Higher Ed Web Marketing is Underfunded
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Higher Ed is an old-school industry.
Hiring patterns are showing their age at a time when many technical marketers are leaving their campus jobs for greener pastures.
Ask yourself: Can we afford to be hiring for the same roles we’ve had for a decade or more?
Major waves of staffing turnover are a good time to reassess the mix of your office roles.
For example, many college MarComm offices have a generalist web developer on staff, but their salaries are ridiculously low compared to what they would receive outside of Higher Ed.
You’re either hiring a junior dev and sentencing them to a quick burnout, or you’re lucky because this person hasn’t yet realized what their skills are worth on the open market.
The real question that you should be asking yourself, though, is if it even makes sense to spend that money on a developer in the first place. A single underpaid junior developer isn’t going to make the difference that you need.
The bottom line is that your institution needs competitive digital marketing to continue to exist into the next decade.
Between market shifts, the rise of remote work, and competition from corporate EdTech, an urgent response is needed, and hiring more low-paid positions isn’t going to cut it anymore.
You need a talented collection of in-house digital marketers and producers.
And they should be paid WELL!
Additionally, if your website and all the marketing around it is your institution’s number one lead gen vehicle, more money needs to be spent on that, too.
But, honestly, hiring a bigger team in-house might not be the right answer, either.
Spending more on MarTech and fractional technical marketing support can be more cost-effective than the more than $1 million a year a university would need to spend on staffing and benefits just to stay competitive.
You can make smart adjustments that play to your strengths as changes in your staffing happen.
Identify your core competencies, double down on them, and then outsource work that doesn’t fit the strategy.
That means hiring great digital, web, and social media marketers who can effectively tell your story.
And instead of underpaying for junior technical staff, complementing and supporting that marketing team with an agency partner like Bravery Media.
- Joel Goodman
Is Your Higher Ed Website Like a Wedding?
I always think of weddings as personality amplifiers. If your best friend is generous and kind in everyday life, she will be extra generous and kind for your wedding. If your Uncle Pete is irritating and bombastic in everyday life, he will be exactly those things - intensified - from the rehearsal through the reception.
I think this personality amplification happens for a reason. Weddings are a major life event, and other people’s life events cause us to reflect a little on where we are at with our own plans. They bring to the surface our anxieties, hopes, disappointments, and unmet needs. So, when we walk into that event, our restraint takes a backseat to our emotions and behavior patterns.
I think higher education websites intensify our emotions and behavior patterns in the same way that weddings do.
Our websites are like first impressions, and therapy appointments are rolled into one. They play a major role in audiences’ becoming acquainted with our work, business processes, and offerings. But they also provide a peek behind the curtain. With enough exploration, our audiences can potentially discover the things we’re missing and our vulnerabilities.
For example, if you’re a faculty member and have a faculty profile on the website, your advisor and your grad school friends will be able to deduce your publication rate and how prestigious and influential you seem to your institution. Or, if your academic policies show some variance between departments, your new students will figure out how to advocate for exceptions based on fairness.
Consequently, faculty and administrators feel a lot of BIG FEELINGS regarding their website content. Administrators want processes to be well-represented and incontestable. Faculty want their research and achievements to be prominent. And sincerely, there is an argument to be made that faculty accolades and clear how-to instructions make the student experience better.
You can’t refuse to provide your internal stakeholders’ content on the website, just like you can’t uninvite certain people to your wedding (at least not without severely damaging some relationships). Instead, give them the tools to assuage their anxieties, fulfill their hopes, and cope with those disappointments.
Hear them out: Set aside time to listen to your colleagues’ concerns. Ask questions and relate to them and their frustrations. Acknowledge them, and take their feedback seriously.
Treat your colleagues like your guests: The best weddings are full of fun and thoughtful touches for the invitees. Give your colleagues ample time to respond. Consider their unique needs. Small accommodations and thoughtful communications can go a long way toward building trust.
Set goals and strategies with them: Your goal should be to relieve their pain points while maintaining the spirit of your digital strategy. Set goals with them, and then offer several strategic options to meet their goals. Work with your colleagues to see how certain strategies align better with the larger plan than others.
Provide evidence: Certain kinds of data appeal to certain types of personalities (hot tip: with faculty, check out their own research methods. If they use quantitative methods in their own research, chances are they prefer quantitative evidence. Same goes for qualitative faculty). Seek out case studies, interviews, surveys, and statistics. Provide colleagues with more than the plan; show them how the strategies will work and where they are already successfully employed.
Change things slowly: Sometimes, #s 1 and 2 get you and your colleagues back on track, and sometimes there are unworkable conflicts. Their goals and processes to meet them can contradict your plan and erode your chances of making an impact. When you face these kinds of challenges, negotiate. Decide your priorities and find a compromise. Higher education is a long game. To be successful, you must maintain healthy camaraderie and culture with your colleagues.
Finally, remember that a wedding is an event to celebrate a marriage and for the people getting married to make promises to one another. Similarly, a higher education website should show off the best features of your institution and allow your community members to make promises to one another as well. These two emotionally charged spaces are in service of something greater. And, the better you protect and heal those high-stakes feelings, the better your long-term prospects will be.
- Kristin Van Dorn