Twenty years ago today, I stepped on campus for the first time in the newly-created position of webmaster. It sounded so mysterious and powerful to many people. But to me it meant the chance to build websites full time and the opportunity to learn new tools and technologies so I didn’t have to hand code every page (using tables of course for layout). Now I got to use a fancy new tool called Dreamweaver and create templates. More importantly, I was the person who made sure that the college webpages had a consistent look. Exciting times.
At least for me – for others who were used to posting whatever they wanted directly to the college website, it was a challenging time. It was difficult to cede control, especially to an “outsider” from the private sector. But conversation by conversation, partnership by partnership, success by success, we slowly got there together.
And we grew together. I added a content management system to make it easier for those who wanted to maintain their web content and keep things current. I added open labs (now being done virtually) to have dedicated time to talk about ideas and give support. I started measuring what was being done to see what was successful and what was missing the mark. I stopped simply looking at vanity metrics, but added goals, experiments, and heatmapping to show where our opportunities were to grow.
We talked about governance, thinking about how decisions are made for our digital landscape: policies and standards for content, design, technology, etc., all while taking our subject matter expertise into consideration. I built allies, had those allies help communicate decisions & imperatives, invited conversations and communicated success to help everyone understand why decisions were made (and if they worked).
The landscape shifted often and rapidly: the importance of SEO, the rise of mobile, the importance of accessibility, and ever-changing user experience expectations. Every year provided a new opportunity for growth and leadership. Sometimes I had to practice the art of saying no, sometimes empathy, sometimes just meeting people where they were, but always valuing our campus needs.
Then social media burst on the scene and another opportunity emerged: how to create content that’s engaging, impactful, and builds community (after the Oh Shiny novelty wore off). How to measure what’s working. How to deal with difficult conversations. How to present a balanced slate of content to help the campus. How to have some fun and show some personality.
I’ve been an Army of One for the last twenty years, but never alone. I’ve been blessed with amazing student workers, interns, allies on campus, and external partners along the way to support me, encourage me and motivate me. Speaking of motivation, the HighEdWeb community has been like no other in terms of support. This community has given me the encouragement to chase my dreams, pushed me to continue to try new things, and stood by me when I was feeling overwhelmed. It’s truly family.
As I start year twenty-one, now as the Director of Interactive Content Strategy, I will be forever grateful to the opportunities, the challenges, the friendships and the accomplishments. It’s overwhelming to see how I’ve changed, how the campus has changed, and how the digital landscape has changed, knowing I’ve played a role in that.