Divide and conquer: Strategies for decentralizing Web content management
Mandy Kritzeck, Corning Museum of Glass, USA
AbstractThe digital/Web team of an institution can no longer be solely responsible for a truly dynamic museum website. In the museum field today, this is not a radical statement. As Tate has declared, museums are working towards a model of “Digital as a Dimension of Everything.” In smaller institutions with limited staff, this trend increases the challenge of both content creation and management. In the effort to provide visitors and researchers access to more engaging content and collections online, museums need to take responsibility for formalizing and strengthening their staff’s digital skillsets. In 2011, the Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG) implemented a museum-wide Power User group that, with varying levels of responsibility, actively maintains, updates, and populates website content in the Drupal CMS. With the formation of a new digital media department in 2014, CMoG has evaluated the successes and challenges of the Power Users over the past three years. This paper will address how an institution’s digital strategy can be put to practice in the day-to-day work (and formal job descriptions) of staff from every department and skill level, highlighting important factors to a successful distributed Web-content management process. Key points and recommendations for museums with limited staff or that are looking to decentralize digital content management include how blogging and social media can act as a gateway to digital literacy, the critical nature of top leadership support, and how establishing a Power User group is part of the larger task of establishing a more tech/Web/digitally literate staff throughout a museum.
Keywords: digital content, Web content, digital skillsets, content management
On museums and universities in a digital age, G. Wayne Clough (2013) noted, “The history of digital engagement in the educational establishment is replete with the ‘start-stop’ experiences… in which large experiments foundered because of technological overreach, lack of technical support, and lack of resources to refresh content, software, and equipment.” Museums are challenged to present not only their collections, but also a multitude of other content on their websites. Bertacchini and Morando (2013) explained the change happening with museum Web content:
As stewards of cultural materials, museums have always managed access to and use of their collections, but the digital revolution is radically changing cultural consumption and production patterns, obliging museums to re-think how they relate to their audiences as users of cultural content.
There is not a recent significant increase in the general population seeking information from museums online; rather, the recent development is that researchers and the general population who visit a museum’s website expect to find what they are looking for in a readily accessible digital format. Researchers want full-text articles, museum visitors want an up-to-date schedule of exhibitions and events, and all of the content is expected to be dynamic.
For museums with limited staff, managing this content is a daunting task. Web content needs to be created, published, and managed, and then must continue to be updated, edited, or unpublished. These tasks are traditionally the responsibility of whichever department maintains the museum’s website. Whether the Web/digital media, communications, or IT department, it is rare for other staff to engage in Web content.
This needs to change. The digital/Web team of an institution can no longer be solely responsible for a truly dynamic museum website. Institutions are adopting digital strategies that call for, among other things, more Web content. For these strategies to be successful, museums need to invest in establishing a more digitally literate staff who will support not only the overarching digital initiatives, but also the day-to-day Web content that make up the museum’s website, blog, and social media.
Located 4.5 hours northwest of New York City, the Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG) is the most visited art museum in New York State outside of Manhattan, with annual visitation in 2014 at 440,000. The campus includes the museum, a working glass studio and teaching facility, a science center, and the library of record for research on glass and glassmaking. The Corning Museum’s website (http://www.cmog.org) presents an integrated glass and library collection search, an archive of more than 600 videos, more than 150 scholarly articles, a glass-artist directory, live demonstration schedules, and a café menu updated daily, along with content typical of a museum website, including visiting information and exhibition schedules.
CMoG’s website is maintained by the recently formed digital media team and a group of more than “Power Users”—staff from across the organization who actively maintain, update, and populate website content in the open-source content management system (CMS) Drupal (https://www.drupal.org). This was not always the case. Before 2011, when the Power User group was founded, the website was managed under the communications department. At the least, the Web designer/developer and digital content coordinator managed all Web content. At the best, the communications department of four helped add, edit, and publish Web content.
In 2011, the museum began the process of migrating existing Web content to a new website in Drupal. As part of this process, key stakeholders from each department of the museum were asked to review their areas of the website and asses content and design needs.
At the same time, Marie McKee, then president of the museum, planned new goals that coincided with the relaunch of the website. The mandate was to create a website that would more effectively show the scope and variety of collections and things to do at the museum, provide better access to the collections, and significantly increase digital scholarly content. The official line in the 2011 strategy document was: “Implement and evaluate the redesigned website for increased access to museum content, through website features and enhanced offerings.”
With a limited staff to manage the existing digital content, and the directive to add more, it became evident that the communications department alone could not be responsible for managing Web content. Leadership of the museum agreed to work with the communications department to decentralize Web content management to support the increase in dynamic content on the new website.
3. What is a Power User?
From the meetings with key stakeholders during the website redesign, Power Users from each area were identified. Initially the role was assigned to a staff member by their supervisor; eventually, the Power User role was added to the staffs’ formal job description.
The simplest description of a Power User is a staff member who has access to edit and update the museum’s website. The more full definition varies for each of the 30+ Power Users currently on the roster. Power Users can be responsible for managing a variety of content including what is on the website, in-gallery digital media, campus digital signage, blog posts, and/or social media. On the website, these users maintain content for the specific areas that we have defined. These areas are not rigid assignments, and many Power Users are responsible for maintaining content in multiple areas.
To define these roles, the communications department began the ongoing process of working strategically with staff to think about how digital media could be integrated into how they work. For some areas, the connection between current ways of work and the website were obvious, such as the E-commerce Power Users—staff who work with online sales—being given access to website store reports. For others, such as the café, a new way of work was defined, with the creation of the Power User role in that area when the museum switched from printed menus to digital signage. Now, the digital media team continues to work with Power Users to redefine these roles as needed. For example, the press Power User role was added in 2014 when a new staff member took over managing the website’s press center (http://www.cmog.org/press).
Power Users are assigned a user role within Drupal and given access to edit a limited number of content types. Most are assigned the standard Power User role, which allows them to edit Web articles, biographies, exhibition information, museum publication listings, employment opportunities, events, facility rental listings, frequently asked questions, dictionary terms, library resource listings, and glassmaking activity descriptions. Others are also assigned roles specific to the content that they are responsible for maintaining.
- Power Users can edit a selected list of content types that are most relevant to the public visiting the website. Any Power User is able to edit these content types.
- E-commerce Power Users are given access to view reports of purchases made through the website for glassmaking classes, membership purchases, donations, or submissions to the juried New Glass Review journal.
- Webform Power Users are given access to view submissions to webforms, including grant applications, residency applications, school tour registrations, event RSVPs, rights and reproductions requests, and docent/volunteer applications.
- Collection Data Power Users are the only people who have access to edit collections records on the website. The data is maintained through syncs between Drupal and the museum’s collections management system (Mimsy XG), but certain edits must occur manually on the Drupal side, which these users have access to do.
- Café Power Users update the daily café menu from a specialized Drupal interface that feeds data to the digital signage in the café.
- GlassLab Power Users have access to edit the content types within the GlassLab Web app (http://www.cmog.org/glasslab), where they can add new designers, videos, photos, and upcoming GlassLab design-session event information.
- Press Power Users have access to edit the specific press image and press release content types, and can publish or unpublish without moderation in the case that important news needs to be posted.
Power Users are encouraged to keep an active eye on the content in their section of the website. Because staff are busy, we set up monthly or quarterly meetings with the digital media team, communications department, or both to review website content with Power Users. These meetings are also a chance to discuss larger-scale projects and future planning for Web content.
A Power User can manage updates in three ways.
The first is to log in to the website and make the update. For example: the start time of an upcoming lecture has changed. The Power User can log in, update the time in the event, and submit the change for review.
The website uses the Workbench Moderation module to moderate Power User content submissions (https://www.drupal.org/project/workbench_moderation). For those not familiar with the module, users can create a new draft of content and save to keep working on it later, or submit for review. Once submitted, the content enters the moderation workflow, and content publishers are notified by e-mail through the Basecamp project management system (https://basecamp.com). When their content has been published, the Power User who submitted the content is notified via e-mail. If needed, content publishers can notify the Power User of any updates that need to be made before the content is published. The Power User can re-edit and submit another draft for review, which is then published to the website.
The second option Power Users have is to simply notify the digital media team. Using a Feedback form that appears on every page when a Power User is logged in to the website, staff can notify the digital media team of an update that needs to be made but, for example, is not within that Power User’s area, or if there is an edit that is not accessible from the main editing section of the page. This feedback feature is accessible to all staff at the museum when authenticated on the website, not just Power Users. Borrowing the trademarked phrase of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “If you see something, say something” has become a motto for staff regarding Web content (http://www.dhs.gov/if-you-see-something-say-something-public-service-announcements).
When a staff member submits feedback, that task is assigned by the digital media team to the appropriate Power User to make the update. As seen in figure 2, staff can assign a category to their feedback: Can we add…, General Feedback, How do I…, Imagery, or Technical Issue.
Feedback tasks are managed and assigned by the digital media team in Basecamp.
The third, last-resort option is to e-mail the digital media team. In this instance, there is typically a unique scenario that needs to be discussed in detail before any Web content updates are made.
4. Creating productive Power Users
Training is an essential component of working with staff across the organization to manage Web content. Power Users are responsible for managing a variety of content, and with some staff, working in the CMS system or with social media channels may initially be out of their skillset.
Power Users are given one-on-one training on making basic page updates in the Drupal CMS, or more specific training if they are an E-commerce or Café Power User, etc. They are encouraged to ask for a training “refresher” if they need to do a task but have forgotten how to work in the CMS. They are encouraged to ask questions in all meetings with Power Users, and the digital media team makes itself available to answer any digital-related questions. As much as possible, we try to assuage staffs’ anxiety over process and technologies through open communication.
Colleagues in the field have shared their strategies for establishing a more tech/Web/digitally literate staff throughout a museum. Carolyn Royston and Simon Delafond (2014) noted, “The requirement to raise the digital capability of staff is critical to the success of our Digital Transformation Strategy.” Requiring staff to become digitally aware is easier said than done, and Royston and Delafond’s strategy resulted in the creation of a Computer Club that runs short, informal, and fun sessions that “don’t feel like conventional ‘training’ but rather an opportunity to have a practical hands-on experience with different forms of technology—both hardware and software.”
In 2014, CMoG’s strategic plan included the mandate to “Ensure the technical proficiency of staff.” Under this directive, every staff member was required to complete ten hours of technical or software training. CMoG’s initial Power User trainings were very much the opposite of the Computer Club model; they were structured trainings where staff found it difficult to grasp the tasks covered without immediate needs or results. For instance, if a curatorial assistant only finds that they are creating a Web article once a year, the training they received on how to enter a Web article in Drupal the year prior is of little help.
As part of the training initiative, we offered a session titled, “Blog Posts, Articles and Other Ways You Can Contribute to the Website” a few times over the course of the summer. It was marketed as:
Are you interested in providing content to the Museum’s online presence, but not sure where or how? This training will cover what makes a good blog post (it’s easier than you think), the difference between blogs and website articles, and covers the many ways you can contribute to the Museum’s website. Power Users and non-Power Users alike will benefit from this session.
The sessions were attended by a range of staff from curators to facility managers. However, they didn’t work the way we initially thought they would. The initial goal was that the training would prepare staff to contribute content to the website by entering blog posts in WordPress and Web articles in the Drupal CMS. Instead, the training sessions cleared up questions for staff on what we offer online, and were taken more as an overview of features of the website rather than a hands-on training session. The sessions were better at generating interest in contributing content, rather than directly training staff in the systems. Training Power Users on the how-to of publishing a page was better covered in one- or two-person training sessions with a member of the digital media team.
As other content managers have noted, staff are reluctant to engage in Web content because of the perceived threat of increased workload (Espig & McLeod, 2013). After each Power User training, there would be an increase in contributed blogs, photos for social media, and Web articles, which would ebb over time, until another training. In instances where staff have become proactive about creating and publishing content, it is when they start contributing to the blog.
Annelisa Stephan (2013) put forth the question two years ago: “Do museums still need blogs?”
They’re a way to get information out quickly. And they’re an outlet for the many stories that museums have in their collections, buildings, and community. But does the world need museum blogs? Who are we serving? Are they a space where genuine dialogue does, or even can, develop? Are staff truly benefiting from the blog?
In talking about how to get curator buy-in to create Web content, Espig and McLeod (2013) say that even the term “blog” is problematic. The terminology of blogging is debated, but museums do need blogs. Blogging is not just to share the great stories about our collections and what’s happening. Perhaps self-servingly, the practice of blogging is a great starting point for strengthening staffs’ digital skillsets. The less-formal nature of a blog post provides an ideal entry point for staff of varying skill levels to become involved in creating and publishing Web content. Yes, even in 2015.
Not every Power User at CMoG is required to blog, but they are strongly encouraged. When the communications and digital media teams meet with each Power User area to discuss existing and upcoming Web content, we often check in with what they are working on and if they are aware of any interesting stories (i.e., potential blog posts that can be shared). The process of following up with staff on these stories and receiving the final blog post submitted in WordPress can be long, but as you’ll see in the case study in the section below, it can result in great content initiated by the Power User. Engaging Power Users in writing blog posts has translated into successes in staff taking ownership and being proactive about their Web content.
5. Case studies
Over the past three years, there have been a few outstanding instances in which the Power User model has truly succeeded, and a few in which there is room for improvement. The following are some selected highlights.
This project is an example of an initially needs-based task that evolved into an ongoing practice. During the redesign of the website, online artist biographies needed to be updated as they were given new prominence in the new design. Being attached to the glassmaking course descriptions and highlighted in upcoming live-streaming events displaying on the homepage made them more visible. It has since become a way of work for this Power User and continues to be a smoothly running process.
Every artist that instructs a glassmaking class at CMoG’s studio has an online biography (http://www.cmog.org/glassmaking/studio/artists-and-instructors). These pages include a headshot, biography text, link to the artist’s website, videos if they have presented a live-streamed demonstration, photos of their work, and links if they have artworks in the glass collection. To date, over four hundred artists are represented.
When migrating this content from the old website, it became apparent that many of the artist profiles were missing content. Our Power User for the studio area of the website took on the task of contacting each artist to request an updated headshot, bio, and photos of their work. Trained in Drupal, she entered the new content as it was received. For the past two years, it has become a part of her way of work. When a new artist is enlisted to teach a course, the glassmaking studio notifies the Power User. The Power User contacts the artist and then submits the content. The digital media team is not involved until the biography is submitted for review.
- The Power User works closely with the studio and knows when new artists need to be added to the website.
- The Power User adds new biography information often enough that she doesn’t need constant retraining in using the CMS.
Studio special programs
This is a case where a new staff member took initiative to start blogging about what was happening in their area of the museum. These blog posts featured specific programs connecting the museum to the local community, and leadership wanted a more permanent presence on the website to highlight these activities.
In 2012, the museum hired a special projects team leader to oversee events, programs, classes, and activities for groups, artists, and students at the glassmaking studio. This person became the Power User for Web content relating to those areas on the website. At the same time, she expressed interest in blogging about the special programs in these areas. In one of the quarterly Web content meetings, the director of the studio suggested that these blog posts become the basis for a page on the studio section of the website highlighting special programs. The Power User worked with the digital media team to create the page (http://www.cmog.org/glassmaking/studio/programs) and maintains the content on an ongoing basis.
- The Power User blogs as an entry point to creating Web content.
- The Power User attends specific check-in meetings scheduled throughout the year to discuss the current state of Web content and future ideas for their area.
- The Power User collaborates with the digital media team to assess goals and strategy before creating new pages.
Café menu and demonstration schedules
This case is our most successful example of Web content that could not function without Power User support. By being actively engaged in the content process, the Power Users are constantly evaluating the effectiveness of the content and making relevant suggestions for updates.
In 2013, CMoG launched digital signage across the museum campus that displayed daily schedules of the four live glassmaking demonstrations and a daily café menu. Power Users were appointed for the demo schedules and the café, trained in the CMS, and given permission to publish content unmoderated so that rapid updates can be made.
The front-line staff manager is the Power User for the demonstration schedules and is in contact with the glass demo managers to make instant updates if a demo show is cancelled or a time is changed. When the task was first proposed to this Power User, they balked at the idea of being responsible for managing the schedules. The director of the department maintained that managing the schedules was no longer within communications’ scope of what they were staffed to manage. Within a year of being trained, the Power User was adding new demo times proactively and making suggestions based on what they experienced using the CMS. The key point was when the Power User realized that the value of managing their own content outweighed the workload.
The Café Power User trained additional staff in their area to enter and publish individual menu items, and can adjust the menu throughout the day depending on selection availability. CMoG has a number of Chinese-speaking visitors, and the Power User suggested that the signage display translations for menu items. As a result of that feedback, the Power User now works with a translator on CMoG’s staff to add translations in the titles of the menu items in the CMS.
- The Power User has adopted the creation of menus and schedules on the website as daily process.
- The Power User can make immediate changes, and this responsibility is a welcome one, as it is not necessary to e-mail or file a request and wait for the change to be made.
- The Power User uses the system every day and is able to provide useful feedback to the digital media team to improve the process in the CMS.
- The Power User feels that the value of managing their own content outweighs the workload.
Not all Power User areas are as successful as others. You may have heard from staff when discussing Web content updates, “That’s not my job” or “I don’t have time.”
The most frequent challenge we’ve encountered is when Power Users will wait for communications or digital media to ask them to make Web content updates out of necessity rather than making the updates proactively. If a bio is out of date or a Web article needs to be published today, the Power User workflow is sometimes bypassed. These challenges are addressed in the section below, but here is the quick list of the most common issues.
- The Power User is not active enough in the CMS to be familiar with the processes and requires additional training throughout the year.
- The Power User is not familiar with the CMS and feels reluctant to work in the system.
- The Power User does not actively update content in their area of the website, relying on digital media to make updates only when content is out of date or incorrect.
- The Power User does not consider Web content to be a part of his or her job responsibilities.
- The Power User has not found a way to integrate Web content responsibilities into ongoing work practices.
6. Addressing the challenges
How do staff become invested in managing Web content outside the digital media team? Why should they care about what’s on the website? How do they become active participants in creating Web content? Colleagues in the field have taken a variety of approaches to addressing these questions, ranging from Computer Clubs (Royston & Delafond, 2014) to pseudo-wiki content entry (Stein & Bachta, 2010) to reverting from more complicated CMSs to the more user-friendly WordPress (Walter, 2014), among others. At CMoG, one answer was the blog.
Power Users are encouraged to submit content for the blog at any level, from longer posts on a specific topic a curator is researching, to ongoing blog series from glassmakers traveling the world, to simply a photo and a caption from an event. Staff see the blog as an opportunity to write less formally. Once staff have crossed the perceived barrier of increased workload, they often take a more thoughtful approach to managing their Web content, seeing the connection between digital and what they do. Staff are excited and proud to share their stories, and will post links to their blog posts on their Facebook and Twitter pages. These staff are likely to be proactive in submitting new blog posts and Web content. However, not everyone takes on the role of blogger, and areas of the website are maintained by Power Users who are less inclined to become active participants.
The key component to addressing this issue is to provide entry points into creating Web content. For us, it’s the blog, but that might not be the case for all institutions. And not all staff will blog. If a staff member is not going to write a blog post, see if they will contribute in another way—perhaps e-mailing you a photo that they snapped from their phone. If a staff blogger has an idea for a series, encourage making it happen. And, share in staffs’ excitement to contribute.
Start from the top down and make it a priority
Leadership supported the formation of the Power User group to achieve strategic goals with the launch of the new website in 2011. Since that time, support has continued because the benefits have been tangible: new content is consistently added to keep the website active, and up-to-date schedules and information help visitors on a daily basis.
The following Power User job responsibilities are assigned to each new Power User by their supervisor, and the objective is added to their job description, which is used in annual performance reviews.
Power User job responsibilities
The Power User is responsible for ensuring that their area’s website content is always up to date, accurate, and relevant. They:
- Proactively think about and suggest ways to improve content
- Facilitate timely updates through constant conversation with group stakeholders, identifying opportunities for bringing content to the website
- Coordinate and manage suggestions from others for the area they oversee
Power Users will be trained to input their content directly into the system; all content will be approved by the communications department before it goes live.
Power Users will meet on a regular basis with the communications and digital media teams to evaluate and address issues, as well as brainstorm ways to continue to enhance and improve the website.
Power Users should:
- Be comfortable with technology
- Be organized and able to communicate across broad spectrum of the organization
- Be proficient writers (do not need to be an original content creator or expert)
- Have basic knowledge of existing content
As a Power User for the website, maintain content and actively identify new content to keep the site relevant. Also, become proficient in using the website CMS to enter and update content.
In Tate’s Digital Strategy, John Stack (2013) lays out the necessity of leadership support and resources to make the level of changes that are necessary to encourage an institution as a whole to adopt a new digital way of work. “The digital used to be the concern of one department… but will soon permeate all areas of work in the museum. This transition will require the right level of resourcing, leadership and engagement from across the organisation.”
The key component to addressing this issue is that leadership support is crucial. The formality of the Power User position tells staff that this is an important role and adds a level of responsibility that has been an essential component to its ongoing success.
Help staff think digitally
The overwhelmingly successful Power Users are staff who have integrated Web content into their daily way of work. Like the case study of the café and front-line managers, if staff are invested in having correct, up-to-date information online, they will be willing to manage it themselves if given the tools.
This is a successful example of the digital media team working strategically with staff to encourage thinking about how digital media could be integrated into how they work. It’s not an easy task, and cultivating the culture of digital is an ongoing process. It requires training staff in digital skillsets and helping them realize how it applies to their job tasks, and often times, their life outside of work when we include talking about social media.
Digital initiatives can help fulfill a museum’s mission through every department and activity of the institution (Stack, 2013). Establishing a digitally minded staff is the first step in this strategy. This task often falls on the digital media department staff, who, by default, are more familiar with emerging technologies.
Trends in digital media and online experiences continue to evolve, and museum websites have begun to adapt iterative ways of keeping up with new technologies in lieu of massive overhauls to their websites every few years (Stein & Bachta, 2010). This is the right path for museum websites to move toward for a sustainable future, but it removes the instigator that has been the start of many museums’ new ways of approaching how Web content is managed (Espig & McLeod, 2013). Without large changes to the website itself, digital media staff need to remain aware of implementing iterative changes in working with staff on Web content. Technology changes, and the way we work with technology changes. We need to keep staff up to date and continue to train staff.
The key component to addressing this issue is to train often and work with staff individually to encourage them to feel comfortable in the role. Accept that Web content is an ongoing process and change will happen.
Develop confidence through collaboration
For the Power User group, continued training has allowed the lines of communication to remain open and for us in the digital media department to learn from the Power Users what is and is not working. For now, we continue to provide as much hands-on training in the Drupal and WordPress systems as is needed with staff to help them feel competent in managing Web content. Drupal may not always be the system, as we welcome feedback from the Power Users and learn from how they are using it. We encourage involvement in creating Web content and welcome suggestions from Power Users on content creation.
The key component to addressing this issue is to make it as easy as possible for all parties. Communicate openly. Listen to feedback and act upon evaluative suggestions.
Dividing the responsibilities of Web content creation and management through a Power User group of staff who actively maintain, update, and create website content can be a successful strategy to conquering the ongoing need for dynamic content on museum websites. CMoG has demonstrated the success of harnessing the power of both staff and digital media specialists in managing the creation and publication of Web content at a museum with limited staff, a task that will only increase as museum leadership, researchers, and visitors seek more digital content on our websites. Case studies show the variety of ways that staff are onboarded into becoming proactive content creators, and a review of the challenges shows that cultivating the culture of digital is an ongoing process. Open communication and continued training help staff to realize the value of managing their own content. These are key points to creating a more digitally minded staff, which can be beneficial for supporting not only Web content goals, but also a museum’s overall mission.
The author would like to thank Scott Sayre, chief digital officer, and Yvette Sterbenk, senior communications manager, of the Corning Museum of Glass for their advice and support.
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. "Divide and conquer: Strategies for decentralizing Web content management." MW2015: Museums and the Web 2015. Published January 31, 2015. Consulted .