Nelson Mandela University recently launched an updated and expanded version of their web platform, after extensive research, planning and stakeholder engagement. As a key institution in the South African education landscape, a compelling and comprehensive digital strategy and presence is seen as an essential building block for the university’s ambitious educational goals and stakeholder communication requirements.

The university, based across seven campuses and two cities, with its main campus in Port Elizabeth, identified the need for a ‘digital-first’ stakeholder communication and engagement strategy as early as 2015 and appointed Stratitude, a strategic creative agency, to assist with the creation and deployment of their digital-first approach.

“Developing our new digital communication and engagement strategy that integrates many separate entities and communities, such as faculties, schools, divisions and centres, while communicating to diverse and multiple stakeholders, who each have different requirements, is a significant task,” says Lebogang Hashatse, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: People and Operations at Nelson Mandela University.

“With such a complex project and so many stakeholders involved, we needed a comprehensive strategy to guide us through the process, and Stratitude has been our partner from the beginning, ensuring that the strategy was informed by and developed with stakeholders and executed perfectly, culminating in the launch of our new web portals and an expansive digital communication platform,” says Hashatse.

The first task for the agency was to undertake rigorous research. This entailed conducting surveys and interviews with university students, high school learners, alumni, staff and community members, as well as benchmarking against the digital platforms and online presence of other local and international universities, in order to better understand market requirements, industry trends, best practice and potential risks.

A detailed review was also conducted on the university’s existing platforms, from backend and structure to content, and this data was stacked against the research outcomes. Several key lessons were drawn and goals established.

“We had to do the groundwork first to ensure that our strategy was informed by what the university market requires and to ensure that we can benchmark against the best”, says Neil Bromehead, Digital Director at Stratitude.

Following the research phase, target audience personas were developed, and clear digital objectives were set and agreed upon to form the foundation. A number of important strategies were then developed, along with tactics and actions to achieve them. This included a large scale update planned for the university web portals, with a focus on key strategic deliverables:

  1. Strategies: Empowerment versus control, and the centralised digital function

For a site with hundreds of individual entities, a significant objective was ensuring the quality and relevance of content on each platform.

“This included not just branding and design elements, but also tone, SEO and other important factors in the modern ‘content is king’ environment,” explains Bromehead.

  1. Design: The importance of visuals for the university audience

One of the major outcomes of the strategic phase was the need for most stakeholders, but especially high school learners and the first-year university students, to have a strong visual association with information and content on the website.

“A much a cleaner, streamlined design was developed and adopted, which will also be rolled out across the university’s social media platforms,” says Bromehead.

  1. Development: Mobile first, interactive templating

The site needed to be mobile first, responsive, and enjoyable to use. Several templates were identified and built, and then captured into the site’s central management system.

According to Bromehead, “We worked closely with the university’s development team, where the agency was responsible for the site architecture, design and content, which the development team executed.”

“After four years of hard work, we’re thrilled to say that the web portals have been very well received, in particular the clean design and usability. It’s been a tremendous undertaking but one that is just as rewarding, as we managed to bring the university’s digital vision to life,” says Hashatse. “We’ve had Stratitude to keep us focused and steer everything we do towards achieving our strategic goals.”

With the main site complete and work underway to apply the new styling and technology to the remaining microsites, Chantal Janneker, Senior Director: Communication and Marketing at the university, concluded, “We are extremely happy with the new web portals and have, based on the strategy, begun restructuring our communication marketing and content teams to form a digital hub that will not only be responsible for centralising the digital function in the university, but also for delivering high-quality, valuable content for all our stakeholders via our updated platforms.”