Contains text that reads: Appendix B. Higher Ed Web Strategy Trends Survey Results. Bravery.
Episode 43 -

Higher Ed Web Strategy Trends Survey Results

Joel Goodman:
From Bravery Media, welcome to Appendix B. My name is Joel Goodman. With me, as always, is Kristin Van Dorn.

Happy New Year, Kristin.

Kristin Van Dorn:
Happy New Year, Joel.

Joel:
I know we released an episode this year already, but you know, not one that was recorded in this new year like this one is so, so good to be back behind the microphone talking with you, and I’m especially excited because, at the start of this year, we released the findings of Bravery’s Higher Education Web Strategy Trends or survey that we, that we did, in December of 2023 and. I don’t know about you. I wasn’t super surprised by a lot of the things that we found.

But, uh, there are definitely some key insights that I think our friends in higher education can learn about or learn from and apply to what they’re doing. And so I wanna talk to you about what you found most interesting out of all the data we got back since you ran the study. Uh, and maybe we can get into some ways that we can make higher ed a little bit better in the new year or, you know, apply some of these findings to what we do in practice.

Kristin:
Sure. Well, for starters, let’s talk a bit about the survey, like what we hope to accomplish, how it was designed, what kind of data we gathered, and how we interpreted that data.

So when people hear surveys, they often think quantitative, but this is a very qualitative survey. It was a lot of open-answer questions, and it was designed so that we weren’t populating ideas for you to respond to but rather asking survey takers and participants to give us their own ideas unprompted.

So the benefit of that is we really get a sense of what’s on your mind. The drawback is that if you’re not thinking about certain things right now, but they’re still on your radar, they’re just quiet at the moment; we’re gonna miss out on some of that data.

It had a participant level under 100, so nothing is uniquely generalizable, but you can still infer a lot of intuitions and see commonalities across the data the same way you would with other kinds of qualitative research.

Joel:
And I want to point out that we are doing these studies on all kinds of stuff and all kinds of issues that are related to higher ed throughout the year. And personally, I would love to see more people respond because the more we can learn from the folks doing this work in higher education, the better the results are going to be, and the more helpful these studies are to the rest of the industry.

So when you see a link coming out on LinkedIn, you know, you can find us on LinkedIn, you know, where we’re at, or you know, through our newsletter at bravery.co/newsletter. We will send out links to these surveys. We need more people to respond to them going forward so that we can provide better data and insight and help the entire industry do better marketing work.

Kristin:
Okay. So one of the insights that I want to draw out from our data was how frustrated our participants feel with immature conversations around content strategy, video, and content production. We saw a major theme come across this data suggesting that you’re all getting tired of having the same conversations over and over again and not feeling like you’re subject matter experts or your partners or keeping up with how do you talk about video strategy now, or how do you talk about content strategy?

Where is the evolution happening? And so I thought that was really interesting. Joel, do you have any reactions to that?

Joel:
Uh, this is one of those things that, you know, again, didn’t really surprise me because we have been having the same conversations in higher ed over and over and over again for the last fifteen, twenty years. Like we’re still talking about drone videos on homepages, even though we know that they affect UX, they affect your conversion rate, they slow down your website, and they’re not good. And, these days, people don’t care about them. They’ve seen a hundred of them across every institution. They’re not gonna stop and watch it.

Or the same thing with carousels. People don’t go past the second slide, and no one is going to your website to watch a carousel. I did think one of the bigger points that it may wasn’t surprising, but I think deserves a lot of weight, is this frustration with content strategy, like people knowing that content strategy is really important but feeling like they can’t get past this surface level conversation with their colleagues and maybe even the rest of the industry around content strategy to do the more progressive work that they know needs to be done uh, with their content.

And, you know, I think on our end, what we infer from that is this sort of, uh, homogenous content that is the same across every single higher ed institution. Every program page has the same information. Everyone wants to put up a bunch of stats, but they’re not looking at what the stories are that make their offerings more human to people.

It really comes down to figuring out how you can differentiate yourself. And you can’t do that if you’re just putting up the same data that everyone else has. even

Kristin:
Another topic area that we talked about was your concerns for the upcoming year. And this one was, of course, interesting, but in some cases, hard to hear. A lot of you are facing reductions in either budget or staff. Some of you are being asked to do that old mantra “do more with less.”

And a lot of you’re really scared about what that means for your positions, what that means for the quality of your work, and for the kinds of things that you feel you have to keep up with. Some respondents even said they’re looking at how they do fewer things well. And, um, Bravery feels for you.

It does feel like an environment where we have to keep all these plates spinning in the air, and suddenly, leadership or environmental factors are taking some of our hands out of the equation.

Joel:
Yeah, a hundred percent. And it’s been building, I think, you know, this is maybe one of those years that we’re really feeling the after-effects of Covid and the shutdowns like there was kind of a boost with, you know, government money still coming in, and now we’re leveling off and people are feeling those, those aftershocks of what the pandemic did to our industry.

You know, I, I think we, we, even on the vendor agency side, are worried about where the industry is at because people aren’t spending as much money on marketing, and they have been losing staff, and now they’re keenly aware of needing to keep the staff that they have.

Um, I’ve been joking with a lot of people; half of my network has moved from institutions, uh, over to agencies, you know, over to vendors. And so, there has been a talent drain that’s just starting to be replaced in higher ed.

And I think that leaves most institutions at a crossroads. It’s hiring more staff and trying to retain them by whatever means you can and fill those gaps. Or it’s considering not replacing those positions and hiring and partnering with a third party.

You know, the budgets often don’t allow you to do everything. You know, it doesn’t allow you to hire some staff and work with an agency or hire an entire team and get the stuff done that you need to get done.

I personally really like the do less better because I think we do a whole lot not great in higher ed sometimes. And so if you can choose something that’s going to make a big difference for your institution, focus on that, and work towards making that happen, you’re gonna be in a better spot.

Kristin:
If we start to look at the trends that you identified, um, the most important factors that will affect your role and the things that bring you excitement or enthusiasm to your work. Joel and I saw nothing that surprised us. A lot of it was around how to make artificial intelligence more effective for your strategy and relieve some of your more rote tasks.

Um, we also saw an emphasis on personalization, an emphasis on mastering GA4. And then, um, as might come as no surprise, we saw content strategy as a big theme for you this year, too. Um, Joel, what do you think about the themes for the web trends this year?

Joel:
Uh, I mean, I think they, I think some of them are following fads. Like I understand the AI part of it. I think there’s a lot of, well, I know there’s a lot of media coverage on AI. I think most of the conversation in higher ed on across higher ed social media is about AI this, AI that, but there isn’t a lot of concrete, helpful information on how to put AI into practice in our everyday work beyond just like become a prompt engineer and like honestly, you have another job. So, becoming a prompt engineer and learning how to engineer prompts well will be important going forward, but you have to know why you’re using AI, why you’re putting AI into your workflows, and how it can help.

And so, I mean, my recommendation is to listen to the broader AI conversations and not just what’s happening across higher ed because I think that’s kind of myopic. Listen to the people who are in broader business sectors and are using AI in ways that are helpful. But you know, beyond that, personalization’s still a trend.

I still don’t think we’re there, and I still don’t think that personalization honestly makes a lot of sense. Um, at this point, unless you’re talking more for, uh, retaining students that have already applied, I think personalization still needs to be flushed out a little bit more, but it, it feels more like a, more like a trendy, trendy term than anything else still.

Kristin:
So, the last thing I wanted to talk about was the things that I thought were missing from your answers. One thing that I didn’t see heavily remarked on in the survey results was the enrollment cliff. Similarly, I also didn’t see a lot of information about how colleges and universities are considering handling demographic questions or, um, audiences and the expansion and diversity in target audiences.

So I was interested to know, Joel, what’s your take on that? Do you think that the enrollment cliff is such old news that we’re not thinking about it anymore or that it’s such a latent fear that we can’t even bring it up in a survey? What do you think’s happening?

Joel:
I think it’s probably more of a latent fear. Um, I think there’s reason for most people in higher ed not to be afraid of an enrollment cliff. ’Cause I, like you, don’t think an enrollment cliff is happening. It all comes in dips and, you know, there’s peaks and valleys and all of this sort of thing.

And, uh, I think it’s been, I think the enrollment cliff has been greatly exaggerated. But it could be that it was just talked to death, and then everyone forgot about it because AI came up after that last year and took over the conversation. It could just be that there’s not enough air in the room for people to really care about that conversation anymore. But, uh, we’ll see. We’ll see what happens.