Multisite Support with WordPress in Higher Education

Posted in : Blog on by : David Ostrov
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If you are in higher education and you manage a large multisite WordPress instance this post is for you. Unlike most documents about WordPress that focus on technology in higher education, this document is going to look at the process of client management. Let’s start by looking at the organizational forces that greatly influence the process.


Organizational Force 1: Diverse Needs Now, in higher education (unlike business where the goal is revenue) client have a much broader range of needs. Some clients undoubtedly ask you to focus on their department and the process of being in an institution. Some clients are education focused and ask you to address their curricula. Some are more aligned with research requirements. Others are geared around social communication and getting the word out. Is it a challenge? You betcha. Organizational Force 2: Being a Service Organization In any case, being a service organization can be a bit tricky. You can’t fire your customers in higher education. You must love them the way they are with all their quirks and personality and you don’t get any credit for up-selling them on new ideas and new designs. When a task goes bad the emails and phone calls can go round and round. Your goal is to solve the problem and cross their issue off your list. Organizational Force 3: Large Number of Sites You, my friend, manage far more WordPress sites than the average corporate install. Every organization and sub-organization within you institution needs a WordPress site. The total numbers are a flat-out incredible and that is a challenge as you must give your clients the love and attention they need to feel good…but do it quickly. The Process of Defining the Problem The client request comes in and before you can solve the problem, you need to figure out what the problem actually is. You need to play the role of WordPress Doctor. Let’s think about the category of issues.

  • Training Issue or Technical Issue: Is your client just lacking basic WordPress editor experience or is there a more serious issue.
  • Graphics Change Issue: Does the image on the site look the way its supposed to look.
  • Plug-in Issue: Is the plug-in behaving the way it is supposed to behave. Do you need to debug the plugin or perhaps call the supplier.
  • Device Issues: Their old iPhone 4s causing a problem in how your clients sees the site.
  • Browser or Version Issue: Are they using an old version of Firefox which you don’t support any longer.
  • Functionality or Enhancement Request: Are they looking for a new feature that you don’t have time to build.
    Now, as the WordPress Doctor, before you can figure out which of the above issues you are dealing with, you need a bit of information. This is where things can get challenging.
    Step 1: Diagnosing The Problem Your clients can be experienced WordPress Pro’s or neophytes. In either case, you need them to tell you a few basic bits of information. First, you need clarity on WHERE. You need to know where the problem is located. When patients go see a doctor, they they tell the doctor their arm hurts. You, my friend, usually don’t have any idea what part of the site is a problem. Some sites can have thousands of pages. Clients don’t think to share the URL. It just doesn’t occur to them. You should know what they are talking about. Let’s keep moving. Next, you need to know where on the page. You need to know if the issue is an image at the top page, some copy at the bottom of the page or maybe a welcome mat that pops up at an inconvenient time.
    Second, you need to understand a cryptic DESCRIPTION Next, you look at their words. The email is usually quite cryptic as most clients in higher education just can’t describe the issue. They don’t speak WordPress. They don’t speak technology. Their words likely have nothing to do with what is happening on their site. So, often another volley of emails is fired off to get clarity on what they mean.
    Now, you need to know HOW. You understand the problem (if there is a problem and it is more then a training issue) and now you need to get the technology right. What did they see? What device were they on? What browser and what browser version? Typically, you have another flurry of emails if you didn’t get this information earlier in the process. And if you are lucky you get a screenshot of the issue on hand.

    Step 2: Verifying the Problem and Researching Solutions You’ve got all the data. Now, you go through standard testing procedure and you figure out if the problem is repeatable.

    Step 3: Proposing a Solution Now, you communicate the details in an email or you determine that you are best served by a phone call. If your client isn’t technical, good luck. It will take a great deal of time to understand everything. To conclude this post, the key takeaway is simple. Over 50% of the time and effort is just collecting basic information and getting your client to describe the problem. This problem, of understanding what clients are trying to say and communicating with them, is our focus and goal here at NoteBLOX.

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