Posted May 11, 2015 by Mara Dahlgren 

Why Do Our Websites Fail to Show Off Our Spaces?

We are our facility. The structure of our building shapes our spaces, how students and campus community members interact in our spaces, and how we build community. We are more than just a facility, but the brick and mortar or glass and steel make us who we are. It’s difficult to tell that, though, when you visit our websites.

Do we have atriums, lounges, dining spaces, student organization offices, and meeting rooms? And what do they look like? Is school pride shown throughout the building?

student union website symbol iconThrough research, curiosity, or interest in other college unions, I have visited quite a few college union websites, and I have come to the disappointing realization that we do not show off our spaces very well online. In fact, many of our unions also have terrible online presences overall, but that’s a conversation for another day. What I want to discuss right now is having better online visual representation of our facilities.

We can list our services, but that gives such a bare representation of what are. You can say there’s a lounge in our union, but until you are in it or see a picture of how it is being used, website visitors can’t actually understand what your union is like.

Is your lounge formal or informal? Bright or dimly lit? Are students in clumps hanging out and having conversations, or are they spread out and sleeping on the couches? Or does the space allow for both? Is the lounge for students, or is it a special interest lounge? Is it quiet? None of these questions can be answered by seeing the term “lounge” listed as a service on a union’s website.

We talk about needing to tell our story better, and I think we can do this simply by showing it if off to those who can’t visit it and those who haven’t visited yet and are trying to learn about our services. And, selfishly, as a college union professional, I would love to be able to benchmark other union facilities without actually visiting them.
Mara Dahlgren

Mara Dahlgren is the Assistant Director, Activities & Events at Indiana University–Bloomington.

Mara serves as an advisor for the Indiana Memorial Union Board, helping student leaders and student employees plan events on campus. She completed her undergraduate education at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and completed her master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs at Indiana University–Bloomington, where she gained experience in the operations side of the college union as the building manager.

Comments

Mara - Great article!! I shared this article with my marketing team and they completely agreed. One of our issues that we, like many schools I am sure, want to include an interactive floor plan and gallery into our site, but.... our Content Management System used for designing our site does not have that functionality. Would love to hear how some schools are getting around their CMS systems to maximize their web presence.
Jeremy Schenk
jmschenk@vcu.edu
Comment posted 05/11/2015 3:43 PM
Mara - Great article!! I shared this article with my marketing team and they completely agreed. One of our issues that we, like many schools I am sure, want to include an interactive floor plan and gallery into our site, but.... our Content Management System used for designing our site does not have that functionality. Would love to hear how some schools are getting around their CMS systems to maximize their web presence.
Jeremy Schenk
jmschenk@vcu.edu
Comment posted 05/11/2015 3:43 PM
Mara, In your research of websites, who in your opinion does it well?
Michelle Smith
mjsmith1@acui.org
Comment posted 05/12/2015 9:00 AM
Mara, In your research of websites, who in your opinion does it well?
Michelle Smith
mjsmith1@acui.org
Comment posted 05/12/2015 9:00 AM
I can't take credit for finding this - Celia and Liz at the central office showed me this site - but the Georgia Tech Clough (Learning) Commons is doing a great job of this - http://www.news.gatech.edu/features/24-hours-clough-commons
Comment posted 05/12/2015 10:08 AM
Excellent points, Mara. We did some benchmarking of other Union websites, too, and worked with our IT staff to update our website to show pictures and possible layouts of the space: http://ohiounion.osu.edu/plan_an_event/view_event_spaces?room=9
Comment posted 05/13/2015 2:57 PM
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