And so continue my adventures in Higher Education and I'm back in the vortex!

Many moons ago, back in 2016, all universities were required to add Key Information Sets (KIS) widgets to their course pages. I remember this well, as at the time, it was a lot of work for us and our many courses. The only sweetener was that the horrible red widgets at least matched our brand colours at the time! These comparable sets of data, about full or part time undergraduate courses, were designed to meet the needs of prospective students as a standard way of displaying this information.

So last week, I get an email from Unistats saying that these require their first major update in 3 years. It's like they knew I was now back! Whilst the technology gets more sophisticated policy doesn't change.

The same is true of the accessibility statements I've been writing for our website. In September 2018 (whilst I was out of the game) the UK law changed for all public sector bodies to adhere to the EU directive on web accessibility. Whilst this doesn't officially need doing for older websites until next September I've been trying to get ahead of the curve and get ours published this month.

The government will be monitoring all public sector websites to ensure we have these published and are clear on what works and what doesn't.

Whilst I'm not a fan of unnecessary policy this is definitely a good thing to ensure that our websites and apps work for an audience with a disability. Importantly, it ensures that my upcoming website roadmap will have accessibility as a key deliverable and is taken seriously. It certainly makes a change from the public sector where budget was a bigger consideration than the usability of the site!

So with all this policy, the challenge is making higher education websites, and campaigns, stand out from the rest. My new favourite parody account summed this up perfectly in a recent tweet:
The really exciting thing about my new role though is that we do have a clear differentiator. All of the cute animals! These are a marketers (and social media managers) dream so the pressure is on to really make the most of this great content. In fact, we have so much potential content that I've been surprised how small the institution is compared with how I perceived it before I started.

So, to not get ahead of myself I've been spending a lot of time putting in some strategy to leverage this all properly. Whether it be the plans for the website, CRM, or intranet, these channels must come first as this is where we drive all of our traffic.

This isn't to say that I haven't had a look at tightening up our social media posts tone of voice, imagery and reporting. This is important to put a marker down on where I think we'll be going in the future and I've also wanted to demonstrate to my new colleagues that I am doing and not just planning! I particularly enjoyed getting involved in some animations for our Clearing campaign and ensuring we had some great posts lined up to drive engagement on #InternationalDogDay last month:

It's hard holding back when the temptation is to try to fix everything at once but setting goals, asking questions and understanding if things are worth doing in the first place and the ways I'm really going to make an impact in my new role.
Four an a half years ago I wrote a blog post outlining my top 5 tips for starting a new digital marketing job.

Now I've left the glamorous world of construction marketing and returned to education marketing at The Royal Veterinary College and many of them still stand. That's right, I'm back in Higher Education and what an amazing place to work it is!

In many ways, after my time away from the sector very little has changed. It's as competitive as ever, there are all the same acronyms and there is still the same amount of policy to wade through. Where I've noticed a difference is in the type of institution I'm working for. For a start, clearing isn't a thing here and the students around campus are massively more hard working, eloquent and intelligent than I'll ever be.

Then of course, there's the animals. Lots of them. In my role I'm responsible for helping market the small and exotic animal hospitals as well as student recruitment. This definitely fulfills my ongoing desire to market something which actually makes a difference to people's lives. The work the professors, doctors, nurses and students do is truly world class.

The hardest bit for me has been going from a job where I understand the business, know my stakeholders and have configured all of the systems, to inheriting new ones. In some ways they're better (all CMS systems have their eccentricities) and in others I'm all at sea.

In my first week, and for the first time in a good few years, I picked up a new system and couldn't immediately get to grips how it worked. This was an uncomfortable feeling and I immediately started to feel that maybe this was the point when I'd lost my touch.

I'm not usually one to pay much heed to the many motivational quotes that are shared around the internet but I saw one the other day that made me feel a lot better.

"I'm not lost, I'm just at the beginning of the journey".

I knew there would be lots to learn in a new job and one of the reasons I needed a change was to be challenged again by people I could bounce ideas off and have healthy debates with. As long as I make positive progress each day then that's enough at this stage.

For now, I'm taking the approach that the best way to learn is by doing. Thankfully I have lots of projects I've either picked up from others, or see the need to instigate myself, in order to do this. The fact I've still got lots of drive and fresh ideas shows I'm not washed up just yet!

The other danger is that I set an early precedent for bad habits like not going for walks or leaving my desk to eat at lunch. The big problem with office work can be that thinking doesn't look like working to others. I've proved this to myself already but cracking a technical problem in my head during a lunchtime walk and having my most productive afternoon's work for ages after enjoying a particularly delicious lunch of beef tacos in the campus restaurant.

So with all this in mind I'm going to make a few promises to myself:
  1. Blog more regularly (writing this has been quite therapeutic!)
  2. Be thankful that I'm being paid to learn
  3. Appreciate my surroundings and the great work of the company I now belong to
  4. Don't spread myself too thinly in an attempt to immediately try and impress everyone
  5. Eat more tacos
At school my favourite subject was English - I remember putting way too much effort into my short stories compared to the rest of my work. I used to enjoy art as well and combined the two by also illustrating every story I wrote. In fact, when I recently discovered my old history books, at the back of the garage, it was obvious that I'd spent more time drawing pictures of Anne Boleyn's six-fingered hand than actually demonstrating what I'd learnt.

I used to continue this at home by illustrating comic books and writing more stories. I sort of still do by continuing to write this blog! I think that part of this is my drive to try to create more content than I consume. But with so many distractions around it's not an easy thing to do. I'm by no means the best writer, or even a very good one, but I do enjoy the evolution from writing for school to writing for business. With the former, I used to finish an assignment and hand it in. Whereas with blogging, I find I can create something and iterate on it with a goal of always improving.

But writing content for the web is HARD. Just because you work in PR, once wrote a book or even have your own blog it doesn't mean you can write web content. I became so bogged down with it during a recent website rebuild project that we decided to brief and outsource it to copywriters. So, here are a few pointers, which I always try to stick by, when writing for the web:
  1. Don't start by thinking about what you want to say but what people want to know. You need to decide immediately on your target audience and identify their pain points.
  2. Think about the purpose of your website/blog and the page you're writing for. Is there something you can offer different to your competition (i.e. some relatable examples?)
  3. Stick to your brand guidelines. Every large business should have a style guide which needs to be adhered to for a consistent tone of voice. It may take longer at first, but writing in different styles (personal/professional) will eventually become easier. 
  4. List and include your keywords. Before writing anything compile a list of prioritised keywords to ensure your content is found. There are lots of different ways of doing this and using social media to 'listen' to your audience in advance is an important one. 
  5. Make your writing visual. People read very differently online. It's important to ensure that you break up sections with sub-headings and lists to avoid reader fatigue. 
  6. Ensure that your content helps visitors through the conversion funnel. Anything you write should engage and involve your readers. This is especially true in blog posts where you want to present an interesting idea and spark debate. 
  7. Edit and proofread and have someone else read your draft. My wife is my long suffering sub-editor! You should also be clear about what you want the reader to do once they've read the article and link to relevant content elsewhere within your site. 
  8. Make sure your article is easily summed up for social sharing. If you focus on keeping your content focused and about one subject this should be much easier.
So it's time for me to publish this post and ensure I've done a decent job of summarising it's content for Twitter and LinkedIn. 

Now I've put myself out there by documenting my process let the stream of social media comments on how badly written this post is begin!
Any business, whether they have an active presence or not, needs to pay close attention to their online reputation management (ORM).

It's very likely people may seek out your reputation before making, buying or entering into contracts with you. If there’s no information online about your business, then whilst this may not be damaging in itself, your brand may not be getting the same coverage as competitors.

But it's not just a case of setting up some social media monitoring, or increasing your focus on public relations. Your brand is constantly being talked about either on review sites, on social media or by getting media coverage.

So what do you do if your online brand reputation suddenly decreases with negative news articles appearing as the top Google results?

Google’s ‘Top Stories’ feature means that if your company are in the news (by high traffic sites news specific sites such as BBC) this is prioritised at the top of any search for your brand for a maximum of 5 days.

There are things that can be done to decrease the prominence of these results and affect the top five listings in Google. Especially as they receive about two-thirds of all clicks from users.
Here are some very quick wins to ensure your own content is ranking well which don't require any additional external spend:
  • All website blog posts and news releases should contain images, which Google likes, to ensure content is ranked well
  • Adding referral links to other pages on your website from your news releases increases your Google ranking - it does not like dead-end pages
  • Where possible, ensure that you are the first to publish any news stories to achieve a better  ranking
  • Track all live mentions on social media, via Google Alerts and a media monitoring tool (i.e. Brand Watch) to tackle any media issues
  • Post content on more contentious subjects and speed up the publication of certain high-ranking news article topics
  • Upskill those publishing content using online tools to do extensive keyword research and web specific writing using tools like Keywords everywhere, Headlines analyzer and Hemingway app to ensure content is ranked better by Google
  • Deliver training on updating LinkedIn profiles to educate the business on optimising their personal profiles
  • For crisis control you can create bespoke webpages which clearly state the issue, are transparent and can provide up-to-date information about the actions being taken
Of course, your social media presence is very important and you should optimise your profiles and ensure you are posting regularly at the very least.

If budget isn't an issue you can undertake Pay Per Click (PPC) activity via Google AdWords to further control what appears at the top of Google searches and relegate the problematic ‘Top stories’ section.

Many B2C brands do this and essentially bid for their own brand name as it also allows them to have sub-links to key parts of their website. Keyword research will show your most searched for terms and the cost per click (CPC) in order to rank first. This CPC is determined by other companies bidding for the same/similar terms and search volumes.

Of course, an essential element of a successful ORM strategy is measuring success. Therefore you'll need to track and report on:
  • Key web influencers which could potentially be targeted to run content with as identified by Brand Grader
  • How paid and organic activity has affected brand sentiment (positively or negatively)
  • If your website traffic has increased meaning more users are visiting for news updates rather than third parties
  • How many clicks you have received on your ads as a percentage of searches (which previously would have gone to third parties)
  • Social media complaint increase or decrease
The key thing to remember is that your brand is being talked about and it's up to you to ensure that these mentions are truthful and positive!
Earlier this year I ventured out of the office in the drizzle, and donned my high-vis, to be given a live site tour. The Bolanachi building in Bermondsey, London is where our Housing Maintenance team are currently working hard to make it fire safe. This includes replacing the exterior cladding and meticulously checking every flat and balcony.

I'm always impressed with the enthusiasm of the teams on these projects. Especially when a well planned and methodical approach is essential. There is the ever-changing nature of a project like this where client and government brief alterations can force changes to the brief and deadlines. Liaison with residents is also very important so that there are no surprises - in this case being comfortable enough to let our teams into their homes.

One particularly striking conversation was when the project manager told us about his operations officer. He said that he was the most trustworthy and productive colleague he had ever worked with.

As usual, this visit got me thinking of lots of parallels to my own (admittedly more cushy) desk job. In particular how we're all trying to do less with more. All of the companies I see recruiting are looking for that individual who will stand out and be different from the rest. Someone like this operations officer who has the ability to cover when another person is ill, or on holiday, someone who is willing to learn if they don't know.

In a recent meeting with our marketing placement student I said that as a manager a really important skill to see in my team is to proactively find and solve problems. Even if the solution isn't perfect it's a really striking skill when most people wait to be told what to do.

We've all had an experience where we've been asked to help, perhaps an elderly relative, with a technical problem with a computer. Whilst it may not be something we've done before, or know how to do, we give it a go anyway, try some troubleshooting and eventually solve the problem. This is a lesson in why we shouldn't shy away from applying for any job which we want!

When recruiting for any role the most important thing to look for is this type of attitude. People can learn how to use software applications which they don't know how to use but it's a lot harder to change their attitude.

As well as this there are also some key skills which I feel make for the best digital marketers:

1. An understanding of the business and what makes the most money

To effectively market a business it needs to be properly understood. This helps when working out on which activities it is best to spend time. Then it's possible to actively prove worth and immediately begin to add value.

2. Not making things look complicated to make you look clever

This is particularly true in digital marketing which can traditionally be seen as an area best left to the technically minded. Taking the time to sit down with your team and show them how things work and why is really important.

3. Happy to be held accountable

Along with problem solving this is an attribute which definitely makes people stand out from the crowd. If leaders demonstrate it themselves then this is the best way to embed this into the company culture.

4. The ability to navigate a complex business

This became more evident to me when working on our website rebuild project. The ability to not get bogged down by internal structures and to simplify and be user focused is essential. There will always be conflicted demands but knowing how everything interrelates (or doesn't!) helps streamline how you work.

With an attitude that encompasses these four points it should definitely make a more effective marketer both as an employee and as someone who has a user-focused outlook.

Now that our revised social media strategy has been rolled out across the company it's time to ensure regular measurement! With planning tools in place, and clear guidance to contributors, it's essential to see if our recommended strategy works in practice.

But with digital now just another part of the marketing mix shouldn't all marketing contributors be able to do the basic of reporting on their work themselves?

Given my role as the in-house digital marketing lead I've always thought of myself as a generalist. By having an understanding of other channels it allows me to grasp a whole marketing strategy and know what we're working towards. There's no way one person could master all 50+ channels anyway! I've been responsible for telling my colleagues or manager how a piece of content written a month ago is performing. That's why in this case I have been responsible for setting clear objectives and then creating/populating a regular dashboard for the team to monitor progress.

The danger of this all sitting as my sole responsibility is it doesn't give my colleagues the power to truly demonstrate their value to the role/company. If others can't, or don't want to provide analysis on the performance on the success of their work how can they show they're contributing to the most basic of marketing and business goals?

Whether a content writer, copywriter, SEO copywriter, or a blogger if you're not reporting on the content you have created you're not fully understanding its success or impact. Therefore, you're also probably not improving and could potentially be held hostage by a single person’s (the reporter's) absence. This is a dangerous place to be in an industry that is becoming increasingly demanding.

In fact, with the majority of jobs piling on the stress most companies are now expecting more from their applicants. They want someone who has the ability to cover when another person is on holiday, or ill, someone who is willing to learn if they don't know. Everyone in this industry must be able to do at least some basic reporting, to show how their content has performed, otherwise they will never stand out from the other hundreds of applicants.

As a generalist, where I need to improve is to not only have a light level of knowledge in a broad array of skills, but a deep knowledge/ability in a single one (or a few). It is natural to crave mastery in the workplace so if I find myself constantly shifting gears between surface-level tasks in multiple practices I will never have the chance to develop the mastery of one particular area.

It might also mean I don't earn respect from experts, leading to a lack of support and push back on initiatives. The level below this being those who have a very deep understanding of one thing (i.e graphic design) and haven't built a basic competence across disciplines. These people then have a hard time building value in a team environment.

The best team members are those who can tackle diverse projects with creativity and agility while maintaining high effectiveness. Only they know enough to implement the knowledge of experts and when to bring them to the table. This is an area I particularly need to work on.

Coming off the back of two big projects (website and a social media review),  has allowed me to begin to recognise when and where deeper expertise is needed and the wherewithal to bring it to bear on my projects. All digital marketers stand on the shoulders of giants.

The web is a vast library of knowledge and tools, instantly accessible, served up by people who dive deep into topics, build solutions and share them with the world (often free of charge). Having the ability to adapt and adopt where I can't build is key. Being an in-house digital marketer without a lot of internal support, I need to focus on cultivating a network of specialists I can turn to when a project fits.
Whilst trying to revamp our social media strategy for 2019 one thing has become clear. That we needed to arrive at a focused list of actionable goals. As soon as we began the research it was obvious that this stage could snowball into a massive project in itself with no defined end or list of recommendations. So, rather than try to solve everything in one foul swoop it made sense to begin testing our main conclusions to then set us up for phase 2...

So what initial conclusions have we swiftly arrived at? During the process of looking at our own social growth last year, and comparing it to competitors, we saw that best practice existed out of sector. We also gained a clear view of which content type and time of day was working. By mapping these content types against parts of the business we immediately came to some quick conclusions:

1. Not all channels were working for us -
this is why we made the decision to retire our Facebook and Instagram accounts. As a B2B business the former was showing no ROI whatsoever in 2018. So why persist with it? With regards to Instagram, this is something we do intend to revisit soon. But, without a clear channel specific strategy it ran the risk of just regurgitating content from other channels. It's a truly visual medium where we need to cultivate a different group of followers and showcase some beautiful photos for it to succeed.

2. Channel specific strategies are essential - By concentrating on fewer channels it means we can address them properly. In some cases we were guilty of using the same content, imagery and tone of voice across all platforms. By looking out of sector I've seen some brilliant examples of how to maximise the use of Twitter in particular. In the next few weeks we'll be putting this to the test as we develop a unique and bold voice with the aim of keeping it simple. We can then quickly evaluate if what our research is showing us is correct.

3. Guidance for contributors - with an increase in employee advocacy we need to be encouraging sharing wherever possible. Sharing good news can be so much more powerful coming from an individual than a company. This is why I've been working on a series of training sessions and documents to help colleagues make the most of their LinkedIn profiles. I'm also deep into writing guidelines for direct contributors to company accounts.

4. Templates for consistency of brand - this guidance document contains lots of good and bad practice examples of tone of voice and emoji usage. I've made a point of referring to the latter as 'iconography' as this should avoid the danger of them being used in a more frivolous manner. We've also identified the top content from the last year which we can signpost with templates to make it visually appealing (e.g. blog posts, awards wins and press releases).

5. Clear objectives and ownership - I've been very careful to ensure that all activity is SMART. With regular review dates in the diary this also means we can get an idea early on if the revised strategy needs adjusting. For each of our channels we have seen the need to appoint local owners who we will support in proving that their account is worth their time and has a clear ROI.

6. Workflow and planning - As a central team we need to govern what is shared whilst still allowing the business to retain this ownership. By setting up tools which allow clear planning posting and approvals we can then oversee the content before it is posted. This helps us educate the business as we go along meaning all of our goals are met.

These are some of the tactics we'll be putting into practice in the next few weeks and we'll be evaluating them as we go. Keeping up to date is essential in any type of marketing so watch this space to see if we find this newly formulated plan has worked or is badly misjudged!
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