How Transparency Makes the Web Better

April 28, 2015

Transparency flies in the face of silos, which are endemic to higher ed. Silos seclude people from one another and disconnect people from streams of information. This creates redundancy and inefficiency, inhibits the ability to gain broad buy-in, and makes communication challenging.

But when you strive to foster transparency, the walls fall away. People become humans, not just names on a list. Information becomes common knowledge, not the stuff of legend. Communication and connections become the currency by which things get done.

How can you foster transparency? There are a few simple things you can do that will go a long way toward creating a more open (and more productive) work environment.

Publish your editorial calendar and content guidelines

For a highly political digital property (for example, your homepage), sharing your rationale and plan for what you publish there and why can both demystify your process and help people feel invested and aware. Your plan isn’t top secret, so why not share it? The University of Texas at Austin did a great job of defining and sharing the content plan [PDF] for its homepage, and Fairfield University provided some insight into what content they plan for their homepage.

Share your content strategy

In the same vein, sharing the big picture of what you’re trying to do and help people across campus better understand the communications function of the university. Tufts University publishes a thorough overview of its social media strategy that is clear about tactics, goals, and intent, while Ohio University shares a page-level accounting of what content goes where on its site and why.

Share project status

Let your campus community know where initiatives stand. Be as open as you can about the status of various digital projects. Illinois State has a remarkable online project status tracker, accompanied by an explanation of its project planning process, but even a simple page on your website can suffice.

Open up your analytics

Empower communications professionals across campus to understand how their digital properties (be it a social media account, a website, or an email newsletter) are performing. Don’t just give them a monthly Google Analytics report, but train them in how to understand what the numbers mean and use them to make better content decisions going forward.

Create a content group

Convene communicators from across campus regularly to discuss best practices, share information and resources, and connect them to institutional standards and guidelines (and, as a bonus, each other). You can also use these forums to talk about upcoming projects or changes, or get feedback on style guide changes, design mockups, or other resources.

Get to know people

Become a person, not a name in an email To: field. Reach out to key people across campus (dean of student life, athletics director, department chairs, head of facilities) and have coffee - you’ll be sure to learn a lot, and they’ll have a face to the web. Hold office hours in your office or even the campus center to connect with students, faculty, and staff. And if you form that content group, you’ll get to know your fellow communicators.

Be human

All of these tactics really boil down to just being a better, more real human. That means owning up to mistakes when we make them, apologizing when we offend, and acknowledging when we’re wrong. These concessions are easier said than done, but not only will that vulnerability engender good will with those around us, but it will probably result in better work being done. (Learn more about being human from Ithaca College’s Dave Cameron.)

What transparency really does is cultivate trust. When you open up and share your process, people can react to a reality instead of a theory (or a fear). Then you can have far more productive conversations and constructive relationships than you would otherwise. And that’s when special things (and real progress) start to happen.

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