Karine Joly 1 Comment

rich prowseRichard Prowse, Digital Editor-in-Chief at University of Bath (UK), is one of the 12 higher ed professionals presenting at the 2015 Higher Ed Content Conference (April 15).

In this 3-question interview, Richard discusses the state of content at his institution, how he measures content performance and shares some advice to create content for higher ed.

1) Would you say that content has now the place it deserves at your institution?

Bath has always put digital content first, however, we haven’t been great at asking the right questions. As a result, we’ve tended to publish without thinking and this has had a negative impact on user experience and our ability to look after our content.

The key to solving this problem is a strategy which connects users with content they need and want.

When Ross (the Head of Digital) joined in 2013, he put users’ needs at the heart of everything we do. This focus has helped the team develop an approach which we can use with subject experts and publishers to understand their users’ needs in a digital context.

Using data to make decisions and releasing iteratively and often has really helped us to deliver content-led projects more quickly and build the trust of stakeholders. This is something that’s really important in a large organisation – it really helps take the politics out of digital content.

As a result, I’d say the University now has the right focus when it comes to content – its users. I’ll admit, educating stakeholders is an ongoing process, but that’s okay, because we learn something new every time, and we can use this to constantly improve how we deliver content.

2) How do you measure the performance and/or the impact of your content at your school? How does this help you with the content creation process?

The metrics we choose depend on the audience, the goal of the content, the channel we’re using, and the content type.

Instead of focusing on all the metrics we prefer to use a limited set of key performance indicators. For example, if we wanted to learn more about the effectiveness of research stories posted on Facebook and Twitter, we’d choose click-through rates and time on page.

Limiting key performance indicators keeps us focused, makes data easier to analyse and helps us understand the effect of the changes we’ve made to the content. For complex data analysis we’d collaborate with Takashi, our business analyst.

In future, we want to build key performance indicators directly into the new CMS, so that publishers can learn more about their readers in context – similar to the Government Digital Service (GDS) in England or the work of Melody Joy Kramer at NPR.

Ross and I hope this will help publishers focus their efforts on meeting user needs rather than “just” creating content. Being able to see how their content performs encourages them to improve the quality of the content they create.

We are still very early on in the process, so we’re learning all the time. Which is exciting.

3) Can you share the best piece of advice or lesson you learned about creating content for higher ed?

You’re only human. A lot of editors-in-chief I talk to in higher education feel like they’re failing at content management.

The truth is planning, creating and managing content is really hard, especially if you’re responsible for a decentralised publishing model. We tend to forget universities were some of the first organisations to use the internet and as a result there is a lot of poor practice and out-of-date content on .edu and .ac.uk domains.

My advice is to focus on the things you can change and don’t worry about the things you can’t – otherwise it will drive you crazy. Personally I’ve found working in an agile way has been a big help. Rather than trying to fix all the things I now focus on meeting users’ needs, and iterating over time as I learn more.

In practice this means creating a set of easy to use tools and simple guidelines. These should encourage best practice, build skills through doing and include feedback mechanisms which reward success – helping publishers to take responsibility for their own content.

What’s important is that the tools or guidelines don’t have to be the final versions, they simply have to be versions people can start using and get behind.

Higher Ed Content Conference Line-Up


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