WATCH: Web Personalization With Educause

Spire Digital
Spire Digital
Aug 20, 2019

Last week, Spire and Acquia co-hosted an event for Educause, a nonprofit in the higher education space. At the event, Educause talked about their digital transformation journey and how they are currently personalizing their Sitecore website.

Here are three key takeaways from this event:

  • Web personalization takes research and upkeep
  • Digital transformation projects require executive alignment
  • Understanding what users want can save you money and time

Below, you can view a video of their web personalization discussion or even read through the video transcription:

Web Personalization Event Transcription

Neil: 00:00 Hey guys, Neil blacker from Aquia. Aquia, an open source digital experience company. I’ve had a great partner with Spire and we’ve been working with Educause for years now. I just wanna thank everybody for coming and thank you for your partnership and trust- we’ll kick it off to you all.

Wes: 00:25 Here we go. What is personalization. Now of course this is our view. We are unique in that higher ed is our client, the people to whom we’re reaching, but not necessarily how we operate. At the same time, everybody that works with us came from Higher Ed. So a lot of this is similar in a lot of ways. So you’ve already met us- hopefully you’ll learn a little bit more from our adventures in what has gone on.

Wes: 00:59 Crawl, walk, run. Everybody knows crawl, walk, run. Some days it feels still like we’re here [points to crawl]. Ish. This feels like a dream, and we can see it… but we’re definitely still here [points to walk].

Wes: 01:14 So our first steps, we’ll walk through all these things. Our personalization engine. Talk about the reasons to personalize and then how to focus and then for us what it meant to take ownership of this whole process. And then just the time to think. Let’s go through that real quick. So we went with Sitecore. This was a senior level decision about five years ago. The vision as with everything now is we want to know everything about everybody and being able to give them only what they want only when they need it. And as everyone here knows, that’s hard and that takes a lot of time and a lot of effort. But again, crawl, walk, run and we’ll get there and then let me pass it back to Ayla to talk about what Spire did for us as we were trying to get off the ground and get this going.

Ayla: 01:58 So the tricky part with personalization I think is really the first 10%, right? Like you never know where to start. You don’t know how to get going. And so Spire partnered with Educause to talk to users and figure out really what they needed. We met mostly with CEOs and asked them: “how do you need this personalization thing to happen?” We don’t want it to be a shiny object. We don’t want to do it just to do it because everyone else is. We want it to be really valuable and we want it to drive business outcomes. So truly what we heard from CEOs is that they wanted this, we have their information. Educause has their information, and it was valuable to them. It might save them time, even if we can use that information to make their day to day on a website easier. And that’s how we started. We moved forward with that as a first step, know that people want this. We had some semblance of an idea of what and how they wanted it. And it got us over the hurdle to start the project.

Wes: 02:50 All right, so what did it mean to focus? It’s easy to see personalization as a shiny object. Oh, personalization. I read about that in a magazine. I saw it online. We should be doing that. That’s it. Let’s do it. Well, we first had to determine the goals of what we’re trying to do. Then try to use personalization to reach them because you can personalize anything. But why, how, what are you doing that for? So then when we got into ownership, this is where Cthy really helped me. I was ostensibly responsible for making it happen on the web, but there was such a diversity of opinions about what should happen and when and in what order and everything. And we were having a hard time gaining traction and Cathy and I sat down together and we said: “we need to own this process.”

Wes: 03:34 We need to take these projects that we have to do that sit alongside of it and stop and pause and make time in the day. And so we literally would just booked chunks of time to sit in a room together. And we actually had to work through the entire bucket list of what everybody in the org and our board and everybody wanted before we could even begin. So just having that time to sit and think and have that be a focus of your job made all the difference for us. We weren’t making any traction until that happened. So we finally got our stuff together enough to go live. Now can we personalize. So I’m going to hand it over to Cathy and she’ll take us through that next section.

Cathy: 04:18 So the question is: “did we make personalization a reality?” As you saw in the first slide, yes we are doing that. And Spire helped us significantly to get that ball rolling as well as to focus time. And I can’t emphasize that enough. It is not something you just build into your day to day. It has to be a separate task from the beginning and then down the road it becomes ingrained in your day to day work. You must think in a personalized fashion. But at first we really found that it doesn’t work that way.

Cathy: 04:55 So I’m going to go over some of our personalization blockers to share some lessons learned. So these are some of the challenges we had when we started. One, too many possibilities. Again, as Wes mentioned, we had a laundry list of ideas from our board, from our internal stakeholders, from our marketing team, our web team, and then we kind of synthesized that and actually Spire came in and helped us synthesize even further as well, looking at personalization as a pillar of our strategic plan. It was in our strategic plan. And we’ll talk more about that in just a minute and whether that should be a nurse to cheat, strategic plan or not, is the question. Managing senior level expectations. Nothing new. You know, this about any big initiative you’re trying to do on your campus or in any company, really managing expectations, no different story here.

Cathy: 05:55 And then some of our web UX and how to marry that with personalization. So walk you through this. You can personalize anything on your website and it’s overwhelming. So figure out what matters. Number two, personalization is ongoing. There is no final destination. It will never end unless the trends change and new technologies come on board. Next, it was important to us to set expectations with senior leadership. It took us time to reach this. It did not happen overnight. It took multiple conversations, partnering with multiple departments.Really to accomplish this mission. It’s not a one departmental job by any means.

Cathy: 07:02 So we’re open about this. Our website, we’re a nonprofit association. We got to manage time and resources and we know we have to improve our UX, our usability of our site. And so that shouldn’t be at the expense of personalization. So it shouldn’t be one or the other. And that’s what our planning turned into and we were like, we’ve got to change that conversation right away. And so the big takeaway for us is some of our personalization objectives help us improve UX. And that’s huge for us. So we don’t feel like we’re competing against each other when we have limited budget, limited time. So your first steps, here’s some of our, you know, suggestions based on what we’ve learned. And maybe Ayla you want to chime in as more of an expert on this and lead the way.

Ayla: 08:03 Really I think the most important first step in something you can do tomorrow is ask users, figure out what really matters to them. Again, don’t just do this because it’s trending. Figure out how it matters to your business and how it helps you reach KPIs. Identify the business goals that benefit each audience. So figure out if it’s students and alumni and parents- what matters to them and how you can serve them differently with personalization or through personalization. Then lastly, figure out where personalization fits in. I think that ties to the other points I’ve made. It doesn’t fit in everywhere. It’s not a silver bullet.

Ayla: 08:40 So the first thing we did in this case was ask users. I mentioned, we talked to CIO, we met with about 40 of them. They express things that are really surprising. Like we assumed because about 80% of Educause traffic comes from organic, that the CIO was using Google to get the answers they need. That wasn’t the case. CEOs were actually using Twitter to see news from Educause. And so that, that tells us that maybe we don’t need to personalize the news section of the site, right? They’re searching for that in other ways. People are used to personalization. They see on Amazon, they see like you bought a toothbrush, you probably might want to buy toothpaste. These are low hanging fruit that you can figure out through just talking to your audience and understanding what they need. So CEOs,they tell us a lot about themselves. It might take a 15 minute conversation to uncover some of those nuggets and save you a lot of time in the long run.

Cathy: 09:37 So this is nothing new, but it’s worth emphasizing. Break out your opportunity here into your target audiences and really thinking about the goals and benefits for each. And pick and choose where to start and just go with it. You need to just start with something and then the ball rolls just like a snowball effect. We totally have experienced that. It was hard to get started. But once you reach that critical mass of experimentation, it becomes so much easier to organize yourselves and actually get additional goals set up. Really got easier. And so I know I shared this, but I know there’s some of you here at the actually have internal focus on campus too. I think personalization can work for that as well.

Crowd Member: 10:25 How are you categorizing your students?

Cathy: 10:35 So there’s many ways you can do that. So we’re a nonprofit, we’re Educause and so we don’t really focus on students. But on your campus you can break this down to another layer andyour goals are going to have to get pretty specific because if you keep it too high level, you’re not going to go anywhere.

Cathy: 10:56 So next first step we have here is determining where personalization fits in. Keeping in mind the next generation, which, you know, on a college campus it’s very obvious that we’re focused on the next generation, but a lot of campuses don’t even have things like chat in place. Many have SMS tools for, especially for our emergency alert systems, but not as a groundbreaking communication tool. And so really trying to diversify where we personalize, not only on the web, we are kind of looking at it 50, 50 right now from an email and web perspective. And a lot of our initial efforts were on email and now we’re ramping up on web chat. That was a huge recommendation that Spire suggested and we had to build the case internally for that. And now we’re going to implement chat.

Cathy: 11:49 So here I think I’m gonna bring Ayla back up, but we really want to see, do you guys have questions? We’re willing to hear what challenges or personalization topics are coming up on your campus or in the industry.

Crowd Member: 12:01 What are some of the challenges that you guys see- have you heard across the industry any personalization initiatives or ideas around kind of wrapping? You know, obviously the whole contextual outreach around not just your digital properties but also like beacon technology.

Cathy: 12:15 Yes. So Educause is using beacon technology at our annual conference. And the big thing there is privacy concerns. So Educause produces the top 10 it issues for the campus every year. Security has been number one the last three years, I think in three years. And so privacy is a big one for beacons and building transparency, buy-in from many campus leaders. But beacons, yes, I’m definitely looking beyond just web, email and mobile for sure.

Crowd Member: 12:54 So I’d be curious how you achieve your goals of personalization. Is it aligned to GDPR guidelines and laws?

Cathy: 13:05 Yeah, so one of the first things we did before we started doing more personalization is completely redid our privacy policy start to finish. It’s completely new and we broadened and made it. We, we, we thought ahead. And so we built our privacy practice to be where we’re going to be in three years and we’re saying we’re going to be using your data in this way and so I think that’s step one.

Crowd Member: 13:32 Do you use cookies for all kinds of consent on your website now or do you just basically, do you use a banner that lets people know what you’re doing? How do you get that explicit consent?

Cathy: 13:49 We have a couple things going on. We worked together on a lot of the GDPR initiative and when that ramped up we did have a banner on our site that basically is over about the fact that we do have cookies- we have a cookies landing page tied to our privacy policy. It’s kind of customary today. We did it. I think eventually that trend is going to fade and change and turn into something else. We are collecting consent from the get go when you engage with us by email but not on the website. I think that’s the future. I don’t know what you guys… you guys want to chime in on that? Predictions. Thoughts? I mean, I’ve seen some sites in Europe that actually require you to say yes and no, and there are some that you pick what kind of cookie you’re willing to accept those that are functional in nature to improve your user experience for Login, remembering who you are versus using your cookie to sell to you. And so that trend is evolving or not even a trend. I think it’s, it’s societal’s expectations and comfort level with privacy and security.

Cathy: 15:13 Other conversation points you guys want to talk about?

Crowd Member: 15:18 How would you equip someone to fight for a budget within higher education to spend more around personalization and really just whatever sites that they’re interested in building?

Cathy: 15:31 I might turn this over to our web director.

Wes: 15:39 yeah. So if I heard you right, it’s how do you fight for the budget when it’s a limited pool? Yeah. So we were fortunate in that some of our senior executives could see where this was going. And then we had our own members saying, look, I fill out your core data service. You know, every system I use at my school, you know, everything about my school size. Can you do something cool with that? And so this was some of the bucket list of what we had to chew through. So even still when we would say something like, well, we need this much money to get that done. Even for us with that vision, it was a short leash. And so we noticed that there was a pressure up front to demonstrate immediate results. We’ll give you the money, but you gotta meet these goals.

Wes: 16:23 What are you going to do? How do we know that this is working? And so again, it depends on what you’re trying to do in your school. And it depends on what other schools are trying to do. If it’s we want to increase enrollment by 2% because of what we’re doing here, then you can track. Enrollment in our specific case were mostly about engagement. Did this person that has never engaged with this product that seems like it would fit with them, finally engage with it. That’s a much different way to slice it. So we found ourselves being new to personalization and having to achieve goals. And so our goals are like what we saw in the demo that if you want to fly to Fiji, it knows that in a coupon comes up. But we don’t fly to Fiji. So what we’re going to do is if we figure out that you’re visiting these different pages, you’re probably a CIO. Cause that’s that kind of content.

Wes: 17:15 So the next time you visit our homepage, we’re gonna customize this section for you. We’re going to drive you to our, our signature products, the things that we think you’re going to value the most. And so once we showed we could do that, people were like, that’s great. And then there’s almost this sense of, so we’re good, but still keep doing stuff. But you’re good now, right? Like you know how to do this. And we’re like, well, sure. I mean we could just keep flipping squares on the homepage or we could actually now go around and do something with it and try to identify that. What would be cool you, I guess we do know all your see yes. Data. What’s cool? What would be nice? What would you like and to Kathy’s point earlier about our UX, our search on the side right now is questionable at best and our site performance last year we were running about four and a half to five seconds.

Wes: 18:04 We finally got that down under four closer to three but we were trying to make the case. Doesn’t matter if we personalize for Marnie, if it takes six seconds to show her the page, she’s never going to see it. And so these discussions around, well we’ll give you money for personalization when we, when our senior leadership directed people that way. One person pulled me aside and was like, I don’t even understand what technology is going to do with personalization, isn’t it? We just call people that’s personalization and then we leave a chocolate mint on their pillow and we’re like, yes. That is in the realm of personalization. We’re a little different slice over here. And sure enough it was each department had a slice of personalization so ours was different.

Crowd Member: 18:49 You’ve talked a lot about web. Are you integrating that across all of your other digital touch points? Like email and social?

Wes: 18:58 So I’m going to do the old lead off and kick it over to the pro because I get in a lot of our digital personalization started with…. well, we bought Sitecore and we have this custom thing with Acquia, we have this, so go make the web personalize then through your research and in Spire’s research and Cathy’s research and then talking to our users. They mostly engage with us in email and face to face conferences and that’s great. But what we found is people come to our site on a mission, but they’re always in their email. So they’ll see all of our emails, but they may never see the thing on the website that we’re customizing for them cause they’re not engaging those 10 clicks to get personalized. So then if you want to talk a little bit about email personalization, that’s, that’s our big win.

Cathy: 19:45 Yeah. I would say what you’re talking about is that last stage, the crawl, walk, run, that’s run when all of those systems are connected. You know, when a user jumps from one platform to another, we’re far from that. And, to get there, I think the stages are doing personalization in individual systems with the data you have in those systems. That is still a huge leap forward because we wasted, I’ll just say a lot of time in year one when we had personalization conversations, just talking about how we’re going to get our data all in one location. And that is a long journey. And so those need to happen in parallel. So you build up your capacity or your lessons learned in those individual platforms and you can still gain huge success. So on email we’ve had some interesting learnings. So that’s actually where we started doing personalization because it was taking us a while to get our footing really set on the web and we were able to use marketing automation.

Cathy: 20:50 And so using things like you visited this webpage, now we recommend this product or this, this next thing to do. We’ve done a little bit of that. And you can see that the open and click rates are, I would say double what our normal open and click rates are. So those work, it takes time because you have to actually strategize first and create those mapped pathways of what you want to recommend because all of that is manual. So we’re looking now towards the future of personalization being everything automated but curated personalization still make sense for us. The other strategies we’ve done is targeted audience stuff, which we’re calling personalization. I don’t know if Wes was going to share a little story about the initial conversations we had about what is personalization was. It could be anything from the website to let’s put a chocolate on people’s pillows when they come to our conferences.

Cathy: 21:51 It’s white glove service that can be so many things and that’s overwhelming. And so I think setting that aside, not going in that deep dive of how you’re going to reach that end goal. But picking some of your strategic initiatives that you have today and aligning the personalization strategy to the existing goals. So back to your budget thing, you know, sharing our internal story on college campuses. I think the way, and this is just from the reading and the content that Educause produces, is the way to get more budget is to align to the big strategic goals on the campus. So if you’re working on student success initiatives, then what are some personalization features you can do to support that? And those might get approved first. And then you build the case to say, look, look at the successes we’ve had here. Now we want to do it with internal marketing, we want to do it with alumni and etc.

Cathy: 22:55 What else? And we’re happy to talk with you and share more of our things that we’re doing and playing with. But Spire has been so helpful to get us started as well. And technology is an interesting space. It’s never ending work. And we love it. So Wes and I have enjoyed our journey so far and it’s not over yet. We’re just getting our footing is how I define it and getting that footing is hard, but once you’re there it’s kind of like, I feel like saying, the gardener’s curve of kind of like technology reaches its peak and then actually what is it? The the trough of disillusionment and then the actual phase when the worlds implements things. We’re going through that same experience, so expect to go through that. So anything else you want to add Ayla? All right.

Wes: 23:56 Leah, thanks for being here. Thanks so much and thanks Ayla.

Cathy: 24:48 Thanks everyone.


Got a digital transformation or web personalization question? Reach out!

We use cookies to personalize content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyze our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Read our cookie policy here

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.