Digital Marketing & Communications

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

Topic: Digital strategy

The pursuit of Appyness

📥  Digital strategy

We love apps. Apps can provide interactivity and features that web pages simply can't. They can tap in to your phone's hardware to use the camera, connect to your address book to help you remember birthdays or send push notifications when important events occur.

A photo taken with Snapchat

Snapchat is a great example of an application which uses a phone's hardware. Photo by Ariel Chang.

But there are many things that web pages can do just as well as apps. They let you get updates on news and events, connect through social media or buy things online.

So, once every few months, when we are approached by someone with either an idea for a mobile app or a brochure from a vendor who promises the world, we ask a few questions.

  1. Does this information already exist on our web pages?
  2. If yes, then what extra benefit would an app bring? Who would maintain the two versions?
  3. If no, then does it exist anywhere else? How would making this into a University of Bath app improve it?

It often turns out that the information or functionality does already exist. Unless a new app is likely to provide a highly polished and professional interface (think about the Amazon, BBC News or Facebook apps) then we recommend that teams spend the equivalent time and money improving their existing web pages. This could be either by transitioning them to the Content Publisher to make them work better on mobile devices, or simply using usage data to improve the existing services they deliver.

Mind the gap

In the cases where we agree there's a space that a dedicated University of Bath mobile app might be able to fill, we ask three questions before beginning a trial:

  1. How can we tell how often it's being used and which features are popular?
  2. How does it look, feel and behave at the front and back-ends in real use?
  3. What are the security implications of this app?


Gathering usage data is critical, and yet many apps we've seen don't deal with it at all. We are committed to making decisions with data, and because we know that 77% of users never use an app again 72 hours after they installed it, we want to ensure there's a good return on investment.

Apps that are free to a user aren't free to the University. They have ongoing costs in terms of developer licenses, contracts, maintenance and brand association. This means that usage data (which is very easy to collect in mobile apps) is a requirement for being able to measure success.


We also always ask to use the app for a short while ourselves so we're not assessing a special demo version, or making a decision based solely on what it says in a brochure. This helps us to judge if the reality meets the promise. Is the content easy to update? Does the custom branding work well across multiple devices? Does the app work as expected?


If an app collects or uses user data we put it through a security check. If the source code is available, we will review it. The Security Manager in Computing Services will also take a look at any Data Protection statements and ask a provider to answer questions about data security and storage. It is not uncommon for apps to want to store personal data on servers in the United States, which breaks the University's eighth principle of Data Protection and means the provider will need to switch to a European data server.

In summary

Whilst we maybe have a more permissive view than the Government Digital Service, we always ask that University groups understand their users' needs and can ensure the quality, sustainability and security of an app before starting a trial.


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.


The University of Bath's Digital Design Principles


📥  Communication, Design, Digital strategy, Style, content and design

Based on our current Digital Delivery Principles, I recently sat down and drafted a set of Design Principles. These were shared at one of our Show and Tells as a presentation, but I thought I'd reproduce it here on our blog for a wider audience.

1. Design for real people

”Remember who you are designing for”, is the most important thing we can do.

Every design decision we make should solve an actual problem that a site visitor has, or facilitate a real user need. Design should serve the content it presents, design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration. We always keep in mind that the end user of a page can be very different to us, with different needs, expectations, and abilities, and ensure that our design does not exclude them from getting the answers they need.

2. Design with data

Successful design starts from a clear and informed position.

Our approach is inclusive: we're building a site that will provide the optimal experience for a visitor whoever they are and whatever device they are using. To achieve this we conduct user research to better understand what people expect. We test changes, features and assumptions with users to get insight and feedback that ensures we are delivering on that expectation. It is as important to remove failing features as it is to add new features into our design, and the ability to know what works and what doesn't only comes from data.

3. Be simple, fast and effortless

Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible. It’s only when it’s done poorly that we notice it.

We maintain a pattern library to ensure the design of elements is consistent, and this ensures that our interactions speak to users with a single voice, building trust.
We strive to ensure that our design affords our visitor with an experience that feels fast – they should be able to find what they need on the page without a delay. Images are optimised for the device they are viewed on, visual enhancements are loaded progressively, and do not disturb the flow of content on the page.
We minimise pain-points as much as possible with an awareness of good practice, to provide an effortless experience.

4. Make bold choices

We measure ourselves against the very best, and we should not come up short.

The success of the University of Bath is based on calculated risk-taking, knowing when to break from convention, and when to reprioritise your approach to better fulfil the requirements of the people who depend on you. Instead of simply matching what other institutions offer, we challenge them with innovative approaches and ideas that better serve users’ needs.

5. Always evolving

We believe that things can always be made better, and we know that good design is never finished.

It is pointless to sink 2 months into crafting the most beautiful interface if it does not allow the visitor to complete their task, or does not work on a mobile device. We release a design feature as soon as possible, and then iterate on that delivery to improve it.


Day 4 at Harvard: We need to rethink teaching and learning in the digital age

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📥  Digital strategy, International

During the past three years, Harvard has made university-wide effort to combine technology into education.

My visit to HarvardX is an incredibly eye-opening experience. Michael Rutter, Director of Communications, and Meghan Morrissey, Senior Project Lead at HarvardX, give me a tour around the office while we discuss what learning really is in the digital world.



Consisting of three teams - video, project management and research - HarvardX has its own studios to maintain the highest standards of quality when producing their online courses.

The HarvardX video team

The HarvardX video team

HarvardX studio

HarvardX studio

HarvardX studio

HarvardX studio

No longer classroom learning vs. online learning - it’s one

"We do teaching and learning, using technology." This is how Michael defines HarvardX in the simplest way.

He points out that distant learning can date back decades, but the setting is much more competitive now. A lot has changed with technology as well as the social landscape in the past years.

"The timing is related to the rise of social media, connection and scalability of the Cloud. The MOOC cannot exist without all of this. Interactive components and social forums have made the teaching and learning so much more dynamic," Michael says.

"So we don't see a line between what is in the classroom and what is online. There is only one thing. This is what Harvard does in the digital age and how we are modernising the way we teach and how people learn."

He also gives me an example.

"The School of Public Health has been working with us for two years. The problem with public health is, there are a lot of doctors in the field who cannot take two years off and study on campus. The School created a Masters programme with the majority of courses online. That means you still get high-contact experience with the Faculty and the best course content online.”

Internationalisation with digital learning

Is HarvardX part of Harvard’s digital strategy or international strategy?

"It’s both," says Michael. "It's about expanding our global footprint and having the sense that we have to be involved as an institution. It's not just a global marketing regime. It's also about Harvard leading in teaching and learning.

"We have to be mindful that not all learners can come to the campus. They grow up in the age of Google and search for everything. Their expectation of what learning means is very different from what we thought it would be. They want to learn anytime, anywhere.

"This is how we react to learners’ expectations about how and where learning happens. This is the way Harvard engages with the world."

Unlocking the past of the world’s most populous nation

ChinaX is a HarvardX course that lasts for 18 months. It started in October 2013 and is organised in 10 mini courses than span over 6,000 years in history. Delivering a mix of history, politics and philosophy, the course helps learners access the world’s most populous nation.

It also makes use of the most popular Chinese social media platforms, such as Weibo and Youku, to generate interest, discussion and create a community for learners.



"This is a knowledge discovery and exploration experience," says Meghan, who is part of the project management team and has been heavily involved in the structural design of the course.

"This is an output of teacher-student collaboration. The origin of the course dates back to the Chinese History 185 seminar, taught by Professor Peter Bol, the Vice Provost of Advances in Learning, and Charles H. Carswell, Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations.

Professor Bol co-teaches with Professor William Kirby, Spangler Family Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School and T. M. Chang Professor of China Studies, and they have both contributed their life-long knowledge and experience in this field to the ChinaX course."

Driving digital learning as a world-class institution

What makes Harvard want to be part of the digital learning landscape?

"We have to be here. We have to invest in this. We have to push boundaries," Michael says. "There has been a high demand at Harvard for digital technologies to be integrated into classroom. Luckily this is a presidential priority. It's comes from top down. We have heavy institutional support."

How can learners benefit from it in terms of employment?

"Due to the system of micro credentials, you have a much more tailored and customised experience. It makes you rethink what a professional credential looks like," Michael explains.

Employers, such as Google and IBM, work with online course providers to design training they require.

"Online learning gives you tools to measure a very specific subject or skill you have learned."

Where is HarvardX heading to?

"Currently we see it as an experimental experience. In future, we hope to be even more collaborative, not just for learners, but also for professionals and scholars," Meghan says.


Day 3 at Harvard: Storytelling in the digital world

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📥  Communication, Digital strategy, International

As a subscriber to Harvard Gazette's daily email newsletter, I am constantly impressed by how the stories are told and the stunning photos that are worth 'a thousand words'. The quality of content on the website has been inspirational to me and my work at Bath's Digital team.

As the official news voice of Harvard for over a century, Harvard Gazette highlights innovation and discovery in teaching, learning and research across the campus.

Today I have the opportunity to learn first-hand knowledge and experience from the Harvard Gazette's Managing Editor, Terry Murphy; Jim Concannon, the Gazette's News Editor; and Mike Petroff, Associate Director of Digital Content Strategy. The word 'storytelling' has been frequently mentioned and discussed throughout our conversations.

The Harvard Gazette office

The Harvard Gazette office

“Storytelling is huge!”

Having spent 28 years at Boston Globe and 5 years so far at Harvard Gazette, Jim is definitely one of the best people to talk about storytelling.

Gazette holds weekly editorial meetings with the faculties, bringing discussions into early conversations about whether this is a good story or how to structure it to make it a good story.

What makes a good story? I am curious.

"Each individual story stands on its own." Jim gives me an example of a recent story on Gazette, How coffee loves us back. It has made connection to the National Coffee Day in the USA on 29 September and gathers all the research done by Harvard University on coffee. It has also gone viral on social media.

A piece of advice comes from Terry: "Always add the human elements into a story. People care about people. That's how the story captures the attention from your readers."

Another great tip Jim has offered me is: "Slow down and think how to tell the story better. Make the time for discussion. Every subject can be interesting, as long as you ask enough questions."

“If you build it, he will come”

Harvard Gazette's primary subscribers are the Harvard community, consisting of students, parents, faculties and alumni. But does Gazette write specifically for international audiences? Jim’s answer is straightforward: "Telling a story is our first priority. Just like the movie Field of Dreams's line - 'If you build it, he will come.'"

The marriage of news and digital

Harvard Gazette website was redesigned and relaunched in 2013. Since then, the multimedia storytelling has really taken off.

The change of audience behaviour due to mobile and social was the main driving force. More and more users read stories on different sizes of screens and through multiple channels. Instead of landing on the Gazette website as the first point, they are often driven by the daily e-newsletter and social media.

Gazette's stories have also received incredible attention from external media that re-create stories and publish them on their own sites.

Terry and Mike's teams work very closely together when it comes to reusing content on multiple digital channels. The Gazette writers and editors create high-quality and shareable stories; the Digital team finds the relevance to popular conversations online and leverages it across social channels. Mike also constantly monitors the analytics of where the stories are travelling to, as well as how much attention they have received, and feeds back to the editorial team.

"Another way of managing content effectively is to use a strong editorial calendar," Mike suggests. "Not simply to schedule when a tweet needs to go out, but a general temperature check of what is discussed around the world on social. We constantly ask ourselves: Do we have content to make a connection to a topic?"

Tell a good story, find the relevance and share it with digital tools. That's one of the most valuable lessons I've taken away from Harvard Gazette today.


Day 2 at Harvard: How Harvard Business School creates its unique brand experience

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📥  Digital strategy, International

Walking across the Charles River from Cambridge on a sunny autumn day is definitely a treat. At the end of the bridge is Harvard Business School where I'm meeting Brian Kenny, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at HBS.

My meeting is at the Cotting House, a beautiful three-story Georgian Revival style house named after Boston investment banker and philanthropist Charles E. Cotting (1889-1985).

Charles River

Charles River

Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School

Harvard Business School

Baker Library

Baker Library

Cotting House

Cotting House

The HBS Marketing and Communications team consists of 15 people including professionals focusing on areas such as public relations, social media, web, digital, marketing and brand creation. Their goal is to shape messages, embed brand strategy and eventually change the perceptions of HBS.

The brand strategy for a mission-driven institution 

HBS's mission statement for all of its staff is very bold and clear: we educate leaders to make a difference in the world. It's also about providing a transformational experience to the students, to gain an experience they don't have before joining HBS.

The brand strategy has been embedded throughout the entire student journey: from being a prospective student to an alumnus; from classroom learning and building relationships to giving back.

How to make students and alumni proud of HBS? "Constant communication and keep enforcing it," Brian says.

Content strategy shift and challenges

HBS used to aggregate articles from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal that were talking about the School. This was going on until a few years ago when the School decided to make their own, unique voice by creating organic content and embedding external articles in their own stories.

"It is very important to connect your content to what's happening in the world," says Brian. However, this also poses a challenge: how to work with the faculty to tie their specific research to the global affairs?

HBS goes global with a region-specific strategy

The content Brian's team creates is global in nature. But HBS still has its regional strategy. They have research centres and classrooms in nine countries across Europe and Asia with India being one of the largest markets. HBS regularly contributes articles to one of India's biggest business newspapers, Mint. HBS also has a Sina Weibo account for its executive programmes in China.

Using social media to change perceptions

With over 100 years of history, Harvard Business School wants to be perceived as an innovative and friendly institution by the outside world. Social media has been an important tool in making this happen. The social channels HBS subscribes to help create the voice for both students and faculty with a warm, welcoming and humorous tone. "They definitely have sparked conversations about us!" Brian smiles.

One more piece of advice? "The story is the end product," Brian says. "Bear this in mind, no matter if you are a content creator, a designer or a web developer - we are all telling stories in the end. That's how we work together as a team."

More storytelling discussion with the Harvard Gazette team to come.  Stay tuned.


Day 1 at Harvard: It's all about collaboration

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📥  Digital strategy, International

Harvard University has established the best practices for content, multimedia and social. I'm visiting Harvard to learn how the team develops and delivers a comprehensive strategy for digital communications and engagement.

I kicked off my one-week long trip to Harvard by having meetings with Perry Hewitt, the Chief Digital Officer, and Benjamin Sharbaugh, Associate Director of Digital Strategy.

Our meetings were at Harvard’s Smith Campus Center (formerly Holyoke Center), located next to the Harvard Square Station on MBTA Red Line and directly opposite the Wadsworth Gate to Harvard Yard.

The Office of Digital Strategy, as part of the Harvard Public Affairs and communications, is on the 10th Floor. From the balcony, you can get a panoramic view of the stunning campus.

A panoramic view of Harvard University

A panoramic view of Harvard University

Harvard Public Affairs & Communications

Harvard Public Affairs & Communications

If I had to only pick one thing I’ve learned from my first day at Harvard, that would be collaboration. It’s all about creating a community and atmosphere for collaboration.

The team

First of all, how is the Harvard Digital team formed? Perry's definition of a high performing digital team published on Harvard Business Review gives a comprehensive overview of what the team does:

Digital teams are responsible for developing, testing, and implementing a strategy to reach and engage target audiences through digital channels like web, mobile, and social. While other groups may draft the messaging, a digital team works hand-in-hand with marketing and product leaders to curate and create digital-first content strategy. Most often reporting through the CEO or CMO, digital teams may also be responsible for implementing cross-channel analytics, surfacing relevant emerging trends, and providing comprehensive guidelines. As institutions have weathered the seismic communications shift from managed brand broadcast to real-time community interaction, digital teams have stepped in to manage listening platforms and identify opportunities for engagement. Finally a successful digital team will build a strong partnership with IT, who owns critical technology infrastructure and associated services.

Harvard identity guidelines and decentralised publishing

"At Harvard, we are big believers of guidelines and put a lot of effort into developing them," Perry said.

"We are in charge of branding by producing guidelines for website, storytelling,  social media, images, colour, fonts, etc. We make them easy to follow and don't provide any classroom training. We don't police the schools in terms of how the guidelines have been followed when creating content.  The schools have their own autonomy and authority to decide what they want to do digitally and how to do it. So as the central team, we have very little control of it. We are so decentralised, and sometimes I wanted it to be more centralised. The grass is always greener on the other side," Ben laughed.

Harvard’s show, but not tell

Harvard’s central digital team started collaborating with schools 5 years ago. "We create a community to share and encourage digital understanding, as well as celebrating good work," Perry said.

Harvard digital has its own 'Show & Tell'. The Digital Roundup is a monthly newsletter produced by the Office of Digital Strategy to share the latest digital news among Harvard staff to exchange ideas, share interesting article, tips, statistics and learn from industry experts about how to make digital work easier and more interesting.

This is also followed by a monthly meet-up - The Digital Roundup Live presents digital content, projects, and knowledge from around Harvard University.

Academy is another free event to encourage sharing the best practice of digital work from around Harvard. Each Academy has a theme; the next one in October is Multimedia Academy. The tickets ran out within hours of the date being released.

We don’t create content, we aggregate it

It’s not about ownership. It’s about how to aggregate the voices.

Social media has been a big driver to This is all about the balance between influence and control. "We don’t give one definite version of Harvard. We create sharable content, aggregate content from all over the university and syndicate it out through our multiple digital platforms. It’s about user experience from all the channels we output."

Social tools help content to be captured, categorised and shared to make a great impact and a ‘Harvard experience’.

Change management

So how do you get people to get on the bus for change? This is the question I most want to ask Perry and Ben. "This is really hard!" both told me.

Perry's tip for managing the change is: being an early adaptor is the key. "Work transparent, make people understand their role of the change and bring them at much earlier conversations. This is because people want to be part of a winning effort, to be in the right direction.

"We make so much effort into back-end development to make it easy, interesting to use and to make work look good from the front end. For example,," Perry explained.

Next week, I'll be meeting the Harvard Business School's content team and learn how they manage their own site and collaborate with the Digital Strategy team. There will be more to share shortly.


Our epic 12 months

📥  Communication, Digital strategy

Twelve months ago I walked into the University of Bath for the first time as the head of the Digital team. It has been an epic year.

Since August 2013, we have set out to manage the University of Bath's digital communications in a completely different way to how it was done before.

We have stopped acting as a service provider doing one-off projects on an on-demand basis for 'clients'. And we reset ourselves to be a provider of digital products and services based on user needs, which are developed on a continuous and iterative basis.

Learning through doing

People who know the Government Digital Service and what they are doing with GOV.UK will recognise this approach. We've also learned a great deal from the examples set by other impressive digital enterprises, like Makeshift, Spotify and, a bit closer to home, FutureLearn.

What links these organisations, besides being digital, is their dogged fixation on delivery and the positively disruptive influence they've had on their industries.

The University of Bath Digital team wants to earn a reputation for creative problem-solving and delivery. As far as our business is concerned, we believe that our digital products and services can make us stand out in an increasingly competitive but  largely homogeneous market.

Change all the things

Since our 'pivot' moment, we have been turning out a lot of work. We figure that we have deployed [code] to a production environment at least once every day since August 19th, when this new approach began.

But what’s important about the 12 months we've just had is not so much what we've produced, as how we produced it.

As a  result of these changes the performance of our site has improved, user engagement has increased, we have better relationships with our colleagues and we feel like a happy and productive team.

For me, the most impressive thing is that with only a few new souls brought on board, all this change has been brought about by the same team that was in place prior to August 2013. I could not have asked for more from the Digital team on what was a very ambitious ask. They have done themselves proud.

Now for something properly epic

How do you follow up on an epic year? Have an even more epic 12 months.

For the past year we've been establishing a new working culture and drilling ourselves in new methods of delivery. The next 12 months is going to see us put these new found delivery skills to radically transform the design and features of and the way it’s managed behind the scenes.

The projects we will undertake will:

1. Devolve publishing
Introducing structured content templates and workflow will encourage higher quality publishing by a wider pool of publishers and reduce the requirement for specialist training

2. Make tasks easier
Designing specialist pages and a browseable taxonomy will make it easier for people to use the service information, tools and transactions the University provides, reducing dependency on other channels and enhancing the utility of

3. Support engagement
Developing digital content and features that open up the University’s research impact, educational successes and campus community will draw in practitioners and the public and establish long term relationships.

Expect a visit

The finer detail of how and when this will happen is plotted out on a delivery roadmap that we have produced and will be taking round to campus colleagues in the weeks to come.

For the University to really make the most of digital, the delivery of digital must become more distributed across the organisation. That doesn't mean we'll do less centrally; it means that more digital work will be undertaken by more people across the University.

It's going to be a challenge no doubt, and that is what is inspiring us. We hope that it inspires you too.

Delivering a digital strategy for the University of Bath

📥  Digital strategy

In recent posts, we've alluded to there being a University of Bath digital strategy. It's the product of analysis and interviews conducted over the last 3 months, and we have begun taking that strategy around campus to introduce our colleagues to its contents and to get their feedback and support.

Our strategic goal
The University's goal is to have a world-class digital domain developed around the needs of its users. This digital goal is framed by the actions set out in the University of Bath's strategy for 2013 - 2016.

Users of our digital domain include students, academics, corporate staff, businesses and the public. While the majority of our digital users are here on campus, we receive high volumes of traffic from elsewhere in the UK and increasingly overseas. Our website serves in part as a marketing channel but our users are mostly task-driven and view our digital domain as a collection of services they use to get things done.

We want the people who use our site and associated digital channels to regard them as informative, trustworthy and useful. We believe that the manner in which we meet our users' needs sets us apart from our peers and when we perform well it has a positive impact on the reputation and visibility of our research and teaching.