On ants & web leadership

Who would you call if you had an ant infestation in your house? A plumber? Your doctor? A nationally recognized entomologist who is only available a few times a year and has only researched ants and not actually ever deal with infestations?

If your replace “ant infestation” with “university website” for many higher ed marketers, the answer would not be the obvious one — an exterminator.

The reasons for this are varied, but if we continue further with the analogy, in higher education marketing the conversation would probably involve a committee of twenty people, (none of whom are trained in insect biology, because we wouldn’t invite any of them to the meeting) and the conversations would probably go something like this:

  • “An exterminator wouldn’t understand the complexities of our household.”
  • “What if there is a value to having ants crawling all over the kids toys or our furniture?”
  • “Is there research someplace that indicates that we should let the ants stay? Should we conduct a study?”
  • “We need to have an outside consultant who only does research on ants to come in and present this to the board of directors before we hire the exterminator and when we do hire an exterminator, it should be someone external to the organization and not our own in-house solutions.”

This is an extreme example and a bit facetious, but the point remains. We have a problem that boils down to inability to trust our experts. Web problems are local, because websites and the content contained therein is made up of people.

So many of our web decisions are made incorporating lots of people who have no idea what they’re looking at. The problem isn’t always the doers, it’s the fact that people who lead the web don’t always do a great job of explaining the processes, standardizing our internal frameworks and helping the people who work on the non-technical (mostly business & marketing side) side of things to understand where they begin and where we end.

After my AMA Higher Ed talk, I asked the audience how many of them had put the web in marketing and almost everyone had. When I asked how many had implemented governance, no hands went up. Our problems are complex and require an understanding not just of technology, but a grasp of how websites work and the complexities contained therein.

We’re all using the same tools, but we use them differently.

I don’t get notifications for text messages. Like when I have a text on my work iPhone, I turned off any notifications and so the only way I know if I have a text is if I hear the little vibration on the phone or I check independently. (Note: I don’t like phone ringers, either.) There are so many ways to use the same kinds of tools that we don’t think about how people are interacting with the same tools. We talk a lot about user experience, but don’t recognize the inherent differences of our individual experiences. We trust these tools to communicate, but imagine sending a letter to someone and assuming they’ve not only received it but read it.

Governance isn’t a panacea to solving the problems that affect our websites and the experiences we have with them, but it’s a start to the conversation.