Tag Archive for website

It’s all about social media, except when it isn’t.

I led a training session the other day to further integrate social media into our admission and development work. We considered a range of new uses: student bloggers, a dedicated Facebook page for applicants, Flickr and YouTube channels. Some potential initiatives were certainly exciting to consider.

Here’s the problem. None of the new ideas made the cut when we listed priority tasks for the upcoming year. I asked what were each department’s primary communication goals for the upcoming year, without presupposing the solution. In all cases, the identified goals suggested changes to our existing website, not our social media strategy.

Why? While we have a successful website, it has more room for improvement than does our social media strategy. The main website receives 3,000 visits each day. Our Facebook fan page has about 500 fans. Improvements to the main website will reach far more people.

Also consider that our main website allows users to more meaningfully transact with the school than does our social media pages. For example, you may sign up to volunteer, make a gift to the school, apply for admission, or comment on a student blog. Our Facebook and Twitter pages primarily push content out to people who may be listening and offer some opportunities for interaction. Our main website may have limited opportunities for social interaction, but it offers more opportunities further up the engagement pyramid.

I am glad that we  developed a social media strategy and voice. A small and growing proportion of our audience maintains contact with the school through that vehicle. It improves our ability to engage in a personal way with constituents. However, we will continue to parcel out our time and effort based on the audience size and quality of interaction with the school. We will be able to adjust these efforts as we track the growth in social media page membership and interactions.

One Year Old

The Catlin Gabel website recently turned one! After a gestation period of six months, the website launched on July 1, 2009.

The Drupal-based website held up well last year. Dedicated hardware helped ensure that performance would remain high. The site received high ratings for usability. We improved the site throughout the year in response to user feedback and continue to develop it now.

Drupal 6 itself matured over the course of the year. Code and SQL errors resolved themselves as the community released patches and we installed the updated versions.

The year validated our decision to integrate password-protected, community content throughout the site. When logged in, users access protected content and tools based on their group membership. Users get to these tools in their expected locations on the site, rather than having to enter a separate community portal.

This year, we plan to build a complete online admission application, improve the design of section landing pages, and make a lot of small features more usable.

Maru-a-Pula Website To Drupal

Just two months ago, I wrote how I was still using Website Baker successfully for two sites. Well, it’s down to one now! I have migrated the Maru-a-Pula website from Website Baker to Drupal. Maru-a-Pula is an amazing school in Botswana that I have worked from the U.S. to assist since teaching there from 1994-96.

Nothing went wrong with Website Baker. The school had just outgrown the basic CMS for its needs. The principal had started to write a news column, and while Website Baker does support news, the Drupal module is much easier to use. We now have several new features the school or I had wanted: RSS feeds sitewide, a blog for any author, actual calendar functionality, and all sorts of future possibilities using modules from the Drupal community.

For the sake of a smooth user transition, I built a new Drupal theme (sub-theme of Zen) to copy almost exactly the old Website Baker theme. The two sites look nearly identical. I have to re-theme the Search form. I have done enough theme work in the last year that I felt very comfortable manipulating template and CSS files to create the desired look.

The site is designed so that local tech staff in Botswana may take over as much administration as they wish. The site has no custom module code whatsoever, and all dynamic content is presented through content types, views and blocks (e.g., main home page photo and three feature columns).

New site
new site

Old site
old site

Contributed Modules
Calendar
CCK
Date
FCKeditor
Filefield
Imagefield
Link
Menu breadcrumb
Pathauto
Simplemenu
Site map
Token
Views

The Rummage effect

Last week, our famous rummage event took place. Check out the effect on our website. I don’t know how Google really knows who is a new visitor to the website, but that’s great if it’s true.

rummage graphs

Amateur Video On Your School Website

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth a million. Motion picture and audio better simulate “being there” than a long article or photo gallery. Video may capture the subtle cues of emotional expression and the energy of the moment that help a viewer understand the intangible values of your organization. Now, it is possible to capture video with a small, portable device and transfer it to the web with just a few clicks.

Why isn’t online video more popular on independent school websites? One reason may be the apprehension of some about posting “home videos” on your school website or social network site. Given all the care that we put into our print publications, we may wish to hold videos to the same standard. That would be nice, but It takes many hours (and/or dollars) to create professional-quality video. Perhaps we should hold video to a different standard than written articles. Could a new standard for school website video include amateur content?

Authenticity

In the new web, content has trumped style. YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, and Twitter have demonstrated the greater value to users of authentic content over quality of presentation. YouTube is the fourth most popular site on the web. The President of the United States addresses the nation via YouTube. Cellphone reports of political unrest and natural disasters run on major network news broadcasts. At times like these, the value of amateur video is the authenticity of the content, not its production quality.

We may apply the same test to school events, even though they may not convey the same impact as mass demonstrations and natural disasters. Take the following video. I shot this at our annual homecoming event, a varsity soccer game attended by alumni and long-time faculty. It may well capture essential aspects of our school better than highly polished writing in a glossy magazine, especially if you studied with these teachers 20 years ago.

Choose to film school events that naturally capture the special qualities of your institution.

Edit as much as time allows

While you may not have the time or expertise to create professional-quality video, you can still produce video of reasonable quality. Depending on how you learn best, you may benefit from attending a beginner’s training for iMovie or Adobe Elements Premiere. Consider using a tripod to stabilize the picture and an external microphone to capture good audio. Develop a basic sense of composition, and timing. Learn to add just enough transition effects that your clips smoothly link together. Cut at least 90% of your original footage, keeping just the very best scenes.

Track your success

Following the progress of your new videos is essential to inform your own publishing choices and convince others that the experiment is working. Social media websites track the number of views of each of your content items. This allows you to track the number of video playbacks, one potential measure of success.

blip stats

If you use Google Analytics on your school website, check out the “time on page” measure. Larger values suggest that more viewers actually watched the video all the way through.

time on page

Determining perceived quality is more difficult. Comments may provide some clue. If hundreds of people view a video and only one person complains about video quality, then you’re probably on the right track.

comments

Start on your social media sites

You may not want to post your first video experiments to your public-facing websites. Facebook and YouTube are chock full of amateur video, so people will expect to see work of lower production quality there. The community pages on your school website may be another good place to start. Yet don’t stop there. Collect data on these first experiments in order to make an informed decision about whether to extend the experiment to the public-facing pages on your main school website.

On perfection

A founding faculty member at a well-regarded school recently retired. In his farewell remarks, he cautioned the community to resist perfectionism.

We are all under the illusion that we can and should be perfect all the time. If we don’t do “excellent” work everyday, then we don’t “measure up” to [our] standards. An awful lot of us impose these unrealistic expectations on our selves, and it’s not healthy. [...] Our school culture unduly puts pressures on us to look perfect in the eyes of everyone else. Stop!

Training pays off

Training is one key success factor for our new website. Since June, I have personally led 15 group training sessions on how to post content to the new website, and a handful of us have worked with individuals to answer questions and help them accomplish their website goals. Divisions heads have required teachers to update certain parts of the website, such as classroom pages and our curriculum map.

49 users have been trained as “content managers.” I required employees to get this training before allowing them to edit core pages on the site. Teachers could gain access to classroom pages without attending a training, though many benefitted from doing so. The carrot worked, as many users got a more thorough introduction to the site than might have been the case had I not required it to gain access. Incidentally, I allow trained content managers to edit just about any part of the site — the more eyes, the better!

86 users have posted 1,500 pages to the website, not including me! (I have posted another 7,000, mostly by migrating our curriculum map and school archives into the site.) Most of the 86 users are employees, but a handful of parents (volunteer coordinators, parents of athletes) and students (science project and honors arts bloggers) have been active.

I feel like one has a limited window of opportunity when launching a new technology to hold people’s attention, build their skills, and solve issues with the setup. Today, people largely find the site easy to use and like the appearance. A limited number of exceptions exist, of course.

The website tour video has been viewed 437 times. The video outlined the main features of the site for users. Not everyone can attend a training, especially parents. We promoted the video through a home page badge and by reference in school newsletters. I can’t say how much the video has helped parents and students learn to use the site, but I imagine it has helped some.

website tour views over time

Website Baker Still Trucking

I just upgraded an installation of Website Baker to the new 2.8 version. This basic CMS has been serving a couple of sites I run well for a number of years now, and they keep improving it. Last version, WSB switched to FCKeditor for their WYSIWYG editor, improving an issue the software had editing complex pages. I chose to install from scratch and then migrate pages over by hand, because we don’t have many static pages on this site, and I remember the instructions for updating in place are pretty manual. It went very smoothly.

Website Baker has good page creation tools, a straightforward way to post files and news items, and excellent image and media management tools. It requires little maintenance compared to more fully-featured website applications.

Website Baker

My WSB sites: San Diego Hat Co, Maru-a-Pula School