The content of the current Saint Mary’s site is managed by means of a technical process that gives the impression of a high degree of administrative oversight. This impression is incorrect.
To make a change to your content on the current site, you edit your page via Contribute and submit it; it’s then “approved” (by Mike Jung in College Communications) and goes live. In our meetings on campus, we heard this process referred to several times as one of “moderation.” Some staff expressed frustration that their work is moderated, suggesting that they could be trusted to accomplish their goals without administrative oversight. They already are!
The fact is that nobody we’ve met in Communications seems to want to moderate the SMC site’s Web content to any significant degree. The current “approval” model is only a technical detail— essentially, a flaw in the Web communications process— and the new CMS will correct it. The content managers of the new Saint Mary’s site will have control over the content they manage; in other words, the site’s content will belong to its content managers, who will have the freedom and power to make their own decision.
This power does imply a degree of responsibility. We heard one staff member say that she’d submitted a page with typos, and after it had been “moderated” and had gone live, it still had the typos! While this particular staffer was engaged enough to locate and correct these errors, we suspect there may be content managers in the SMC community who rely too much on a moderation process that doesn’t really exist. In our experience, content creators whose work is heavily moderated tend to lack a sense of accountability for their content; on the new site, it will be important for these folks to understand that there will be little if any “firewall” between their work and the public eye.
- The new CMS should be the only way to edit content on the new site. This will simplify the training, support and documentation processes immensely.
- The management of content for the Saint Mary’s site should be opt-in; nobody who doesn’t want to maintain Web pages should be forced to. For the new Saint Mary’s site to be effective, its managers and editors must be engaged and motivated. They should enjoy using computers, and see their Web pages as an opportunity to serve their (external and internal) audiences.
- Stakeholders on campus who don’t want to manage Web content should have options for getting changes made. They should be able to request content changes via an online form, and track the status of those changes. And it should be possible to enrich their sites with content feeds that update automatically (for example, showing a feed of appropriately tagged Saint Mary’s events or news items).
- Everyone who manages a section of the Saint Mary’s site should be identified with the pages they manage. Some institutions name the individuals responsible for page content in the footer of the page; that’s an interesting idea that we might explore, but whether we do or not, there should be a clear understanding of who manages content at SMC. Every page should be associated with a name (or a few names)— if not the administratively responsible individual, then someone in College Communications or CaTS.
- Every page that is easily accessible from the Saint Mary’s home page, and every page that’s considered a primary entry point into the site, should communicate effectively on behalf of the entire institution. This means that the pathways to information should be clear, the writing should be crisp and engaging, and the general branding and messaging should reinforce Saint Mary’s institutional priorities.
- It should be the job of Saint Mary’s Communications staff to keep an eye on all the pages that are considered primary points of entry. They should be able to offer their services to content managers who need help keeping up with the flow of information at SMC; for example, they might help populate home page feature stories for departments that are too busy with the academic cycle to keep up their pages.
- It should be understood that the core responsibility for Web content is with individual content managers. There’s a difference between content management and communications (more on that below); it may take occasional collaboration between the former and the latter to make the site’s content engaging and compelling in a sustainable way, especially in the first few months of the transition from a centralized to a distributed content management model.
- The fact is, everyone’s goals for the new Saint Mary’s site are largely the same. The various sites that make up the world of SMC should reflect the distinctive personalities of the parts of the community they represent, as well as the communications goals of the human beings that manage them; at the same time, because all these sites are part of the same institution, the pages need to reflect the institution’s brand, key messages, and priorities. These two needs are in no way oppositional: it’s a simple fact that every page of the new site should be informational, clearly navigable, and as interesting and engaging as possible, and that they should all speak on behalf of the same institution. We need the content managers throughout Saint Mary’s to ensure that the information’s correct, the stories authentic, and the news and events current; we need Communications to ensure that the pages communicate effectively, are clearly composed, and represent Saint Mary’s well.