Digital Marketing & Communications

We've seen 1s and 0s you wouldn't believe

Digital team rewind 2014

📥  Communication, Team

Tis almost time to down tools and raise the first of many glasses of mulled wine. Before we do, there’s just enough time to reflect on the 12 months that have just flown by.

The entire story can be relived through our weekly sprint notes. But because that's an epic read, let’s make do with the team's highlights.

People come first

We were sorry to say goodbye to our friends and colleagues, Lara and Miles. But we were very happy to welcome Charlotte, Iris, Miao and Rhian, who joined the Content team. They are amazing talents and we've come on a long way since they joined.

Cracking content

The Content team worked flat out to embed user-centred content design principles across the University’s publishing community. There were some notable successes, especially amongst our professional services teams who now have webpages that address user needs and that they can edit directly without having to rely on Digital.

The Content crew did a great job of installing structured content templates wherever they could, making publishing quicker and more consistently good. Developing and establishing their new image and writing style guides for bath.ac.uk also helped massively in this respect.

Moving up a gear

2014 saw the team transformed into able producers of digital products and services that are developed expressly with the needs of University of Bath users in mind. We’ve adopted a new infographic roadmap to keep everyone on campus up to date with what’s planned by way of new digital communications and how we are progressing against our plans.

We can be proud of our efforts in tightening up on the monitoring, analysis and reporting of our infrastructure performance, sprint velocity, support levels and content maintenance. Keeping track of the numbers is keeping us honest; it’s helping us raise our game and make better use of our time and energy.

The development team also deserve high praise indeed for smoothly piloting our transition to Github (for source code management) and Bamboo (for managing builds and test). They’ve also taken huge strides in developing their language and framework capabilities, especially Ruby, which has become the new go-to for our application development. Their work this year opens up some tantalizing possibilities going forward.

All new shiny

New landing pages for Students and Alumni, as well as substantial rolling improvements to Research were all based on extensive user research and all proved to be excellent test beds of innovation. Our lovely new blogging platform has also provided a platform on which to test new approaches, as well as serving its primary function as an font of valuable insight from our researchers and their fascinating projects.

The Alpha of a new publishing platform - which includes a CMS developed in-house, as well as new content types and page templates - has been our biggest, scariest and most exciting undertaking of the year. Everyone in the team has been involved, which is great, and we are also indebted to our colleagues in Marketing & Communications, Computing Services and the Faculty digital teams for their input and support.

We cannot wait to launch the Alpha in January, learn from feedback from staff and students and then use this to guide the Beta that will entirely replace the old bath.ac.uk beginning in Spring 2015.

Going bravely forth

We have so much to look forward to in the new year. It's safe to say there's some nervous excitement in the team but I have every confidence in each and every one of my team’s ability to deliver.

Plus we'll have some extra help. Our new Web Editor for Business & Research, Hanna, will join us in early January. That will take the number of people in our squad up to a healthy 16.

In addition to moving our publishers onto a fresh new CMS, our prospectus publishing will also move to a shiny new application. Event listings will also benefit from an overhaul and users should experience a big improvement in event booking and ticketing.

Overseas users of bath.ac.uk will benefit from a new level of internationalisation, while all users will enjoy significantly better site search on top of a leaner, simpler site structure.

Have a good one

Lots to look forward to next year. But let’s not wish this year away quite yet. First there are a few festive matters to attend to.

We will wish all our blog followers and our colleagues and the students of University of Bath a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

I'm still waiting on my ideal Christmas present

He's still my ideal Christmas present

Digital team sprint notes, 9 – 15 December 2014

📥  Sprint notes

This is the very first set of sprint notes I’ve written since I joined the Digital team. Here goes.

What we did

In the sprint we just completed, the Digital team:

  • Developed a ‘go live’ plan for the Alpha site and put it into action with the intention that we will go live w/c 12th January 2015
  • Started 5 sprints on the design and development of new templates for the new bath.ac.uk by reviewing our current images, scripts, scss, webfonts and html framework to remove any duplications, out of date files, bad decisions and downright unwanted old bits of code. We then put them in a shiny new box of best practice all tied up with a lovely bow of design awesome
  • Started work on a prototype of a filterable research experts directory to help the media connect with researchers
  • Made improvements to our new URL shortener and deployed it to our production server
  • Enhanced one of our internal content audit tools so that we can analyse what's in one of the drives we use for content storage
  • Merged pages in the money-services section together and moved the content into the current template used for Student Finance
  • Held the fort for support requests while Chris is on his Caribbean cruise ;)

What’s coming up next

In the sprint we started today, the Digital team will:

  • Carry on new format design
  • Continue developing research experts directory
  • Work on a better way to ship PHP applications
  • Updating undergraduate prospectus on bath.ac.uk
  • Updating the information about international scholarships
  • Improving the information about getting to and from the campus
  • Picking up with Computing Services to prepare for their transition to the new CMS.

How to send a message to first year undergraduate students on bath.ac.uk and its supporting platforms

📥  Communication

The University is changing how we manage first year undergraduate student communication on bath.ac.uk to make it simpler for content contributors to propose a message and find out what's been scheduled.

Scheduling a message

This guidance covers messages whose purpose is to equip first year undergraduate students for academic study or encourage their participation in student life or extra curricular activities.

Our shared communications platforms are currently:

  1. the dedicated first year student landing page
  2. first year undergraduate Twitter account.

If you’d like to contribute a message you should complete the message request form.

Your planned message will be reviewed and scheduled within the a calendar of activity (communications framework) coordinated by Digital Marketing & Communications.

The guidance does not cover academic department communications (which are covered by alternative arrangements) or news stories.

News stories which need to reach first year students should be emailed directly to comms@bath.ac.uk and they will be appear in the news section of the first year undergraduate student landing page.

Deadlines for messages

To allow time for your message to be reviewed and scheduled you should complete the form 3 weeks before the start of the month when you’d like your message to be published. To avoid missing deadlines we’ve created a timetable of dates. (more…)

Digital Team sprint notes, 2 - 8 December 2014

📥  Sprint notes

Today is officially my last sprint notes of the year before I head 'north' for the winter, and colder climes. So this week's sprint notes have a particularly festive feel.

Last week

  • Ross demoed the Alpha site to the Vice-Chancellor, who gave us some good advice on survey methodology and the approval we need to push the Alpha live in January.
  • We welcomed the newest member of our team, Dr Miao He, who will be responsible for helping the University to deliver on the digital strand of its internationalisation strategy.
  • Dan, Iris, Liam, Tom N, Tom T continued work on our events listing alpha, this time concentrating on allowing users to sort and filter events.
  • With expert help from Lester Hayward in Procurement, Ross completed the tender documentation needed to approach digital agencies who might be interested in supporting the University’s 50th anniversary website.
  • Rhian and Charlotte continued their work to migrate the Student Funding Advice pages into the student finance section of bath.ac.uk.
  • Paul completed his transport discovery sprint and shared his findings and recommendations with Rich.
  • The content team completed 10 maintenance tasks.
  • We ate lots of mince pies.

This week

We've got lots planned for the sprint we started today:

  • Rhian and Charlotte will conclude their work on the Student Funding Advice pages
  • Dan and Liam will begin work on how the new bath.ac.uk will look and feel
  • Iris and Kelvin begin discovery on our new research experts directory
  • Paul will be supporting our Winter Award Ceremonies
  • Tom N will work on the second iteration of our content inventory tool
  • Tom T is working on a better way to ship Christmas presents our products.

Before I depart for the year, here's something to get you in the mood.

Rich Elfie Selfie

Rich's Elfie Selfie

Show & Tell, 5 December 2014

📥  Show & Tell

Our last Show & Tell of 2014 was held in the Council Chamber, for extra fanciness. This session enjoyed a sprinkle of festive magic, with two Christmas-themed presentations and some exciting live demos.

Diagram of Santa's North Pole operation

Santa's operation, as depicted by Tom's minimum viable flowchart.

Linting - Kelvin

Following on from his last talk on Ruby idioms, Kelvin introduced us to the concept of how to lint your code and why you should do it.

Linting is not just a lake in Indonesia or picking bits of fluff out of the laundry - it's running a program across your code to flag up any errors and notify you if you've broken the code conventions. Linting politely lets you know when you've done something wrong, and teaches you the right way to do it - or, in Kelvin's words, it's "the Clippy of the dev world".

Our dev team use the marvellously-named Rubocop to lint Ruby. Kelv demoed the SublimeText plugin for Rubocop so we could see some real live linting in action.

Why good content is important - Rich

Rich is partial to a film-based Show and Tell. This week we learned why good content is important, and also a lot about the plot of Arthur Christmas.

Content is like a promise to our users - when we show someone a link, we're telling them that there will be good, useful content on the end of it. If they can't find what they're looking for, the users will lose faith in the magic of bath.ac.uk (Christmas) and the world will be a dark, sad place.

We need to be less like Steve Christmas, who has an almost industrial approach and reduces the users to metrics. Instead our role model should be Arthur Christmas, who is empathetic to the users and sees them all as individuals, not just numbers.

Gwen represents the users. I haven't seen Arthur Christmas, so I'm not entirely sure who she is, but she seems like a nice kid and we should all try to help her, right?

usabiliTEST - Charlotte

Charlotte told us about her experiences with usabiliTEST, an online card sorting tool that allows users to prioritise cards or sort them into different boxes. You can specify the boxes you want them to sort the cards into (like "Finance" and "Student Life") or you can let them define the boxes themselves.

While researching improvements for our student landing page, Charlotte and Rhian wanted to understand how students think - what do they want, and what terms do they use to find it? They used usabiliTEST to ask students to prioritise the links and other information they wanted to see and group it into different categories. The tests they set up were completed by almost 100 students, providing a valuable insight into what's important to our users.

Charlotte also gave us a demo of usabiliTEST to show us how to set up a test, along with the different ways to organise the data you get from the results.

OpenStreetMap - Chris

OpenStreetMap is an open data community mapping tool. We use it on bath.ac.uk to display campus maps - it's a useful resource for marking out buildings and other campus information, and can be quicker to update than Google Maps.

Chris talked about the advantages of OpenStreetMap and how it's updated, using the BaleHaus as an example. The BaleHaus was moved from its original location when the Chancellors' Building was constructed, which meant the map had to be updated.

Updates can be made by marking them out on the map or importing GPX files with location information. Gathering this location information took a little more manual work than usual - Chris downloaded a phone app to track his movements and then walked in circles around the building a few times.

Dodgy GPS signal strength does mean this data has to be double-checked and refined on the map later, but it's a good way to provide accurate information about our campus (and get some fresh air at the same time).

Hacking Santa - Tom N

Every week Tom puts the fear into the rest of us with terrifying stories of security exploits. This week he talked about the problem-solving progress of hacking.

An example of a problem: what if you want a new bike for Christmas, but you're almost certainly on the naughty list? Time to hack Santa.

Tom walked us through identifying the possible points of vulnerability in Santa's operation (surveillance data, elfin workforce) and then how you might be able to exploit those vulnerabilities (altering the data, bribing elves). We are all now getting coal in our stockings.

Show & Tell is back in 2015

2015: the setting for Back to the Future 2, and also our next Show & Tell. We're always happy to have guests, so we hope to see you on Friday 16 January.

Troy and Abed animated GIF

Cookie cheers!

Digital Team sprint notes, 25 November - 1 December 2014

📥  Communication, Sprint notes

So this is sprint notes
And what have we done?
Another sprint over,
And a new one just begun.

ahem.

Thanks to a lot of hard work from Justin and Paul, we have shipped a new section for the Marketing and Communcations department, and from that we spun out a new section for Design, Print and Photography.

We've archived some of the blogs we run on http://blogs.bath.ac.uk which have come to an end and customised the page which gets displayed when a blog is archived. The new 'archive' page links to the Internet Archive so that the old content can still be accessed, for an example see http://blogs.bath.ac.uk/humanpoweredflight/

As part of our move to Ruby as our programming language of choice, we've been writing new application deployment scripts based on mina and applying these to our URL shortening application so that we can deploy it to new infrastructure.

Dan, Charlotte and Rhian reviewed what we do online to support the University Open Days by examining our analytics and what visitors tell us they want to see about the event on bath.ac.uk. They drew up a backlog of future work to improve what we offer in this area.

When he wasn't helping prep the Design, Print and Photography section for go-live, Paul was undertaking some discovery work on a new Transport section, including content inventories, content analysis and comparison with peers and the commercial sector.

To help clarify our support processes and procedures, Chris has written up how we prioritise incoming support requests and set up a new way of escalating requests when necessary. When he wasn't busy writing up this essential documentation he was dealing with the 70 support requests we had over this last sprint and resolving 47 of them.

At the same time, the content team completed 43 different content updates which weren't part of existing projects.

Whilst we've all been busy shipping, Ross has been out and about demoing the alphas of our new homepage, CMS and About section to our steering group (which consists of University senior management), the School of Management's marketing team and the Vice-Chancellor.

Not content with that stream of illustrious colleagues, we've also hosted a visit from Edward Venning, the Director of Communications and External Affairs at University of the Arts London to discuss how the University of Bath is delivering digital marketing and communications.

Right, it's back to work, and back to the Christmas Spotify playlist!

We are now able to archive inactive blogs

📥  Communication

Retiring and archiving blogs

It’s frustrating for users when they browse a blog network like ours and stumble across inactive blogs. It’s like hitting a dead end in an unfamiliar part of town. That’s why when blogs aren’t updated regularly the traffic drops away steeply and it is very difficult to bring it back to the network. The best thing to do in these situations is reroute people so no one gets lost in the first place.

If you no longer wish to use your blog, no problem, please let us know and we’ll post a notification on the blog so that users know it’s closed. This note  then gives users the option of either looking at a static 'posterity' copy or going to the blogs landing page to find [active] blogs related to their interests.

For an example of how a blog looks once we've archived it, visit http://blogs.bath.ac.uk/humanpoweredflight.

When we renewed blogs.bath.ac.uk earlier this year, we explained that we would take a proactive approach to archiving inactive blogs as well as following up on a request. If we see inactivity of longer than a month on a blog, we’ll contact you to find out why its gone quiet but do feel free to contact us in advance to notify us of any planned downtime. If it’s still inactive after 3 months, we’ll try to help you get it back on track, and if it’s still all quiet after 6 months, we’ll retire the blog.

You have the data

Since the new blogs.bath.ac.uk launched in March 2014, 80,000 posts have been viewed by 31,000 unique users. That’s an 13% increase in the number of viewers compared with the same period the previous year.

70% of the traffic to the blogs comes from outside of Bath with 30% of the users coming from outside of the UK. 20% use their phone or tablet to read your posts; in fact, 86% more people use their phone to read the blogs compared with the previous year.

Remember you can get stats for your own posts via the dashboard when you log in to your blog. Just click on 'Jetpack' in the sidebar and then click on 'Site Stats'. Looking at the stats for your blogs can help guide you on what to post about and when.

Getting better all the time

Blogs.Bath is being continuously improved. Our aim is to release new features on the platform on a monthly basis. In January we will add filtering to the landing page of the blogs, so that people can narrow our long list of blogs down to those that match their interests. Then in February we’ll be adding feeds for each blog, so that people can subscribe to updates.

You can see further scheduled releases on the Digital Roadmap. And, as ever, you can email web-support@bath.ac.uk if you have feedback from users or ideas for new features.

Video guidelines for content creators

📥  Communication

548,394 minutes of video were watched last year by visitors to bath.ac.uk and its supporting YouTube channel. Video is a great way to tell stories and share them with others and we can make visitors' experiences even better by making a few simple changes.

From now, we are asking content creators to follow a new set of video guidelines for use when uploading a video to YouTube or embedding it on bath.ac.uk using the CMS. The guidelines should make it easier for your visitors to find and watch videos. It should also make it quicker and simpler for you to post content.

Embedding a video

Videos embedded through the CMS should use Vimeo rather than YouTube. Vimeo offers you greater control over your content, including the ability to suggest what video to watch next and a guarantee that no adverts will play.

YouTube still remains our default platform for sharing video, so you should still add your content if you want users to be able to find your video online using a search engine.

Add a title and description and select a playlist

When you add a new video write a title and description that clearly describes what your video is about. For example:

Simon’s story
PhD student Simon O’Kane, who has autism, explains how the University of Bath supported him while he studied for an MPhys and PhD in Electronic and Electrical Engineering.

This will make it easier for your users to discover content and help them decide if the video is what they’re searching for without having to watch it first.

We also want them to discover related content. To make this easier we’re introducing playlists on YouTube. Playlists allow you to group videos together using categories to help users to find related content. When you upload a video to YouTube, you should also add it to the correct categories.

Linking to equivalent information

We want to make sure that everyone can enjoy our videos. To do this, we’d like you to provide a link to the equivalent information on bath.ac.uk and add a transcript to the video.

This will help people without speakers (schools often disable sound), those who don’t speak English as their first language and deaf users. It will also improve the chances your video will be indexed correctly by search engines and should improve your search engine ranking, so even more people will get to enjoy your video content.

The first videos to include transcripts are those created by the Widening Participation team.

Encoding HD video

Visitors to bath.ac.uk and YouTube should be able to watch High Definition (HD) video. However, we want to make sure that their screens and internet connections are able to meet the demands of high quality video.

When we analysed users who had watched a graduation video, less than 9% had a screen resolution capable of supporting 1080p. As a result your HD recordings should be encoded at 720p.

This means users will be able to seamlessly watch video in HD and authors will be able to upload and process their videos more quickly, making it faster to get content to your audience.

Making guidelines even better

This is the first iteration of our video guidelines for content creators. We want to make the advice we give the best it can be. Get in touch if something isn’t clear or needs adding.

Our best decision - what the Alumni team learned from user research

📥  User research

A pre-occupation of the Alumni Relations team in 2014 (beyond being nice to our graduates) has been a thing called Bath Connection. It’s a bespoke online portal which allows students or graduates needing careers advice, support or mentoring, to search for and connect directly with ‘Alumni Experts’ who have voluntarily uploaded a career profile and offered their help.

The damned thing

We were due to launch in October. However, as the summer break sped by, and the speed of development slowed to an infuriating crawl, it would have been tempting to skip what is the subject of this blog post, and just get the thing (which was rapidly being referred to as “the damned thing”) out there.

In retrospect, I’m glad we took the Digital team’s advice to squeeze in some user testing. It was probably the best decision we made over the course of the project.
(more…)

Show & Tell, November 21 2014

📥  Communication, Design, Development, Marketing, Show & Tell

Back in our spiritual home after the impromtu reshuffle that made our last Show & Tell session so special, we had a full roster of presenters and a diverse range of topics.

Ruby Idioms - Kelvin

Our developers are working more and more with Ruby — Rails in particular — and Kelvin has been challenged with providing instruction and direction to the team on the subtleties of how we should write Ruby differently from Java and PHP (other previous go-to production languages).

Far too much to cover in five minutes, we instead had a whistle-stop tour of the top ten seven things to be aware of, from not using unless statements with an else block, to replacing do...end blocks with curly braces if they are a single line.

A full rundown can be found in Kelv's github repo: https://github.bath.ac.uk/mnskchg/ruby_idioms_show_and_tell.

Less stuff - Dan

Still with me? Excellent. Next up was Dan, who talked us through taking a pragmatic approach to webfonts to provide a better user experience. A large part of the work was reducing the filesize of the font manifest file by 66% - theoretically providing a significantly improved loading time for those viewing the website on slow internet connections. The key was looking at the different weights of font being served by default, and making careful design choices that allowed us to provide maximum clarity and aesthetic with the minimum variety of styles and weights.

Dan then went on to propose a manifesto of using less as a starting point for design - tying in aspects of user-centered design, progressive enhancement, the mobile-first approach, and our existing delivery principles.

What do I do? - Katrina

Six months into her new post as Research Marketing Manager, guest speaker Katrina gave us the lowdown on what her job entails. It turns out that a fair amount of it is commercially sensitive, so I'll be skipping over that - no secrets for you.

Katrina spends a large amount of her time planning and coordinating large-scale campaigns to cement relations with University stakeholders. Currently we are tapping into the large amount of water-themed research that our academics are involved in and Katrina is putting the finishing touches to a six-month campaign relating to this.

When not devising ways to get our research the recognition it deserves, Katrina acts as a single point of contact between our academics and the various marketing teams that exist on campus at all different levels - from research teams, through departmental and faculty right up to the University Marketing and Comms. This aspect of her role has been extremely well-received on campus, as busy professors delight in having one single consistent person to deal with concerning their marketing.

The tale of BrowserStack - Tom

Continuing his series of talks concerning security, Tom Natt used the real world example of the recent attack on BrowserStack to illustrate what can happen when things go wrong.

Essentially, BrowserStack had an old computer that nobody used or maintained but was still connected to their network. A hacker discovered this and used the Shellshock vulnerability to take control and gain access to the API key for their AWS (Amazon Web Storage). From this they discovered the database password and attempted to download their entire customer database. This was when BrowserStack became aware of the hack and acted quickly to shut them down. It is still reckoned that 1% (approximately 5000 users) of the database was compromised.

We were about to use BrowserStack to assist us with some work, so this attack and the way that BrowserStack handled it (in terms of securing their system and managing their public profile) went a long way to reassuring us that they were still a suitable partner. Tom also made the point that having just been hacked, they were likely to be awake to the danger right now because of their recent experiences.

Alpha update - Ross

Our the last seven weeks the team has been working on several alphas (CMS, homepage, events, prospectus) and these have all been presented to members of our Digital Steering Group - which is comprised of almost all of our pro-vice-chancellors as well as the movers and shakers in senior management. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, with very enthusiastic engagement with aspects of the homepage and the CMS in particular (our most 'mature' alphas). Our plan was always to get the new homepage and areas of the site controlled by the new CMS in front of staff and students as soon as possible, and with the full support of the DSG, we are looking to do this in December.