in Higher Ed

Why are web people based in-house?

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Image by chrisbb@prodigy.net via Flickr

That might seem like a “Doh!” question for those of us who work in the field or who come in contact with web folks in our day-to-day educational lives. But I had a friend ask me this today. “Well, if it’s just web work, why do you all need to be there at all? Can’t you just work remotely?”

So much of what we do is about relationships. A good web professional is bringing two things to the table in an institutional environment that’s invaluable — perspective and expertise. Knowing the technical aspects of their job to the depth and ability necessarily for where they are, is something of a given. (Or at least, should be.) Having someone at the table who can provide a lifeline for navigating the velocity of media is necessary.

It’s less about the technical side and more about strategy and marketing. It’s one thing to have a strong technical infrastructure and team handling things, but having people supervised by marketers and others who often have a background steeped in print and old media can leave a gap. Lots of institutions have become proactive about filling it, but the more technology grows in our lives, the more places we have a need for it. So where before it was only about having a web site, now it’s about a social media presence.

So I told my friend, that it’s less about the backend of things. It’s important to have someone on a team who’s experienced with these matters, to be sure. Yet, a decade into this “new world” of web and marketing and we’re still explaining these roles in very old school ways. It hasn’t caught on to a wider audience yet, because the need for marketing and strategy outside of the business world doesn’t seem as necessary a component. But it ignores the communications piece of the puzzle. When we peel it all back, that’s all we’re doing anyway. I’m fond of telling people that so much of what we do online is the same sorts of conversations we’ve always had, we’re just using different tools to carry them out and now we have a wider pool of folks from which we’re conversing.

We’re conductors for an orchestra of different voices. I’m doubting that ‘web conductor’ will be a new job title anytime soon, though.

  1. Thanks for the comment, Heidi! I too, used to work from home sometimes depending on where I worked. It was a necessity in some places because of weather and my commute. Nice perspective on the independent side of things too, because you’re right, once you’re on the other side it becomes an issue of time = money and so, you’re far more likely to handle as much as you can outside of the client space. Plus, the relationships can be different and their needs.

  2. When I was working in-house as Webmaster for http://www.case.edu I would sometimes work at home but no more than one day a week. Home days were good for building out new sites that already had their plans in place. But being in the office was helpful because I could easily bounce ideas off the people I worked with. And as you indicate, the people we work with come in many flavors, I might need input from media one day while offering a Web solution to our video person the next. While we can accomplish quite a bit via phone and e-mail, sometimes sharing our expertise with our colleagues just works more efficiently in person, where we can share examples, point to something on a computer screen, etc.

    Now that I’m independent I spend most of my time alone with my computer, and clients correspond by e-mail, phone, Facebook and Twitter (they’ve figured out that I don’t check e-mail every 5 minutes). But it’s still helpful to meet face-to-face sometimes, or if we’re long distance I’ll try to use Skype at other tools to forge a closer connection.

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