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 of intentionallybuilding that Dada driven culture where it is not a man is instinct versus offaculty subjective instinct. It's about good versus great. You're listening to enrollment growthuniversity from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders lookingto grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growthtechniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place.Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university. I'mEric Olson, AVP of marketing at Helix Education, and we're here today witha manic Estello editor and content strategists in the College of Education and Human Developmentat the University of Minnesota. Amana, welcome to the show. Thanks.Thank you so much for having me. We're going to have a great conversationtoday about content strategy and how to work effectively with faculty and other subject matterexperts, Sames, to produce a great content at your institution. But beforewe get too deep into that, Amanda, can you get the listeners a littlebit better understanding of both the University of Minnesota and your role there?So the University of Minnesota is research one institution where land grant public and wherethe only are one in the state of Minnesota. So we are extremely large. I think we're usually one of the top ten largest schools in the country, with many tens of thousands of students, Undergrad Grad doctoral students and then juststaff, faculty and community members on campus every day. I'm in theCollege of Education and Human Development, which covers everything from curriculum instruction and EducationalPsychology, social work, family social science, kinesiology is in here, to childdevelopment and then like organizational policy and leadership. So there's a lot ofstuff that we do in our college that...

...might seem disconnected, but since we'reall under the same umbrella, you can easily see the connections. I've beenin high read for ten years and at few of them the whole time,and I think one of the things that I like the most about my joband the college I work in is that I get to talk about work andresearch that helps people live better lives, that helps families communicate with each otherbetter, that helps communities care for each other more equitably, to help teacherslearn to teach better and help students learn better and help us understand our bodiesand health and it's just it's wonderful. The stuff that I get to talkabout every day improves people's lives. Beautiful. Love Your vision and I'm always inspiredby your passion. Amanda, content strategy as a dedicated practice being staffedappropriately a college and university these it has grown a lot in the last fiveyears. For those unfamiliar, how would you explain content strategy at a highlevel to them? Well, my definition of content strategy usually is a littleweirder because it's in higher education. So I often will tell people higher up, my bosses or my grandbosses, my boss's boss, about when they saywhat is content strategy, I'll often say I take a look at our websiteand I make sure the people who need to use it can. Now itwas pointed out that that's more of a user experience job, but my contentstrategy work winds up also being UX because we don't have enough money or staffingor people to do both of those. Yeah, I also wind up sometimesdoing a little information architecture because we don't have a dedicated IA. I haveto wear a lot of hats because we just simply don't have the scope thatprivate company or an agency might have. Some maybe talk through some first stepsabout how you go about developing a content strategy at your institution or for YourDepartment or college and why it's so important to do so. I think oneof the biggest things that will 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 couplethat up with both putting together will do user research. Sometimes it's focus grewgroups, sometimes it's just topping out into a crowd of students with a bunchof star Gup Bucks Gift Cards and saying hey, tell me what, tellme about your feelings, and they're happy to tell us because starbucks gift card. But the I'd say the toughest part is getting people to really nail downwhat their goals are and say what do you want, especially this website todo, because there are many things that sometimes people want, but though awebsite isn't the right tool to do that. So we've occasionally had what would bekickoff meetings where, once we've talked to a faculty member or a director, we realize that a website isn't the right tool for the job. Soinstead of starting with okay, we're going to make this website, what's itgoing to do, we actually back up and say, is the web eventhe best thing for this, because then, instead of all of us trying to, I don't know, make a project fit into something it doesn't fitinto, we've will pick a better tool for the job. I really lovethat, that idea of going into a kickoff meeting with this concept of weneed a new website and it seems like focusing on that strategy, aspect ofcontent strategy, you're often backing up and saying, is this really what weneed? Or we can't write yet away until we understand our audience better.Can you give any examples of times when you've kind of backed up, diggedinto the audience research first, map out the website first and the benefits ofthat? I think it's one where we figure it out. A lot ofthem were projects that just wound up just kind of going to sleep for alittle while. I think our biggest thing. Where's that? Overall, we werehaving a lot of folks come to...

...us because we have such a highresearch output. We were wanting. A lot of people wanted websites for theirresearch work, like a whole site. Here it is, here's this stuff. So what we size that there was a benefit to having a web pageand a static url for that page, but not necessarily a whole site forevery single research project that went on. So we worked with our research Deanand our director of research and worked on figuring out how we could represent facultyresearch. It actually morphed into a thing that, instead of coming from athing 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 set, we realized our research is a reallybig recruitment tool for graduate students, especially people who are doing PhDs.They need to know that there's a faculty member who's doing research that is relatedto what they want to do and it's our responsibility to be clear about theresearch our faculty is doing and not doing as much as we would like.You know a ton of wonderful brilliant Grad students. We don't want a grandstudent WHO's not a good match. That's not good for anybody. That's notgood for us or the Grad student. So us being clear about what wedo and don't do will help grand students choose the right school. We'd ratherhave a grand student choose the right school, even if that's school isn't us,then come here and have it be a bad fit. So out ofthat project came in a very large, crazy categorization and tagging project and wecreated a list where I worked with a student worker and she went through allof our faculty profiles and I said write down everything in their profiles that couldbe an area of expertise, and it was a terrible project and I butther many sandwiches and she I think we...

...started with a list of almost fivehundred individual topics that our faculty have expertise in. We narrowed it down toabout a hundred, which is still a ton but covers a lot of 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 topics fit under that? Or if someone's looking to say hey, what's new and math education, here's our you know five professors that reallyfocus on math learning, how math fits into a stem curriculum and new techniquesand math education retention in younger kids and how they learn mathematical processing. Youcan find people that are doing that. I love it. I love it. And so when you are approaching a new website rewrite or optimization, basedon your decade of high right experience, I bet you have some intuition whereyou can just jump in there and fix stuff, optimized it, rewrite it. But how do you go about figuring out what students are really looking forwhen they're navigating these pages in these sites? Some of the things that we did, in addition to user research and focus groups, when we started towork on our core website redesign last year is we were able to work withour universities USABILITY lab, which is wonderful asset that we have, and wedid card sorts and tree testing on our site. We wanted to see whatkind of topics people group together and then what how they could find something oncethey were given a task, and both of those wound up being spectacularly useful. The cards sort, you know, there were some things that we kindof knew would be grouped together, like tuition rates and pay my bill likethose. Naturally people would put those together in a group, but we woundup finding that people would generally. We found up other affinities between items thatwe hadn't suspected before. A lot of students were interested in if you werean international student. We found that students...

...tended to put that still and amongstthe application and program finding and kind of that exploratory stuff, rather than,Oh, I found my program now I'm going to look for this or thatwas really grouped together for a lot of students, that they were part ofthe same thing, that international student information shouldn't be some separate part of thesite. And then with tree testing, we knew the kind of things peoplegot stuck on or things that we decided we're goals of they need to beable to do or find this information. So posing a question to people andthen running a tree test to see where they got lost or what they thoughtthe answer was helped us both clarify stuff that was the mass but also feltreally good and validating that we were already kind of on the right track.For those who aren't familiar, can you talk about what tree tests are andhow you go about administering those. Yeah, tree tests are a way for youto check and see how the navigation of your site works intuitively with nocontent to back up your navigation items. So say you had a top NAVwith Undergrad Grad Research outreach giving an about and then you ask someone find outwho you're, an undergraduate student, find your advisor. With a tree test, the user, the Tester, will see those top options and each timethey click on that they will get the sub menu items. We wanted tomake sure that you know our undergraduate advisor stuff is under undergraduate and then there'sanother section call advisors. We you can make sure that's that. Your usersthen go very clearly that your headers are intuitive enough for people to understand wherethey're going without having to see the content on the page. Sometimes, Ican't remember which one we asked, we saw a whole bunch of people windingup in absolutely the wrong place and sometimes we'd get a result back that sawpeople were all over the whole site, that nothing was clear to help themfind that information. Well, yeah,...

...so when you get the results back, we used a software from optim workshop called Tree Jack and you get thislike path and the stronger confidence that people have in the path that you've definedis correct. You see these big green lines and if they go other places, it's read and yeah, it was. Also, the data visualization was reallycool and impressive to our leadership. I love it and I really lovethe strategy you take when your team has that first meeting with faculty and otherre Simes when producing content for a particular program or initiative. Paint us apicture of what that first kickoff meeting looks like and what you're trying to makecrystal clear in that meeting. Well, you might be able to tellel fromhearing me talk, and you've met me before. I have a ton ofenergy, so I usually show up and I am amped for this. LikeI am really excited to make good things with people. One of the thingsthat we really try to down down is that this work is a partnership,that there is stuff that I myself cannot do. I do not have theirlevel of subject matter knowledge, I do not have an advanced degree. Ican't just make up the content whole cloth. I need to work with them onit. Similarly, our faculty especially are very busy and their time isbeing pulled in a million locations. So they don't have to code the website, they don't have to make sure things are web readable, they don't haveto hold together an IA or do tree testing or spend time in the USABILITYlab, because they've got me and that's stuff that I'm good with and canhelp on. So kind of establishing that it's it's a partnership helps mitigate alittle bit of the power and balance that shows up when you're dealing with faculty, because if they have ten year and they can't be fired, so sometimesthat could derail projects a little bit. But we really talked about what theyneed and what they don't and you know, the the whole UX five wise thing, where you ask why five times...

...and then you get to the realroot of it will often show up stuff that winds up being way deeper thanyou thought. Someone saying, you know, we need this website. Why studentscan't find our info? You know why, and you keep going andsomeone finally says, you know, Oh, I'm worried that. You know there'ssome other programs around the university that recently were discontinued and I don't wantmine to be discontinued and we're really have to hit our enrollment targets this year. So I'm scared and like that doesn't come to a website at all.But then you could know that this person might is, might just be graspingat anything to make something work, and then you can find something that mightactually work instead of someone saying I want to website and you say, okay, let's make a good website. It's awesome. It's awesome a man,as you mentioned earlier, your content streator just too sometimes puts on their UXat sometimes puts down their I. A hat. I think it's people arelistening to this. They're probably going, Oh yeah, but my people puton content strategy hats. Any next steps for listeners who appreciate the value thededicated content streator just could play in their world, as you describe, buton exactly sure where they would live or how they could integrate with the restof a marketing communications team? I think one of the things is just tobecause higher a move so slowly, a lot of people find it a reallyfrustrating institution to work with and a frustrating industry to work with, but Ireally appreciate the pace. I think because we're move slow and because we're aresearch, teaching and learning kind of thing, we're able to do the research,do the best case thing, try something. Also, if you moveat normal like webwork speed and try something, by the time you know if it'ssucceeded or failed, everyone else will just have noticed that you're doing something. So you know in a little bit. It's better to beg forgiveness than toask permission. But also there is a ton of research backing up whythere this is best practices. We just around my office circulated the wonderful websiteUX myths. This usually comes up when...

...someone says this needs to be abovethe fold and I slowly lose my mind and just go new clear on themwhere I point on the computer screen. I'm like, show me where thefold is, and then I make the window smaller and I'm like where isit now? Then I pull up the side on my phone, like howabout now, like it doesn't fold, that's no, Oh, I hate. The risk of doing that is they go yeah, so get rid ofall the navigation menu so I can be on topic at all three sizes.You just showed me. And one of the things that we've done with that, too, is we have. We've gotten to the point where, ifwe've had someone really push us on it and really fight us, sometimes we'lljust do it and then we'll run tests and will say no one, noone can find this or you know, if there's like I don't care ifthis is good or not, I just want it this way, we're like, okay, cool, we'll do it and we'll measure it. Awesome.Yeah, if they really want to be hard headed about it, we haveways to measure and see if it's working or not and we'll go for it, because then the data will come out. We've also had a thing where whenwe go into the USABILITY lab, we will invite faculty members who havea stake in the content and we will invite in senior leadership and they willsee the work that we do in figuring out how website that's works for ourusers. That has given us a tremendous amount of political capital because it keepsthe website from just being something that magically happens to something that folks can reallysee. The the rigger and work and seriousness that we take in making surethat we're hitting that balance of user needs and institutional goals. I really lovethat idea of in antionally building that data driven culture where it is not aman is instinct versus a faculty subjective instinct. Yeah, it's about it's about goodversus great, and we are going to defer to the data and makesure that we are always putting down our subjective preferences to the the needs andthe experiences of our students. Love it...

...of it. That's one of thebenefits of working in Higher Ed is you can kind of appeal to that largerthing. We are not bound by this quarters earnings, we are not boundby you know what happened this holiday season, like one year in terms of highered in most parts of it is very small thing. We are alwaysplaying a long game and something can take a couple years to roll out ifyou want to do it right, and people usually will not be upset aboutthat. Again, the pace is our asset and we're a mission driven organizationand usually you can appeal to folks and say we're doing this for the goodof people and they'll say, Oh yeah, yeah, you're right. It's reallyfunny it. I can hear some people listening to this and going yeah, slow pace, if you are a top five size national public thanks,Amanda. We got to move fast. Yeah, a manner. You arethe absolute best. What is the best place for listeners to connect with youif they have any followed questions about this? Probably twitter. That's the place thatI am the most. I'm at Amanda ask a Manda Esqueat. Sometimesit's about content strategy. A lot of times it's about my cat or mykid or funny stuff that we say around the Costello House, because my husbandand I make each other laugh extremely hard and then tweet about the things wesay to each other. So it's kind of all over the place, butyeah, that's the best place to find me on the Internet. She isa great fellow friend. She's also an incredible speaker. We met at ahigh a web conference a few years ago. She won best in conference. Sheis a delight and a tremendous mind. Gets nor a man of thanks againstso much for joining us today. Thanks so much for having me.Eric. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helixeducations, data driven, enterprize wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping collegesand universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the secondedition of their enrollment growth play book with fifty percent brand new content onhow institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment...

...growth challenges. Downloaded today for freeat Helix Educationcom. Playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from HelixEducation. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the showin Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening.Until next time,.

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