Deciding what tools or ideas to experiment with – it’s an art not a science
This month on the Pickle Jar blog we’re looking at different ways to experiment online. As a graduate of Keele University, I’ve followed their social media activity closely and am always interested to see them experimenting with new tools and ideas. In fact, back in 2006 it was Keele University’s Myspace page that initially got me thinking about how universities and other organisations could use social media for their PR and marketing. So I asked Alistair Beech, Digital Marketing Officer at Keele to tell us about how and why they choose to experiment with different tools. Here’s what he had to say…
At Keele University, we take a modern PR-led approach to content and channel development:
- Listen first
- Engage second
- Influence and persuade last
First of all we listen to our existing audiences – scanning our Twitter ‘Home’ screen for ten minutes a day gives a good insight into what’s on their mind, as does five minutes on our Student Union-owned Fresher’s Facebook group. We start to see what our main target audiences are consuming, sharing, when and where.
The oft-referenced Teenager’s view on social media blog initially helped our research into channel strategy, as did the various responses from other demographics. Internally, we’ve started running focus groups with current students to road test campaign and project ideas, and we employ student ambassadors in our digital marketing team – their input in the experimentation process has been invaluable. How? Well, they understand how our main target audiences think and feel – and will happily tell you if your big idea has legs or is just dad dancing. A yearly social media survey pitched to both internal and external audiences also helps shape our channel and content strategy.
We’ve thousands of trees at Keele but ideas don’t grow on them – having eyes and ears on news and tech trends is a must. We geek out on podcasts; ‘A Responsive Web Design Podcast’ and Five Live’s ‘Hit List’ are personal favourites – and dig out industry, rather than just sector trends. We found out about Super.Me at a CASE conference earlier in the year (thanks Tracy) and road-tested it the next day via our Instagram feed. Being nimble and mobile (don’t rely on desktop) helps – there’s a reason why an iPhone 6 is every community manager and content editor’s best friend!
When attempting to reach wider audiences, stakeholders or attracting media and PR coverage we place academics at the centre of the conversation and use our digital channels as the virtual dining table (see Dr. Ian Stimpson’s post around the Kent earthquake earlier this year or Dr. Phil Catney’s morning-after take on the General Election). Seek to innovate (or at least be quick); there’s not a lot to be gained from being the 99th UK university to host a virtual tour, but *we think* we were the first UK university to put lecturers in front of a camera to read Yaks.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em – we’re likely to be in the first ten when we host our campus ‘Instameet’ during Welcome Week (hat tip to Insta-star Dave Musson at Warwick, who has hosted Instameets for months now, linking up with a local Instagram group to generate fresh campus content). If you’re not being prodded about new channels and apps by the people around you – our VC Periscope’d from our Clearing Call centre on results day – there’s something wrong.
Explaining experimentation – perfect your elevator pitch(es) – you’ll need them
Internally, anxiety still exists around social media – but our training is beginning to pay off. The total number of social media accounts connected to the university continues to grow, but content is improving too. Within the digital team there’s confidence and natural experimentation – inspired by recent successes like the 15 year-old local work experience student who found a planet and student vlogs – but there’s also confidence within in the institution as we consistently climb league table rankings and top Student Satisfaction charts.
We’re encouraged to try things out by superiors and the close-knit nature of campus means we pitch ideas directly to senior staff – often over a coffee! It’s often best to pitch and deliver at the same time – where digital content is concerned, seeing a prototype trumps a long-winded paper explaining need and execution. Above all, trust needs to be earned and built with colleagues in Schools and wider departments. Stats can help but demonstrating ideas ‘live’ at university events such as Open Days is helpful to show that digital comms isn’t stuck behind screens – we’re human and social.
Measuring success – stay native and build relationships with key influencers
We take a ‘native first’ approach to our content distribution (on Twitter, we upload 30-second video clips or synch Vines instead of linking to YouTube) and we take the same approach to measurement and analytics. Facebook’s Insights and Twitter’s Analytics packages are brilliant while Iconosquare allows us to measure and interact with our growing legion of Keele-ites posting campus ‘grams. We’re not averse to data mining the odd CSV; both Facebook and Twitter analytics go into minute detail of your content engagement – especially important when measuring campaigns.
At Keele we produce a monthly channel report which charts digital engagement and attempts to explain to internal audiences how our content has performed without blinding them with stats. It’s extremely easy to manipulate stats to your own benefit so we dig into each stat graph to iterate our wins (and failures). The benefits of spending a small amount of time to measure activity each month are invaluable.
It’s only natural that ‘fails’ occur and content you thought would take off falls flat generally due to a) it being posted at the wrong time of day or even year (our team Google content calendar makes sure we’re saying the right things at the right time) or b) we haven’t thought enough about distribution and outreach – tagging the odd follower in a Twitter photo will only get you so far – tending to existing and planting new relationships with key influencers is fundamental to our work and the University’s wider marketing and communication goals.
When was the last time you experimented with something new on social media? Are there any tools or ideas you’re planning to road-test? We’d love to hear from you – email us on firstname.lastname@example.org. Or if you need help with finding more creative content ideas for your social media accounts or getting some support for your more avant-garde ideas, we can help.