Early in my career as a web manager, projects just came to me. I’ve basically established a career going places that other don’t know exist and trying to get them to rethink how they view the web, to strategize their web presence and to better integrate the web into institutional marketing.
After spending a few years consulting, now I’m back within the trenches of institutional viewpoints. While it feels good, there are things about it that I forgot. Most notably, the fact that you can’t institute widespread change overnight and even when you can, it’s not always advisible.
When you’re on a bit of a professional island, with no one institutionally who is tasked with the same role as you it can be lonely. But what’s worse than the feeling of being Tom Hanks and talking to a volleyball is the idea that you often have a lot of weight to your words. People look to you to be the zen master of all things web. While this could be nice for one’s ego if you’re into that, it’s the sort of position that I’m glad I’m equipped to handle after six years of doing this rather than when I first began because I feel far more equipped to deal with such things today.
So what’s to think about? Lots of stuff, really. How do you help an institution visualize itself different. I’ll say that it’s first and foremost not solely about “the web” but akin to looking at yourself in the mirror and trying to honestly assess what your suitors are seeing. That might be a weird way of thinking about it, but they’re very similar. There’s a widespread penchant no matter the size of the college or university to believe almost wistfully in what you’re doing and to imagine no matter how things might be perceived that your way is indeed the best way. Usually, we rely on outsiders — consultants — to tell us those hard truths. But when the hard work needs to be done, unless you have big-time dollars, all of the advice in the world won’t mean a thing. You’ll need to tie your laces and dig deep into your own institutional muck to determine where you are, what needs to be changed and how you’re going to do it.
As I reflect on my own glacial shifts in perspective over the years, I realize there is a time and a place for ambitious agendas. For one, I’ve found that it’s easy to propose bold ideas. Realism sets in and then you have to figure out to decipher coherence out of boldness. Once that’s happened, I find it’s truly about execution. If you can sell a plan to the moon and actually get there, that’s awesome. But without the full weight of a nation behind you, some luck and good timing…you’re not going anywhere. The parallels between a bygone era in our own country and now make this all the more relevant.
A lot of the conversations going on right now — and there are lots of them — in the field of higher ed strategy are about bigger, faster, bolder, better. These are important discussions and findings that need to occur if we’re going to continue to raise the bar. What I need to remind myself often is not to be distracted by these happenings while contemplating the realities of my own sites. Not every institution is positioned to do more now for a bevy of financial, personnel and strategic reasons. It doesn’t make our triumphs or struggles less relevant, it’s just an important reality to face.
I’m fond of warily approaching social media properties, because I realize that not every school really has the infrastructure to support some 3rd party tool. But give how copycat the highered industry can be at times, it’s hard to resist creating official messaging in unofficial places to counter what others might do.