I ♥ WordPress

I got a request yesterday from Roy Bayfield asking if it was possible to put a heart in the title of a news story and I didn’t have a clue!  So I did a bit of looking online and found a page on the WordPress Codex saying how you can insert special characters.  I did a couple of test posts on our news system and lo, it worked!

Not only was it fine in the title of our news story, but it followed through to work in the Atom feed, and onto Twitter.

It’s possible to put the full selection of suits in – ♦♥♣♠ – plus a selection of other characters like musical notes (♫), chess pieces (♘) and miscellaneous items of stationary (✉). Best of all these work without messing around with changing fonts!

Update: Your Mileage May Vary! And I should add that our news system isn’t powered by WordPress, but both allow for this kind of thing.

Google Renames Village

I grew up in Aughton – that’s the bit stuck on the bottom of Ormskirk.  I lived there for most of my life but Google wants to wipe it off the face of the planet!

Okay, it probably doesn’t – their motto is “Do No Evil” after all – but the power of Google has renamed Aughton to Argleton.

I’m not sure which gazetteer they use but either other people use it too, or other sites are using the Google geocoder as the basis of their site because you can do all sorts of things in Argleton!  From jobs, to hotels – even my old primary school!  As more and more “Web 2.0” services make use APIs, we’re placing our trust into a small number of services to provide good data with no clear way of challenging the accuracy of it.

Please Google, don’t take away my childhood!

A CASE in point

A week and a bit on from the CASE Europe Annual Conference 2008 in Brighton and I thought I’d give a summary of some of my thoughts both of the conference itself and my reflections on some of the issues raised.  First a round-up of CEAC08 activity from across the web:

It’s worth noting that the above people represent just five six out of around three hundred organisations present!

Where’s the technology?

I was genuinely surprised by how little certain technologies had been adopted.  Twitter was bring used by four or five people –  a few more if you include social uses – that’s around 1% of delegates.  I know microblogging is still in the “early adopter” phase, but still.

I saw no one using a laptop during a session.  This may be because it is often seen as rude, possibly because of the lack of power sockets in most rooms, or maybe because of the lack of wifi (more about that in a second!) but I’d have liked to have seen more people with them out.

The entire conference venue was covered by two commercial wifi providers – BT Openzone and iBHAN – charging between £10 and £15 per day for access.  I have a FON router at home (thanks to Paul Cheeseman!) and so in return for sharing my internet access, I get access to other users’ connections, and more importantly, I get free access to BT Openzone hotspots!  That’s the theory at least – in reality I was able to connect fine on Tuesday and Wednesday morning and then it stopped working without explanation.

This isn’t the solution though – I don’t expect everyone to go and buy FONs – what is needed is for the conference to arrange for free (or very cheap) wifi direct with the conference venue.  This would be a great thing to get sponsored by one of the exhibitors – far more useful than the four laptops someone had set up as the “internet cafe”!

There’s a place for web managers

One thing that came apparent when chatting to Alison Wildish was how few “web” people there were with a more traditional background.  While there were a number in areas like digital marketing and digital media there was an almost complete absence of the IWMW-crowd.  I’m not saying CEAC is for everyone – it’s not going to lead the way with new technologies – but that’s not the point. This conference can inform web managers about how the “advancement” professions can make use of new technologies and make sure they’re prepared for the demands on their services which are sure to come.

Web skills for mar-comms professionals

There were a few things that came up again and again in the sessions I attended.  Everyone running a web-related session felt obliged to give their recommendations for web tools to use:

  • Google Trends
  • Google Alerts
  • RSS Readers
  • AideRSS
  • Twitter: Not one that I heard anyone recommend really, in fact there were some slightly snide comments about it from some people, but I believe microblogging has a place in communications both many-to-many and institution-to-many.
  • “Web 2.0”: blogs, wikis, podcasts and all that jazz

I agree with Robyn’s sentiments from their podcast that some of this is stuff we already know, but certainly at Edge Hill we’ve still got a long way to go.  In Web Services we need to not just do it ourselves, but help other teams across the University to make the best use of web technologies.

Viadeo or Viadeon’t?

Viadeo was CEAC’s online social network presence.  Viadeo was one of the exhibitors and they provided n online community area as part of their site.  The process went something like this:

  1. Sign up for an account with Viadeo
  2. Go through complex profile setup procedure involving several unconnected pages
  3. Waste 10 minutes attempting to find CEAC community
  4. Eventually find group and sign up
  5. Search for a few people you suspect might be using the site
  6. Never go back again

Okay, maybe this is a little harsh, but I’m not sure Viadeo offers anything particularly exciting, the range of services which CEAC attendees are likely to use, or fits in well with anything that people are doing on the ground already.

Here’s three better ideas:

  1. Create a Facebook group for the more informal side of the conference.  People can post pictures, links, messages.  Heck, Ellie Lovell will even run it for you.
  2. Use LinkedIn for the serious stuff.  While I was writing my previous blog posts I searched for speakers to see what online presence they had.  Very few had blogs (disappointing, but that’s a post for another time!) but most had LinkedIn profiles.  People are happy to share these because it’s all about what they do professionally and not pictures of them down at the roller-disco on Friday night.  Perhaps more importantly, it’s also what’s happening in the real world.  Alumni teams are already looking at LinkedIn as a way to engage with the University so why not use it here as well?
  3. Finally, promote a microblogging system.  Twitter will do, or whatever else is popular this time next year!   The important part isn’t the name, but to encourage an active back-channel.

And on to 2009…

Next year’s CASE Europe Annual Conference is coming to Liverpool at the brand new BT Convention Centre. Details of the venue look fantastic and it’s certainly handier for me – no 6 hour train journeys!  Would I go again?  Yes, I think I would.  As far as we’ve come, in many ways we’re just beginning to realise the potential of the web for marketing the University, communicating with our stakeholders and improving the student experience and it’s important to stay in touch with what Corporate Marketing colleagues are
doing on the front line.

That’s all for my series of posts about CASE Europe Annual Conference 2008.  Thank you for reading (you have been reading, right?!) and maybe I’ll be back next time…

PHP North West Conference

phpnw08 PHP Conference 22/11/2008London has had a PHP conference running for a number of years – Andy and I attended the last one in February this year – but there’s not been anything up North so far. That’s all about to change with the creation of PHPNW and the announcement of the first (of many?!) PHP North West Conference to be held in the conference-centre-formally-known-as-GMEX (Manchester Central) on Saturday 22nd November.

Lorna Mitchell does a much better job of explaining it than I could:

Lorna Mitchell – PHP North West from oreillygmt on Vimeo.

Something that might be of interest to our students is that there will be a number of concessionary tickets available so keep an eye out on the conference website for when tickets are released.

I also popped into Manchester on Tuesday to go to the PHPNW meetup – a chance for PHP developers from across the region to get together and chat.  This time as well as a quick update about the conference, there was a short presentation about version control systems.  This is something we already do using subversion but it was interesting to see nontheless.

Anyway, it’s good to see the North West tech community continue to grow and I’m looking forward to going to PHP North West Conference 2008.

CASE Europe Annual Conference: Day 3

Day three of CEAC 2008 in Brighton…

Breakfast Roundtable: Web + Marketing = FutureAlison Wildish (University of Bath)

Alison guilted me into getting up at silly O’clock for her roundtable session. So I once again dragged myself across the city for breakfast and interesting conversation. Also at the session were Pamela Michael (Imperial College), David Poteet (New City Media), “Mister” Roy Bayfield (Edge Hill University) and someone whose name I didn’t catch from the University of Amsterdam. Trying to eat and think before 8am left no capacity to take notes but it was interesting to get alternative input into the kinds of discussions we have on a regular basis with a more tech-focused community. One thing to look up is Hyves, the most popular social networking site in the Netherlands.

Internet Search – the journey has only just started – Richard Jones (Yucca)

If search engines were at a school disco… Google would be the cool kid, Yahoo would be having a breakdown in the bathroom and MSN would still be trying to pick an outfit.

How users are using search:

  1. Wireless has released the computer from the study
  2. Many search instead of navigate (even for obvious things
  3. Users are using human phrasing more often (so write an FAQ section to get direct matches)
  4. Search length is increasing – from 2.4 words inn 2006 to 4.1 words in 2007
  5. Google search (with personalisation and history) is replacing bookmarks

Number four is pleasing to see and important for better targeting the “long tail” of organic search results.

Brain dump time:

  • Google are expanding – do you have a Google Earth stretegy?
  • Google Trends – add regional keywords
  • XML Sitemap – “shows Google there’s a strategy behind your site”
  • Paid search
    • Very technical but great for improving your English skills!
    • New to brand
    • No delay
    • Ad copy can be tailored
  • Google Quality Score: Keywords | Landing Page | Ad copy
  • Costs can fall over time with improving Quality Score
  • Run a test campaign to establish keywords
  • What keywords are competitors using (view HTML source)
  • Look for untapped slang/media terminology
  • Page titles
    • Include your own name
    • Tailor to individual titles
    • Not too long
    • Learn from PPC ad copy
  • Love the spider – consider a mega footer
  • Site architecture – ensure everything is 3-4 clicks away
  • Avoid multiple web addresses – 301 redirect
  • Resources
    • Google Alerts
    • Google Trends
    • Google Insights for Search
    • Wordtracker.com
    • SEO for Firefox and rank checker
    • Yucca Blog – blatant self promotion 😉
  • The Future
    • Historical Search
    • Mobile / location
    • Question based
    • Long tail gets longer
    • Google product deep linking

Creating and delivering award-winning projects and campaignsRoy Bayfield (Edge Hill University), Amanda Gregory (Heist), Emma Leech (MMU)

I picked this session out because I was interested to know more about the process that goes on for awards like the CASE Circle of Excellence award that Hi recently won.

Roy started our with talking about some of the reasons for and against applying for awards:

  • Why not?
    • Time
    • Giving away your best ideas
    • Awards process is flawed?
  • Why do?
    • Good for business
    • Good for morale
    • Build team spirit, confidence, internal credibility
    • Sharpen practices
    • Create good habits – metrics, ROI, planning, process
  • What makes award winning project
    • Statistics and supporting evidence
    • Detailed planning
    • Brilliant creative
    • A great idea or a new slant
    • Good write up
    • Solid budgets with ROI evidence
    • An integrated approach

Amanda was clear about her input into the process:

Brown paper bags with cash in them are welcome

And on Heist submissions:

  • Based on SMART objectives
  • “If you follow the instructions you will be short-listed” – apparently this is a very important point
  • Give details of budget – not simply ” the project was within budget”
  • Strangest things affect judges – one prospectus smelt funny

The second half of the session was more practical – looking at some of the things MMU had done.  Emma also went through some of her experiences and the benefits applying for awards had brought her and her team.

My thoughts?  Seeing the results from winning the CASE Circle of Excellence award has highlighted some of the benefits and it was really interesting to see the process involved.  I wonder, however, whether the way web projects develop doesn’t necessarily fit in with what the judges are looking for.  How does “release early, release often” relate to budgets, ROI and an integrated approach?  I think it can, but maybe I won’t understand how until I’ve been through the process myself!

Harnessing technology to enhance your marketing and recruitment processes – Maggie Frantz (Hobsons)

After attending Rebecca Avery’s breakfast round table session I was in two minds about going to another session about the web by someone from Hobsons!  After deciding last minute to come to this one I joined just as Maggie was reeling off a load of statistics.  I asked for a copy of the slides so I may blog them in full, but for now, here’s some of them.  They’re about what applicants would do:

  • Would download a customised online prospectus
  • ~60% would customise a page
  • 63% would ccommunicate with a current student
  • 63% would read a student blog
  • 83% would read a faculty member blogs
  • 45% would subscribe to RSS feed (I’m really surprised this is so high)
  • 71% send instant message to college site
  • 82% respond to instant message inside a website (i.e. popup message inviting to chat)
  • 59% take a mobile call
  • 49% would like to receive an SMS mesage

The next page of my notes is frankly not particularly interesting… similar to much that I’d heard before during the week.

Skipping through them, we get onto how CRM can be used to help:

  • Enabling platform
  • Tailoring communications
  • Web portal
  • Interactive, customised experience
  • Underpin Web 2.0 activities
  • Address ROI concerns

This was backed up with a couple of examples from Liverpool and Aberdeen Universities.  Interesting to see how they’ve used Hobsons products.

Maggie’s final thoughts…

  1. Start with communications objectives and assess which tools appropriate
  2. Experiment with Web 2.0 tools
  3. Empower student ambassadors
  4. Fullscale CRM or at least a communications plan
  5. Address ROI question for Web 2.0

Is the brand-driven culture of the commercial sector appropriate to HE?
Sue Cunningham (University of Oxford), Paul Drake (University of Gloucestershire), Tracey Lancaster (University of Birmingham), Peter Slee (Northumbria University), Chaired by Martin Bojam (JWT Education)

Final session before the closing plenary was a panel debate on the level to which brand should be applied in HE.  I was impressed with Peter Slee’s arguments and two points about brand:

  • Have a clear brand proposition
  • How do you follow this up and deliver?

This to me seems to encompass the important aspects of what we can learn from the best of the commercial sector – being clear about what we offer that is different to others, and ensuring the best possible student experience, matching the expectations that we set.

To be honest, much of the discussion was too heavy for me after a few very long days and it was far too hot in the room.  The “brand is good” argument won the popular vote but I’m sure it’s not the last we’ll hear about the matter.

Closing Plenary: Leadership and team-building in a transcultural marketplace – J. Frank Brown (INSEAD)

Drawing the conference to a close was frankly one of the most obscure talks I’ve ever heard (and I watch TED!)  There were some interesting anecdotes, but even after listening to it and reading the abstract I’m not entirely sure what the final point was!

And that was that!  Well, not quite – there was the gala dinner to come and Mister Roy dutily collected the Gold award for Hi to much whooping and hollering…. but you don’t want to hear about that!

I’m hoping to write one more post summarising some of my thoughts and linking to other people’s comments about the conference, so if you’ve blogged, or tweeted (and not used #ceac08) or otherwised published, leave a comment and I’ll include you in the roundup.