Coming Together at Confab Higher Ed 2015

November 19, 2015

Through a popular diagram breaking down the components of content strategy, we understand that just half are related to content. The other half are related to people—the processes and workflows that govern how organizations execute a content strategy.

It was this people-centric half of the equation that drew the focus of presenters and attendees alike at the third annual Confab Higher Ed conference, held in the French Quarter of New Orleans Nov. 4-6.

Disrupt or Be Disrupted

  • Lisa Welchman, author of “Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design” kicked off the conference with her keynote about managing digital disruption in higher ed. Her advice? Be prepared for inevitable disruptions, or be the disruption. Either way, getting organized and adhering to standards is critical. Her talk set the thematic tone for the conference.

  • Michael Powers of Indiana University talked about telling stories through measurement. By framing your approach to measurement with these questions, you can gain greater understanding. Choose the most meaningful metrics that will yield the answer you seek and help you see if you are meeting your goals.

  • Karen Lee of Stanford Business School broke down their editorial process for covering faculty research, such as testing various ways to share and promote a piece of content via social media, live-tweeting speakers, repurposing lecture video as audio podcasts, using SlideShare as a publishing platform.

  • As always the lightning talks yielded bite-sized morsels of valuable information. Arezu Sarvestani of UCSF shared some pro tips for effectively promoting video content via social media (e.g. using GIFs and screengrabs, and highlighting content from the middle of the video). And Natasha Wetten and Kate O’Neill of Temple University showcased their successful newsletter for current students, Nutshell. (See a sample newsletter here.)

  • Tim Nekritz of SUNY Oswego gave an important talk about using social media to communicate with students—not in a generic, “community-building” sort of way, but to form meaningfully connect with students for whom emotional struggle and isolation can be more common than we realize. Using social media to build bridges with students through personal interactions and “real talk” content can have truly life-saving consequences.

  • Author Scott Berkun broke down a word that comes up far too often in conversations about higher ed digital strategy: innovation. He helped attendees understand what the word means, both now and across history. Key takeaway: innovation is an outcome, not an activity. How are your efforts making a meaningful, measureable difference?

  • Megan Costello of University of Wisconsin-Madison demystified one of the biggest black boxes in higher education: the budget. She talked about how to get the most out of a tight budget (even at UW, which has seen significant cuts) to advance a content strategy. Four steps: 1) pre-plan and get help 2) be bold and focused and make the plan 3) Adjust and revisit goals constantly 4) Brag about your outcomes. Strategies include honest evaluation of legacy content practices, saying “no” when necessary, communicating effectively with leadership, and using data to make the case for new or shifted resources. A good budget should reflect the institutional values that guide your work. “Once you know the budget,” she said, “you know the institution.” So true.

  • Sarah Maxell Crosby and Susan Lee from our client Dartmouth College presented about their content repository project, the goal of which is to create a shared content repository for 200-plus sites across the college. A major emphasis of this project is the user experience for content authors, so the repository functions as an effective and easy-to-use tool for authors. In addition to building a new system, a major part of this project has been helping department content owners understand the value of publishing goal-oriented content.

  • Amanda Costello of the University of Minnesota capped off the event with her closing keynote that touched on a common topic for these types of conferences: silos. But instead of bemoaning silos as immutable barriers to collaboration, she talked about actual silos (like the ones in her hometown of Minneapolis, longtime home to General Mills) and how they have evolved and been repurposed over time. So too, she contends, can we do better work and overcome the silos within higher education through both vertical and horizontal outreach to peers, higher-ups, and even other institutions. (Her keynote slides and video are now available.)

Per tradition, Confab Higher Ed wrapped in delicious fashion—with cake! See you next year in Philadelphia.

(Thanks to Confab for the lovely cake photo.)

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