As part of our newly renewed focus on expanding and solidifying our EDU expertise, we’ve hired some talented and experienced new team members with extensive knowledge of the sector. Amongst them is Brian Pokojoy, Project Manager, who's spent over a decade with the University of Calgary building and managing web solutions that contributed to over 900 published web sites.
We sat down with Brian to ask him a few questions about his experience with Content Governance and why he feels it’s essential to any EDU web and marketing strategy.
ImageX: Can you give us a bit of background into your own experience with Content Governance in the world of EDU?
Brian: When I arrived at University of Calgary, I worked with a team to implement a Drupal strategy that would provide consistency in the look, feel and content of their existing website – which at that time, was a collection of quite a few platforms and CMS tools. Beyond the differences in tools, there were significant gaps in the quality of every page’s content, design and strategy. Keep in mind that these sites spanned everything from the home page, to departmental and faculty web sites, so every site was completely unique.
As with many EDU sites, some of the pages were built and fed by experienced, web-savvy and well-funded members of the team, with a clear goal and marketing plan in mind. Others were handled by less experienced staff that may not have been quite as clear on the purpose of their site or how to build it strategically. With hundreds of sites, you have to ask yourself whether each and every one of those microsites has a clear purpose. That question eventually became a focus of our web governance strategy.
When we first moved to a central CMS, the platform’s ease of use and accessibility was making it easy for people of all backgrounds to build out sites quickly and easily – and that was great news. However, we didn’t have strong governance to ensure each site was supporting the overall goals of the institution. We were able to enforce a standard look and feel with various templates, but didn’t dive deeper.
ImageX: What does Content Governance include and involve?
Brian: There are different elements and different points on the governance spectrum. You can go from “Ask for a website and you will receive” to making the request process quite stringent and detailed in order to make sure that every page has a clear point and goal.
As we were growing and trying to define what that approach would be for us, we had to put some thought into what the process would be. How would people request a site? How would we evaluate it? Who would evaluate it? What should be the nomenclature for the actual url address? How would it fit into the wider navigation of the website? How would people get to the page? How much freedom and flexibility would every page have in terms of branding, layout, plugins and content? When it comes down to it, it’s about who gets what and how does one site fit into the overall ecosystem.
Not every institution faces these problems on this wide of a scale – many might be a bit more homogenous or may simply not need as many pages. But a university is basically like a little city, it works with lots of different units and often has a decentralized approach to budgeting and priorities. Every department also has a different relationship with marketing and strategy, some relate directly to a central marketing team while others may have their own branch of marketing within the department.
The same goes for authoring. The University of Calgary had a decentralized approach to content authoring, which meant each department was individually responsible for whatever content ended up on their website. In contrast, some organizations have a more centralized and controlled approach, where they produce and approve content that’s then pushed to each appropriate page.
ImageX: Can you tell us a bit about how the conversation around Content Governance has evolved since then?
Brian: Content Governance has always been a hot topic, especially in the world of EDU. I think what’s a bit different is the maturity of the conversation going on now – there’s more talk about implementation strategies and digital strategy. It’s also about where the organization stands. Often, it isn’t until they grow to a certain size that they come to realize it’s necessary to lay out that strategy. It isn’t really until problems arise that they really start tangibly looking for ways to be a bit more cohesive and organized in their approach to their web presence. So as you try to create a better experience and align it with your institutional and marketing goals, governance becomes clearer and more important in protecting the purpose you’re looking to fulfill.
ImageX: It sounds like it’s a pretty arduous and ambitious process when you have an organization that big trying to change things over. What are some of the challenges of trying to overhaul things at that scale?
Brian: I think one of the recurring challenges in EDU is balancing the desire and need for academic freedom with that of consistency and branding. There’s the business arm that’s focusing on being public-facing, appealing and professional then there are different groups trying to show off their ideas and uniqueness. So I think it’s important to find a way to bring those together under a mutual understanding of the university’s identity and goals.
One of the things we did to tackle that challenge was allow a certain amount of flexibility – controlled flexibility – but flexibility in terms of different templates that would allow people to have their own identity through different department logos or department colours, for example. But there were still a few very defined components that tied it into a well-considered feel that fit into the ecosystem of the university’s wider identity. It’s really important to be able to define and section off different levels of content according to their goals and importance in order to make sure the right pages are getting your prime website real estate and urls.
ImageX: What are some of the low hanging fruit when it comes to Content Governance? Perhaps some small steps that can go a long way in creating consistency?
Brian: One of things that’s important is to make sure that you differentiate the kinds of sites you’re going to have and their different purposes. From there on, you can group them together and you can develop a clearer url structure. Once you’ve done that, you need to put some type of process or authority in place to approve content and make sure that someone really needs to have a website before they get one. As old colleagues and mentors of mine used to say, there may be a marketing or strategic purpose to a website, but a website might actually not be the best way to get there – maybe having someone in a chicken suit waving a sign is a better way to actually achieve whatever goal has been set out.
A website isn’t always the answer, sometimes other digital or marketing channels are actually better suited. So there needs to be a bit of rationale behind why someone is building a site, how they’re going to use it and how it fits into the overall ecosystem before actually giving them a site.
The reason I say that is because part of the maturity model we had at University of Calgary, when I arrived meant you would get a site if you asked – as long as you weren’t violating any rules and policies. What happens when you have that approach is that you end up having a problem with content bloat, website bloat, redundancy in content and struggles in keeping it all up to date. That’s really one of the main challenges that governance is trying to tackle. You want to be sure that every contribution online actually provides added value.
ImageX: How would you determine that value? Are there clear criteria to decide what needs to be online and what doesn’t?
Brian: One of the things that we really started working on was a tighter collaboration between the team creating and providing the content and the marketing department. For these kinds of public-facing sites, it has to be really tightly bound with marketing objectives. One way you can answer the questions “Should I have a website?” is by then asking “Do you have a marketing and or communication plan?”
If you don’t have that plan, you can quickly forget that the website is but one channel of many meant to implement that plan. If it’s not clear how/if that website is going to contribute to the school’s clearly identified organizational goals – it might not be the best fit. There needs to be a certain level of organizational maturity and strategy in order to understand the different kind of sites and pages you’re working with.
ImageX: How about other external platforms, plugins, social media and functionalities? Does that loop into Content Governance as well?
Brian: Absolutely. You have your page or website but within that same page exists different types of content, platforms and technologies and your governance strategy needs to extend to all of those different elements. You start off with your main CMS or technology – Drupal, for example is a great starting place – but in an environment as complex as a university website you’ll often find that one technology doesn’t really fit all. So you need to understand how other platforms are going to fit into that overall governance, which types are going to be used to resolve which problems. You might decide you’re going to use Drupal to manage your main presence and then go for Wordpress to manage individual professor sites. That technology then ties in with your address space and your overall governance. You may, for example, have different criteria for who gets a Wordpress site and who gets a page on the primary platform and website.
There are also external channels like social media. When it comes to all of those channels, it all needs to roll into an overall digital strategy, which again ties in with an overarching marketing strategy. One of the things you do when analyzing your needs is called Journey Mapping and Personas. Those don’t need to apply only to your website; you can go through the same process with all of your channels to figure out how they’re going to be used at different parts of a user’s journey through your content. And who knows, the chicken suit might be part of that journey!
When it comes down to it, you need to be able to answer some really basic questions.
- Why do you need a website?
- What are you going to use it for?
- How is it going to fit into your overall marketing strategy?
- Who’s going to maintain it?
- Who’s going to be responsible for providing the content?
- Where does your content come from?
- How does it fit into your overall ecosystem of your website?
ImageX: Ok, so you have a Content Governance strategy…now how do you explain and communicate it across 900 different sites and departments?
Brian: In our case, we had a central team that was providing an actual service. So we weren’t just providing the technology, but we were providing a service across the campus that included training, workshops, documentation and technical help or functionalities. The training component plays a huge role in getting everyone on the same page. There also has to be pretty solid communication between different marketing entities across the organization so that every department involved is really aware of what’s required to have a site.
We also created a central place where people had to apply to have a site, which provided an opportunity to explain to people what was expected and required before they were granted one. It also allowed us to make sure that some of the precursor steps had been taken.
The way you set up your platform also helps you enforce those governance rules. Drupal, for example, is a really flexible platform – so it’s important to build some limits and boundaries directly into the tool in order to impose that consistency. That’s where platforms like ImageX’s OpenEDU can really help, because they’re built upon the experience we’ve all had trying to balance those boundaries with that need for flexibility. Having someone on the team like June, our content strategist, also really helps when it comes to defining an actual governance plan and content strategy.
There’s the tool, there’s the process and there are the people. Often, people start with the tool, and that doesn’t usually yield the best results. It’s really important for there to be strategy and reflection beforehand in order for all elements to work in tandem. Until the tool, process and people are all working together; you’re unlikely to get the results you’re looking for. That’s why governance is such a collaborative effort and exciting opportunity to really evaluate what your organization is trying to say and symbolize.