Digital Marketing & Communications

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

Topic: Blogs

Game theory and the happy office: reflections from a new Content Producer.

📥  Blogs, Communication, Team

Go back to Old Kent Road

Think of board games and you probably shudder at the memory of your elder brother gleefully bankrupting you with his massed ranks of hotels from Regent Street to Mayfair. But they're not all like that.  Forbidden Island is a different sort of game. A collaborative game. All moves are discussed and agreed between players in advance. Special powers are co-ordinated, treasure collected and everyone must be airlifted to safety before the eponymous island sinks. If you win, everyone wins. If you lose there’s a calm assessment of what went wrong. Individual strategy is possible only if you can convince the other players your approach is worth trying. It’s become a firm family favourite for us at least.

I was very happy to see a copy of Forbidden Island in the Digital office when I started a few weeks ago. I'm assured they do play it from time to time and it seems to me it's already had a definite positive influence on the way the team is organised and the way they collaborate on projects.

forbidden island game in progress

 

Careful with that axe

Before starting at Bath I was a solo freelancer working from home. Collaborating with yourself is a strange process. Without the input and interruption of colleagues I found I had to create time and space to step away from the pixels of doom and let my brain solve problems in the background. Slamming an axe into a pile of logs was my preferred distraction. It kept me warm twice over as well.

Before my freelance days I worked at the BBC, an institution famous for encouraging a culture of big brothers gleefully bankrupting colleagues with their massed ranks of new ideas. In hindsight I think it’s more to do with the size of the organisation and the ambition of the employees than a deliberate policy, but the endless duplication and competition is a little tiring.

 

The collaboration game

So it’s with relief I’ve found the Digital team at Bath is built around shared decision making and collaboration rather than duplication and competition. Solutions are discussed in advance to make sure the best plan is followed. Project management tool Trello is used to breakdown complex tasks and document the process like a giant digital worry jar. This also helps avoid single points of failure. If someone goes sick, they’ve usually left notes on what they were doing so anyone else can step in. Pair working is a way of life...

pear-working

 

It takes a little longer at the start but it makes things calmer in the long run. And all the discussion and documentation build in the crucial time for background problem solving without the need to take an axe to anything.  Actually, I miss that part of the day if I'm honest. Cropping virtual images in Photoshop isn't quite as satisfying as splitting logs in the real world. Though burying the hatchet is definitely a good skill to have for this thoroughly pragmatic team.

 

How we learned to stop worrying and love the blog

📥  Blogs, Communication, Team

In the Before time...

There was a time, long ago, when the Digital team posted regularly on the blog.

Looking back to February 2015, we published 13 posts that month. Among other things, we blogged about typesetting, Github, and using Flow to manage editorial calendars.

And the blog was happy.

Then came the Age of Transition

Jump ahead to August 2016. We published two posts that month and only three in September.

The blog felt a little unloved. We had sidelined it, shunted it down the order of priorities in favour of the transition to the new Content Publisher.

But surely we could do better. The blog deserved it. We deserved it.

The Renaissance

Since the end of last year, we've been giving the blog some love. It started in October when Hanna and I decided to use a One Hour Upgrade to look at how we blog and how we could improve the process.

We started where we usually start, by creating a Trello board and mapping out a process, from coming up with ideas to publishing a post and sharing it on social media. For each stage of the process, we wrote a card to help team members follow the process.

At the top of the ideas column, we made a card listing different types of posts to give people some inspiration.

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 09.27.49

 

As it turned out, the team didn't need inspiring. Here's how the board looks today, with its loaded backlog of ideas, healthy 'Currently working on' column, and quickly expanding 'Done' column (WARNING: SPOILERS!!!).

Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 11.05.48

 

We also made a card for the editorial process, which mostly involves an informal fortnightly meeting involving anyone in the Digital team who wants to be there. We keep these casual by wheeling our swivel chairs into the middle of the office and chatting through any ideas we've had, flagging up posts that need reviews, and solving any problems anyone has.

Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 10.46.09

 

Although we set out the process like this, we try to keep it all fairly relaxed. Not everyone on our team loves writing as much as the Content folks, so we let people go at their own speed and use their own style.

Some blogs (like this one) start as a Show & Tell presentation. Some spend a while as notes, bouncing back and forth between team members until they coalesce (the notes, not the team members), like some primordial organism, into a fully formed post with whole sentences, paragraphs and meaning.

In December 2016, we published nine posts.

Now we be like:

giphy-downsized

 

Back on the road to Blogtopia

Now that we're getting back on track with our blogging, it's tempting to start looking at the analytics and working out what types of post get the most traffic and dwell time. But that's not what this is about, not yet at least.

For now, it's about having words up here that reflect the work we do. The whole team is now writing posts, like Tegan, the UX Designer who blogged about her first big ship and new Editor Rod analysing his first three weeks. We've started a 'Day in the life of...' series which describes what all the different facets of the Digital team get up to on any given day, and we're looking at other ways we can share what we do and how we do it.

Where we're going, we don't need roads

We had always planned on rotating the chair - not talking swivel this time - to give everyone a chance to run the fortnightly meeting and take shared ownership of the blog.

We'd also really like some more guest bloggers. We've already had School of Management Faculty Web Editor, Rayner Simpson writing an A-Team-homage of a post, but we'd like to encourage anyone who works with us or in the University's digital sphere to get in touch and propose a post for our blog.

Come on, you know you want to!

To infinity and beyond: my first 2 weeks in Digital

📥  Blogs, Team

2

As Christmas day fast approaches and the sound of tapping keyboards becomes a distant memory, I'm given time to reflect on my first few weeks in the digital team and what I've learnt so far.

About Me

My role within the Digital Marketing and Communications team is that of Content Producer. In time, I will be responsible for originating new content including audio, video and copy for the transitioned University website. I'm massively looking forward to this challenge and hoping I can use my creative eye, experience and vision to good effect. In the meantime, I have been somewhat haphazardly familiarising myself with the backend applications and processes that keep the digital team afloat. And which, quite frankly on the first day, gave me brain freeze!

I'm pleased to say this hasn't lasted.

What I've been up to?

There's no doubt there has been an awful lot to learn and mistakes have been rife. Justin and Rhian have been great and guided my early efforts with the patience of saints. This is all the more remarkable given the amount of work currently being shoehorned into place for Student Recruitment. So thank you and hats off! As with every well-oiled machine, it's important to be familiar with all the nuts and bolts that keep it ticking over and for the past couple of weeks I have been learning the basics: how best to use Trello, transitioning various content items on the Content Publisher, understanding the structure of Open CMS, learning about how the team functions, what Show & Tell is and how Standup works to name a few.

Am I the finished product? Not by a long shot, but Rome wasn't built in a day!

Who says all work and no play makes.....

In all honesty, I have been bowled over by the positive dynamic of the team as a whole. The agile method of working, something with which I was not all that familiar, actually works! Not only does it provide a great way to get to know the rest of the team but it encourages collaboration. The autonomy the agile method also provides really allows content producers to take full ownership of their deliverables whilst also advocating a 'two heads is better than one' approach. The functionality of the new CMS is clearly a testament to this. As is the laughter that sporadically echoes around the marketing floor!

What I've learnt?

What have I learnt in my first two weeks? Umm well, I've learnt I can eat Hanna under the table in an eating competition, that Richard has an incredible array of Christmas jumpers, and Phil (gone but not forgotten) has one of the most contagious laughs I've ever heard. However, I digress!

On a more serious note, I've learnt lots and am happy to have been thrown in at the deep end and given the freedom to make mistakes. After all, there is no better way to learn than by doing… then bogging it up… then doing it again… possibly bogging it up again and then finally getting it right! I feel fortunate that, in the heat of battle, frantically typing on my mac like something from the launch sequence of Apollo 13, I haven't got trigger happy and published anything I wasn't supposed to yet!

What do I like most about the department?

Attention To Detail - Everybody in the team is meticulous in their approach to content. Full-stop. No stone goes unturned and a real emphasis is placed on taking time to ask the right questions in order to develop 100% user-orientated content.

Passion - Everybody in the team is clearly passionate about their role and understands their contribution to the overall marketing strategy. This shared vision provides cohesion and direction.

Creativity - I really like the fact that the team's methodology is still a work in progress, people are open to challenges and finding new ways to improve their process. We are not afraid to tear up the rulebook or, of that truly terrifying word CHANGE!

Honesty - People can handle the truth here! I really like the fact that, because the culture is so positive, everybody is able to honestly analyse their own work and its value. In the best creative environments, there are no egos to tip-toe around, truth and logic can be handled and, as long as there's justification, challenges are welcomed and implemented.

The future....

What does future hold I hear you ask. Well, I'm looking forward to getting more familiar with the various faculty heads and processes, becoming a Jedi master of active corporate tone and, in time, helping to originate new content that meets the team's very high standards.

So thank you for having me, have a fantastic Christmas and, in the words of Tiny Tim,

'GOD BLESS US EVERYONE!'

2

 

First impressions – five reasons why I love working in the Digital team

📥  Blogs, Team

They say a week is a long time in politics. But it seems just seven hours can be a political aeon. Because the day before I started my new role in the Digital team, I went to bed in a prospective mood, only to wake to the shock-and-awe news of Trump's election success. With two proud Americans on the team – and the rest of the department seemingly of sound-mind and warm blood – I walked in to an office that was in a palpable sense of shock. But that didn't stop the team welcoming me with open arms and big smiles. These guys are made of strong stuff, I thought.

What I'm doing here

My role here is that of Digital Producer. In time, I'll be planning and producing new content for the transitioned website. For now, I'm getting to grips with all the facets, faculties and faces of the University, and its marketing and web teams.

I come from the world of consumer journalism. Specifically, design and tech websites and magazines (which means I haven't tapped any phones; but I have reviewed a lot of them). In that life, I chased referral traffic and copy sales. If ever the mantra 'done is better than perfect' rings true, it's when you and a thousand other publications are wrestling for search dominance during an Apple unveiling. Fun? Sure. Rewarding? Regularly. Hectic? Definitely. Shambolic? Often. By comparison, the Digital team here is a well-oiled machine. Laser-focused, calm and professional. My new co-workers come from varying backgrounds, but what strikes me most is the air of expertise and attention in producing the best work possible, quickly, and with little-to-no fuss.

The story so far

In my first two weeks, I've sat in on planning meetings; taken part in sprints and fast-turnaround tasks. I've watched as seemingly impossible requests are explored, executed and delivered within what should be unscalable deadlines. I've been to two Show & Tell events – single hour sessions every second Friday, where the team and invitees present success stories and share knowledge – and been blown away by the confidence of the presenters and the quality of the work. And above everything – I've not heard a cross word exchanged.

Plenty of opinion, yes. Healthy debate and cross-examination, sure. But all for the greater good of the task in hand.

This isn't just refreshing. It's positively energising, and a world away from the frazzled grind of consumer journalism.

Why things are GOOD

In keeping with my previous career, though, I thought it might be appropriate to get the last of the clickbait out of my system with a time-honoured listicle.

Behold my five favourite things about working in the Digital team, and what I've learned in the last three weeks.

  1. People care. They care about the quality of the work. They care about how it's presented. They care what it says about the Digital team and the University.
  2. Reason underpins everything. There's no punts; no execution without validation. Hunches are locked in a top drawer. It's not empiricism, it's user-centric design at its finest. And it works.
  3. Office furniture is for sitting on, not for hurling at staff writers. Critical interrogation is welcomed here. Without having to duck from an airborne keyboard as you spike someone's copy or question their caption writing.
  4. I’m surrounded by really smart people, both the academics and University staff; and the direct team I work with of developers, editors and designers.
  5. There's a clear goal, and it's not improving a bottom line or turbocharging share value. It's in producing the best quality work possible within a deadline that does the job it was designed to do.

Have I landed on my feet here, I asked at the end of my first week. Yes. Definitely. A week might be a long time in politics – but in the Digital team, time's flying and I'm having fun.

 

Rio Olympics and Brazil takeover of Worldwide and its performance

📥  Blogs, Digital strategy, International

In May 2016, we launched the very first edition of Worldwide – the South Africa takeover. A few months later, we launched its second edition to focus on the Rio Olympics and Brazil.

The goal of this takeover was to highlight our Olympic hopefuls and showcase how the University is working with Brazilian partners to tackle environmental issues, understand the country's corporate governance reform, and strengthen links with industry.

We worked with all faculties and two research centres across the University and produced five Olympics stories, six research case studies and three student case studies.

Overall performance

During the period 5 August to 21 September 2016, the Worldwide Collection page gained 1,550 pageviews. The data shows:

  • 80.7% of total page views came from outside the UK
  • 4.8% of total page views came from Brazil
  • 44.2% of traffic explored additional content
  • over half (63.2%) of the page views came from the University homepage and internal staff homepage

Social referral traffic

We also carried out a 26-day period of promoting the Worldwide Collection page and curated stories on the University’s social media channels – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. Our goal was to understand how well the Worldwide Collection page performed when it was shared across different social media channels using different tactics.

One of the lessons we learnt from the previous takeover was that targeting regions is less effective than targeting users’ industries or interests. As a result, we sent out each post twice, once to all followers, and the other time targeting specific industries or user interests of the followers. We then compared both methods to see which one brought more referral traffic.

We’ve discovered that:

  • messages not targeting any specific audience groups referred about four times more traffic than messages targeting specific users
  • the average session duration for all social media referrals was 2 minutes and 12 seconds, suggesting that users are likely to have read the full story
  • targeted posts on LinkedIn led to better user engagement with the content, compared to other social media channels
  • the content items that received most social media referrals were the Olympic athlete stories and student case studies
  • the most-consumed content items from social media referral were research stories

How we can do better in future

We learn as we go.

For this edition, the data proves that although we received more traffic from non-targeted messaging from social media, targeting clearly-defined users with valuable, relevant and consistent content resulted in better user engagement. This is definitely one of the lessons we should take forward when creating and sharing content with our users in future.

There are always things we can learn and improve throughout the process. For the next edition, we will look at how we produce the content, including identifying stories, interviewing, storytelling, and quality control.

 

Improving communication through University blogs

📥  Blogs

We have 39 active blogs on blogs.bath.ac.uk and they are proving very popular. Traffic to our blogs last year increased by 175% and we have a healthy balance of new and returning visitors.

The popularity is a satisfying reward for our bloggers, who have been sharing fantastic insights into what's going on throughout the University campus and beyond.

Valuable insights

Highlights have included:

  • our 1st year undergrads posting about life and learning at Bath, as well as providing useful advice to those applying to study here.
  • Dr Philippe Blondel with his Sounds of the planet dispatches from the challenging research conditions he encountered in the Arctic
  • Stefano Simoncelli keeping us hooked on his PhD studying daily migrations of zooplankton
  • the Opinion blog's much-sought after source of expert commentary from our academics on the big national and international topics of the moment
  • the Travel Advice blog which has become a secret source of protips for staff, students and visitors on getting to and from campus by the quickest, easiest routes
  • Miao, our International Digital Editor, sharing what she learned on visiting our peers in Harvard's digital teams.

Our blogs platform is still in its early stages of development. Yet these few examples above demonstrate how blogging is expanding the editorial and engagement options open to those running our research, recruitment and student experience activities. There are many more fascinating posts to be discovered, so dig in at blogs.bath.ac.uk.

More to it

It’s important that our blogs contribute something distinct to the main website. Where bath.ac.uk is informative, the blogs on blogs.bath.ac.uk must be insightful. For our blogs to be worth visiting they need to provide a behind-the-scenes view into the workings of a role, project, department or the University at an organisational level in a way that would not otherwise be available.

Teasing out the purpose and contribution of each blog is an important discussion that takes place between Digital and bloggers when we set up each blog. It’s been recommended to us that our onboarding process for new bloggers could be improved by providing a written account of blogger responsibilities and what is desirable content for the blogs versus the main site. So we’ve done just that and the guidance has been published on the University wiki.

Blogs can be run by staff or students of the University, either as individuals or - even better - as teams.If you are interested in getting started, please email web-support@bath.ac.uk.

 

We’ll come to you - subscribe to our blogs by email

📥  Blogs

With increasing numbers of University of Bath blogs appearing and posts about our latest goings-on being published more often, how can people keep track of what’s new?

Email subscription

We are running a pilot to enable people to subscribe to blogs by email. The sign-up widget appears in the blog’s sidebar and underneath the comments form on each post. All that’s needed is an email address.

The pilot will last for a month and during this time you can subscribe to the Digital, Opinion or Travel Updates blogs. Assuming all is well and there's take-up for the service, we’ll style the subscription widget and add it to the remaining 43 blogs.

How it works

Subscription management and emails are all handled by WordPress.com. WordPress sends the subscriber an email asking them to confirm that they definitely want to subscribe and this provides a link to a subscription management page.

All 'New post published' email alerts include a link through to personal subscription management pages where subscribers can manage the blogs they follow and unsubscribe easily at any time.

The number of subscribers for each blog appears in the stats section of the blog dashboard.

Let us know your thoughts

It should be a really useful addition to our blogs, but if you experience any problems let us know at web-support@bath.ac.uk.

We are now able to archive inactive blogs

📥  Blogs

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.

 

New blogs, stats for bloggers and drafting in WordPress

📥  Blogs

We are continuing to develop blogs.bath.ac.uk as new bloggers join the network, as the number of posts increases, and as more readers start landing on and following our blogs.

Chris and Tom T spent last week setting up some new features and tidying things up across the network. Here are the highlights:

New blogs

We've welcomed 5 active blogs onto the network since we upgraded blogs.bath.ac.uk in March, including:

As well as demonstrating the range of activity going on here at the University, they also swell the number of bloggers. To make it easier to keep in touch with the owners of blogs ('blog admins') we've set up a new mailing list, which we'll be using to share occassional, relevant information about analytics and features for blogs.bath.ac.uk .

Those wanting to start a blog and join our illustrious ranks of bloggers should email web-support@bath.ac.uk with the following info:

  • what the blog is about
  • what you want it to be called
  • which categories you want to associate it with
  • who will be posting to it.

There's an earlier post with more detailed information about starting a blog.

Access to stats for bloggers

Blog admins can now find out how many visits their blog receives, and which posts and pages are most popular.

To access 'site stats' for your blog, log into your blog's dashboard (just like you would if you were going to make a new post), click on 'Jetpack' in the sidebar and then click on 'Site Stats'.

From the stats dashboard, you can explore:

  • views by days, weeks, months or all time
  • where traffic came from
  • which posts got the most views
  • what search terms were used to find the blog
  • what links readers clicked on.

All useful stuff that can help bloggers work out what to post about and when.

There is also a box on your first dashboard screen (when you login) that provides a summary of the blog's stats.

Stats are available in WordPress from July 28th onwards. Traffic and engagement metrics for each of our blogs are also captured through Google Analytics, so if you are looking for older or more detailed analytics, drop us a request via web-support@bath.ac.uk.

Keep in mind that if you are a contributor to a blog rather than its owner, you will need to ask the blog admin for a readout.

Overriding imported formatting

We've set it so that when you paste from another source, like Word, the WordPress editor strips out all the markup that comes across hidden in the paste.

The paste will retain the line breaks but no other formatting. This will prevent weird formatting being accidentally brought into blog posts that WordPress and the page templates don't recognise, and which can make the posts hard to read or even look just plain broken.

Our big tip is to compose in WordPress itself rather than using something like Word. WordPress provides all the formatting options you should need in a familiar toolbar format, and it autosaves regularly so there's no need to fear suddenly losing work mid-draft.

Next on the roadmap

Over the course of the next 12 months we'll be adding new features and iterating the design of blogs.bath.ac.uk regularly in response to user feedback and requests from bloggers.

The next sprint - in September - will provide the ability to filter blogs by thematic category and by recency on the landing page, which will help readers find specific blogs and discover more of what's to offer across our network.

If there are features you'd like us to consider, email web-support@bath.ac.uk.

 

Our latest release for blogs.bath.ac.uk

📥  Blogs

When we upgraded blogs.bath.ac.uk in March, it was the first step in our ongoing mission to improve our provision for blogging. Tom T and Dan returned to blogs.bath.ac.uk last week to make a series of improvements based on your feedback. Our changes went live on Monday and we're excited to share them with you.

A new blogging directory

The blogs.bath.ac.uk landing page previously displayed all the latest posts from blogs across the network. This meant that the selection of blogs discoverable from the landing page changed from day to day, with less frequently updated blogs getting lost in the shuffle. We've now changed this to a list of all our blogs, although you can still view all recent posts from across the network. The search tool has also been removed from the homepage, as while you can search within individual blogs, we don't currently offer a search across the whole network.

Clarifying our colours

Following readability issues in some browsers, we've changed the main text colour to a darker shade. The default link colour has been changed from pink to blue, although you can still see a pop of pink on hover.

Screenshot of original blog layout used on the Digital team blog

Before the refresh: we're thinking pink.

Screenshot of the new blog layout on the Digital team blog

After the refresh: we've given our template a fresh lick of blue paint, darkened the font for better readability and improved the spacing.

We also set the default colour of the customisable stripe in the header to grey (although we've chosen a fetching green for our own blog). You can pick your own custom colour in the Dashboard under the Appearance menu by selecting Customise.

Space to breathe

We've increased the spacing between blog articles and improved the spacing in the header, particularly on small screens. We've also tidied our caption formatting and added more space between the bottom of captions and the top of the next paragraph, so your images and captions can really stand out.

Fixing up the footer

The "More blogs like this" section in the footer of each blog has also been reworked for better readability on mobile devices. Links will now fit the full width of small screens, rather than squeezing into two narrow columns. We've also fixed the link to the administrator dashboard and updated the default branding image from a GIF to a shiny new PNG.

What's next?

We've still got plenty of improvements planned for blogs.bath.ac.uk, including analytics for bloggers so you can see where your audience comes from and what your most popular posts are.

If you're not part of blogs.bath.ac.uk yet but would like to be, find out how you can start a blog.