Malleable Musings

April 16, 2009


Filed under: Social Media Transitional Information — Tags: — Brendan @ 6:52 am

In case you are wondering UOLMDF is a group of people who work at the University of London in communications, Marketing, Design or Fundraising roles. There’s probably around 20 of us.

N.B. This is just the MDF staff who work within the central University of London. The colleges of the university also have their own MDF people.

Some of us met up this afternoon for a social media show and tell (there were two staff from ULCC, two from the careers service, four from the External System, three from SAS and one from Senate House Library). It wasn’t as illuminating as I hoped as there seems to be a wide range of skills, experience and knowledge, but it was definitely a good first step to get people who are involved in social media across the institution as a whole in the same room talking about what they’ve each been up to.

It probably focussed a little too much on the tactical of how to use some of the tools (particularly twitter but probably not going to enough depth for anyone who uses twitter).

Tim from ULCC kicked things off by talking a bit about how he and Frank had been using Twitter, LinkedIn and, to a lesser extent, Facebook for personal and professional networking. I then demo-ed some of the uses we’d had for Twitter and talked about RSS feeds and then demo-ed what we’ve been doing with Ning and alumni, before we talked about Yammer for internal comms and a few other tools, especially YouTube.

For me one of the key things I learned was that there’s more content out there that can be leveraged synergystically than I thought there was. I was especially impressed that SAS were already video broadcasting content and that there’s someone within the library who really gets the benefits of web 2.0 tools.

Given the frequency with which this group meets and the speeds at which things generally happen in the university my guess is that I won’t be that involved in the future.

Eventually I hope it will allow us to learn from each other, share our sucesses and failures, talk about future plans and maybe find some new ways to work together to combine our efforts.


April 11, 2009

How our potential students, students and alumni are using social media

Filed under: Social Media Transitional Information — Brendan @ 12:36 am

It’s important to remember that our potential students, students and alumni are regular people.  They are individuals who generally use the internet and if the statistics about social media are to be believed then many will be using some form of social media.

These stakeholders won’t necessarily be using social media to talk about us all the time. Frankly they’ve got other more interesting things going on in their lives! However occassionally some use social media to “talk” about us and their experience of studying and interacting with us (albeit sometimes in a peripheral way). Sometimes this is positive, sometimes this is negative, sometimes it’s neutral. Every time someone mentions the University it’s a possible recommendation or condemnation.

Sometimes they don’t say anything and use other mediums instead (which causes a problem as it’s generally more difficult to listen to this because how such media is tagged is all that distinguishes it from the background noise). The important things to remember are:

  • The tools and the language used will change in ways that we don’t yet understand.
  • Our corporate voice is only one voice which on some topics will be less credible than the weight of voices and may not be appropriate.
  • The conversation will happen because or in spite of us.
  • We are not in control of the conversation – consider the traditional 5W’s of public relations.
  • Who: The conversation is about the student / potential student / alumni – the University is secondary.
  • What: The student / potential student / alumni decides what is newsworthy – they won’t simply take the corporate messages we push at them.
  • When: Social media has it’s own timelines which are probably not that dependent on news that we’re creating.
  • Where: The conversations won’t necessarily happen where we want them to happen (on our pages) because we are inviting people in to our creepy treehouses and people don’t need new dstination websites.
  • Why: The conversation has to be important to the student / potential student / alumni.

This is part of a series of posts (this is the starting point) which will probably be updated, regularly over the next few months and I’ll be very happy to recieve comments and questions.

April 9, 2009

What have I learnt about social media?

Filed under: Social Media Transitional Information — Brendan @ 1:25 pm

A quick 10-point list.

1.) Don’t start with the tools, start with a strategy describing what you want to acheive.

2.) As can be seen from the graphic on the right (The Conversation Prism by Brian Solis and Jesse Thomas) there are a huge range of tools at your disposal.

3.) The tools are constantly changing. Different demographics prefer different tools.

4.) At the moment the key tools for the External System are probably…

5.) You need to match the message to the tool and to the audience so listening is important.

6.) Some tools are more open than others.

7.) RSS and API’s are key allies in managing the tools.

8.) No-one is really is an expert – here’s a good guide if you are considering hiring a consultant.

9.) Be prepared for unexpected results and for things to take twice as long as you expect. Remeber that people will favourite, tag and share what they see as important rather than what we think is important.

10.) Remember that time costs.

This is part of a series of posts (this is the starting point) which will probably be updated, regularly over the next few months and I’ll be very happy to recieve comments and questions.

Further reading:

campustechnology – Why-Web-2.0-is-Important-to-Higher-Education

Rachel Reuben’s The Use of Social Media in Higher Education for Marketing and Communications: A Guide for Professionals in HigherEducation (pdf)

Student lifecycle and social media

Filed under: Social Media Transitional Information — Brendan @ 12:58 pm

I was asked today where can social media fit in with the student lifecycle.  This is part of a series of posts which will probably be updated, regularly over the next few months and I’ll be very happy to recieve comments and questions.

I think it could fit in in all sorts of places. N.B. this is a first draft and further suggestions will be happily accepted.

Note this is in addition to things like market research, PR etc. 

Prospects Prospecting
Awareness raising
Leads/Enquirers Encouraging to submit data
Understanding hopes and fears – conversion
Applicants Encouraging to apply – conversion
Accepted Processing data
Accepted Decliners Understand why they’ve declined
Students Student support
– Creating a community
– Academic support
– Administrative support
Creation of content
Cont. Registration Encouragement, reminding of deadlines
Drop-outs Understanding reasons for drop-out
Graduates Spreading content
Creation of additional content
Maintaining communities / connections

P.S. The Chronicle tweeted about How Social Networking Affects the Student Life Cycle — From Applicant to Graduate

What have I been doing in relation to Social Media?

Filed under: Social Media Transitional Information — Brendan @ 12:31 pm

I was asked this question recently in relation to my work at the University of London for the External System.

Initially my goals were to:

Therefore my starting point was posting on discussion boards and blogs and answering the odd question on Yahoo Answers, Linked In etc.

However as the technology, and the job I was doing, evolved other goals developed including:

  • Publicising some of our courses in other ways / down new channels
  • Understanding the marketplace that we were operating in and the students we were serving / trying to serve
  • Improving the opportunities for students and graduates to talk about the University and consciously or unconsciously recommend our programmes to others (related to this is discovering and publicising student success stories to potential students).
  • Trying to improve the sense of community for potential students, students and graduates.
  • Trying to provide a better customer service to students and potential students
  • Utilising Web2.0 technologies / tools to improve the visitor experience on our own web site

In terms of where we are now we’ve gone backwards over the past year specifically, as I simply haven’t had the time to do anything properly, since we lost staff.  I’ve more or less given in trying to answer questions apart from in a few specific places and when my laptop was replaced I’ve didn’t resurrect some of my monitoring that was in place.

[In terms of rebuilding this montoring see how to search the social Web or try these tools and learn to use advanced queries on Google and Google Alerts and Yahoo Pipes.  Personally I also think FriendFeed shows a lot of potential as an agregator. Be prepared for a lot of false positives, or  building a good negative keyword list. London, LSE, UCL and Queen Mary all have their own specific problems.]

I now only actively engage potential students, students and alumni in a mainly reactive way (some proactive appraoches on Twitter / Ning) in the following social spaces:

  • Twitter (c1,250 following several accounts managed by myself and one by Gareth – the University as a whole has 30+ accounts – all known accounts are being followed by LondonUNews – the two non University accounts being followed are Camden Borough Council which has posted details of events at the university which have not been picked up elsewhere and DavidLammyMP)
  • Facebook (we mainly use as an advertising platform – we have a Facebook page with over 1,000 fans of which Gareth is also an admin, before Alice Perry left we did try to use Facebook to engage alumni, however since she left this has died a death.  There are also several student run groups – the largest of which has over 3,600 members)
  • YouTube (We’ve a limited number of videos online and a very small number of subscribers, currently 16.  We really need to increase the range of videos and brand the channel. Gareth knows about this and it is in chain.)
  • A small Ning community for alumni (Katherine already knows the basics of this)

The exception is that if the limited monitoring I have in place brings up a significant post (recognisably a national newspaper or site with high Compete, Alexa, Pagerank or MozRank) I may respond. A further post about what I think the key social tools for the External System will be contains further information about our current efforts and how these could be improved.

Useful links / Further Reading:

Nick De Nardis – position paper for IUE 2009 Social Media Panel Discussion (good explanation of why the social web is important in the context of recruiting students from high schools).

Social Media – Marketing Industry Report (shows what marketing people are doing / thinking with social web)


This post is part of a series of posts the starting point for which is this post. The series will probably be updated, regularly over the next few months and I’ll be very happy to recieve comments and questions.

April 8, 2009

Notes on Social Media

Filed under: Social Media Transitional Information — Brendan @ 2:54 pm

I’ve been playing around with various collaborative web technologies for some time.  I’ve always found it funny that none of this has ever been within my job description.  So whenever I do anything vaguely related to social media (especially anything related to Facebook, be it booking advertising or responding to questions on our page or within groups) I always felt that people are watching over my shoulder.

Before I leave my current position I’ve been asked to come up with two pages to summarise what I’ve been up to for the last seven and a half years with social media.  I thought that I’d probably struggle keeping this to two pages and decided it might make more sense to blog and hyperlink to examples in order to answer the seven specific questions I was asked (these are given below with short, glib answers).  N.B. The intention is that these will link to other posts some of which may be private, until I figure out what I can and can’t say, or may not have yet been written.

  1. What have I been doing in relation to social media? Playing, experimenting and trying to understand.
  2. What have I found out? Bits and pieces, all of which is interesting and given the nature of the web all of which needs further follow-up.
  3. What are the positives / negatives?There’s a lot of positives / main negatives are lack of time and scaling issues and measuring return on investment (remember numbers don’t show engagement).
  4. What needs more follow-up? Everything.
  5. What are our students and alumni doing? Lots of stuff in lots of different places, which keep changing.
  6. What appropriate uses are there for social media across the student lifecycle? Loads.
  7. What are the other parts of the university doing? Quite a bit – watch this space.

My problem with this approach is that it’s driven by the tools rather than the goals that we’re trying to acheive and the image on the right shows what can happen when you just do it – original source.

That said, I’m a great believer that in higher education it’s often necessary to work with a rough plan, try it and if it works then later on ask for forgiveness rather than ask for permission.

Most social media projects will fail so it’s worth doing all you can to mitigate against this. It’s important to prepare well and think in the right way and remember that social media is really only the latest incarnation of word of mouth marketing which is something that most universities have relied on for years.

Useful links: and the

N.B. This series of posts will be updated, regularly over the next few months and I’ll be very happy to recieve comments and questions.

April 5, 2009

Bright Shiny Things

Filed under: BTP — Brendan @ 5:43 am

At the moment I’m not feeling all that motivated at work as on June 22nd I’m starting a new job. I still have loads I want to get done before I leave.  What’s making me feel de-motivated is what’s happening, or not happening, in terms of my replacement(s).

I have a close relationship with my line manager and so when I announced I was leaving one of the first things I did with them was to sit down to discuss future staffing. We agreed it probably didn’t make sense trying to find a like for like replacement for my role. Instead she could use my departure as an opportunity to restructure, maybe having two lower graded posts where one had existed before. So we duly put together job descriptions, one was a co-ordinating role for our partners, which would also focus on customer understanding and conversion whilst the other was intended as a much more junior role which focussed on online community management (with management of our online advertising agency thrown in for good measure).

On Friday my boss explained that she’d been given the go ahead by the Senior Management Team to recruit for the lower position only.

I really don’t know what to think of this, other than feeling a little dejected because what I do isn’t valued.

Whilst there definitely does need to be someone with online communication skills within the team (there currently really isn’t anyone else), social media is part of how I get my job done, but it’s a very small part whilst most of our online advertising is now handled by an agency rather than in-house.

I can only think that there’s an element of attraction to the bright shiny world of social media and online marketing, but a misunderstanding of how this world works and how it can be used.

February 4, 2009


Filed under: BTP, Conversations, International Student Recruitment, Social Media, Tools — Brendan @ 12:30 am

Over ten years ago, I remember being surprised when a friend of mine who worked on advertising strategy for one of the fancy London agencies told me that rational argument isn’t that important in advertising, what’s important is pushing an emotional connection. I was reminded of this thought again at the weekend courtesy of @TobyKeeping.

What Toby’s excellent post on what defines a recruitment relationship got me thinking about was the importance of listening.

Why? Well, in order to gain that emotion connection, I need to be able to listen and understand what’s being said or communicated.

  • I need to listen to know what language I should use so that potential students can easily comprehend.
  • I need to know what, if anything, is likely to excite and enthuse or repel the different segments of potential students I’m working to attract.
  • I need to be able to respond to potential students in a timely fashion, especially in a Web 2.0 world.
  • I need to listen to know what’s being said about my brand and intervene when necessary.
  • I also need to listen in order to help provide the guidance and advice that’s needed once a prospects is ready to enter that recruitment relationship.

The listening process has definitely changed over the past few years, especially for prospects. In the past I would have run surveys and held in-depth conversations, often in a face-to-face environment. Whereas today and in the future much of the listening is (will be) carried out using tools like the Social Media Firehose, through specialist Search Engines like Who’s Talkin’, Social Mention via Alerts and RSS feeds, by following people on Social Networks and utilizing existing spaces where comment and feedback happens anyway.

The tools mean that it’s easier to listen at a superficial level, but the understanding or knowledge that comes from the listening process seems to have changed.

What’s more the amount of chatter that is suddenly opened up to us by using these tools is staggering and knowing where to begin is difficult.  At the moment I’m grappling with how I monitor what’s being said and how I aggregate this, report on it and make it all actionable, which leads to questions like:

  • Who should handle a comment about X
  • Is it important that comment Y is floating about on website Z
  • How are leads qualified, assigned and followed up
  • How will any interaction be viewed by the prospect (their influencers)?

In thinking about these questions I believe that this recent Harvard Business Review Article hits the nail on the head. The listening and communicating needs to be done at the front line. Essentially what’s needed is the killer mindset rather than the killer technology.

So what does this mean for me, well I’ve got to get to grips with the tools and do what I can to change things so that the “I” becomes “we”.  What’s more in the university sector the “we” is an expanded “we” – it’s not just staff that need to be involved.

December 1, 2008

You must use our email….

Filed under: BTP, Emails — Tags: , — Brendan @ 10:40 pm

lsesweekemailrepIt’s been just over a week since I was involved in what I consider to be one of the very worst email campaigns ever*, so I thought it was a good time to reflect.

The graphic on the left shows the stats from this email – a week after the email was sent (although the open graph just shows opens on the first day).

Notice how big the mailing list is – 18,000+

And then look at that open rate  <1% – How appalling!

So what’s going on – well let me give a little background.

Up until recently the university didn’t provide email addresses to students.   These were finally introduced with a student portal system at the beginning of this academic year.  This particular email was sent to 18,000+ students at their new university email addresses.  So what the poor open rate really shows is that the student email accounts are not being used that widely yet.

We’ve probably not done enough communication with, or education of students.  Oh well – that’s probably another job for next  week!

* Why the worst email ever – well it’s wasn’t just the poor open rate.  There was also a mistake with a URL in the email (a line break somewhow crept in to the HTML) and it was only noticed that this caused a dud link after the email had been sent.  However it was dealt with very quickly and efficiently by the people at Campaign Monitor who have also promised to update their parsers to ensure that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.

For info, I’m currently exploring whether other ESP’s (Email Service Providers) are likely to be better for my particular circumstances but at this point in time I’d strongly recommend Campaign Monitor.  They’ve just introduced a new interface which I haven’t really had much chance to explore properly yet – although the reporting is looking great and if the WYSIWYG support has been introduced as promised my life could suddenly have been made a whole lot easier.

CRM Nirvana 1

Filed under: BTP — Brendan @ 5:43 pm

This is probably going to be a series of related posts which reflect on how I am taking forward certain database issues, however I think some explanation may be necessary for external readers (anyone but me). Hence this post – although at the moment I’m not sure when the second of these posts will happen.

We are currently waiting for our new student database system to be implemented. We are moving from an obsolete Adabas based system to SITS which is a standard system in the UK for student record management.

Im only really interested in the start and the end of the student lifecycle enquiries and alumni – bizarre but true!

Our alumni are managed from Raisers Edge for which I am the database admin.

Whilst our enquiries system is semi-complicated as it’s distributed. Prospects requests are currently managed from Access but we hold lots of other data elsewhere (predominantly with an ESP).

Anyway today I met with the admissions people to discuss the online admissions process and how I could get this to integrate with our current systems. For various reasons it has taken three months to get a couple of emails signed off and agreement to the changes I have suggested.

What I’m ultimately aiming for is one email list that contains all email addresses with a few status flags to indicate who everyone is to allow segmentation. Sounds simple doesn’t it!