Digital Marketing & Communications

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

Posts By: Hanna Loraine

A day in the life of a content editor

📥  Team

This is part of our 'Day in the Life' series for the different roles in the Digital team. If you've ever wondered what our team gets up to on an average day, or what it's like to work in a particular digital discipline, read on.

My day starts with checking our shared editorial calendar. This is a place where people who are creating content across the University share information about what they’re working on so we can coordinate publicity activities on different channels. We used to do this all by email but that meant things could get stuck in people’s individual inboxes or not reach the right person at all. Although not perfect, the editorial calendar has made all our lives easier!

Today there are three new things to promote on the external homepage and our research collection so I’m briefing a Content Producer about prioritising and placing them. After they’ve done their magic, the updates come back to me, or another editor, for a review before we push them live.

I then quickly check my emails to see if there’s anything that needs dealing with urgently or moving to our shared taskboard. Then it’s time for daily standup. In the Content team, we usually have two - one for just the Content team to see where we are with tasks and make a plan for the day. We then have the full team standup where everyone tells about the most important thing they did yesterday, the most important thing they’ve got to do today and if they have any blockers for doing that work.

After standup, I make a coffee.

Today is a Friday which means it’s our content maintenance day. We normally work on specific projects in sprints, but Fridays are a day off sprint dedicated to making business-as-usual changes and updates to our web content. We try to do it all on Fridays but sometimes there are “business critical” things that are fast-tracked and need to be dealt with as soon as possible.

As an Editor, I usually focus on reviewing tasks completed by Content Producers. Today, I’m reviewing small changes to the titles and summaries of our own guidance material. I push the pages live as I go. I make small amends to make sure everything is consistent and in plain English and feed these back to the person who did the original work. After that, it’s more reviews and publishing.

After lunch, I deal with a phone enquiry from a stakeholder. They’ve come across a page on our website that is relevant to their service but they haven’t been involved in creating or publishing. This is not an uncommon occurrence. We have a tonne of content that transcends a single service which, in the past, has resulted in duplicated pages. In our transition project, we’re doing a lot of consolidating and it’s sometimes impossible to include absolutely everyone in the signoff process. So I’m spending a bit of time investigating who has been involved in creating and signing off the page in question so I can resolve the query.

I’m then pulled off content maintenance duties to complete a task spilling out of a sprint I was recently working on. I have to present findings from our user research and discovery to senior management so I need to put together a presentation and book a time to meet with them. This task, punctured with short interruptions to answer questions either in person on Slack, takes me to the end of the day.

And that’s it. Just another day in the life of a Digital Editor at the University of Bath.

 

Recording and making a photo story

📥  Communication

I’ve recently had a chance to indulge in my favourite kind of work - telling stories. As an editor, I don’t get to do too much hands-on content creation, so when an opportunity does present itself, I jump on it.

This happened at a meeting a few weeks back. One of our press officers was working on a big research project grant announcement and there was a consensus that we should do something more than just a press release for this one.

More than a press release

The project is about designing better shelters for refugees around the world. It’s an emotive subject but what’s more, the lead investigator is really passionate about the project. They had a load of great images from their pilot project trip to a refugee camp in Jordan, so an image gallery to support the press release seemed like the obvious thing to do at the very least.

But we wanted to do a bit more than that. I’ve been involved in digital storytelling projects in my past life and I thought that would be something which would really capture the passion and personal voice of the researcher.

Unfortunately, digital storytelling at its purest requires heavy involvement by the person telling the story in the production stage. And time isn’t a luxury many researchers have. But I still wanted to use his own voice and elements from storytelling to make something that would be a bit more personal than a press release.

The end result is something I can’t really comfortably call a ‘digital story’ so I’ve decided to call it a ‘photo story’ instead:

The things that didn’t go to plan

The process of creating this wasn’t as straightforward as one might imagine looking at the final product. There were two little hurdles to jump through.

Firstly, our starting point was a script put together by me and the press officer and edited lightly by the researcher. He felt it was the right tone and style for him and was happy to record it with us. But reading from a script is not as easy as you might think. It takes a surprising amount of time and practice to get it sounding natural and engaging. Something that’s nearly impossible to achieve when recording a script with someone doing it for the first time with less than an hour. So the audio that you can hear is patched together from an impromptu interview after two attempts to read from the script.

Then there’s the quality of the audio. We have a really nice USB condenser mic that captures tone and depth really well. I brought that along and plugged it into my laptop that had Audacity running, selected it as the input mic and off we went. But Audacity has a tiny little bug. If you have Audacity already running when plugging the mic in, it LOOKS like it’s using it but it actually isn’t. And because the interview had been organised in a rush and I’d forgot to bring headphones with me, I couldn’t easily tell that it wasn’t working. So the audio we have is recorded using the inbuilt mic of my Mac. Live and learn.

So with these two little obstacles, the post-production took a bit longer than I’d anticipated which, luckily, coincided with a delay in publishing the press release and we managed to get everything done in time. And despite everything, I’m really happy with the result. As is the press officer and, most importantly, the researcher himself.

Early review of research ethics content performance

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📥  Beta

In October, I worked on improving the information we provide about research integrity and ethics. To deliver the new section, I worked with subject matter experts in the Vice-Chancellor's Office and the Office of the University Secretary.

When we started, the content was basically a single page with multiple tabs, many many links and subheadings which were generic or duplicated. Together, we set out on a quest to make the process simpler and important tasks easier to spot and complete.

We shipped the new content in mid-November, so it's still early days. But we can already see from the analytics that we've made a huge improvement.

Making things simpler

Our biggest aim was to make it easier for users to understand what they need to do to conduct ethically responsible research. For this, we reworked parts of the original content into a plain English guide.

Plain English is about writing in a straightforward manner so that the content can be more easily understood by a wider audience.

Looking at the analytics, this guide is by far the most visited individual content item, with 517 pageviews compared to the next item with 344. It has an average time on page of 2:29. These stats suggest that it's being both found and read.

On that note, the fact that we can even start to draw comparisons between individual items of content is a huge improvement in itself. With the old page, all we had was basically an overall number of visitors to the whole page and our best guess.

Coherent user journey

One of the biggest changes is that the new Collection is making it easier for people to move on to the next step in completing their task. The bounce rate has gone down from 64% to 30%, which suggests that people are finding the content relevant.

The main purpose of both the old page and the new Collection is to point users to the relevant information. The change in the average time on page (old 4:32, new 1:15) suggests that it's a lot easier for people to find what they're looking for. This is supported by the fact that 80% of the people are moving onto another item of content compared to 63% on the old page.

There is also a big difference in what content they're moving onto to. From the new Collection, users go to the main items of content in the section - the top three items are two guides and our statement on ethics and integrity. From the old page, users were moving onto a more random set of content scattered across the website with no clear indication of any shared top tasks.

Celebrating success

So yes, it's still very early days. But after nearly three months since going live, the analytics would seem to suggest that users are finding it easier to navigate and read the content we’ve created.

In a transition project of this size, these little successes are worth noticing and shouting about. By sharing them, we are able to not only keep our stakeholders informed but provide a useful example for colleagues in the wider Higher Education community.

I compared data on the new content from the launch date to present to data on the old content from the same timespan one year earlier.

 

Shiny new Research

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📥  Beta

This week, we went live with the new Research Collection. It’s not an insignificant milestone - it’s the first top level section we’ve launched in our content transition project.

new-research-collection

The Research Collection is the first Collection to feature the new hero item.

The new Collection introduces many improvements.

Showcasing a wider range of content

In the new Collection, we’ve introduced different strata for different types of content. This makes it possible to feature, in a consistent way, different items like videos, podcasts or articles from our researchers outside bath.ac.uk platforms. We can now add range and depth to our research content which previously relied heavily on news items and case studies.

Better workflow

As an Editor, I’m slightly in love with our Content Publisher. Creating and featuring content is so much easier than it was in our old system. There are still a couple of things we need to sort out with the workflow before the process is uber smooth, but the editing experience is already hugely improved.

Simpler tasks

In our research section, we publish both editorial (feature articles and news items) and transactional (downloading documents and information) content. As part of the transition, we spent a lot of time making the transactional content simpler and clearer.

In the new system, the content benefits from better labeling under specific content types, plain English and simpler language in general. A good example of a batch of content we were able to improve like this is the research integrity and ethics content.

Next steps

So that’s all live now and I’m looking forward to getting some user data to find out how the new section is performing. But before that, I’m going to have a big, well-deserved, glass of wine with colleagues tonight to celebrate.

Exploring new ways of writing about our research

📥  Communication

One of the most common content types we currently use for our research content is a press release. Or a news item, which is what we call them after slightly repurposing them for the website. In the past three months, we’ve published roughly 40 research-related news items.

The thing about press releases is that they are tied quite heavily to two very specific points in the research lifecycle - winning a research grant and publishing a paper. Similarly, case studies, of which we’ve published six in the past three months, are tied to a particular point in the research project - to complete the classic case study structure, the results of the research have to be in.

Softer, narrative content

The new content we’re suggesting moves away from all these time-related restrictions. It places the emphasis away from published papers and research results. The story becomes about the researcher, their journey, personality and aspirations. The style of writing is softer, more narrative.

This is a result of a Digital research content strategy we launched in late 2015. It sets out how we want to develop the way we communicate about our research online to reach new audiences and make most of all the cool research that’s happening at Bath.

We recently published two of these kinds of stories. One of them is about an ambitious Syrian researcher who’s on the brink of finishing his PhD with a promising career ahead of him, potentially in a leading international architecture company. The other one is about how one of our senior researchers came to be the host of the UK’s beloved annual Royal Institution public lecture series.

The first one was written by me, the latter one by our Research Marketing Manager Andy Dunne. We edited each other’s articles and various team members were involved in polishing and proofing. Publishing each one felt like a genuine team effort!

Off to a good start

The early analytics of the new kind of content look very promising. Looking at the pageviews of our research content in last three months, the story about the Syrian researcher is comfortably the most popular piece of editorial content we’ve published. The news item that comes closest has over a third less pageviews.

The article about our researcher hosting the Christmas Lectures is in the fourth spot after an old case study about some of our most well-known research (consistently one of our most popular pieces of editorial research content), and a news item about a clinical trial of our smart bandage prototype. That one was published in late November while our feature article was published on the 21 December, so I’m expecting the feature to rack up some more views in the coming weeks.

Why I like it

From a very practical point of view, the best thing about this new kind of content is its longevity. While news items act as a useful reference back to a specific point in time, the feature-style content stays topical for much longer. It’s a far more natural type of content for reusing without edits - whenever a relevant news story arises or a new research paper is published by the academic, it can simply be tweeted or pinned to the landing page of a department as it is.

A nice additional bonus in the process has been seeing how well this content fits into the new templates of beta.bath.ac.uk. Compared to the old templates, the user experience as a publisher has also been top notch! It’s been super easy to upload and publish these.

On a personal note, I really enjoyed the process of interviewing and writing. As an Editor, it’s rare I get to be involved at that stage - my job’s more planning, delegating and subediting. Getting to meet the researcher, listen to them passionately talk about their work and trying to capture that passion in the copy is a process I sometimes miss from my journalism days.

 

The brief history of the content transition board

📥  Beta, Communication, Tools

We recently returned to a content sprint that was started a year ago. Digging up the old Trello board made us feel a bit nostalgic and quite pleased with ourselves - we’d come a long way since then.

When we began the content transition project we didn’t really have a clear idea how to organise the process. Our first attempt at a transition Trello board reflects that.

transition-board-zero

Our first iteration of the transition Trello board.

The idea was to build it around the top level stages in the process. Each card represented a stage in the process such as content analysis or completing a specific set of training.

Comparing that board to what we have now made us chuckle.

student-rec-board

The transition Trello board in its current form.

So what’s happened in between those two versions of the board?

We realised we need to build the boards around actual content

In the next iteration, we had cards for each new content type and copied into a checklist everything identified as that content type from the inventory spreadsheets.

content-type-cards-checklist

We trialled posting all the content from the inventories onto cards based on content type.

We would make an individual card for each item on the checklist and tick it off the list when that had been done to track progress.

For a reason none of us can remember, we put those cards in a column called “Epics”. Obviously, they are not epic user stories and this caused confusion - in amongst ourselves as well as with the publishers we were working with.

We quickly realised it was very difficult to avoid duplication or prioritise content.

We realised we need some actual epics to organise content in a meaningful way

The next iteration was already a big improvement. We organised the content into cards so that each covered, more or less, an epic user story.

We then pasted the relevant content from the inventories into the checklist again but this time used the full URL so it was easy to check the content without having to copy and paste and type in the domain manually.

Why on earth we weren’t doing this from the start, none of us can tell you. Sometimes even the most obvious things escape you when you’re immersed in a process.

epics-transition-board

Categorising content based on user stories worked better.

We realised we needed to take a step back from transitioning individual pieces of content

Although we were trying to structure to-be-migrated content around user stories, we quickly ran into problems again.

Working through heaps of content as a team at a fast pace meant we ended up working on user stories that were very similar. As a result, we created duplicate content without realising it.

It was time to take a step back. We went back to the principles and started from user needs. This time, we were careful to keep existing content out of sight at the user story planning sessions. This helped us stay focused on what the content should be rather than what it had been.

Having individual old pages on a checklist must have, subconsciously, made us think we need to transition each page as an individual page. So we stopped that, and started including them on the card as a reference instead.

We also improved our housekeeping discipline around individual cards. Each card now needs to have:

  • a user story
  • links to all the relevant existing content
  • links to draft in the new Content Publisher (backend) and preview
  • someone identified as the content subject expert
good-transition-housekeeping-trello

Each card has to have enough information for anyone of us to be able to pick it up.

We have also tweaked the stages each card goes through. “Doing, review, done” has morphed into “Substantive edit, 1st review, more edits, fact-checking, final proof and ready for live”.

The process takes a long time but we have made peace with it for now. If we’ve learned anything in the process of transitioning content so far, it’s that you can’t rush good content.

There’s still room for improvement - there always is - but for now, this is working for us.

 

Digital team sprint notes, 3 February - 10 February 2015

📥  Sprint notes

In the sprint we just completed, the Digital team:

  • Went live with the brand new International Relations Office section.
  • Published the new Travel Advice section which brings all the information on how to get to and from the University together in one location.
  • Archived over 70 obsolete sections of the site, some of which had not been updated since 2001.
  • Wrote and published a new feature article about the University's research into straw as a building material.
  • Completed a content inventory for the Faculty of Engineering & Design and helped them get started with the process of transitioning their content.
  • Updated the global footer making 1) contact and travel details nice and tidy 2) the copyright notice and all the accolades up-to-date.
  • The support desk received 48 tickets and resolved 39 (20 were either spam or for other departments).
  • The content team received 12 maintenance requests and completed 12 tasks.

In our next sprint, the Digital team will:

  • Make significant workflow enhancements to the prospectus alpha.
  • Create more feature content about our research.
  • Prototype the new template design for a number of key content types.
  • Work on a taxonomy for all bath.ac.uk content.
  • Carry out an audit of social media channels around our international activities.
  • Upgrade our wiki.
  • Investigate software to possibly replace our current helpdesk.