Meet #hewebMI conference keynote: Scott Kubie on content strategy, dead content & #highered websites

May 21st, 2014 Karine Joly 3 Comments

Helping you learn and grow in your higher ed career – no matter how you do it.

HighEdWeb MichiganThat’s Higher Ed Experts’ motto!

That’s why I spent my time chasing the latest trends, doing research, developing online programs (conferences & courses) as well as teaching. That’s also the reason why I’ve chosen – this year again – to invest the main part of Higher Ed Experts promotional budget in the 4 HighEdWeb Regional Conferences, more specifically the 4 keynotes of these conferences.

This Friday at HighEdWeb Michigan, the conference attendees will be able to enjoy a keynote by Scott Kubie, a designer from Des Moines, Iowa, a design facilitator and the Lead Content Strategist at Wolfram.

Scott KubieScott agreed to answer via email a few of my questions earlier this month, so we all get a chance to learn a bit more today.

1) Today with the overflowing digital content produced by traditional publishers, content marketers and users there is no shortage of content – on the contrary. Is content dead?

The discipline of content strategy is alive and kicking, and I hope it kicks content marketing to death.

Content marketing is a siren song, singing out to writers, editors, and storytellers. The projects are fun to work on, and it makes us feel good when they start to gain traction and get Liked and faved and pinned and so on. But most content marketing initiatives are just these weird, hollow pseudo-products that are hard to justify when your core content experience sucks.

Content itself was never “king”, and it never died. As a term of art used by people who make websites and other things with text and pictures in them, content is really just the “stuff”. It’s the flour in the website cake.

Our websites will always need this content stuff because our visitors need it. And we’ll always need good smart people working hard to make good stuff, and to help other people make stuff they’re not good at making, but know that someone needs. Make good stuff, put some of it on the web, rinse, repeat.

2) In your opinion what is the biggest issue with higher ed websites? How would you fix it if you had the power to do so?

Too sanitized and interchangeable. Where’s the heart? What do you believe? Put it in my face and yell about it! This beige-invasion will only get worse as the A/B-test obsessed gain traction with their optimization-trumps-all nonsense.

One of my favorite things as an undergrad at Drake University was being a student ambassador in the admissions department. The admissions office itself was a nice building full of nice people, but also quiet and neutral. Students didn’t live there, or take classes, or do projects. It *served* the university, but I don’t know how well it *represented* it. That’s what the campus tour was for. Tours were practiced but not rehearsed, allowed for serendipity, and gave an actual live student one hour of uncensored, unfiltered face time with a prospect and their family. We could talk about the not-so-great stuff, where the marketing materials overpromised, and share stories that were personally meaningful without worrying about being “on message”.

Were I to consider this problem for an individual institution, I’d start by considering which parts of the site reminded me of a, say, a recruitment brochure, and which reminded me of the bulletin board in a first-year residence. This would lead me to consider content, tone, aesthetics, rhetoric, perhaps even ethics.

3) What will you talk about during your keynote at the High Ed Web MI Conference?

Fuzzy concepts and weak products and how to (hopefully) avoid them.

I don’t know an internal designer (innies unite!) that hasn’t had to work on a project that made basically no sense to them or anyone on the team. Consultants can walk away. The rest of us muddle through, doing the best we can and hoping it will all make sense in the end. It’s a crap way to work.

I hope that by sharing some weapons and war stories about “pushing back” against an ill-defined assignments and concepts, I can empower people to battle fuzziness in their own work.

UPDATE: Keynote Slides