University Web Developers

University Web Developers

We have the situation on our campus where each department has their own website.  Each department then is required to have a full-time staff member that has a responsibility to update their website with fresh content.  The problem is that those staff members can't/won't/choose not too do that.  We can't get them to buy-in to the importance of updating the content, showing events, news, etc.  

I was wondering if anyone else has that issue and how have you dealt with it? Are there incentives that have worked? Do you get rid of that model and put all content under the marketing department?  

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Everyone has this problem in some capacity, for the most part. The big problem here is one of a philosophical nature - you can lead a horse to water and all that. The trick is, you simply cannot assume every department has that one magical person that cares and will be awesome. To put it simply, I just do not believe in the long term viability of our decentralized models, especially as our sites and functionality get more complex, and user expectations become more refined. You have to have a web content editor-in-chief type person that overseas and coordinates content for the departments with a small team of centralized editors. The alternative is what you have now: inconsistent layout/voice/writing/information at best, unusable sites at worst.

Watch .eduGuru next week, I'm literally in the middle of an article on this exact subject. It will go on at some more length on my thoughts.

When it's centralized, how do you handle news within those departments then?  We've even had trouble where a faculty member changes departments and nothing gets noted, even the school directory.  If they don't care enough to note to someone that a faculty member has moved, if one of our writes asks "What's new?" I'm not confident they'll care/know.  

Regardless, that's not a problem solved by giving them content control of their site. If they don't take the time to tell whomever updates your directory that there are staffing changes, why would they go through the effort to maintain their sites - something substantially more detail oriented and labor intensive? This is all a workflow problem, and you have to address that first and foremost.

Here, we have two PR people each assigned to two colleges. Every month they sit in on the respective school's departmental chair meetings and just listen to whats being discussed, and keep an ear open for something that might be newsworthy. If they don't hear anything, then they engage the chairs and ask questions designed to dig up something. Journalism, and all that. In your example, you already don't have confidence that they know/care about that, so clearly giving them content control doesn't solve the problem.

It's our PR department's job to worry about the news, and communicate an open line between departments/colleges, and them. The academic folks, generally speaking, simply don't have the skill to write news for broad audiences. They write academically. Would you have them shoot their own commercials, too?

In cases where I get pushback on such models, my solution is simple. Flexibility. I challenge the department. I give them an opportunity to show me that they can truly write their stuff in a way that makes sense, honors the proper voice, and that they can maintain it, then I'm fine considering giving them that access. I lay out all the guidelines and expectations, and I push them. So far, the number of areas that have managed it: 0.

This is our single biggest issue at Southwestern, particularly with academic departments. We've had a decentralized content management strategy since 2008. The primary incentive we give our full-time web admin in each department (full-time in the sense that they are full-time employees, not that they spend all their time on the website) was to get our Provost to approve a committee release for each. So, in exchange for working on their department website, each faculty web admin. receives one less committee assignment for the year/s they serve. Secondly, our Provost now heads a "web presence committee" that studies best practices, reviews department websites with web administrators, and makes suggestions on how to improve their websites without directly critiquing the work of the web admins.

Now this is a new strategy that has only been in place since last summer, so we don't yet know how well it will work in the long term. But early reports from faculty on the committee suggest that peer review (led by the dean of our faculty) is the right approach. Our job, as administrators, was simply to convince the Provost that the web was important enough that there had to be a pro-active process in place to engage faculty. And frankly, to help them see the self-interest that is served by maintaining healthy web presences (recruiting students that help fill seats in their classrooms).

We'll see if it works in the long run, but I'm encouraged when faculty start to see the value in policing themselves.

We pretty well have the same situation, but with one addition: me. A big chunk of my job is to keep on top of the individual departments' web sites and ping the editors when I see something that needs attention. I review each departmental site annually and provide a report detailing broken links, out of date content and a summary of the site's use statistics. Throughout the year, I recommend news articles and events for them to borrow over from other sites (we're all in the same CMS which makes that easy), and point out other good practices for them to emulate. Note that  I do not change anything on any department site unless I have discussed it with the site editor and gotten their blessing.

I really think the attention helps. Just letting the editors know that folks are out there using the website, that someone cares what it looks like and what content is out there is a huge boost. We're trying to change the mindset and get departments to take ownership and have some sort of pride in that ownership. Change is slow, but most of our department sites are much better than they have been. 



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