A website is only as good as the content it supports, and that content is only as good as the system behind it. I’m not simply talking about a content management system (CMS), although that can certainly play a role in presenting good content. A successful system includes the processes and tools that support the people who need them, and the appropriate training for those people.
This year I helped implement a new CMS on my campus. The transition took place in tandem with a site redesign that was to be top-to-bottom responsive. The CMS, chosen to improve the back-end user experience, could certainly uphold the new responsive design. We knew from the beginning, though, that it would be the CMS users–our content contributors–who would make the project successful (or not). We needed our users to feel confident using the new system, confident in taking ownership of the web as a tool for their departments.
Whether you’re implementing a new CMS on your own campus, or training users to better use your existing system, you’ve likely heard the chorus of:
“I’m not a web person.”
This is how the training process often begins. Content contributors, regardless of (or maybe because of) past experience, are quick to doubt their role in the university website. They assume they don’t have the skills or expertise needed to create good web content. For so long, “web” work was something highly specialized that required programming knowledge or a technical degree.
The beautiful truth is that it can be and is so much more. With the right training and some time to get comfortable in a CMS environment, users will gain the confidence they need to tell their stories with the web. With the right education about best practices, principles, and tools, they’ll start to see how they can use the web to reach their goals.
But as it turns out, it’s not enough to train and educate our CMS users and content contributors. Armed with all the information and knowledge in the world, even the most confident content contributors can be derailed by the second verse of our too-familiar song:
“She’s not a web person.
If we’ve done our jobs well, content contributors campus-wide will gain new perspective and new skills; they’ll be a department’s best asset when it comes to guiding web communication. These people will understand how to use the CMS, what’s possible with and best for their websites, and have direct access to the subject matter experts within their departments. Sadly, this promising combination is wasted if administrators don’t trust it.
How do we train the people who need to learn to trust their own staff? How do we show them the necessity and power of building self-confidence? To be truly effective in their roles as content contributors, CMS users must be empowered to take the lead, offer advice, think creatively, and continue learning.
Some of our users will embrace their roles with the web once they’ve been trained, and will be outspoken advocates for using the web effectively. Some of these users’ supervisors will welcome this. In some cases, however, leadership is going to need our help to see what’s possible. We’ll have to encourage them to support and empower their people, and to trust them.
How do we do that?