Drupal for Higher Ed: Reflections from the Fall 2016 Intern Team

For the past four months we’ve been working at Sanmita as marketing interns. In the second half of our internship, we focused exclusively on building Sanmita’s sister brand, DrupalAnswers. Over the course of our internship we have gained experience in market research, higher education website audits, video marketing, the creation of social media and blog posts, and content curation.

We also learned how to create an integrated content strategy across different platforms. Throughout the entire experience, we worked as a team to complete tasks and brainstorm strategy, which we believe led us to produce even greater results than we would have alone.

When we started this internship we had basic understanding of what exactly web development involves. We understood there were multiple facets to the development process but our grasp of the topic was limited to design and the aesthetic aspect of a site. Throughout our internship, we gained a fuller understanding of what truly encompasses web development.

We now know the importance of the discovery process and why research is a vital part of a website’s strategy and creation. For instance, conducting proper research influences the development of information architecture, which plays a major role in determining the success and organization of a site. As we completed audits of college websites, we also learned several other aspects that contribute to a site’s success, including accessibility, page speed, mobile-friendliness, and how easy it is to navigate through the website’s content. One of our favorite quotes found during our research sums up what we learned perfectly:

“Pretty things can be useless, and ugly things can be useful. Beauty and quality are not always related.” ― Abby Covert, How to Make Sense of Any Mess: Information Architecture for Everybody

Essentially, good design rests upon a solid foundation.

Since our company focuses on higher education institutions, we spent a lot of time researching best practices for mission critical sites. Without a doubt, we agree that Drupal is the best CMS for higher education. Drupal is powerful, flexible, and is built to handle the complexity of a higher education site– even the White House chooses Drupal as their go-to CMS. As we’ve learned, Drupal is the best option when stability and scalability are vital to the project, or if it requires close attention to detail and unique customization. An added benefit of Drupal is that most of their extensions and ways to customize the site are free of charge – perfect for higher ed institutions that might be working on a tight budget.

Now with just a week left in our internship, we feel that we have gained experiences that we can apply in the future. One of our favorite parts of the internship was having the opportunity to work on the company’s integrated online marketing strategy. We strategized and executed ways to drive traffic to the website and blog posts through social media, demonstrating the importance of consistent messaging across all platforms. Another aspect of this internship that we were thankful for was being able to see the full lifecycle of the projects we worked on. We were involved in each step of the way, from start to finish. This was a unique experience that we have not received elsewhere. Overall, the skills and experiences we have had working at Sanmita are invaluable to us and will affect the way we will grow as marketers.

 

 

Improving Website Performance: A Site Manager’s Guide to Minimizing Downtime

Higher education institutions often have large, complex websites that cater to many audiences who depend on their successful performance: Faculty, students, prospective students, parents and the higher education community at large.

The importance of your institution’s website cannot be understated. The web is now mission-critical, meaning that if your web presence fails, your business operations suffer as well. For this reason, any downtime is an unwelcome hassle for anyone charged with managing the website.

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5 Tips for Collecting Feedback on your New Website or Feature

DO Start early

Ideally, feedback should be part of your production plan from the very beginning when you’re looking to release a new website or feature. It’s not only a useful marketing activity to manage your online reputation, but it also may help you find the areas of your business that need improvement. The earlier you ask for feedback, the easier it will be to correct any problems that exist. You can monitor activities manually, or use an all-in-one monitoring service such as Sysomos or Brandwatch.

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Inspiring Students to Achieve Education Beyond High School

As education becomes more of a necessity for the future workforce, educators and parents are constantly looking for new ways to encourage and motivate students to achieve more academically. However, they often overlook the primary ways to get students to be motivated and inspired to achieve higher education. Often the solution is to set academic standards higher for students but what might actually help students is to communicate with them on platforms that they are already using and encourage them to pursue careers in creating digital content. According to the latest earning and unemployment data, those who earn higher education still on average earn more than those with just a high school diploma and unemployment rates reduce the higher the degree. Here are four simple ways to incorporate the web and social media into your institution to help motivate and inspire students to achieve higher academically:

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Three Handy Content Creation Infographics

Content, content, content! By now you realize how content is vital to your website promotion and maintenance.

But where do you get all this content? How do you go about keeping your blog fresh, crafting irresistible email newsletters, and regularly sharing fascinating social media posts?

With all the different options to consider, just finding where to begin can seem overwhelming!

Fortunately, the web itself provides a gold mine of information that can help you create meaningful content.

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Making International Connections

Higher education is increasingly an international affair. U.S. schools are eagerly growing their international enrollment, which adds diversity to the student body and, eventually, to its alumni. Competition for these foreign students is already fierce and, every school year, grows more competitive. A strong mobile product is key to reaching foreign students.  (Just in case we needed to give you another reason to be mobile-ready!)

Need some evidence? New data backs us up. In 2014, 28% of international students used mobile devices (that includes smartphones and tablets) to search the Internet, according to research by the Noel-Levitz firm. That figure shows steady growth from last year, when 17% of foreign students reported using mobile devices for web searching.

NoelLevitz_International-students-mobile-2_0414

Specifically for higher education, 60% of international students surveyed said they looked at school websites on a mobile device. That’s in line with American students’ behavior. In 2013, 68% of American students said they looked at higher ed websites on smartphones or tablets, according to a recent Noel-Levitz report.

A university or college’s website is its key digital marketing tool and essential to recruiting, both domestically and internationally. Unlike many American students who go on college tours to visit potential schools, most international students enroll without ever visiting campus. Their experience with a school is shaped largely by their digital introduction.

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Mobile Use Surges, Smartphones Lead Charge

Across the U.S. and on college campuses, mobile use is exploding. Mobile is no longer the future — it is very much front and center. Now, new research offers some fresh ideas on which devices mobile users favor and what content they are seeking. This is valuable information for higher education web and IT staff.

College students, quite simply, can’t live without their smartphones. An overwhelming 89% of college students own smartphones, according to a new report from Ball State University.  And the ownership has grown quickly. In 2009, about half of college students owned smartphones. The vast majority, 92%, use their phones to access social media, up from 49% four years ago. In addition, in 2014, 74% of college students used their smartphones daily to browse the Internet. Watching video on smartphones has become increasingly popular, with 82% of students reporting using their phones for video in 2014, compared to just 24% in 2009.

These figures offer a few lessons for higher education:

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Share Your Best Face

Today, we’re talking Instagram and Snapchat. Photo sharing sites are incredibly popular with young social media users, and a picture can convey so much more than any text-based message. These 12 to 24 year old web users are the prospective students higher ed marketers are trying to reach.  So don’t just tell them about your school — show them!

Young adults 18 to 24 years old are the most avid Instagram users, with 12.2 million of Instagram’s 50 million users falling into that age group. Instagram counts another 6 million users among teens 12 to 17 years old, according to new data from eMarketer.com. These 18 million Instagram users are the very prospective college and graduate students that your higher ed institutions wants to reach on social media.

Snapchat is the third most popular social media site with young users, trailing only Facebook and Instagram, according to a recent survey by Edison Research and Triton Digital. Snapchat doesn’t release specific data, but 46% of US teens and young adults ages 12 to 24 have used Snapchat, according to the Edison/Triton report. But the very nature of Snapchat presents marketing challenges.  On Snapchat, photos or short videos (up to 10 seconds) are posted and then disappear once a user views the content.

So how can a university or college harness all this potential reach?

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Follow the Teens

With all the headlines about Facebook, sometimes other social media networks get pushed out of the conversation. A quick look in our inbox reminded @Sanmita why that shouldn’t be. For anyone trying to reach young Americans (that means you, higher education), YouTube deserves your attention.  That’s because teens are spending more time on YouTube than any other social media platform.

In November 2013, 74% of social media users 14 to 18 years old said they used YouTube frequently, compared to 60% for Facebook, according to new data from The Intelligence Group and Emarketer. Those young users are the very prospective students that universities and colleges are trying to reach with their social media marketing.

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Crash Course in Social Media Policy

Is your Twitter feed or Facebook page your own private space?  That’s a hot topic in higher education right now. After the Kansas Board of Regents last month passed a controversial social media policy, many higher ed employees are concerned about their own school policies — and safeguarding their positions.

In December, the Kansas Board of Regents, which oversees the University of Kansas and Kansas State University, enacted a policy allowing school officials to discipline employees and faculty, including termination, for improper use of social media. It passed after a University of Kansas professor tweeted a critical comment about the National Rifle Association. (The professor was suspended but later reinstated). After an outcry from the community and free speech advocates, the board is reviewing the policy, but, for now, it stands.

Social media monitoring occurs at most schools, with minders searching for as much for promotable content as offensive posts. But the Kansas policy is by far the most rigid we’ve heard of, and a reminder that social media is very public indeed.  So what can social media users do to safeguard their free speech and their positions? Here are some sensible guidelines:

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