on YouTube, we need to make sure our content cuts through the clutter and stands out. Colleges need to connect to their students, alumni, and professors and show those connections to prospective students. I’m happy to say that Washington College is working on this through video campaigns like #unhurried.

To make our content appealing to our target audience, we have to consider the language and attention span of these students. Throughout eduWeb, I heard a lot of dislike for press releases being copied and pasted into the CMS. I’ve already talked to my boss about this, and we do need a repository of press releases somewhere, so I cannot light them all on virtual fire like I’d hoped. However, I’m going to adjust the workflow so that we have a web story and a press release—not just a press release. Creating a smaller, easier-to-read web stories also means content that is more evergreen for our department sites.

These aspirations and plans are taken from just a few pages of my notes. I hope that by posting them here, I can force myself to work hard on them. I’ll also be updating on my experiments with Google Analytics once I have some time to figure it all out.

Welcome. Here’s some navel-gazing about my job.

I work for a liberal arts college. I should add here, and probably in an about page, that the views expressed in this blog are not the views of the college—though in some ways, they are informed by my experience at the college.

You see, I attended Washington College from 2003 to 2007. I graduated into a terrible economy, held a variety of jobs, and somehow—with a bit of luck—ended up working at the College in 2011. My liberal arts education shaped me as a person, and it instilled in me a passion for learning that will never go away. If I could collect master’s degrees like Pokémon, I would. So far, I’ve only got one, and it’s in secondary education. Before I got the job at Washington College, I was planning to become an English teacher. Instead, I ended up in College Relations and Marketing, an office at the school that makes videos like the one you see above, promoting our annual Birthday Ball event.

In my job I get to be creative. I get to work with an amazing team. I get to learn and grow and strategize and help others do the same. Working for a liberal arts institution is almost as awesome as attending a liberal arts institution. Some days it can be trying, just as any job is, but for the most part it’s the perfect environment for someone quirky who loves to think strategically about communicating with audiences (that’s a fancy way of saying I like to think about the internet).

When I was a kid, I wanted to work for an ad agency. I know, that’s kind of a weird job to pick—most kids probably opt for doctor or astronaut. So I’m not working for an ad agency, but I am marketing a product I firmly believe in. At 30, what more could a girl ask for?