Malleable Musings

May 28, 2010

Did I just describe a PLE?

I had an interesting phone call last week from someone in the COI. The COI, in case you don’t know, are the UK Government Central Office of Information (COI) – the Government’s centre of excellence for marketing and communications. They do some excellent work providing guidance on all aspects of marcomms.

Anyway, the person who rang me was carrying out a research study for The British Council. They were wanting to identify the media habits of professionals who work in the area of international education.  In particular they wanted to understand potential media which actively engage in issues related to higher education and how these were used.

So during the phone call I was read a list of media titles.  I’d heard of more or less all of the titles mentioned although there were a couple of more obscure titles (journals) where I wasn’t quite so sure.  In discussing the traditional media I explained that print-only media is more or less invisible for me.  The only thing that I receive in hard copy format that I even flick through is the COL newsletter.

So online media is really the only way I access this sort of specific news of information.  I also explained that I wasn’t that likely to visit a particular website to get my news, although I might use an online database, library or datastore if I knew what it contained.

I reflected back and thought about the professional networks that do exist.  They often provide meatspace opportunities but I recognised that very little news was ever highlighted to me offline.  Okay, I’d occasionally find out a little titbit of information in conversation with colleagues from other institutions especially at conferences but it was usually soft anecdotal stuff rather than news or hard information.

This lead to a bit of a discussion about what I thought NEWs was and an explanation from me that I was only really likely to look at NEWs if it was sent directly to me as an email newsletter or highlighted to me in another way, through an RSS feed or crowdsourced by a brand I trusted (either a corporate brand such as the chronicle or a personal brand) or if it hit a search filter of some type that I’d set up.

I also explained my reticence to paywalls and the problems I have with sites that have registration walls (e.g. the FT).

It was a quite an interesting conversation that had me reflecting quite a bit about my current media habits and how they have changed over the past few years.  Two or three years ago I would have given very different answers and even a year ago my thoughts were quite different and search seemed much more important to me.

I didn’t talk about the details of how I get my NEWs these days but whilst I was on the phone I kept thinking have I just described a Personal Learning Environment.

In terms of the details of my PLE, for the past six months or so I’ve relied on my6Sense to keep me updated.   My6Sense is an interesting iPhone app that pulls together your social and RSS feeds.   The idea is that the more that you use it the more it understands your interests and starts to surface the things that you’ll find relevant.  I usually check it a couple of times a day and so far I’ve found it to be pretty good.  Of course, I don’t really know what I’m missing however for some reason it feels better knowing I’ve flicked through a couple of pages of my6sense recommendations than seeing the thousands of items that I never got around to looking at in Google Reader.

I do also occasionally dip in to Twitter and Friendfeed.  Twitter lists, and friend lists on Friendfeed help me catch up on things that particular people have said that I might have missed and I also use Friendfeed to bookmark things to go back to read later when I have more time.

I certainly don’t feel that I’m really part of an international education network.  If an online network does exists for the people who are interested in these aspects of international education then either:

  1. I  haven’t really found it yet (although I have found lots of people who offer some really interesting points of view);  or
  2. I’m too much of a visitor and not resident enough – also read I’ve been too much of a lazy slacker and haven’t worked hard enough to become part of that network yet.

However, I do feel that I’ve got the beginnings of a personal learning environment.  It’s a learning environment that I know will definitely change over the coming years, months and days in ways that I can only dream of, but it’s still my very own PLE isn’t it?


September 6, 2009

Things I’ve learned in the past couple of weeks

Filed under: Branding, Facebook, Life at home — Brendan @ 9:57 pm

Being new to a job does mean that you can take three and a bit weeks out of the office without coming back to email overload. However even without an email backlog I’ve seemed to have plenty to do and I’ve learned quite a bit since my last blog post. Including some of the following bits of trivia:

Antigua has 365 beaches – one for every day of the year.
Fermanagh has 365 lakes. (Guess who was in Ireland on holiday during the wettest August on record!)

Facebook advertising seems to be determined by your ISP location in addition to the networks that you are part of.

You can now get on the internet anywhere (although the positioning according to Google Maps seems a bit out). I’m sure I first saw this technology at work in Abuja eight years ago.

There are more chickens than humans on the planet. Although trying to get an accurate number for the chicken population is pretty difficult.

More significantly I found out that Shell no longer operates in Ireland. People were boycotting the Shell branded petrol stations (for eco-reasons) so they re-branded under the Topaz marque. However as this blog shows a re-brand may not be enough.

April 14, 2009

From the stocks

Filed under: International Student Recruitment, Ning, photography — Brendan @ 1:18 pm

I’ve mentioned before how my role seems to span a range of different areas.  I’ve also talked about how stock photography is often used by distance learning institutions as it’s easy.  This is the story of how we tried to get away from this and the side effects that this has had.

When considering the advertising approach that we wanted to take for the next few years our agency came up with a concept entitled “This is my London”. It took a very human approach – the idea being that current students would provide a short paragraph about their studies alongside artwork that showed them at their studies in a very non-London environment.

We liked the idea, especially because it was about people, and took it forward but substituted alumni for current students on the basis that this would be more aspirational.


Stupidly in this meeting I said something about UGC and got people (myself included) excited with the potential of producing something that alumni would share in both offline and online worlds.  Inevitably this lead to various discussions about using Flickr and other social media tools to collect photographs and quotes from alumni and maybe running the process as a competition, with the hope that we get the competition and the results shared.  Interestingly this sort of approach has just been tried with YouTube by DePaul.  I’ll be watching with interest to see how they do and how they encourage their entries.

We decided to get a couple of examples mocked up using a few alumni we were in contact with in Hong Kong.  We placed the quote and photo from this ad within a Ning community (with a very limited features set) along with instructions about what we wanted alumni to do.  To date we’ve invited about 7,000 selected alumni (in batches defined by specific criteria) to join – and have had 377 photos uploaded from 278 members.

Whilst most of the photos uploaded aren’t really appropriate for the advertising campaign we’ve had about a dozen that can.  One of these is shown on the right (one of our law alumni who is now a lawyer pictured outside the high court in Malaysia).  We’re getting permission to use the photos and quotes not just within our advertising campaign but also on our website, in our printed materials and elsewhere to help bring the student experience to life.

What’s more it has provided an insight in to alumni’s lives that isn’t available via our alumni databases.

My personal learnings from this have been:
1.    people use tools in ways that you don’t expect
2.    communities (no matter how rudimentary) will spring up and need managing
3.    you can’t assume anything, no matter how well you think you have explained something there are always plenty of barriers to prevent someone completing the task as you intended

April 7, 2009

Laughing Stock

Filed under: photography — Brendan @ 7:59 pm

I keep seeing the same images everywhere.  Compare:

Generic Asian landing page

UoLES Generic Asian landing page


njit online homepage

NJIT online homepage

You can see why we resort to Corbis and the like.  Getting real photos is difficult, especially for distance learning institutions.  Distance learning institutions can’t use the lovely pictures of libraries, facilities, sports grounds and trying to arrange a photoshoot with students is a nightmare etc.

First for global student choice

Filed under: taglines — Tags: , , , — Brendan @ 7:18 am

Mike Rivera recently asked on Twitter for examples of good university taglines.

My initial response was that I couldn’t think of many, but that most universities seem unable to give them enough time to bed down.

I should be a prophet of doom as yesterday I discovered that there may be a movement towards a new tagline at the University of London External System. A tagline that really doesn’t help distinguish from other universities: First for Global Student Choice.

It looks like last year’s tagline was too last year!

February 27, 2009

@Google and @responses

Filed under: Branding, Twitter — Brendan @ 12:21 am

Like 21,000 other people I was following @Google on Twitter when they posted this message referencing @responses.

That’s odd I thought @responses is another account.  So I clicked it.

It was a brand new account. No bio, no location, no pic, no updates, no followers, not following anyone and just the name “Responses”.

However as I kept pressing refresh it changed – I wish I’d taken screenshots as it was fascinating to watch the power of a brand as large as Google in action.  I tweeted it whilst I was watching – a copy of the tweetstream is below (sorry didn’t reverse this).


As I send this post live the @responses account has 36 followers.  Interesting to see how this will play out.

However @responses also made their second tweet – which makes me think it might be pure opportunism.

Update 00:32 – @responses has deleted their tweets, however I was able to do a screenshot from Twitterfox. Had enough for tonight but will be interesting to see what happens in the morning.


February 9, 2009

The world’s local bank

Filed under: Branding, Trad marketing methods — Tags: — Brendan @ 8:07 pm

I’m one of those odd people who pay attention to advertising. I especially pay attention to HSBC because I think that their tagline could easily be adapted by my workplace to “the world’s local university”.

Anyway the photo below is a bit of an ad that they are running at Heathrow. Its for their premier account. It went the full length of the tunnel to Terminal 3 but I thought that this was the most apt panel to me.

The answers were:
Boston ~ $44,000
Oxford ~ $30,000
Beijing ~ $1,250

Startling isn’t it considering we live in a globalised world. I wonder how the value equation is shifting especially as an undergrad education through Fudan or Beijing Normal will carry similar weight to that from Oxbridge or the Ivy League.

January 28, 2009

Go to work on an egg

I’ve been meaning to write about the bus stop outside work for some time.  It’s currently being used as part of the Cadbury Creme Egg campaign, which according to Brand Republic was done by Saatchi & Saatchi.

The easiest way to explain this is watch the video below.  When I first saw it a few weeks ago I thought wow what an innovative way to get people to engage with a brand. After all, when you are waiting at a bus-stop what better things do you have to do than play at smashing eggs on a 48″ touchscreen (that’s a guess it might be bigger/smaller).

Vodpod videos no longer available.

It’s amazingly on brand and the timing is good (72 days to Easter) or so their website says – great example of integration. However why hasn’t the game been ported to the iPhone?  It seems like an obvious and cheap extension, and a great way to capture data.

Anyway I’ve played on the bus shelter, however having walked past the bus-stop probably 100 times over the past week I haven’t seen anyone else engaging with the advert.  I wonder why that is?

January 23, 2009

Brands on Social Media

Filed under: Branding, Social Media, Tools, Twitter — Brendan @ 11:34 pm

I really enjoyed watching Blogwell in Chicago last night on Twitter and on the Critical Mass video feed that @Armano was running.  It was interesting to see what some of the big brands are saying about social media.

There’s a nice post that @AmberCadabera has done giving her key takeaways but I thought I’d just riff about the ones that I picked up on from following the #blogwell search:

SM is about listening:

  • @thehomedepot Our customers are talking in these spaces, whether we choose to listen or not
  • @AmberCadabra What if they say something nasty about us? They’re saying it anyway, and if you’re listening, you can respond
  • @scottyhendo P&G have an app that streams Twitter posts about Tide & projects it on wall of Tide brand dept

Content remains key:

  • @lsilich: Biggest takeaway from #BlogWell: Social Media efforts fail without a solid content strategy. It’s the first thing I do for my clients!
  • @chimoose: Legal tip 3: choose your words wisely. It’s not “social media” it’s “content sydication”

People are still learning.

And finally disclosure is important – it’s as simple as: “My name is X, I work for Y, this is my personal opinion…” @sernovitz pointed us at for further guidance.

It was all useful stuff for me, as I’m going to have to formalise a Social Media plan soon.   Formalising the things I’ve been playing with scares me in a way. It’s not the planning, its the need to gain sanction from my senior management so posts like the following one about selling Social Media to Cynics, Skeptics & Luddites will be useful.

Separately I’ve been testing a few things recently, just to see how brands I’m involved with respond or don’t to comments on social media.  So for example, I’ve been searching around for brands that I’m interested in and following them (both openly and covertly) and mentioning a few things in a few different places under different names to see if they are doing any monitoring, and intervention.  There’s been some great stuff so far but quite a few brands are simply not doing anything. Will probably post more on this later – currently engrossed in #wossy.

December 5, 2008

Comparing the Car and Education Industries

Filed under: Branding, Conferences — Brendan @ 8:37 am

I was at a session on regional trading blocs in education yesterday.  In terms of content:

  • Alison Doorbar from JWT talked about the research they have done in East Asian student mobility.
  • Frances Kelly (EU office of the Ministry of Education, New Zealand) mainly talkled about Education at a Glance and the three main educational trading blocs
  • Don Olcott (OBHE) talked a bit about the why – pointing out a range of facts on the way – I don’t think I ever realised that by 2015 China will have the largest population of English language speakers.  He also pushed the point that, “there are institutions playing in the international market that have no business being in the market.”
  • Colin Grant (from Surrey) challenged the subtext that there is a market to be carved up and that the characterisations that Education is trade, that Trade blocs exist, that there is Competition over students or that Globalisation is new.

I didn’t think it was the most fantastic of sessions as I don’t think that there was much to be learnt, however there was a question to the panel on whether the Car and Education industries can be compared.

I think maybe that the panel were probably expecting something deeper or more topical.  I certainly was.

Instead it ended up being phrased in terms of, “a Lexus is a better car than a Rolls Royce, but some people still want to buy Rolls Royce…”

It’s still a good question.  After all cars are expensive purchases but essentially all they do is get you from A to B.  OK so some cars may have slightly different features but essentially people will buy based on their emotional connection to the brand.  (Thought to self: What do we do to build this emotional connection?)

However, I was expecting either the question to move on to Fordism or post-Fordism in education (I work in distance education after all) or for it to be about branding (after all a Lexus is just a Toyota and a Rolls is just a BMW – and these Liverpool degrees are really from Laureate). Alternatively I was waiting for some sort of comparision with the parlous state of the big three American car companies!