CMS Development Engagement HTML5 Machine-readable Metrics Platform RSS Social media Strategy

Thinking about digital strategy

I’ve been thinking a lot about digital strategy over the past couple of months as we get our digital communications plans together for the next year or two.

It’s very hard, and I can see why many digital teams don’t have an explicit strategy document that they wave proudly around at anyone that asks. The technology moves so fast, strategies are almost out of date the moment they are written. There is always vastly more that you can do and want to do (and other people want you to do) than you are ever able to do with available time and resources, that is is very difficult to put the lid on the box once you’ve opened it. Managing people’s expectations is also hard – you want to enthuse people and get them on board, but not over-promise. It feels easier and more realistic to keep things flexible and high level, with fuzzy visions for strands of work, but workload management and bidding for funds requires project plans, SMART objectives and clear deliverables. It is a tough balance.

But it’s also great fun – and I mean that! It’s a great excuse to spend days reading websites, blogs and books, but the best bit is sitting around drinking strong coffee and having interesting conversations with clever people who are doing, or thinking about, interesting and clever things in this area.

Our thinking, incorporating very helpful feedback from colleagues in JISC and Services, is coagulating into a plan which has 5 strands of work: platform, content, tech development, engagement and measuring/monitoring. Here are our broad thoughts under these headings.

The platform stuff centres around the not-entirely-novel notion of using the best tool for the job and having a ‘mixed economy’ of systems, instead of a monolithic web CMS that tries to do everything (but not that well). We’ve already started down this road with the JISC corporate blog, which is integrated with the website but runs off WordPress. Of course, this approach throws up a number of issues; significantly, supporting multiple systems and the users of those systems. Single-sign-on is a must, as is insisting upon intuitive, easy to use systems. But there are still resource implications that need to be addressed if we go down this road.

We must improve the clarity, brevity, relevance and comprehensiveness of our digital content so that the full range of what JISC is and what is does is understandable to a non-expert audience. We have been heartened by the positive feedback received about the new Supporting Your Institution section. We need to extend and learn from this approach in other sections of the site. It is no mean feat; JISC is, after all, involved in technically complex, difficult to understand stuff. A sub-theme in the content strand is making our content useful for machines. This is an area where I could get geekily carried away but I know I need to reign myself in and concentrate on use cases and cost/benefit analyses! Increased use of RSS is a no-brainer but I’m not convinced RDFa will add much at all to our corporate website. If I can enable it easily (via the CMS, say), then fine, but I think I’d prefer to concentrate on making our general markup  more ‘semantic’, which will probably involve moving our code standard to HTML5 (and working out a way for our CMS WYSIWYG to stop writing such awful code).

Metrics need to be in the front and centre of our approach, especially in these economically-straightened times. We need to be able to demonstrate the use, and crucially, the impact and value of our digital communications. We are not selling anything, so this means thinking carefully about what constitutes ‘conversions’ in the use of our content. And it needs to cover ‘social analytics’, gathering evidence on the use and ROI of JISC social media. Brian Kelly has done some interesting thinking about social analytics (see recent post on ‘Assessing the value of a tweet‘, among others) and it is this type of creative success criteria that we need to develop.

And then there is digital engagement, which we want to do more of, but recognise that to do it right requires a lot of work. In truth, this is the area that needs a little more thought but, currently, I think there is value in exploring how we can integrate existing, standalone engagement tools such as JISCPress with the website and to develop transparent processes so that people are assured that their views are acknowledged and acted upon. We should build on the good work already taking place around ‘amplified events’, such as the JISC Conference. There is also opportunity in that many staff within JISC are long-standing and often fairly prolific users of social media. It is not the role of the Comms team to control these individual channels but I think we could do more to aggregate and curate this content, and make it visible to a wider audience. We’ve made a start with the social media widget and page on the website, but we need to develop it further.

I’ve already talked about some development stuff, such as a code refresh for the JISC website and increased use of RSS. I think the look and feel of the JISC site is getting a little old now and could do with an overhaul, not least to make the graphic design more flexible for different presentation layers within the website. We’d also like to create a mobile version of the JISC site, but start small and power it by feeds, at least initially. We were impressed by the ILRT approach when they came to talk to us recently about MyMobileBristol. I liked it because it was a ‘one web’ solution, using a harvester to transform existing data into RDF for use by the application. I’m not convinced about mobile apps for us as a team at this stage. I’d much rather concentrate on the mobile web as the primary channel and consider any apps on a case by case basis.

Don’t bother to comment. All of the above is now out of date 😉

By Ben Whitehouse

I'm head of web at Jisc. My team manages and other web services. I'm responsible for ensuring the overall user experience of the Jisc web estate is simple, clear and consistent

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