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 intentionally building that Dada driven culture where it is not a man is instinct versus of faculty subjective instinct. It's about good versus great. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques 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'm Eric Olson, AVP of marketing at Helix Education, and we're here today with a manic Estello editor and content strategists in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota. Amana, welcome to the show. Thanks. Thank you so much for having me. We're going to have a great conversation today about content strategy and how to work effectively with faculty and other subject matter experts, Sames, to produce a great content at your institution. But before we get too deep into that, Amanda, can you get the listeners a little bit 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 where the 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 just staff, faculty and community members on campus every day. I'm in the College of Education and Human Development, which covers everything from curriculum instruction and Educational Psychology, social work, family social science, kinesiology is in here, to child development and then like organizational policy and leadership. So there's a lot of stuff that we do in our college that...

...might seem disconnected, but since we're all under the same umbrella, you can easily see the connections. I've been in 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 job and the college I work in is that I get to talk about work and research that helps people live better lives, that helps families communicate with each other better, that helps communities care for each other more equitably, to help teachers learn to teach better and help students learn better and help us understand our bodies and health and it's just it's wonderful. The stuff that I get to talk about every day improves people's lives. Beautiful. Love Your vision and I'm always inspired by your passion. Amanda, content strategy as a dedicated practice being staffed appropriately a college and university these it has grown a lot in the last five years. For those unfamiliar, how would you explain content strategy at a high level to them? Well, my definition of content strategy usually is a little weirder 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 say what is content strategy, I'll often say I take a look at our website and I make sure the people who need to use it can. Now it was pointed out that that's more of a user experience job, but my content strategy work winds up also being UX because we don't have enough money or staffing or people to do both of those. Yeah, I also wind up sometimes doing a little information architecture because we don't have a dedicated IA. I have to wear a lot of hats because we just simply don't have the scope that private company or an agency might have. Some maybe talk through some first steps about how you go about developing a content strategy at your institution or for Your Department or college and why it's so important to do so. I think one of the biggest things that will start with...

...is just to have people ask really what what are their goals and what do they want? That's almost as important as asking what their users want and being honest about that. Not what you think your users want, but what they actually do want. So we couple that up with both putting together will do user research. Sometimes it's focus grew groups, sometimes it's just topping out into a crowd of students with a bunch of star Gup Bucks Gift Cards and saying hey, tell me what, tell me 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 down what their goals are and say what do you want, especially this website to do, because there are many things that sometimes people want, but though a website isn't the right tool to do that. So we've occasionally had what would be kickoff 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. So instead of starting with okay, we're going to make this website, what's it going 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 it doesn't fit into, we've will pick a better tool for the job. I really love that, that idea of going into a kickoff meeting with this concept of we need a new website and it seems like focusing on that strategy, aspect of content strategy, you're often backing up and saying, is this really what we need? 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, digged into the audience research first, map out the website first and the benefits of that? I think it's one where we figure it out. A lot of them were projects that just wound up just kind of going to sleep for a little while. I think our biggest thing. Where's that? Overall, we were having a lot of folks come to...

...us because we have such a high research output. We were wanting. A lot of people wanted websites for their research 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 page and a static url for that page, but not necessarily a whole site for every single research project that went on. So we worked with our research Dean and our director of research and worked on figuring out how we could represent faculty research. It actually morphed into a thing that, instead of coming from 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 we want it to do in a larger set, we realized our research is a really big 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 related to what they want to do and it's our responsibility to be clear about the research 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 grand student WHO's not a good match. That's not good for anybody. That's not good for us or the Grad student. So us being clear about what we do and don't do will help grand students choose the right school. We'd rather have 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 of that project came in a very large, crazy categorization and tagging project and we created a list where I worked with a student worker and she went through all of our faculty profiles and I said write down everything in their profiles that could be an area of expertise, and it was a terrible project and I butt her many sandwiches and she I think we...

...started with a list of almost five hundred individual topics that our faculty have expertise in. We narrowed it down to about 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's this group of research? We need to find information about a certain group of research, 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 really focus on math learning, how math fits into a stem curriculum and new techniques and math education retention in younger kids and how they learn mathematical processing. You can find people that are doing that. I love it. I love it. And so when you are approaching a new website rewrite or optimization, based on your decade of high right experience, I bet you have some intuition where you 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 for when 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 to work on our core website redesign last year is we were able to work with our universities USABILITY lab, which is wonderful asset that we have, and we did card sorts and tree testing on our site. We wanted to see what kind of topics people group together and then what how they could find something once they were given a task, and both of those wound up being spectacularly useful. The cards sort, you know, there were some things that we kind of knew would be grouped together, like tuition rates and pay my bill like those. Naturally people would put those together in a group, but we wound up finding that people would generally. We found up other affinities between items that we hadn't suspected before. A lot of students were interested in if you were an international student. We found that students...

...tended to put that still and amongst the 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 that was really grouped together for a lot of students, that they were part of the same thing, that international student information shouldn't be some separate part of the site. And then with tree testing, we knew the kind of things people got stuck on or things that we decided we're goals of they need to be able to do or find this information. So posing a question to people and then running a tree test to see where they got 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 were already kind of on the right track. For those who aren't familiar, can you talk about what tree tests are and how you go about administering those. Yeah, tree tests are a way for you to check and see how the navigation of your site works intuitively with no content to back up your navigation items. So say you had a top NAV with Undergrad Grad Research outreach giving an about and then you ask someone find out who you're, an undergraduate student, find your advisor. With a tree test, the user, the Tester, will see those top options and each time they click on that they will get the sub menu items. We wanted to make sure that you know our undergraduate advisor stuff is under undergraduate and then there's another section call advisors. We you can make sure that's that. Your users then go very clearly that your headers are intuitive enough for people to understand where they're going without having to see the content on the page. Sometimes, I can't remember which one we asked, we saw a whole bunch of people winding up in absolutely the wrong place and sometimes we'd get a result back that saw people were all over the whole site, that nothing was clear to help them find that information. Well, yeah,...

...so when you get the results back, we used a software from optim workshop called Tree Jack and you get this like path and the stronger confidence that people have in the path that you've defined is 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 really cool and impressive to our leadership. I love it and I really love the strategy you take when your team has that first meeting with faculty and other re Simes when producing content for a particular program or initiative. Paint us a picture of what that first kickoff meeting looks like and what you're trying to make crystal clear in that meeting. Well, you might be able to tellel from hearing me talk, and you've met me before. I have a ton of energy, so I usually show up and I am amped for this. Like I am really excited to make good things with people. One of the things that 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 their level of subject matter knowledge, I do not have an advanced degree. I can't just make up the content whole cloth. I need to work with them on it. Similarly, our faculty especially are very busy and their time is 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 readable, they don't have to hold together an IA or do tree testing or spend time in the USABILITY lab, because they've got me and that's stuff that I'm good with and can help on. So kind of establishing that it's it's a partnership helps mitigate a little 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 sometimes that could derail projects a little bit. But we really talked about what they need 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 real root of it will often show up stuff that winds up being way deeper than you thought. Someone saying, you know, we need this website. Why students can't find our info? You know why, and you keep going and someone finally says, you know, Oh, I'm worried that. You know there's some other programs around the university that recently were discontinued and I don't want mine 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 grasping at anything to make something work, and then you can find something that might actually 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 UX at sometimes puts down their I. A hat. I think it's people are listening to this. They're probably going, Oh yeah, but my people put on content strategy hats. Any next steps for listeners who appreciate the value the dedicated content streator just could play in their world, as you describe, but on exactly sure where they would live or how they could integrate with the rest of a marketing communications team? I think one of the things is just to because higher a move so slowly, a lot of people find it a really frustrating institution to work with and a frustrating industry to work with, but I really appreciate the pace. I think because we're move slow and because we're a research, teaching and learning kind of thing, we're able to do the research, do the best case thing, try something. Also, if you move at 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 you know in a little bit. It's better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission. But also there is a ton of research backing up why there this is best practices. We just around my office circulated the wonderful website UX myths. This usually comes up when...

...someone says this needs to be above the fold and I slowly lose my mind and just go new clear on them where I point on the computer screen. I'm like, show me where the fold is, and then I make the window smaller and I'm like where is it now? Then I pull up the side on my phone, like how about now, like it doesn't fold, that's no, Oh, I hate. The risk of doing that is they go yeah, so get rid of all 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, if we've had someone really push us on it and really fight us, sometimes we'll just do it and then we'll run tests and will say no one, no one can find this or you know, if there's like I don't care if this 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 have ways 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 when we go into the USABILITY lab, we will invite faculty members who have a stake in the content and we will invite in senior leadership and they will see the work that we do in figuring out how website that's works for our users. That has given us a tremendous amount of political capital because it keeps the website from just being something that magically happens to something that folks can really see. The the rigger and work and seriousness that we take in making sure that we're hitting that balance of user needs and institutional goals. I really love that idea of in antionally building that data driven 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 to defer to the data and make sure that we are always putting down our subjective preferences to the the needs and the experiences of our students. Love it...

...of it. That's one of the benefits of working in Higher Ed is you can kind of appeal to that larger thing. We are not bound by this quarters earnings, we are not bound by you know what happened this holiday season, like one year in terms of higher ed in most parts of it is very small thing. We are always playing a long game and something can take a couple years to roll out if you want to do it right, and people usually will not be upset about that. Again, the pace is our asset and we're a mission driven organization and usually you can appeal to folks and say we're doing this for the good of people and they'll say, Oh yeah, yeah, you're right. It's really funny 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 are the absolute best. What is the best place for listeners to connect with you if they have any followed questions about this? Probably twitter. That's the place that I am the most. I'm at Amanda ask a Manda Esqueat. Sometimes it's about content strategy. A lot of times it's about my cat or my kid or funny stuff that we say around the Costello House, because my husband and I make each other laugh extremely hard and then tweet about the things we say to each other. So it's kind of all over the place, but yeah, that's the best place to find me on the Internet. She is a great fellow friend. She's also an incredible speaker. We met at a high a web conference a few years ago. She won best in conference. She is a delight and a tremendous mind. Gets nor a man of thanks against so much for joining us today. Thanks so much for having me. Eric. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations, data driven, enterprize wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth play book with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment...

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

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