Who Should Hold the Reigns in Higher Ed Web Content Management?


Who Should Hold the Reigns in Higher Ed Web Content Management?

Centralize or decentralize web content management?

Who should hold the power when it comes to web content management on university campuses?

This question can result in a firestorm of opinions, comments, and even emotionally charged outbursts across any campus.

For a university with limited marketing and communications staff resources, there can be many reasons for decentralizing Web content management.

The pros include:

  • An end to bottlenecks. By giving everyone who wants to be a content manager access to edit pages, each department can create content on its own time.
  • Minor edits can be done quickly, eliminating the need to wait for someone else to take care of them.
  • The marketing director’s face is no longer on dartboards across campus. Most likely because the backlog of requests has now ended.

And then there are drawbacks:

  • Everyone who wants to be a content manager, is one. And that means they now have access to your website — regardless of their skill set or knowledge base.
  • Quality control is nearly non-existent. Pages can get published with typos, grammatical errors and duplicate information.
  • A schizophrenic brand. Your website now has numerous “voices” instead of one overarching, unified voice and brand message.
  • Writing for print is not the same as writing for the Web. Writing for the Web requires an ability to create engaging copy that’s also search-engine friendly. And it takes time and effort to develop this skill (not just the ability to copy-and-paste copy from your latest brochure).
  • Let’s face it, some departments will never update their pages.
  • Pictures. Some professors, no matter how hard you try to convince them, will never understand that prospective students don’t necessarily want to scroll through 50 blurry images of the history department’s latest lecture on U.S.-Latin American Relations in the 20th Century that you’ve just uploaded to your page.
  • Two words: student workers. Some departments will shift Web tasks to student workers, since they’re young and “get” the Web. But left unsupervised, they also often create content that misses the mark in terms of branding.

When it comes to Web content management in the context of a university, I speak from experience. I spent several years as a university marketing director – under both centralized and decentralized models. And I have oh-so-many stories to tell.

So before you give the reigns of your Web content over to the entire campus in response to your — and their — exasperation, with the hope that your face will no longer be on dartboards across campus, here are 4 things to ponder:

1.  Content is one of your university’s greatest assets

While working at a university under a decentralized approach to Web content, I often discovered departmental Web updates — after the fact.

One such event occurred while browsing a department’s website for information. I stumbled upon a page that was clearly the experiment of a few well-meaning student workers who had just learned how to use Flash. At the time, I was relatively new to the position, so I did some investigating, asking, “How many people on this campus have access to the Web with the ability to edit content?” The answer: More than 200, including numerous students!!

At a school with a population of less than 3,000 students and probably no more than 300 faculty and staff, the bar for gaining Web access was alarmingly low.

That was a signal that it was time to revisit the school’s approach to Web content management.

Kristina Halvorson, author of Content Strategy for the Web, says organizations need to treat content like a strategic business asset. If that’s the case, does it really make sense to open up one of your university’s most strategic assets to anyone and everyone?

2.  Students make their college decision largely based on what they see online.

The facts are clear when it comes to factors prospective students take into account when deciding on a college:

  • 91 percent of college-bound students have visited three or more college websites.
  • 92 percent of them said they would be disappointed or remove a school entirely from their list if they didn’t find the information they needed on the school’s website. (Noel-Levitz E-Expectations Report)
  • 82 percent of high school students reported that an institution’s website serves as a credible source for their college decision-making process — second only to campus visits. (Hobsons Report on Undergraduate Student Recruitment)

3.  The talents of your marketing & communications staff are not commodities.


Your marketing and communications staff members are uniquely talented, highly accomplished individuals.

They are skilled in the art of communications, and some of them are specifically trained in creating engaging Web content.

For those who do this for a living, you know this is a well-honed skill. It’s not a commodity. And it’s not something that just anyone can — or should — do.

Just as your Web content manager is most likely not qualified to teach a class on comparative politics, the university’s political science department chair is highly unlikely to be well-versed in the art of writing keyword-focused content.

By opening up these tasks to everyone with the click of a button and a 1-hour Web training course, I’d argue that you’re devaluing the work that your marketing team does day-in and day-out.


4.  Can you find a practical solution that preserves quality?


As a person responsible for your university’s strategic marketing efforts, it’s important to think carefully about how you can strike a balance between a decentralized and centralized approach by allowing a reasonable number of highly trained people on campus to make content updates while preserving the quality of your Web content.

Particularly for marketing departments with limited staff resources, a centralized system might not be practical, or even possible. If that’s the case, a rigorous training program, a relatively high barrier-to-entry for campus Web content mangers and robust review process for anything published on the Web to ensure it accurately communicates the culture of your university is a possible solution.

If your Web content is as important as research shows, it’s simply unwise — even irresponsible — to give control of your university’s Web content to just anyone with a mouse and something to say.

What do you think? 



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