What are the content problems universities are facing, and how can Content-as-a-Service (CaaS) platforms tackle them? In this article, Mike Wills uncovers common content challenges of universities and three central themes backing the CaaS trend that were discussed at the Seattle CMS Experts meeting.
Mike WillsMar 18, 2020
Boye & Company invited me to the Seattle CMS Experts meeting in February. I was delighted to see the emphasis on the headless CMS trend. CMS Experts is a unique forum that holds meetings with industry analysts, practitioners, and vendors to discuss real-world challenges, ideas, and trends. The Seattle meeting included diverse industry voices like product representatives (e.g., Gatsby, Uniform, Kentico), agency practitioners, and even enterprise customer representatives, like our guest speaker, Jens Larson, Associate VP for Enrollment Management at Eastern Washington University (EWU).
Jens challenged us with the content problems universities are facing because of their declining markets. CMS Experts provided a forum to tackle these challenges and to discuss industry trends, by fostering an open discussion between diverse thinkers and practitioners who are putting their ideas to the test. It was gratifying to see these experienced and practical problem solvers continually confirm that a Content-as-a-Service (CaaS) solution like Kentico Kontent is a key ingredient for solving modern content challenges. I heard three themes backing the Content-as-a-Service trend:
- Content reach: A CaaS enables organizations to reach customers and prospects wherever they are, by unlocking content and leveraging it across multiple channels.
- Technical agility: A CaaS prevents an organization from being tied to a monolithic enterprise platform that doesn’t support leveraging new, best-of-breed solutions.
- Content quality: Because CaaS platforms are focused on the content, they offer superior tools for managing content quality.
Let’s examine these three themes:
Jens Larson presented some interesting problems facing universities. The market for higher education is on a steep decline because of changing demographics and birth rates. In fact, one in two institutions will fail by 2030. Highlighting the reality of this problem, there was a startling announcement the day before we met. Concordia University, Oregon’s largest private university, announced that it would close. So, Jens posed this question: How can a CMS provide strategic value to help an institution that’s in a declining market? The question stimulated some lively conversation. However, there was a consensus. Organizations need effective marketing to avoid the decline, to receive a bigger piece of the shrinking pie. They need good content to perform effective marketing. And organizations must reach prospects in communication channels where they are already engaged.
There was a time when organizations could focus on designing a compelling website, but not anymore. The time has passed that they can expect people to view their websites, after finding them anywhere lower than the top position in search results. Prospects are unlikely to visit an organization’s website unless they already know something about the school, a given for top national universities, but a problem for four-year institutions that have less name recognition. In a nutshell, people won’t visit an organization’s website until they decided they want to know more, after engaging content somewhere else—a place where they’re already engaged, like social media, voice searches, and Google featured snippets. The University of Tennessee provided a great example when marketing its course on Appalachian history, ‘Dolly’s America’. After Dolly Parton retweeted their content, the “engagement went through the roof.” The university’s content reached an audience already following Dolly Parton on Twitter and produced great results.
This changing marketing landscape is true for universities and businesses alike and is a big reason that CaaS solutions are on the rise. To reach an audience, we must bring content to them, instead of expecting a great design or a compelling user experience to draw in an audience.
A CaaS enables organizations to leverage their content and reach audiences in multiple channels, like social media, emails, voice search, and Google featured snippets, by providing meaningful structured content and simplified integration that enables feeding these platforms. In the past, content was often locked inside the silo of a traditional CMS. Reusing the content required manually copying and reformatting the content wherever needed. Often, authors would rewrite content, because they were not even aware quality content already existed. However, with a headless CMS, content is written once, easily discovered, and automatically formatted for multiple marketing channels. With meaningful structured content, it is natural to embed metadata in the organization’s website using schema.org types and JSON-LD. This helps search bots understand the content so that it is more likely to appear as a Google feature snippet. A headless CMS unlocks content to enable organizations to reach larger audiences. Therefore, it can be a strategic tool enabling a university to survive a declining market.
The CMS Experts meeting brought up two scenarios requiring technical agility. The first scenario is caused by the declining market for higher education. Many institutions are consolidating, which requires merging content from different CMS platforms. Adam Conn, Co-Founder of Uniform, presented the second scenario. Uniform is designed to help enterprises leverage their existing platforms to build new sites using modern, best-of-breed technologies. The product addresses the tendency of conventional, monolithic platforms to reduce an organization’s agility. Many organizations are heavily invested in all-in-one CMSs and marketing platforms and are looking for solutions to adopt new technologies without throwing away existing investments or replatforming their ecosystem. Uniform enables organizations to connect modern JAMstack solutions to existing enterprise content and personalization platforms.
Both scenarios highlight the technical agility provided by CaaS platforms like Kentico Kontent. For example, if all organizations involved in a university merger maintained their content in a headless CMS, the content could be easily presented in a consolidated website instead of being locked in separate silos. Dustin Schau, Head of Product at Gatsby, also discussed this issue. Gatsby Mesh was designed to solve this problem by providing adapters to consume content from multiple sources and provide a unified web experience. However, it works best with content that is coming from well-structured sources, like a headless CMS, instead of content buried deep in the widget configurations of a conventional platform.
In an enterprise, a headless CMS enables organizations to replatform, or even redesign a website, without destroying the content. Because a CaaS decouples content from the organization’s websites, an enterprise can adopt new best-of-breed web technologies without losing their existing technology investments.
Jens Larson presented another problem caused by the decline of higher education markets, the management of large volumes of consolidated content with reduced staff. Not only do universities need to merge content from multiple platforms, but they are also overwhelmed with large amounts of content that they need to maintain, even though the content experts are gone, and their staff is reduced. We discussed many options, including expiring content, using analytics to identify what’s valuable, and even the practical solution of using temporary staff with a good manager.
This discussion emphasized the need for a content platform that focuses on managing content well. Traditional CMS platforms include content management features. However, a Content-as-as-Service platform like Kentico Kontent takes it to the next level. It provides robust content workflow and collaboration, including MS Word-like commenting features, and expiration management.
These features enable configuring content management with editorial calendars, review requirements, expiration processes, and validation rules that, in effect, institutionalize the expertise of content strategists and consultants involved in the initial investment. With such features, a CaaS will help organizations avoid manually auditing volumes of old content in the future.
The CMS Experts meeting provided a fabulous forum for discussing content management challenges with practitioners, who are on the ground, solving real-world problems. And, it was gratifying to hear such a diverse and talented group of people, confirm the value of a headless CMS. The industry move to Content-as-a-Service platforms like Kentico Kontent is not just hype. The real-world scenarios show this trend is happening for good reason.
If you’re interested in treating your content as a first-class citizen or have an example of leveraging your content to reach new customers, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a line on Twitter (@HeyMikeWills).