Communicating with Multiple Stakeholders: Building Effective University Web Sites

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Most organizations use their Web sites to communicate in some way with their stakeholders. For-profit companies use their Web sites to sell products and services, not-for-profit organizations use their Web sites to communicate with their constituencies and supporters. University Web sites have a more complex communications role. These sites must convey information to a broad range of constituencies, each of which has significantly different information needs. Further, universities have been slow to recognize the need for a comprehensive high-level strategy for managing the design and implementation of their Web sites. This paper offers an analysis of the issues universities face in designing and implementing their Web sites and presents some solutions to problems that universities face in these undertakings.

INTRODUCTION

The World Wide Web (Web) has rapidly become one of the most widely used communications media in the history of the world. The number of Web sites exceeds 45 million (Netcraft, 2003) and the number of Web pages is well over five billion (Bergman, 2000; .OCLC, 2003). These numbers are increasing at an increasing rate each year (McCollum, 1997; Netcraft, 2003).

The purposes and scope of Web sites have increased greatly, but few businesses today manage them well (Ramsey, 2000). The tools that companies have developed over the years to manage software development projects are designed to help those companies meet the needs of their current customers and operate more effectively within existing value chains (Schwalbe, 2001), not to create new ways of communicating via the Web.

Today, businesses use their Web sites for everything from selling products and services to ordering materials and supplies to communicating with employees, customers, and vendors (Ruud and Deutz, 1999). Other organizations use their Web sites for a variety of communication and marketing functions with their constituencies (Schneider, 2003). Universities are unusual because they have a larger number of distinct constituencies than other organizations. In addition, each of a university's constituencies has differing information needs. These differing needs mean that university Web site users each arrive at the site with a different set of expectations.

This paper offers an analysis of the issues universities face in designing and implementing their Web sites to meet those varied user expectations and presents some solutions to the problems that universities face in meeting the communication and marketing challenges of this new medium.

BUILDING USEFUL AND EFFECTIVE WEB SITES

The task of building a good Web site is not easy. Many companies have found it difficult to develop new information systems and Web sites that work with those systems to create new markets or reconfigure their supply chains (Tattum, 2000). In the past, companies that have had success in exploring new ways of working with their customers and suppliers by reconfiguring supply chains have had the luxury of time, years in many cases, to complete those reconfigurations (Keil, Cule, Lyytinen, and Schmidt, 1998; McConnell, 1996). The user demands of today do not allow any organization that kind of time to build an effective Web site.

Designing useful and effective Web sites is not easy for any entity (Nielsen and Tahir, 2001). It becomes especially difficult for organizations that need to meet many different site visitor expectations (Nielsen, 2000). Universities have been widely criticized for not understanding the needs of student Web site visitors (Agosto, 2002; Giving the Web the New College Try, 2000; Raisman, 2000), for failing to include development and fund raising opportunities on their Web sites (Bjorhovde and Dietlin, 1999; Rolnick, 1998), and for missing important points in Web site architecture (Chen and Macredie, 2002; Middleton and McConnell, 1999). Some critics have even criticized universities for simply having "bad Web sites" (DeSimone and McRae, 2002; Raisman, 2003). …