Who Will Champion Higher Ed Digital Engagement Needs?
“Who hears us?” “Who is listening to us?” “Who will bring our needs to the attention of those with our fate in their hands?” A higher ed digital evangelist, that’s who.
The number of digital-focused staff positions and job postings at higher ed institutions is on the rise. There are people in such roles doing incredible things through digital communications and engagement that elevate the connectivity with and within their institutions. And this work subsequently elevates the case to further prioritize digital efforts and strategy in higher ed.
There are so many great things being done and, in some cases, it’s because digital has been elevated to that strategy pedestal, taking on a central role in a higher ed department’s operation.
But more often, these great achievements are only being rolled out in spurts where creativity, resources, and time align and are greenlighted. And, more often, these great achievements are mostly being celebrated by folks in one particular sphere – the one populated with these very digital, communications, and tech folks working in and around higher ed.
The conferences and webinars they attend, the podcasts they create and consume, the blogs and articles they write and read, the hashtagged posts they contribute and amplify all bounce around a vibrant echo chamber. They share, they inspire, they critique, they conspire, they console, they aspire – all in this mighty echo chamber.
Are they then much different from the Whos in Whoville, doing all that they can to be heard beyond their speck of digital dust – but only hearing their own voices that much more prominently?
Without a Horton – without an evangelist determined to prove that they are here and that they need to be heard – this digital cohort on this echo-chamber speck may wind up boiled in a pot of beezlenut oil (otherwise known as competing priorities and resources).
But digital staff members cannot be the sole or primary evangelists for their work. Though they have the most intimate knowledge of the space and needs of the institution or individual departments, their voices alone will not break that barrier and be heard. For they are on the speck.
A digital evangelist should either be a distinct role within the leadership ranks of higher ed departments or that responsibility should be a significant and defined charge of someone in an existing senior leadership position. Here are ten key traits and expectations for such a role:
A digital evangelist must be keenly aware of the benefits of digital to the areas of the institution for which they are responsible.
A digital evangelist must be well versed in digital and be abreast of trends across the digital spectrum. Be those across channels such as social media, web, email, or mobile. Be those across media formats or content areas. Be those across technologies and their providers. Be those across higher ed departments such as advancement, engagement, enrollment, communications, or career services. Be those across industries beyond higher ed.
A digital evangelist must be attuned to the institutions that are succeeding with digital and thriving on account of it.
A digital evangelist must understand the complexity of digital and how it is threaded throughout the entire organization.
A digital evangelist must educate the organization and leadership on how digital is essential to the organization’s efforts.
A digital evangelist must facilitate efforts for all staff to learn, use, and think about digital regularly.
A digital evangelist must encourage opportunities for professional development around digital.
A digital evangelist must understand the power and opportunity provided by data analytics in identifying narratives and justifying digital efforts.
A digital evangelist must be prepared to champion digital strategy when challenged about its effectiveness or necessity, including in the face of competing priorities, resources, or traditions.
A digital evangelist must lobby for resources (when critical) for rolling out and sustaining digital initiatives and strategy.
If there is no chance of creating a digital evangelist position or carving out a slice of a leader’s position to serve in this capacity, then there are alternatives. This could be a digital evangelist from another institution. This could be a digital evangelist from a current technology provider. This could be an expert in the field.
Though these outsiders might neither have consistent access to institutional decision-makers nor the frequency of touchpoints with these leaders, their experience and expertise – if delivered with a mix of inspiration, impact, and persuasion – may just be enough to mirror the effect of an insider evangelist. A potential upside to the outside evangelist approach is that no one from within the institution has to sacrifice their reputation or position in order to make a persistent case for digital expansion.
None of this is to say that the legions of higher ed digital staff should cease all of their camaraderie and conversations. Quite the contrary. They should be as loud as they can be. More need to speak up. More need to be heard. More yips. More yops. There are Hortons out there. Let’s just hope the right people are listening.
“We are here! We are here! We are here!”