Proust Questionnaire: Nancy Prater, Ball State University


Proust Questionnaire: Nancy Prater, Ball State University

Feb 03, 2009By mStoner Staff

Nancy PraterWhen the fine folks at Ball State University joined forces with the mStoner crew to reinvent the website, Nancy Prater led the charge. Responsible for the internal Ball State team as well as an unruly crew of mStonerites, she kept the project moving forward and focused on the big picture goals. The result? An easy (and fun) to use website, happy on‐campus constituents, and a bunch of awards. The secret of her success:

What was the scope of your project?
Big and ambitious. We had several factors coming together at once that impacted the scope of our relaunch. We jokingly described this as our perfect storm:

  • The university adopted a new strategic plan and launched a new branding initiative
  • Our Web design did not reflect the quality of the Ball State experience
  • Our site architecture had evolved over time without a plan

We needed to pick and implement a new content management system (CMS), because our old one was about to lose support and no longer filled all of our needs. Our launch addressed all of this, plus included getting campus buy‐in, developing a strategic Web plan, policies, and procedures, and developing new content with a new writing style.

How did you construct your core team?
The project was initiated through Enrollment, Marketing, and Communications, so the leaders of our relaunch team came from there. Key players and decisions makers included our vice president, marketing director, myself (web coordinator), and web managing editor. Plus, our lead programmer from Information Technology was also a key member of our core team. We also had support from the mStoner team for all aspects of our relaunch. And, because it truly takes a village to build a Web site, I always considered our various writers, photographers, designers, content migrators, and our CMS trainer as key to our relaunch sucess.

How much time did you spend, on average, in the course of a week throughout your project?
A lot. Okay, some of you may want specifics. During the early stages of the project, it was about 25–50 percent of mine and our web managing editor’s time. During the last six months or so, it was nearly 100 percent, with about 50 percent more going to daily maintenance of the old site. (Yes, those numbers don’t add up, so you can get the idea that you will put in some overtime).

How did you manage internal communications?
This was one of the most important aspects because our web site impacts everyone on campus and change (even good change) is never easy. We took a multi‐prong approach that included meetings or presentations (loads of them) with various stakeholders at key touchpoints throughout the process, a project blog, e‐mail updates, product demos, online surveys, and focus groups. Transparency was a main goal.

How long did the project last?
About 18 months from the planning stages to the initial launch of top‐level pages on the site, plus Admissions, Financial Aid, and a sample academic department site. Of course, lots of work is continuing as the 220+ sites that need to be migrated to the new CMS (which includes re‐architecting, writing content, and taking photographs for all of them) will be continuing for the next two years or so.

When did you go live?
October 1, 2007. The week before the go‐live date, we had a “soft launch” where we allowed internal and external audiences to preview the new site and provide comments. The response to this was great both in numbers of comments and favorable feedback. This went a long way in helping our internal audiences get acquainted with the site, rather than experiencing a sudden, abrupt change on launch day.

Biggest surprise?
We always tried for “no surprises,” and I think we came very close.  Because Marketing and Communications already works with so many people across campus and we had regular contact with many of our nearly 600+ campus web editors, and because we had so many touchpoints for communication during the relaunch, we knew where the potential landmines were.

Tallest hurdle?
The scope. As project manager there were hundreds of details to be concerned with every day. Plus, it is easy for plans to grow larger than what you can really accomplish by launch date. Make sure you are careful about scope creep, and don’t be afraid to scale back. Better to do a few things great, than a lot of things poorly.

Aha moment?
I had a big one during the planning phase. We held some focus groups with students where were trying to understand what they want and need most from their university web site. I learned that students don’t primarily view web sites as a place to get information, but rather as a destination to get things done. Their expectations of what they should be able to do on a university web site are extremely high. It goes beyond their desire for it to look good and be consistent in its navigation. While our relaunch obviously focused on information presentation, I know that in the future we need to focus more on developing web services to improve students’ campus experience.

Finish this sentence: I’ll never again __.
…work on a Ball State web site that is not aligned strategically to the university’s mission and brand.
All official university sites are now required to use the CMS and be aligned with the university’s brand. New policies, approved by the president and cabinet during the relaunch process, spell this out. The result is a site that is easier to navigate, consistently communicates the Ball State brand, and is easier to maintain.

Finish this sentence: I’m so glad that .
…we incorporated stories into our site.
Our site is sprinkled with stories about students, faculty, and alumni. These stories emphasize key aspects of the Ball State experience in ways that other copy cannot. On campus, I hear people say things like,

I saw that story about …”
So, not only are we reaching external audiences, we are quietly building a group of internal “brand ambassadors” who know our stories and can relate them to others. Priceless.

How are you measuring success?
Of course there are the usual measures like looking at web traffic and anecdotal evidence like the great feedback we have received from internal and external audiences, including the high marks we received in a summer survey of freshmen and their parents. But, results are obviously the most important indicator of success. In the last two years, our undergraduate applications are up 38 percent and we have seen an increase in the size of the freshman class and admission standards. Of course, many things beyond just the new web site are impacting those numbers, but we believe the web site is a significant contributor.

Good deed not left unpunished?
Well, we have been pretty successful, and I suppose that is why I was asked to fill out this long questionnaire. Does that count?