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Converging Content, Community and Commerce in Higher Education

Higher Education institutions rely on their websites to tell their story through rich and engaging digital experiences.

In this rapid age of innovation, it is imperative that educational establishments are able to attract and enroll the best prospective students and once those students have matriculated, institutions need to develop applications to support students and help them to collaborate, pay bills, take part in extracurricular activities and, most importantly, learn.

Similarly, colleges and universities need to engage with graduates to strengthen the affinity they have with their alma mater after they’ve left campus. That is a long time to keep disparate audiences captivated and this is where an innovative and agile digital strategy can add significant value.

The convergence of content, community and commerce into a single digital experience represents an unparalleled opportunity to drive engagement and site conversion.

Content

The one thing educational institutions never lack is content. There is no shortage of interesting topics, ideas, opinions and research for engaging and inspiring visitors. The biggest hurdle faced is too much content – how do you manage ever expanding quantities of great content and then deliver it to the right site visitors, on the device they choose and at the right moment? More importantly, how do you achieve all this without needing IT experts and still keep control over the quality and relevance of content and the look and feel of all your websites? That’s where Drupal comes in – an open source, and therefore cost effective way of implementing a mobile-first content platform. Here’s some reasons why Drupal is excellent for content:

  1. Authors, editors and admin:
  2. Accessibility
  3. Reusing valuable Content
  4. Branding & Design
  5. Mobile & Accessibility

Community

Universities, colleges and other higher education establishments large and small, are exploring and evaluating options for their next (or in some cases, their first) digital platform. And for the most part they are all looking for similar things: an infrastructure for social integration and community building, back-end interoperability, and of course the right tools to deliver an amazing online experience for their alumni that will keep them engaged and coming back again and again.

Institutions are interested in separating out the administrative solutions from the online experience and want a web platform that is as much a social hub for online interactions such as alumni gatherings as it is a transactional environment for online giving and events registration. There is not an off-the-shelf commercial solution that offers an elegant and integrated continuous experience, leaving many looking to build a custom solution to serve their needs.

What does it take to build a sophisticated online social hub to support an institution's alumni relations efforts and development goals, for example? Here are our top 5 tips for producing an engaging social solution:

  1. It must be responsive and mobile-ready
  2. Unified content experience: bring together access to all the content from your web sites into your alumni environment.
  3. Social collaboration tools
  4. Open API support
  5. An amazing experience that is personalized

Commerce

While colleges and universities are not ecommerce businesses, they still do a great deal of ecommerce. From fees to tickets for events and seminars, to online bookstores for merchandise and materials, and of course to online giving for fundraising, colleges and universities are using ecommerce every day to support the multi-faceted business of higher education. For each of these online transactions there is a commerce platform in place that manages both the “product” and the “sale”, and this myriad of commerce solutions around campus have become, for many institutions, a very complex challenge to support. Multiple vendors with varying terms and conditions create an administrative burden. Multiple contracts with a spectrum of costs create economic disadvantages. Multiple integration points to existing applications and sites creates technological “debt” and potential security issues. And, of course, multiple systems create an inconsistent online experience that weakens the institutional brand and reduces affinity.

The good news is that these challenges are addressable and many institutions are looking at their ecommerce ecosystems and seeing an opportunity to implement a single solution that enables them to take back control of the integrated digital experience. The solution that many are turning to? Drupal Commerce. And here are some of the reasons why ...

  1. ROI
  2. Flexibility
  3. Unifying Content and Commerce (i.e. Brand Control)
  4. Leverage Drupal: Drupal Commerce is fully integrated existing Drupal environments.
  5. Compliance

Summary

To succeed in an increasingly global market, industries including higher education are realizing that their website must act as the glue that binds together the main ingredients of a compelling and stimulating online experience: content, community and commerce. It must inspire the current and next generation of thinkers, leaders and entrepreneurs – a daunting task. Above all, it must elevate the institution in a global environment and act as a platform for raising funds to continue investment for the future.

The good news is that all of this can be achieved using Drupal. Drupal is already embedded in hundreds of higher education establishments and provides an open, flexible, and modular platform on which to build a platform for the future.

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