On all higher ed web listservs there is a monthly discussion that comes up about what CMS to select. My advice trust no one, myself included.

Content management system selection is a long, unsexy process but it is a process that you need to spend the time to do for yourself. A CMS needs to be the right choice for your campus and the culture of your campus.

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The question always asked is what CMS should I choose? The inevitable responses on the listserv are something along the lines of  “I use [insert CMS name] have used it for four years now and are very [happy/unhappy] with this CMS”. Again, I would never listen to anything beyond basic recommendations as to ones to look at. This is like asking someone for what kind of car to get. There are many types of cars with features, options and sizes that fit everyone. Some people need a minivan, some needs a sports car. You would never get a car without kicking the tires based on someone else’s word with our a test drive so I suggest the same for you.

Here are a few examples of cultural fit to your CMS some campuses have decentralized vs centralized, do you plan to use the CMS to create more than one site, do you have people to support the application, do you need to support more than one programming language, etc.

Beyond these basic points you will start to realize that all CMS’s at the core more or less do the same thing. They all have similar features and according to sales people they all do everything you require. If possible you need to get a hands on demo with the system. Get not only your tech team but also some end users to interact with the CMS. Be sure that the system works with your campus workflows.

Get in the right mindset

You need to be sure to properly frame the CMS selection process. Be sure that people understand a CMS is a tool to facilitate it is not an army or workers/ content creators or a magic wand to fix your issues. This has become more and more important with the practice of content strategy. A content management system is not a content strategy. Also, be sure people get the scope of how you plan to use the CMS, is it mandatory? Is it open to anyone on campus? Who will provide support?

Dealing with the real issues

Be sure to remember a web site wont fix content, it wont make your site attractive  Just because someone did a great site in [insert CMS name] doesn’t mean your should use that CMS.

Work your process

If possible you should work a full project process in a CMS before purchase. Try to get a sandbox, create content, make templates, create roles, do some workflows and see how the system works with your team.

Here is a resource that you might find useful

[Results] Higher Ed CMS Usage Survey, 2011

Trust your own instincts

In closing, you need to find a CMS that works for you. Some of the things I recommend may take some time but considering the amount of time and sweat you will pour into this system you owe it to yourself to get one that will work for you not against you.