20: University of Minnesota’s Content Strategy Practice w/ Amanda Costello

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Amanda Costello, Editor and Content Strategist for the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota, talks about content strategy and how to work effectively with faculty and other SMEs to produce great content at your institution.

I really love that idea ofintentionally building that tit. A driven culture where it is not a man isinstinct versus a facultys subjective instinct. It's about good versus great you're, listening to enrolment growth,university from helic education, the best professional development podcastfor higher education leaders looking to grow in Roman at their college oruniversity, whether you're looking for fresh enromant growth techniques andstrategies or tools and resources. You've come to the right place. Let'sget into the show, welcome back to an Roman GrowthUniversity, I' Mari Gilson, AVP of marketing at helics education and werehere today with the Manacastello editor and content strategist in the Collegeof Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota. A man towelcome to the show thanks. Thank you so much for having me we're going tohave a great conversation today about content strategy and how to workeffectively with faculty and other subject matter. Experts astomes toproduce a great content at your institution, but before we get too deepinto that a man it can you get the listeners a little bit betterunderstanding of both University of Minnesota and your role there. So theuniverse of Minnesota is research, one institution where landgrant public andwe're the only ar one in the state of Minnesota. So we are extremely large. Ithink we're usually one of the top ten largest schools in the country, withmany tens of thousands of students, Undergrad Grad doctoral students andthen just staff, faculty and community members on campus every day, I'm in theCollege of Education and Human Development, which covers everythingfrom curriculum instruction, educational psychology, social work,family, socascience, canesiology is in here to child development and then likeorganizational policy and leadership. So there's a lot of stuff that we do inour college that might seem...

...disconnected, but since we're all underthe same umbrella, you can easily see the connections. I've been in high redfor ten years and at theew of them the whole time, and I think one of thethings that I like the most about my job and the college I work in is that Iget to talk about work and research that helpspeople live better lives that helps families communicate with each otherbetter. That helps communities care for each other more equitably to helpteachers learn to teach better and help students learn better and help usunderstand our bodies and health, and it's just it's wonderful. The stuffthat I get to talk about every day improves people's lives, beautiful love,your vision- and I am always inspired by your passion, Amanda ContentStrategy as a dedicated practice being staffed appropriately. A collegenuniversitys has grown a lot in the last five years for those unfamiliar. Howwould you explain content strategy at a high level to them? Well, my definitionof content strategy usually is a little weirder, because it's in highereducation, so I often will tell people higher up my basses or my grandmosses,my boss's foss, about when they say what is content strategy. I'll oftensay I take a look at our website and I make sure the people who need to use itcan now. It was pointed out that that's more of a user experience job, but mycontent, tor energy work winds up also being UX, because we don't have enoughmoney or staffing or people to do both of those yeah. I also wind up sometimesdoing a little information architecture because we don't have a dedicated IA. Ihave to wear a lot of hats because we just simply don't have the scope that aprivate company or an agency might have so maybe talk through some first stepsabout how you go about developing a content strategy at your institution orfor Your Department or College, and why it's so important to do so. I think oneof the biggest things that we'll start...

...with is just to have people ask reallywhat what are their goals and what do they want. That's almost as importantas asking what their users want and being honest about that, not what youthink your users want, but what they actually do want. So we couple that upwith both putting together will do usee research. Sometimes it's focus group.Sometimes it's just topping out into a crowd of students with a bunch ofStarga Bucks, gift cards and saying hey, tell me what tell me about yourfeelings and they are happy to tell us because starbokes giftguard, but the I'say the toughest part is getting people to really nail down whattheir goals are and say. What do you want, especially this website to do,because there are many things that sometimes people want, but th a websiteisn't the right tool to do that, so we've occasionally had what would bekickoff meetings where, once we've talked to a Faculttam member or adirector, we realized that a website isn't the right tool for the job. So,instead of starting with okay we're going to make this website what's hisgoing to do we actually back up and say: Is The web even the best thing for this,because then, instead of all of us trying to, I don't know, make a project fit into something itdoesn't fit into. WWILL pick a better tool for the job. I really love thatthat idea of going into a kickoff meeting with this concept of we need anew website, and it seems like focusing on that strategy aspect of contenstredgey you're, often backing up and saying this is really what we need, orwe can't write yet away until we understand our audience better. Can yougive any examples of times when you've kind of backed up digged into theaudience? Research first map out the website first, and the benefits of that.I think it's one where we figured out a lot of them were projects that justwound up just kind of going to sleep for a little while, I think our biggestthing, where it's that overall, we were...

...having a lot of folks come to usbecause we have such a high research up wit. We were wanting a lot of peoplewuntin websites for their research work like a whole site. Here it is here'sthis stuff. So what Wesizie that there is a benefit to having a web page andstatic url for that page, but not necessarily a whole site for everysingle research project that went on. So we worked with our research Dean andour director of research and worked on figuring out how we could representfaculty research. It actually marfed into a thing that, instead of comingfrom a thing of how we're going to make a web page for each research project,we said how is research being represented on the web, and what do wewant it to do in a larger sense? We realized our research is a really bigrecruttet tool for graduate students, especially people whoae, doing PhDs.They need to know that there's a faculty member who's doing researchthat is related to what they want to do, and it's our responsibility to be clearabout the research our faculty is doing ind not doing as much as we would like.You know a ton of wonderful, brilliant Grad students. We don't want a Gradstudent WHO's, not a good match. That's not good for anybody! That's not goodfor us or the Grad student, so us being clear about what we do and don't do,will help. Grad students choose the right school we'd. Rather, have a Gradstudent choose the right school even if that school? Isn't us then come hereand have it be a bad fit? So out of that project came in a very large,crazy, categorization and tagging project, and we created a list where Iworked with a student worker and she went through all of our facultyprofiles and, I said, write down everything in their profiles. Thatcould be an area of expertise and it was a terrible project and I bought hermany sandwiches and she,...

I think we started with a list ofalmost five hundred individual topics that aure faculty Hav Experteasin. Wenarrowed it down to about a hundred which is still a ton, but covers a lotof things, and now we use that list in other projects. So we can say, what'sthis group of research, we need to find information about a certain group ofresearch. What topic's been under that or, if someone's looking to say, Hey,what's new and math education, here's Oure, you know five professors thatreally focus on math learning, how maphods into a sten curriculum a newtechniques and math education, retension in younger kids and how theylearn mathematical processing. You can find people that are doing that. I loveit. I love it and so, when you are approaching a new website, rerihe oroptimization, based on your decade of highright experience, I bet you havesome intuition, where you can just jump in there and fix stuff optimize it. Wewrite it. But how do you go about figuring out what students are reallylooking for when they're navigating these these pages in these sites? Someof the things that we did in addition to use a research and focus groups whenwe started to work on our core website resign last year is we were able towork with our universities, use billy lab, which is wonderful asset that wehave and we did card sorts and tree testing on our site. We wanted to seewhat kind of topics people group together and then what how they couldfind something once they were given a task and both of those wound up beingspectacularly useful, the card sort. You know there was some things that wekind of knew would be grouped together like tuition rats and pay. My Bill likethose. Naturally, people would put those together in a group, but we oundup finding that people would generally, we found op other affinities betweenitems that we hadn't suspected before a lot of students were interested in. Ifyou were an international student, we...

...found that students tended to put thatstill and, amongst the you know, application and program finding andkind of that exploratory stuff, rather than Oh. I found my program now I'mgoing to look for this, or that was really gruwped together for a lot ofstudents that they were part of the same thing that international studentinformation shouldn't be some separate part of the site and then with treetesting. We knew the kind of things people got stuck on or things that wedecided were goals of. They need to be able to do or find this information soopposing a question to people and then running a tree test to see where theygot lost or what they thought. The answer was helped us both clarify stuff.That was the mass, but also felt really good and validating that we werealready kind of on the right track. For those who aren't familiar. Can you talkabout what tree tests are an and how you go about administering those yeahtreetests are away for you to check and see how the navigation of your siteworks intuitively, with no content to back up your navigation items so sayyou had a Topmab with Undergrad Grad research outreach giving and about, andthen you ask someone find out who you're an undergraduate student findyour advisor with a treetest, the user. The Tester will see those top optionsand each time they click on that they will get the submanu items. We wantedto make sure that you know our undergraduate advisors stuff is underundergraduate and then there's another section called advisors e. You can makesure that that your users then go very clearly that your heaters are intuitiveenough for people to understand where they're going without having to see thecontent on the page. Sometimes I can't remember which one we asked. We saw awhole bunch of people winding up in absolutely the wrong place andsometimes we'd get a result. Back that saw people were all over the whole sitethat nothing was clear to help them...

...find that information well yeah. Sowhen you get the results back, we used a software from optum, worshop calledTreejeck, and you get this like path and the stronger confidence that peoplehave in the path that you define is correct. You see these big green linesand if they go other places it's red and yeah, it was also the data.Visualization was really cool and impressive to our leaers Ilove it, and I really love thestrategy you take when your team has that first meeting with faculty inother es of me, is when producing content for a particular program orinitiative paint us a picture of what that first, kickoff meeting looks likeand what you're trying to make crystal clear in that meeting. Well, you mightbe able to tell from hearing me talk and you've met me before I have a tonof energy, so I usually show up- and I am amped for this- like I am reallyexcited- to make good things with people. One of the things that we really trie to Dale down is thatthis work is a partnership that there is stuff that I myself cannot do. I donot have their level of subject matter knowledge. I do not have an advancedegree. I can't just make up the content whole clath. I need to workwith them on it. Similarly, our faculty especially are very busy and their timeis being pulled in a million locations, so they don't have to code the website.They don't have to make sure things are web breedable. They don't have to pulltogether an IA or do tree testing or spend time in the USIVILITY lab,because they've got me and that's stuff that I'm good with and can help on sokind of establishing that it's it's a partnership helps mitigate a little bitof the power imbalance that shows up when you're dealing with faculty,because if they have tet year they can't be fired. So sometimes that canderail projects a little bit, but we really talk about what they need andwhat they don't. And you know the the whole Ux fivewise thing where you askwive five times and then you get to the...

...real root of it will often show upstuff that winds up being way deeper than you thought. Someone saying youknow we need this website why students can't find our info. You know why andyou keep going, and someone finally says you know. Oh, I'm worried that youknow there'r some other programs around the university that recently werediscontinued and I don't want mine to be discontinued and Wel really have tohit our rolment targets this year. So I'm scared and like that doesn't cometo a ebsite at all. But then you could know that this person might might justbe grasping at anything to make something work, and then you can findsomething that might actually work. Instead of of someone saying, I want awebsite and you say: okay, let's make a good website. It's awesome, it'sawesome, a man, as you mentioned earlier, your content strategist tosometimes puts on their uxt, sometimes puts on their IA hat. I think, aspeople are listening to this they're, probably going Oh yeah, but my peopleput on content strategy. Hats, any next steps for listeners who appreciate thevalue, thet dedicated content, Streta just clould play in their world, as youdescribe Burr', exactly sure where they would live or how they could integratewith the rest of a marketing or communications team. I think one of thethings is just to because hire an move. So slowly, a lot of people find it areally frustrating institution to work with in a frustrating industry to workwith, but I really appreciate the pace. I think, because we're moved slow andbecause we're a research, teaching and learning kind of thing we're able to do the research dothe best case thing try something also if you move it normal like Webwork,speed and try something by the time. You know if it's succeeded or failed,everyone else will just have noticed that you're doing something. So youknow in a little bit it's better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission, butalso there is a ton of research backing up why there. This is best practices wejust around. My Office circulated the...

...wonderful website, UX myths. Thisusually comes up when someone says this needs to be above the fold and I slowlylose my mind and just go newclear on them. Where Ipoint on the computer screen, I'm like show me where the fold is, and then Imake the window smaller and I'm like. Where is it now that I pull up the sideon my phone? I'm like how about now like it doesn't fold, that's no O. Ihate the risk of doing that. is they go yeah so get rid of all the navigationmenu, so I can be on top at all three sizes. You just showed me and one ofthe things that Wev done with that too is. We have we've gotten to the pointwhere, if we've had someone really push us on it and really fight us, sometimeswe'll just do it and then we'll run tests and we'll say no one. No onecould find this or you know if there's like, I don't care. If this is good ornot, I just want it this way, we're like okay, cool, we'll, do it and we'llmeasure it. It's awesome yeah. If they really want to be hard headedabout it, we have ways to measure and see if it's working or not and l go forit, because then the data will come out. We've also had a thing where, when wego into the USABILITY lamb, we will invite faculty members who have a stakein the content, and we will invite in senior leadership, and they will seethe work that we do in figuring out how website thus works for our users. Thathas given us a tremendous amount of political capital, because it keeps thewebsite from just being something that magically happens to something thatfolks can really see the the rigor and work and seriousness that we take inmaking sure that we're hitting that balance of user nates and institutionalgoals. I really love that idea of intentionally building that they adriven culture where it is not a man, is instinct versus a faculty subjective,instinct yeah, it's about it's about good versus great, and we are going todefer to the data and make sure that we are always putting down our subjectivepreferences to the the needs and the experiences of our students. Of of it.That's one of the benefits of working...

...in Highr Ed is you can kind of appealto that larger thing? We are not bound by this quarter's earnings. We are notbound by you know what happened this holidayseason like one year in terms of higher ed in most parts of it is very smallthing. We are always playing a long game and something can take a coupleyears to roll out. If you want to do it right and people usually will not beupset about that again. The pace is our asset and we're a mission, DifanOrganization, and usually you can appeal Tho folks and say we're doingthis for the good of people and they'll say: Oh yeah, yeah you're right. It'sreally funny. I can hear some people listening this and going yeah slowpace.If you are a you know, top five size, national public, thanks Amanda we gotTa, do past yeah a manter. You are the absolute best. What is the best placefor listeners to connect with you if they have any followed questions aboutthis? Probably twitter, that's the place that I am the most I'm at AmandaEsk Am Anda Esq UE. Sometimes it's about content strategy a lot of timesit's about my cat or my kid or funny stuff that we say around the CastelloHouse, because my husband and I make each other laugh extremely hard andthen tweet about the things we say to each other. So it's kind of all overthe place, but yeah that's the best place to find me on the Internet. Sheis a great follow friend, she's. Also an incredible speaker. We met at ahiged web conference a few years ago. She won best in conference. She is adelights and a tremendous mind to get to knowher a man thanks against so muchfor joining us today, thanks so much for having the Arrg attracting today'snew post, traditional learners means adopting new enrolmant strategies.helics educations data driven enterprise, wide approach to enrollmentgrowth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this neweducation, landscape and telex has just published the second edition of theirenrolment growth playbook, with fifty...

...percent brand new content on howinstitutions can solve today's most pressing enromant growth challengesdownload it today for free at helocs, Educationcom playbook you've been listening to enromentgrowth university from helicks education to ensure that you never missan episode subscribe to the Showin Itunes or your favorite podcast player.Thank you so much for listening until next time.

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