Old Prospector: From Bravery Media, this is Appendix B. On this week’s episode, is your website your employee of the month? And now here’s Kristin Van Dorn and Joel Goodman.
Kristin Van Dorn: So Joel, I think university websites, whether you want them to or not, reflect your digital marketing office’s operations. And I not only think this is descriptive, I think that it’s prescriptive.
Joel Goodman: So what do you mean? Do you mean like how back in the day everyone had these org chart based navigation systems on their website, or does it go deeper than that?
Kristin Van Dorn: It goes deeper than that.
So what I mean is that when you set up a university website, no matter how you initially set it up, if it’s not reflecting your organization, it’s going to erode to reflect your organization, and you can’t enforce how something operates by putting a nice website in front of it. So your operations automatically start to intrude on whatever strategy you have.
And if they’re out of alignment, that causes a confusing web environment. However, if they are in alignment, that’s when your website really begins to act like an employee in your arsenal. So what I mean by that is I think of, if you have gaps in the service that you can provide. That’s where your content shines because that’s when you’re walking people through technical processes or you’re walking them through the areas of your site, the areas of your content that you can’t have someone in a phone bank be responsive to when a user has questions.
Joel Goodman: That makes a lot of sense. Cause I think we’ve seen. We’ve seen in this industry a lot of times where this has happened, you’ll have a new website get launched and it’s real cool and, you know, maybe suffers from a few of those little organizational things. Like someone thought it was a great idea to have a homepage that was customizable but didn’t ask the question,
Do people want to customize the homepage? Are they gonna come back that often? Like who are you building it for? That sort of thing. So you might do something real. This seems very progressive, very, you know, very forward thinking for the state of the web, or at least the state of the web in Higher Ed.
But then, after three to six months, when you don’t have that agency around that’s been helping you work through all the processes of writing content and designing stuff and getting things built out, you just start to see how the disorganization inside the organization affects that content, that design, the information architecture, whatever it is.
And, and it probably goes a little bit further than that. I’m glad we’re focusing just on websites, but you could see how this happens to things like social media strategy or other marketing strategy where you know, you’ve got a plan in action. But if you don’t have everyone on the same page, and the organization isn’t kind of moving as one towards those goals, it just kind of falls apart.
Kristin Van Dorn: Yeah, and it’s not only that it falls apart, but imagine that, like for example, you have a university that has a competitor out there with very lean content, and their content is very lean because they’re trying to drive people to ask questions. Like that’s a specific strategy that they developed, but this university has a small staff. They have advisors that are not really recruitment facing, so they want to have this lean website that’s gonna do the job that it does for their competitor, except for the fact that they kind of need the website to tell more of the story because they have no one there to answer the phone.
And that’s when I think you have to start thinking about your operations and how they match up with what you’re putting out on the web.
Joel Goodman: Yeah, it’s an interesting point. There’s kind of a gap sometimes with that whole, looking at competitor’s side of things and not really realizing where your own institution is at in reality.
I think there’s maybe an aspirational part of it or, a fantastical part of it where you think like, we’re really good. We gotta, all we gotta do is change this one thing. But if the tactics don’t actually mesh and fit well with how you’re structured internally, it can actually break you even more.
And the example you just gave is a very good one cause we see that and hear that a lot, you know, that tactic of wanting people to ask questions or, there was an article recently, or I think it was like a year ago when people started talking about the decline of the call to action.
The inquiry request. Right? And it’s not that that’s a bad thing to have or that it isn’t really a basic metric than a full application. It’s a question around how are you staffed to deal with it? And also, does it fit into how you operate? So like on the for-profit institution side, the folks that kind of pioneered that, you know, that high lead gen, high inquiry sort of approach to admissions, right?
They’ve got call centers, you know, they’ve either built them internally or they’ve bought them, and so they have people that can follow up very, very quickly with those inquiries. But if you’re a small, four year regional institution with, you know, 2,500 students max, you almost certainly do not have the staffing to handle that same sort of a thing within your school, and so what happens is you make this sort of promise that you don’t realize you’re making by trying to get people to ask questions, but then you don’t follow up quick enough and so you actually lose the capacity for applicants and enrollment that you could have if you had just had a smarter approach that fit that audience.
Kristin Van Dorn: Yeah, in the restaurant industry, they often say that you staffed the business that you do. And that means if you don’t have enough wait staff, you’re never going to have the customers to grow your business. Because people get frustrated when they can’t get sat at a table, when they can’t get timely service, when they can’t make their movie time because they didn’t get their order on time.
So, the same thing kind of goes for Higher Ed. It’s just you have to look at the website like it’s a staff member too, and it has jobs it can do for you, but if you don’t give it the content to do that job for you, then you’re depending on your people’s staff, not your website to do that work. And when that breaks down, you’re actually losing trust with your potential applicants.
When that happens, it’s nearly impossible to recover because once they have a bad experience, they tell their other friends. I’ve had a really bad experience. And so what you want is you want your website to prevent bad experiences.
Joel Goodman: So how do you think institutions can go about kind of judging the appropriateness of the strategies that they’re implementing on their websites, in comparison with how their organizational structures are set up?
Kristin Van Dorn: Well, I think one way that they could look at it is realistically when they put a request for information form on their site, they have to think critically about who’s going to be answering it and how much bandwidth that staff member or staff members have.
If that’s not their exclusive job, then you know you’re not gonna be able to get back to every single applicant within 48 hours, or within 24 or within three, you know, whatever the case may be for what the user expectation is. So then you have to think, how do I answer the top questions in a way that’s meaningful so that I actually have less requests for information?
But if you’re using your request for information as a metric for measuring how effective your site is, that doesn’t work because then you’re trying to drive people to prove that you have a number of people that are interested and measure what they’re responding to.
Joel Goodman: Yeah, an RFI isn’t really a good metric if you aren’t also converting a significant portion of those people to actual applicants.
It’s, it’s a good metric if you’ve got a refined and kind of humming machinery behind the scenes, making all that stuff happen. But otherwise, it’s just kind of a waste of time.
Kristin Van Dorn: And then I think probably another way that you could start to think about this is think about where you have staffing gaps.
So do a service blueprint and look through not only the user journey, but the backstage of how people are picking up that journey and relieving anxiety or increasing excitement. And when you find a gap of a student need that’s not being met. That’s when you can look at how can this website fill this gap?
Joel Goodman: Well, and then on top of that, I think what’s helpful is once you have those structures in place, put in systems to allow you to check on those every once in a while. Make sure that you’re not just doing one audit, one kind of service blueprint, and then you’re just letting it run forever. Make sure that you check in and make sure that that’s working every six months, every year, and then make those augmented changes.
Because if you’re not constantly optimizing even your business operations, you know, in the same way that you should be constantly optimizing your website. You can just easily fall back into those same rhythms and same patterns that your institution was in prior to, to doing all that work. So it’s important to just have that feedback loop into in place.
If you’d like help with any of your research, and your business operations, doing the service blueprint, anything like that, Bravery Media would love to help. Visit us at bravery.co and start a needs assessment.
Old Prospector: Thanks for listening to Appendix B. If you’ve got a moment, we’d appreciate you leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. If you’d like more from us, check out our newsletter at bravery.fyi. We’ll see you next week!