OMAC (Word)Pressing on

It’s been a quiet few months on the Web Services blog but there’s been load going on behind slightly ajar doors! In December we launched the Online Marketing and Communications (OMAC) Project with five strands:

  • Site navigation, structure and homepage
  • Academic department websites
  • Marketing content
  • Student recruitment and conversion
  • Mobile and social media

Over the last four months we’ve made progress in each of these and I’ll highlight a few of them below.

Site navigation, structure and homepage

With over 200,000 page views and a quarter of site traffic, the Edge Hill homepage is the most important page on our site and it needs to reflect a broad range of activities and signpost diverse user groups to the information they’re looking for elsewhere on the site. Our current scrolling carousel homepage went live in January 2010 and has helped us produce some really striking designs and features but there’s more we can do with it. So our new design starts from scratch by looking at what needs to be there and how to best make use of the space.

Our new template design makes use of mega menus and fat footers to allow extra information to be displayed more clearly.  We’ve covered mega menus in detail before and recently launched mega menus within GO as a way of providing one click access to a huge range of content but fat footers are something new for us:

OMAC Footer

While URL structure will remain largely unchanged, improved top level and in-page navigation will raise the profile of academic sites significantly.

Academic department websites

We are currently in the process of deploying and testing a new way of managing departmental websites.  Long time readers will know that I’m not a fan of traditional content management systems but – as I mentioned at the end of my Anti-CMS talk – our approach to managing websites does have the potential to introduce bottlenecks to getting content online. Faculties and departments are making increasing use of the web a communication tool and we need to find better ways for them to get things online.

Our approach hasn’t been to bring in a monolithic, expensive enterprise CMS – I stand by my claim that they fail on a number of levels – but instead making use a tool that are easy to use for the types of content departments wish to publish. That tool is WordPress and you’re using it right now perhaps without even knowing it.

WordPress is best known as a blogging tool but in the last couple of years it has developed to be much more than that. It can now be used as a powerful content management system for relatively basic websites. While Edge Hill’s site certainly isn’t basic, individual department, faculty and centre sites are making them perfect for WordPress. The merging of WordPress MU (multi user) into the main product that probably the final piece in the jigsaw to allow easy hosting of multiple sites.

As I said, we’re currently configuring and integrating WordPress into our new site designs prior to letting content authors loose on it.

OMAC: Department of Magic

Technical solutions are only part of what we’re doing.  We’re also working with departments to review their content prior to migration to the new designs and make sure they’re doing as good a job as possible for their business needs. Relly Annett-Baker’s content inventory is a great aid to this and useful not just for reviewing sites now but on an ongoing basis.

WordPress will be available Real Soon Now with training available to those responsible for content ownership, editing and creation.  Departments can contact me now with start this process.

Marketing content

The new emphasis on department sites doesn’t mean we’re forgetting central areas of the site – these are getting lots of attention too.  Together with colleagues in corporate communications and student recruitment we’re reviewing and updating the Study, About and News sections of the site. Some changes are just a refresh while others are major new developments.  The current, rather out of date virtual tour will be replaced with a brand new interactive campus map allowing the user to explore the Ormskirk campus by building, department or facility with potential to tie all sorts of additional information into the map in future.

OMAC: Interactive Campus Map

Student recruitment and conversion

Earlier this month Student Recruitment launched Think Edge Hill, a new system for managing enquiries to the university.  This project comes under the OMAC umbrella with the current links being expanded to more deeply integrate with the new Study area of the external Edge Hill site.

Mobile and social media

The final strand is looking at how we make use of social media within the university and how it integrates with the website. We also hope to have a new mobile optimised website to go live at the same time as the new corporate template designs.

As you can see it’s been a busy few months with more to come before we go live in May. There’s lots more detail we can go into about the developments so leave a comment with what you’d like to know and we’ll follow up with further posts in the coming months.

Shorter URLs

QR Code for GORecently we successfully registered an additional domain name – – for the University. Rather than simply using this as an additional alias for the main website addresses, we’re using it to provide a URL shortening service.

URL shortening services are nothing new – TinyURL was launched in 2002 – but while for years they were used to shorten web addresses in emails, with the advent of Twitter and its 140 character limits these services have gained new popularity.

These services do have some major problems however, notable, what happens if a service goes out of business either through running out of money or by the top level domain owner cancelling it? This has led many people to consider running their own service, and now that we have a nice short URL, we’re following suit.

We are using the popular YOURLS system, written in PHP with some custom plugins:

  • Lowercase URLs: we want short URLs to be case insensitive so that it doesn’t matter how people type them in
  • Top Level URLs keep their keyword for our main domain name, so maps to
  • For our own domain names we add in Google Analytics campaign keywords allowing us to determine where traffic comes from
  • URLs can be modified to include a source with just three extra characters which is then passed through as a Google Analytics medium
  • QR codes are available for all short URLs by simply adding .qr to the keyword
  • Certain keywords relate to the type of content, for example undergraduate courses have been seeded with their UCAS code, e.g. is BSc Computing

This service is currently in beta for use with the new prospectus but we’ll be making use of it further in the near future, for example exposing short URLs for pages within GO.

Let us know if you have any ideas for other things we can do with this service!

Opening the (Flood)Gates

‘Mister’ Roy Bayfield reflects on empowerment of users

Part of the next stage of evolution of the Edge Hill site will be greater distribution of direct content creation across academic departments. This won’t be some clunky CMS that costs a fortune, takes ages to implement, adds layers of semi-automated bureaucracy and then doesn’t work anyway. Instead, we intend to give selected people (whoever their department decides to nominate) access to tools that are as simple as blogging, ie they will be able to write, embed images and video and click publish – job done.

Isn’t this all a bit scary? Will dozens or hundreds of staff suddenly be bestowed with the combined powers of King Midas, Dr Frankenstein and the Sorceror’s Apprentice? Well…maybe. But the alternative – failing to do justice to the rich diversity of research, scholarship, student work and experience across the University – is even scarier. It has become easier to publish to the web (on, say, Facebook) than it is to put a PowerPoint presentation together, so why would people want to have to send stuff to other people to place online?

Well one reason is that an organisation such as ours has to manage its reputation carefully. Another consideration is the quasi-contractual status of published information, particularly relating to courses. An incorrect or outdated claim about, say, professional accreditation could get us sued. All very well for the Cluetrain Manifesto to quote Herman Melville saying “”Let us speak, though we show all our faults and weaknesses — for it is a sign of strength to be weak, to know it, and out with it…” – how many QAA audits or Ofsted inspections did he have to go through?

There are some serious issues to consider. But for me these aren’t reasons not to enable a broader group to publish directly online – just reminders that we have to do it properly.

There are a number of things we have to get right. Off the top of my head, these include
– The people-management within departments
– Tone of voice – when to be informal and when to be corporate
– Training and standards so that we don’t trip ourselves up with, say, copyright violations
– Links between centrally-produced, corporate content (such as quality-assured prospectus entries, PR features) and locally-produced material
– Non-duplication
– Developing the right system that is easy to use
– Navigation so that routes through the site, for various key user groups, actually lead to the cool new content that will be popping up all over the site.

It will be an exciting New Year.

Learn about Social Media

The Social Media has had a major social impact by changing the way we interact by using different forms of online communication, including Internet forums, weblogs, social blogs, microblogging, wikis, podcasts. We share what happens to us in real time in Twitter or Facebook, publish our photos on Flickr, Twitpic, see videos on YouTube and subscribe to multiple pages to use RSS feeds rather than searching the internet for information.

Let’s take a look at the following videos to see how social media has become the new form of conversation between individuals, institutions, brands and companies, how it affects communication, and the importance of online conversations through social choices.

What the HELL is Social Media?
This is an interesting way to explain how Social Media marketing has gained enormous popularity and why more companies are adopting it as a part of their marketing strategy.

The effect of Social Media in Europe
There are millions of Facebook users in Europe that spend hours updating their profiles, uploading photos or interacting with friends “Social Media is changing the Communication Industry,” brands such as Nutella, Axe and Adidas, started advertising using Facebook achieving and excellent response by earning millions of followers.

Social Media Revolution
“Social Media is not a fashion”. Surprisingly, the number of users of YouTube, Facebook or Twitter have reached higher numbers for the amount of the population in some countries. Consider the effect of Social Media in figures and percentages:

Social Media Did You Know?
While Social Media increases exponentially, traditional media such as radio, television and print media decline each year. In 25 years the print media have fallen in an amount of 7 million readers, while online readers have increased by 30 million over 5 years.

Social Media Marketing
Jody Underhill and Eric Kurita of Upside Down Iceberg tells us four steps to the success of Social Media and its benefits to become what they call “Top Of Mind”

How Obama used Social Media during his presidential candidacy
James Burnes explains how Obama became president of the United States, showing that their technique was to have a clear goal, implementing strategies, integrating the Internet to all and offer a credible change, not to talk about change, be the change.

Social Media Blues song

After a series of videos about Social Media, its effect on society, how users of traditional media have become social media users as we see a Blues song dedicated to Facebook, YouTube and Linkedln, Twitter.

Social Media will continue to develop and evolve. Who knows… what’s after Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube?

Student Life

The latest batch of student bloggers have just started writing for Hi and this year a few new things are being introduced. Most notably they’re also making use of Twitter. It’s still early days but it’s a great insight into student life at Edge Hill. Over the coming months we’ll be making more use of this “student life” content not just in Hi but in parts of our corporate website, possibly embedding a Twitter widget:

If you use Twitter you can follow these students on @edgehill’s “Student Life” list.

Are you a Wonk?

Yesterday American University launched a new marketing campaign, American Wonks. They’ve released a very well produced video introducing the idea. It’s quite long but worth a watch:

Obviously everyone in the video is very positive about the idea and their definition of wonk supports that:

wonk | noun

  1. An intellectually curious person; expert in a field: physics wonk
  2. A knowledgeable Washington insider: policy wonk
  3. Someone focused on an issue and passionate about creating meaningful change: financial reform wonk, human rights wonk, sustainability wonk
  4. American University person in the know

Other websites define it slightly differently however:

wonk (plural wonks)

  1. (derogatory) An overly studious person, particularly student; a nerd.
  2. (by extension) A policy wonk or other intellectual expert.

I really can’t imagine this working for a university in the UK. Maybe we’re more conservative – although I find that slightly hard to believe – or maybe the typical 18 year old student has a different idea of what university life is about? I hope the campaign is successful for American University – it’s certainly a very bold move and I’m impressed by a lot of the material they’ve produced to support it.

125 by 125

Do you ever have really great ideas that on second thoughts are incredibly stupid?  Yeah, I have them all the time but usually I’m sensible enough not to tell anyone about them.  A month ago I was caught out by an email from Corporate Marketing Communications and Student Recruitment asking what people are doing for the anniversary celebrations.  I had a flash of inspiration and fired off a reply:

I’ll do something with Twitter or a blog for 125, maybe similar to the 365 projects that people do – one photo per day for 125 days.

It was that quick.  Fast forward 30 days and I’m starting to think that was a really, really stupid suggestion.  Writing 25 posts across the whole team has been difficult enough so what am I playing at committing to posting every day for four months?!

If I’m going to have any chance of making this work I’m going to a) need help and b) make it simple, so give me your ideas, people!  My initial thought was to raid the archives, take a load of photos and just post them rather than having to write lots for each day – that way I could spend an hour or two every couple of weeks and schedule ahead.  I could also broaden it out and persuade other people to blog or highlights from some of the 125 events happening on campus.

Picking things that might be of interest is also important – I’m not doing this for myself – so what would you like to see?  Post your comments below!

Making the best use of the Information Screens

Digital SignageIT Services Information Screens (Digital Signage) are located in some of the most vibrant areas of Edge Hill’s campus. These screens are able to display announcements as well as play video clips such as the recruiting TV advertisement for the University.

These signs improve communication as well as provide an important and compelling information resource, a real opportunity to capture the imagination of viewers.

What Can Be Displayed?

The screens can be used for advertising events, displaying University information such as: Conferences, Seminars, Awards, Special Events, Faculty recognition, Community information i.e. Rose Theatre, Sporting Edge and much more.

The information on the Digital Screens differs from other communication mediums such as websites, (newspapers), posters, circulars, TV and other types of advertising, as each medium is unique in what a viewer is typically doing when they see messages. Web users interact with the information by clicking, TV viewers are sitting and flicking within the channels, (newspaper) readers are flipping pages, etc.

DS viewers are typically on the move from one place to another or involved on some other activities such as eating, studying or resting. Therefore they will only see your message for a few seconds as they won’t stand in front of the screen waiting to read all the information on them.

The content is most effective when it is clear; fewer words are better combined with a clear headline and/or an eye-catching graphic. The best messages present basic information and ask for action in a succinct and direct manner. The duration (i.e. length) of a message should be in the context of the viewing time and the overall playloop time.

“Content” messages are composed according to a style guide that assures that branding and messaging are suitable and the presentation through fonts and colours are “professional” looking and compelling.

Communications objectives are achieved based on information presented along with a “Call to Action” implicitly or explicitly directing a viewer to do something such as “plan to attend”, “visit the site,” “remember”, “take note”, register, visit, dial, etc…

For more information please contact: Web services will initially request 2 weeks notice where possible and may not be able to accommodate a late submission so please plan accordingly. Events must be advertise at least 4 weeks before they are taking place.

Handling sales calls

I receive quite a lot of sales calls and I’m certain I’m not handling them properly.  The problem is that I’m probably not interested in what they’re trying to sell me yet I don’t want to miss out on something that could interest me. So generally I’ll ask them to email me some details and I try to take a look.

But it doesn’t stop there.  They want to follow up with me to see if I’m interested yet and this goes on and on ad infinitum! So how can I deal with them better?

My idea is to put stuff out in the public. I’ll tell you what I’m interested in hearing about and you tell me what your offering is.  If I like it, we can talk further about the offering with the possibility of using your software or service.

If on the other hand I’m not impressed or it’s not something I’m interested in then I’ll tell you, and the rest of the world.  How does that sound for a deal?

So here’s a few things to get you started with my thoughts…

Content Management Systems

I am almost certainly not interested in acquiring a content management system.  This blog contains lots of posts about our approach to building websites and you’ll quickly see that doesn’t involve decentralising control to several thousand content publishers.  A good place to start is my presentation “Building an Anti-CMS” from PHP North West.

Having said that, if your approach offers something genuinely different – I’m thinking along the lines of an approach to openness that isn’t usually seen – then I’m interested in seeing your product, but it’s still unlikely we’d adopt it in the next 18 months.

Search Engine Optimisation / Paid Advertising

If you make any claims that you can control anything in this sphere, I don’t want to hear from you.  Far too many people are peddling snake oil and it’s not funny.  If you want to send me a “free report” and it’s simply an output from some free tool then don’t be surprised if I’m not impressed.

The only thing I’m likely to be interested in related to SEO/Adwords is good value training to allow us to do some stuff in-house.  Ideally you would be able to cover a variety of technical and content-editing topics over a day’s course.

Virtual Tours

Some interest in these but you need to be honest about what you’re offering.  If you’re making use of a free package to create the 360-photos then admit it – I can tell from the Flash player you’re using anyway.  Show us what value you can add to the offering.

Open for submissions now

I don’t have the time to build a fancy submission system so I suggest using this blog post.  If you want me to have a look at something leave a comment below with a link to the demo website or any other information you have.  Comments are approved prior to appearing and it’s possible Akismet will spam trap them even earlier – if that’s the case then you might want to look at your sales description 😉

Apologies to all the people who’ve phoned me over the last 12 months and I’ve fobbed off – it’s a fresh start from here so feel free to submit now!

What Matters in Digital Marketing


Guest blogger Roy Bayfield is Director of (deep breath) Corporate Communications and Student Recruitment at Edge Hill University, a department that enjoys a unique, symbiotic relationship with Web Services.

Last month I spoke at the annual Effective Marketing in Higher Education conference in London. I’ve been going to things like this for 20 years now, and it’s interesting how they have changed. When I first ventured beyond the campus to see what others were doing and to discover what professionalism might mean in the world I had fallen into, HE marketing conferences were often sponsored by printing companies. The obligatory exhibition in the foyer would often have printers displaying their wares, and there might even be a tongue-tied printing MD on the bill, or an optional field-trip to admire a new 10-colour Heidelberg.

It’s different these days – the exhibitors tend to be webby consultants, and products and services such as CRM and online branding get the most visibility. (This is a loss in a way – the opportunities offered by ink-on-paper media for direct communication have never been more exciting, and the role that printed artefacts have as physical manifestations of relatively intangible organisations such as universities remains highly important. But that’s another discussion.)


Conversation amongst delegates has changed too. Prospectus deadline crises and calls from journalists seem to have faded into the distance, whilst the sudden appearance of an inappropriate tweet on a marketing director’s Blackberry can create a moment of high drama.

I expect in another 20 years things will have evolved further, and the fact that ‘people’ ‘travelled’ to ‘London’ to ‘talk’ about ‘online’ ‘marketing’ (any or all of which might be outmoded concepts by then) will seem quaint. The sf reader in me predicts advances biotechnology, reverse-engineering back to feudal times, or of course the long overdue Martian invasion as potential opportunities/threats to the HE marketing scene as I enter my twilight years.

Anyway, I said I would summarise my talk here. The title I was given was ‘Digital Marketing – keeping it ahead of the rest’ so I tried to come up with some points about what really matters; what marketing folks should be thinking about when it comes to the digital aspects of their marketing. These were the just notes on the handout – you need to imagine each point expanded upon with enlightening verbal eloquence, any deficiencies in content finessed out of existence by my personal presence, and a host of witty asides.


I’m happy to expand on any of this in the comments.

We’re already beyond digital. Computers have almost disappeared into other devices, the technology itself is becoming taken for granted. Just as ‘digital’ communications and experiences aren’t a separate part of people’s lives, ‘digital marketing’ isn’t a separate silo of marketing activity. So ‘keeping ahead’ involves focussing on the digital dimension of all of our marketing work.

Some thoughts about what’s important – some ‘people stuff’, some ‘brand stuff’ and some ‘marketing stuff’.

People stuff

Having quality conversations
between you and your markets, using the market members’ channels of choice

Helping your potential students communicate with each other
creating opportunities for additional student-to-student communication, over and above the Facebook (etc) stuff they can do themselves

Inspiring and influencing other people’s communication– all our staff, students and alumni are empowered to share their views online; what do we want them to be sharing?

Reaching all of our audiences
how does your online presence work for international, part-time, mature etc

Playing– someone needs to be playing, experimenting, networking to develop cool new stuff. Is this happening and is it happening in/with/for marketing?

Training, developing, leading and managing staff
to deliver effective marketing communications to Generation Y audiences. May involve…

…getting your hands dirty
so you know what social networking feels like and how it works.

Brand stuff

Reflecting your brand personality online
HEIs are diverse, multi-facetted organisations – our online presences reflect this – but what really important messages need to be most highly visible? eg research, student experience, business focus – what share of voice do the key messages have?

Managing your image
there is likely to be a blend of authentic, instant, user-created content and high-quality professional image-building – need to avoid dissonance

Creating constant streams of content
small inputs, big results

Making your key messages shareable– I like your course page, news story or photo – how easy is it for me to put on Facebook, share on Twitter, embed in my blog etc.

Marketing stuff

Integrating online and offline marketing communications

Communicating through the recruitment lifecycle
giving the right messages at the right time, building trust and engagement, harvesting data (CRM)

Being efficient
using new ways of communicating, less print, less post, less reliance on phone… but
…not throwing the baby out with the bathwater
quality print, phone calls when needed, all still have a place

Monitoring and maximising online impact
seeing and taking opportunities to get your message across, being everywhere

New ways to do old-school marketing communications:

Creating awareness
online search, advertising,
presence on the web, + in the mobile environment (?), in the gaming environment (??)
online PR, online ambassadors

Fulfilling information needs
still need a really good ‘classic’ website but also consider providing bespoke web pages for individuals, opportunities to ask questions through chat, forums etc.

Building interest
encourage people to stay connected and interact through Facebook, Twitter, your own website
provide compelling media rich content, student-created content, interesting apps

Harvesting marketing information
research, surveys, real-time metrics, ‘quality conversations’ online with markets

Delivering real benefits
making things easier, quicker and more fun – in the recruitment process (eg booking for Open Days, asking questions) and also as part of the student experience (eg enrolling, accessing services, mobile applications)