5 Key Considerations for Selecting a Website Calendar

March 28, 2019
a calendar

Website calendars pose one of the great challenges of higher education content management — there are a million options, every school needs one, but each school’s needs vary slightly, and nobody wants to own it. Who knows, if your college or university is like many others, a wide array of calendar tools may already be in place across your institution.

The bad news is that there is not one silver bullet solution for events content management — no single application that does it all and works for everybody. The good news, though, is that with a little forethought and planning, you can identify the approach (comprising tools and processes) that will best support your event communication needs.

Because this is an important decision, and typically one that affects multiple stakeholders across the institution, we created this guide to making decisions about events calendar solutions from a content management perspective.

An Events Calendar Tool is a Content Management System

We don’t often talk about event calendar solutions as being content management systems, but, well, they are. You’re managing the publication of a specific type of content. Ergo, it’s a content management system.

There are lots of great technical solutions out there, but likely only a few meet your specific criteria for how you want to present and manage events on your website. And as with any technical solution, how your organization is structured to support it — from both a resourcing and a process perspective — is paramount. You have to define requirements around what a valid event is (and isn’t) and how you want to use events content on your site, as well as overall ownership, governance, and editorial workflow for events.

With these thoughts in mind, here are some core questions to consider when trying to figure out a workable approach for managing events.

Sourcing and Owning Events Content

Events calendars are not self-sustaining systems — the actual events content has to come from somewhere. That means there needs to be ownership around sourcing that information and deciding what qualifies as an event for the purview of your calendar (e.g. a sponsored lecture is an event, but maybe non-university-affiliated activities are not).

The ownership can be held by one person, one group, or distributed authors across the organization. Here are a couple ways that can play out:

Central Control

To ensure consistency and quality, you may centralize the sourcing, authoring, and publication of event content so it is managed centrally, usually within the marketing/communications office. This would mean taking on the responsibility of knowing what’s happening across the institution (and making sure campus event organizers know to keep you in the loop).

You may consider creating a public-facing form where members of the community can submit event details for review and possible inclusion in the calendar. Some calendaring tools include this as a feature, funneling submitted events to a review queue. If your tool does not, you may still consider creating a webform to solicit event details that then get sent to the calendar owner to manually input into the event calendar. (More about structuring event content later.)

If you offer this kind of option to your campus community, it is important to accompany it with clear content guidelines for submitters. This will improve the quality of event content, reduce work for you later, and educate the community about appropriate content for the events calendar.

Distributed Control

Depending on your system, you may be able to grant multiple people across the institution (e.g. stakeholders within different units; multiple communications staffers) access to submit, review, categorize/tag, and/or publish events. But you would ideally still want a workflow around moderating and publishing (or rejecting) events content, and an overarching “editor-in-chief” reviewing for content quality against defined criteria.

Different tools may offer varying levels of roles and workflow; be sure you think about what your organization needs to be a successful events publisher, then find a solution that aligns to those needs.

Defining Events Content Structure

Let’s get philosophical: what is an event, anyways? Well, the answer, of course, is “it depends!”

We talked earlier about defining at a high-level what sorts of events are appropriate (or inappropriate) for your college/university events calendar, but what information characterizes an event? And what should the structure of that information look like in order to meet your communications objectives and the needs of your audience?

A content model can help you architect what an event should look like, defining minimum (and maximum) requirements for required or optional details.

(See an example of an event content model from the University of Bath.)

These details may include relevance to a defined audience, inclusion of specific details such as location or sponsoring organization, and easy categorization in defined event types like lectures or performances.

By creating standards around your definition of an event, you will begin cultivating more consistent, higher quality events content. Any community-facing form you introduce to solicit events content should align more or less to the structure of the content model. The more structured your form is, and the more guidance it gives around required and optional elements (with reinforcement from public-facing content guidelines), the better.

This content model, of course, also directly informs how you structure an event in your event content management system of choice, whether it’s a standalone events calendar solution or an events content type for a CMS. Can your events tool of choice accommodate these requirements? This is a foundational question.

Using Events on Your Website

To ask another philosophical question, why are you publishing events content?

It may seem obvious, but it’s an important question to consider thoughtfully. At its core, this means thinking about audience and purpose:

  • Who do you want to see event content?
  • How will this content enhance their understanding and experience?
  • ​What do you want them to do next?

Events can add relevant, dynamic context to more static website content (for example, promoting upcoming admissions infosessions on a page about admission requirements). They can be used broadly, to communicate a high-level sense of dynamic campus life to an external audience, or in a targeted way, to inform a specific audience of events primarily relevant to just them (e.g. students in a specific program or alumni in a certain region).

So, how might you want to highlight events content on your website? Is it sufficient to just have a prominent link jump out to your events calendar tool, or is there an opportunity/need to pull some of that events content into your overall website? If so, some questions to consider:

  • What are some use cases for where events content would serve a useful purpose?
  • Would you need that event content to be manually curated, or could you potentially just pull all the most recent events tagged “undergraduate admissions” or “student groups”?
  • ​Would you want to curate “featured” events to promote at a high-level (e.g. homepage)?

Answering these questions about how you want to use events content will guide you to a solution that can best accommodate these desires.

Events Calendars at Your Institution

Admissions. Student Affairs. Athletics. Alumni Affairs. Individual schools and departments. What do these functions have in common? They may all already manage their own event calendars, within their own discrete systems that may or may not integrate with other publishing systems on campus.

It is tremendously important to consider the institution-wide implications of selecting an events calendar tool and to consult and partner with other groups as you make this decision. Depending on how your digital governance is established, you may find it prudent to create policies around calendar implementation — that could mean requiring universal adoption of a single tool, or requiring approval to adopt alternative tools, or requiring participation in a campus events working group, depending on your needs, culture, and priorities.

However, we do recommend having one person accountable for how events function across your website. This doesn’t necessarily mean administering a single universal calendar tool — it just means being accountable for how events content is presented on the website, having awareness — and (ideally) a say — in the tools different groups may use to organize their events, and finding ways to draw appropriate connections between distinct calendars.

The goal should not necessarily be mass adoption, but rather mass awareness and coordination. In our conversations with students and internal stakeholders, events communication is constantly a sore point, whether it’s because of ineffective integration with the website, poor quality of event content or presentation, or competition (read: noise) from dozens of other internal email lists, social media feeds, and so on.

What About Room Reservation Systems?

The other type of “calendar” to consider is your room reservation system (if you have one). Some calendaring tools serve dual purposes, managing both the internal tasks of room reservation and the external-facing promotion of events. The advantage is that you can avoid forcing event organizers to input their event information into two different systems. The downside is that it can sometimes be challenging to get content that is as richly informative as you would hope through a room reservation system.

In the end, this decision may come down to budget or resourcing, but as you consider operational efficiency, also the value of events content to your internal and external constituencies and how best to maximize that.

Managing Event Content Via Drupal

With Drupal as your CMS, you can highly customize your theme for event listings and detail pages, as well as tailoring your event content structure to suit all needs. It is also much easier to pull events content into pages via taxonomy without wrangling third-party integrations and configurations.

It is important to note that the lack of some features out-of-the-box (such as recurring events or a public-facing event submission form) is a function of the type of tool that Drupal is. It is, at its core, an external-facing, market-oriented publishing tool. Most calendaring-specific software is more inclined to address internal needs such as those by default — but the trade-off is, you lose the flexibility needed to weave events into your overall marketing strategy and design approach.

Some clients get the best of both worlds, managing events through a third-party calendaring tool while pulling external-facing events with marketing value into Drupal, where they can be manipulated more nimbly to serve communications objectives. This would be a key consideration to surface at the outset of a project.

Picking an Events Calendar is a Content Decision

Yes, an events calendar is a technical tool. But selecting the best tool for the job is not purely a technical decision. By closely considering the communications needs of your organization and your users, you will arrive at a better, more effective solution for managing and publishing events content.

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