A Look Back at HighEdWeb 2015

October 08, 2015

This year found the annual HighEdWeb conference setting up camp in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and we spent several days getting our geek on in the land of cheese curds, beer, and, the Bronze Fonz.

The conference spanned topics ranging from development to design, content strategy to crisis communications, and everything in between. Here are some of the major themes we saw stand out:

Community Counts

A common theme at this year’s HighEdWeb was community. In addition to mastering the skills and systems associated with higher ed digital communications, it’s critically important to understand how to work effectively with people and groups across the institution.

Our own Georgy Cohen presented a talk entitled “Building Internal Communities to Support Your Content Strategy,” where she outlined the steps to creating and maintaining a community of content owners, with the goal of managing content more effectively campus-wide. She interviewed higher ed professionals from institutions including the University of Alabama, the University of Buffalo, and Oregon State University, sharing case studies about how the content communities at those institutions work.

As luck would have it, the University of Alabama’s Rachel Carden was on hand to speak in extensive detail about her campus web professional community, WebTide. In addition, Chris Barrows of New York University presented in a similar vein, focusing more on social media.

A Bunch of Slackers

A topic that spanned multiple sessions was Slack, the team communications tool that has assumed a prevalent role across the tech industry (including here at OHO, where our designers have created a lovely array of custom emoji depicting staffers’ kiddos and pets). In fact, Vanderbilt University’s Lacy Paschal presented an entire session solely on Slack.

Why is everyone Slack-ing off? Because the tool is a great way to connect coworkers, whether they are across an office space or across a campus, creating a virtual community space that can yield critical information sharing and collaboration but also help shape a positive culture.

100% Human

Taking a cue from last year’s best-of-conference session by Ithaca College’s Dave Cameron, “Human at Work,” a number of sessions (mostly in the MPD - management and professional development - track) focused on topics such as managing office politics, shaping office culture, being a supportive colleague, working on a tight budget, and shifting your institution’s approach to the web.

Figuring out how best to work as humans is important in any field, and it’s great to see this area given due attention at HighEdWeb.

While not explicitly related to the web, these topics are highly relevant to getting work done in higher ed. There are always personalities to manage, and the more strategies we have for doing this productively, the better.

Keynote Capers

As usual, HighEdWeb’s keynote game was strong and left attendees with some serious food for thought.

Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”), who in recent years has become a prominent evangelist for scientific thought and taking action against climate change, reminded us all of our capacity to change the world by staying curious, promoting discovery, and advocating for science.

Author Scott “Unmarketing” Stratten regaled the crowd with a hilarious litany of social media success and fails while inspiring people to prioritize integrity, be respectful, and be kind. We are all role models, Stratten reminded us, and we continually set an example for our peers through our everyday actions and choices.

Double Down on Data

We know that outcomes matter, but tracking them can be tricky. Luckily, a bunch of sessions at HighEdWeb featured knowledgeable higher ed folks sharing their process for measuring digital efforts and using data to drive decision-making.

These sessions contained real examples (with real numbers!) demonstrating the value of employing robust tracking and measurement as a part of any marketing effort.

Crisis Communications, Live!

University of South Carolina content strategist Amy Grace Wells’ best-of-conference presentation on managing campus crises via social media, recapping how she has grappled with a litany of issues over the past year, was doubly notable because Wells was at the same time actively engaged in dealing with yet another campus crisis, caused by extensive flooding on and around campus.

Attendees witnessed Wells running from session to session, all while updating her school’s social media channels and fielding texts from university leadership. It was a great presentation, to be sure, but the grace (no pun intended) with which she balanced everything on her plate during the conference merits extra kudos.

OHO Represents!

Our team was well represented on the conference schedule. In addition to her talk on content communities, Georgy delivered a presentation entitled “Managing Organizational Change for Integrated Communications” as part of the Integrated Marketing Academy and a post-conference workshop on effective content planning.

Meanwhile, managing director and co-founder Jason Smith presented on “Popping the Higher Ed Digital Bubble -- What Higher Ed Needs to Learn from Corporate Websites,” and spoke of marketing principles corporate websites use that higher ed should apply in order to drive enrollment.

We can’t wait to see you next year at HighEdWeb 2016 in Memphis, Tennessee!

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