Our searchable species map
Does anyone else feel a bit flat after delivering larger scale projects? That's how I'm feeling a bit now - although there's plenty on my 'to do' list to keep me busy until we launch our next big initiative...

For the last few months we've been working on a complete overhaul of the Research section of our  university website. This was put on hold for a few months due to the response to Covid but since August it's been the main focus of the team. The main rationale behind this was:

  • To update and overhaul how our Research is showcased in line with the new structure outlined by the Vice Principal for Research and Innovation
  • To focus on Impact and better showcase strategic projects in preparation for the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework (REF)
  • To audit, rewrite and standardise all Research pages for better visibility on Google (and how people search)
  • To improve the listings and cross-referencing of projects (by species, location, group, centre and researcher)
  • To better highlight our people and the work they undertake across the institution
  • To better showcase our external partners
We are an organisation who punch high above our weight with regards to both the profile of our research and the quantity we produce. Being a veterinary college means that this is all with a 'One Health' focus. In particular recognising that the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and our shared environment. Our process for the new section was split into six key stages:
  1. Stakeholder interviews: We spent the first few weeks talking to key researchers and external partners to determine what was important for them strategically. This helped us to categorise our research output better, standardise the layout of a project and prioritise what was strategically important.
  2. Audit: We then went through our existing website to find what could be archived, transferred over and given greater prominenece. Our website and socil media analytics data helped us to determine how people searched so we could begin rewriting our content in a more SEO friendly way.
  3. Content strategy: Primarily, this was to allow us to have a sustainable website section which is regularly updated and monitored (not always the case in the past). We prioritised key projects (in line with REF) and ensured on launch every area of the College was equally represented and visually appealing with a mix of text, images and video.
  4. Templating: After creating a new site map we then created templates for different page types (eg. landing pages, projects and listings). We provided training to our researchers on these templates so that they would supply the content in an identical format. This meant the easy creation of tags for group, lab, species and location.
  5. Build: Whilst everything was scoped to be built in our existing CMS we sourced a new solution for our searchable species map. We chose MapMe as it was the most visually appealing and easy to use for editors. Then we created a project map outlining page types, responsibilites, deadlines and whether it was a new page or one being migrated over. It was then colour coded to show progress becoming pleasingly more green as time went on...
  6. Launch - This was a bigger job than anticipated and required a lot of remapping of URLs and Google Analytics goals
The addition of the species map was the main hook of this new section as it was a unique opportunity for us to highlight our global impact as a veterinary college. Internal and external feedback has been great with many researchers now coming forward to have their projects included. 

So, did we achieve our objectives? The first month of analytics is very positive with an increase in visits by 103% and, most pleasingly, the dwell time on the page increasing by 86%. Let's hope we can continue to improve the section and do justice to the amazing work being done across the world!

What's changed for you in the last two years? When before there was a culture of everyone having to be present at their desks for 7 hours a day has your employer now embraced hybrid working? Or has that one individual who previously couldn't insert an image into a Word document now become the company expert on MS Teams?

I'm sure that everybody's workplace has, in some way, been changed by the response to Covid. For example, I'm now in a much more flexible environment that allows me to choose between home and/or office. This means I can maximise what I get done and better fulfill all my out of work commitments. I like this balance as it means I can focus on tasks when at home but enjoy working collaboratively in person. It's very hard to have creative conversations on a video call!

But what are the big changes I've seen in Digital Marketing? I spent 'Lockdown 1' coming up with solutions for online graduations/open days/offer holder days etc. Each one of these has been enough of a success for us to keep certain elements going into the future. For example, running our offer holder days online meant we tripled attendance and catered for people in different time zones saving them a long and expensive trip to campus. 

For better or worse it's meant there has been even more focus on digital solutions for problems. The positives of this are that many employees have upskilled. This has been a necessity as customer expectations have increased too due to more and more time being spent online.

This increased demand for digital skills has meant experienced marketers are much sought after. One recruitment agency I spoke to said that if we weren't offering digital marketing job seekers 4 days a week and only one of those in the office as a package (for the same salary) then there was no point trying to recruit. It's a job seekers market and they need to take advantage where they can. I've had more LinkedIn approaches from recruitment agents in the last 6 months than in the whole previous 5 years!

Alongside this there are also many well documented dangers. The counterpoint to the amount of jobs available has meant there is now worse economic equality as tech-savvy people pull further ahead of those who have less access to digital tools. Big technology firms are now more powerful than ever as the more people are online the more information they gather about society. Finally, there is a vey big danger that misinformation can be more easily spread with lies and hate speech being weaponized in order to propagate destructive biases and fears.

More than ever, we need to be discerning in what we create and what we consume. One of my main lessons from what we have all experienced is that moderation is key. Especially in how much we engage online. I have a hope that digital enagagement will be something that makes life easier whilst not ruling and manipulating people's relationships. The priority should be making slick online experiences which allow people to make up for lost time and enjoy more important human and spiritual relationships. We've all been forced to be at home more, and spend more time with family in the last two years - let's keep it that way!
After a two year hiatus I've decided it's time for me to dust off this old blog and start writing again. So why has it taken me this long? It's not that I've necessarily been any busier than usual - as life with four children is ALWAYS busy. After all, I managed to keep up with fortnightly posts when I was functioning on 3 hours sleep with a newborn...

The best reasons I can think of that I stopped are:
  1. I reached a point in my career where I wasn't necessarily constantly innovating. Instead I was quietly (for me) focusing on strategy and refining/embeding what I already knew
  2. I was trying to get my work/life balance back a bit as I got older. Of course work is important, but nothing beats family time - especially now that my kids are getting older and going to bed later
  3. The world changed forever with the onset of coronavirus. We were all trying to constantly readjust and my unschooled views on the subject would have been a pointless venture in a time when EVERYONE was publishing their opinion
So what has compelled me to start writing again now? Well, living through the response to this virus made me feel almost nostalgic for it whilst it was happening. It's evident that we're living through a time which will be particularly remembered in the history books and part of my reason for writing the blog has always been to document trends and processes. I've also now had time to build a team after a crazy few years quickly readjusting all of our activities to be online (Open Days, Graduations etc.) and leading from the front by doing most of this myself. My plan now is to settle in to being much more strategic and capture the transition.

But mainly I want to ensure I'm setting aside time to write and time to reflect. My role at the Royal Veterinary College is so busy that it's easy just to deliver a piece of work and then rapidly move on to the next. I seldom look at what has been achieved, which over the last few years has been a LOT!

I'm aiming to go back to my fortnightly posting schedule. Watch this space to see if I have the tenacity...!
This year has been rather different for me professionally. It's notable that 2019 has become the first time in 8 years that my team and I haven't won any external awards. I've been the least prolific ever with writing blog posts. I haven't presented at an industry event for the first time in 6 years. I haven't had any kind of big promotion or pay rise and haven't overseen any big flagship projects. I was a guest on my first ever podcast though...

All of this could mean that 2019 could be seen as a bit of a professional failure. So, why do I feel happier and more content than I have for years? Well, I think this comes down to changing my outlook. For instance, this year I've spent more time with my wife and children. I've been enjoying the benefits of a much more comfortable house after completing a large extension project at the end of 2019 and I've moved jobs from a potentially precarious role to one at a thriving educational institution that has so many positive stories to tell.

The latter is possibly also the reason I've been blogging less. As I've been bought in to head up the digital team it means that instead of jumping straight into the flashy, innovative work I've been quietly, deliberately, consistently trying to move the business forward. This sort of thing isn't the exciting work of blog posts and talks but involves integrating legacy systems, developing websites, embedding strategy and planning. But, it's rewarding and ultimately I see it as the best use of my time. It's a quiet sort of revolution but powerful nonetheless.

I've also noticed a decline in the content posted by external 'thought leaders' (argh!) who I regularly follow. This may be partly down to a large decline in the readership of long form posts like this one. At work I see our current social media posts getting much better engagement now we're a lot more concise with our tone of voice. The same can be said for video posts - or those with any type of movement/animation. My current favourite tool I've been trialing to bring photos to life is Pixaloop. This adds a bit of subtle movement to photos but generally sees engagement triple. I must be careful to use it sparingly though!

The reason I think we're seeing less posts on the latest flashy innovation is that digital marketing skills have evolved to be highly valued, and in many cases expected. This means that even those at the forefront are spending more time on refining existing established tools rather than bragging about discovering new ones. Those employees who fail to engage, or proclaim themselves 'not technical', are no longer given the opportunities afforded to those driving change and proving value to the business.

Initially this was a struggle for me in my new job (i.e. not being seen as the oracle) but now I welcome it. It allows me much more time to focus on 'deep work' that adds value to the business and leaves me feeling more fulfilled. I can focus on going back to basics and be clear about who we are marketing to, what they need and how we can actually help them. Turning down the volume and increasing the quality of content like this then proves very helpful in improving our audience's ever-increasing time spent online.

So, as I say goodbye to this decade I'm going to try to continue to replace expectation with gratitude. Ten years ago I had only just entered digital marketing as an industry and I wasn't even on LinkedIn or Twitter! So I am thankful that I've made the progress, and had the experiences, which I have.

Not every year can be a landmark one but as long as you're feeling fulfilled and experience one bit of joy a day it can be time well spent.
Earlier this summer was a first for me as I was approached to appear as a guest on podcast. Danny Seals was someone I met when presenting at the Digital Engagement Conference back in September 2017.  At the time, I was presenting on our new campaign and he was talking about how to use WhatsApp as a Learning Tool.

Since then we've been sharing a few tips with each other via LinkedIn and he has been a great supporter of this blog. What surprised me, after listening to him, was that Danny's background was in Learning & Development rather than Marketing. However, he has realised that Marketing is a sector which has many transferable lessons to help enhance the L&D offer. My feeling here is that Marketing gets the bigger budgets and is generally ahead in terms of measurement and technology from other related disciplines. This is generally down to access to bigger budgets due to being able to prove that Marketing is key to winning businesses in the form of new contracts and sales.

So, Danny has devised the Mindchimp podcast to chat to some of the best people in the industry to discuss what shapes them and their thoughts. In particular, learning and development, experience design, product/service design right through to marketing, communications and corporate culture.

The first series of around 25 episodes had an obvious focus on L&D professionals giving some great insight on their careers and what makes them tick. Then, as a natural evolution, the second series has more of a focus on what L&D can learn from other disciplines surrounding it (i.e. the aforementioned Marketing).

And that's where I got the call! Being on a podcast was to be a new experience to me as I'm usually the listener, on my drive to work, not the guest. There wasn't really any preparation required on my part and it was just a case of booking in a suitable time for a Skype call. Obviously I did listen to a few past episodes, just to get an idea of what I was in for, and found all of the guests to be pretty eloquent! Ouch!

Overall my experience was really good. Danny got straight in there with the challenging questions and quickly put me at ease. I did feel the pressure to answer the questions as quickly as possible so there wasn't any 'dead air'. I think I may have got a bit tired by the end too!

A few weeks ago Danny released the trailer for the new series (it was cringe-worthy enough hearing myself on there) and last Monday he got in touch to say the full episode was being released.

Overall, I am pretty happy that I gave a good account of myself, although the conversation fillers get a bit wearing ('um', and 'obviously' seem to be mine!) The one question I let myself down on was what are the five things that L&D professionals can learn from marketing. A pretty tough question when you're put on the spot (my poor excuse was that I was tired!) So, now I have the gift of time, here's how I should have answered!

1. Find champions - within any business there are people who have the positive influence and mindset to push forward new ideas and help craft new products. Identifying and engaging with them at the early stage of a project is vital
2. Use existing tools for buy-in - there's not always the need to procure a new system to fulfill a need. Sometimes the tools already exist (i.e. Instagram or MS Teams) and will take off faster if users are comfortable and familiar with them
3. Remember you're dealing with people - This is vitally important as in whatever you do digitally it is people who are the ultimate audience. So be as human as possible in the way you talk and write
4. Analyse - It's always easy to spend lots of time on what looks like doing the work. But without spending at least an equal amount of time analysing the results you'll never be able to keep learning
5. Personal projects - to properly stay relevant you need to be experimenting with your own projects. That could be blogging, design, video, photography or podcasting (like Danny!)

There's lots of places you can download the final show, and I'd definitely recommend subscribing and checking out the other episodes too:
And yes, I should have used the stockings as a fishing net!
The other week I was called a digital marketing purist. This was as a result of my recommending that we run a survey in a phased manner on our organic channels to test engagement first. The idea being that we could then see which of our followers are the most engaged, and our greatest advocates, before running any targeted posts. We could also better judge how much we'd need to spend to hit our desired amount and possibly target specific groups that were under represented in the final result.

This isn't the first time I've been referred to as a purist though, and hopefully it wasn't meant as a criticism or that I'm out of touch! What I think the person meant was that what I'm actually doing is ensuring that our all marketing is 'clean'. This is especially important to me as digital marketing can be quite a muddy environment on which to advertise. I'm sure we've all struggled in the past to get full transparency from suppliers and agencies on how something is actually performing. Clarity of impact is very important if we are to learn from, and refine, our strategies going forward.

Sometimes, getting a true measure of success can be difficult, and this is even true of campaigns we're running purely in house (i.e. without any agency support). How accurate are the statistics we're being fed by Google Analytics - and similar - anyway? In revamping our social media reporting I began thinking that some numbers are so huge (tens of thousands) that they are almost meaningless. What really matters is hard conversions which can be directly tracked back to marketing activity.

This 'clean' way of doing things means improving the user experience and having more accountability, so consumers aren’t irritated and our brand doesn’t fear fraud or misplacement. Now that I work for a brand with a very good reputation the last thing we want is for any advertising to appear on sites which are inappropriate, or not in keeping with our values. 

One way in which I haven't been so 'pure' is in the launch of our new events calendar. The cleanest approach to this would be to write a full brief for our preferred solution and then get our developers to build it all in-house. This would mean that everything existed purely in our CMS and we would have full ownership of every element - a long road I've been down before! But in researching various plug-in solutions that are available (to help scope out some features) I found something which already fitted the bill of what we were after.

Tockify is a ready-built solution that took literally minutes to configure. So after signing up for their trial I ran some tests and was very impressed with how seamlessly it all integrated. This got me thinking that if something is already built that works then why try and replicate it? The small annual cost for a solution is literally nothing if you take into account the staff time in briefing, building and testing.
There's also our users to think about. In this case we were looking to colleagues to submit and tag up their own events. Again, if something is already about as user-friendly as it gets then why try to reinvent it?

In fact, we're all using plug-ins all over our sites already. No-one would attempt to build their own website analytics platform to avoid giving Google our data. It's just important to not go too crazy with this and slow your website down!

So, maybe I am a purist after all. There is a lot to be said for keeping things simple wherever possible to deliver quicker results (something I'm still eager to do as I try to impress my new employers) and clearly attribute and track what is working for us and what isn't. 
It seems that I inadvertently chose a great time to start a new job. Back in August I was nicely eased in to a longer journey by it being the school holidays. Then parking was easier as there were no students around. I also got to experience both campuses in the sun! Most importantly though it has allowed me to experience a full academic year from beginning to end as the new students were in town for the Freshers' Fair!

I thought rather than just sample the many food vans and free sweets on offer I'd make the effort to speak to the students first hand. This then became filming some impromptu interviews where I asked about them about their initial experiences. I was amused at how excited many of the international students were about being stood in the drizzle as opposed to being in Hawaii and Florida where they had travelled from!

But their enthusiasm was just so infectious it reminded me of my own feelings, when I turned up on my first day surrounded by animals and a pile of digital strategies to write.

These students were all extremely eloquent and clear on what they would find the most challenging. Again, this reminded me of my own mental list of digital marketing mistakes I'd bought with me to ensure I avoided:

1. Failing to set goals and objectives - Without goals, it's impossible to measure success or identify areas where campaigns need additional support or require a shift in strategy. It will also be difficult to justify future digital marketing investment if progress can't be demonstrated against a set of goals

2. An inconsistent and fragmented brand on social - Years of only minimal governance can result in a variety of social channels that range in quality and consistency of posts. The trick here is to audit, lead by example and provide all of the assets that are needed to succeed

3. Too much focus on organic social presence - With organic reach declining, managing an organic social media presence across multiple accounts can be very time-consuming. The best way to get  a lot of new eyeballs on our brand is with some smart targeting

4. Accidentally competing with ourselves - With a college, a charity and three animal hospitals to market this is a real danger. There needs to be some very careful bidding strategies in place on Google AdWords

5. No forwarding planning on reporting - Retrospective reporting is a dangerous trap to fall into. Deciding what questions need answering before undertaking any activity is essential

6. Too much doing, not enough analysing - Everyone wants to look busy but already I've spent more time revising our reporting structures than posting new content

7. Not being targeted – Even the most carefully calibrated campaigns will fall flat if they’re speaking to the wrong audience. In digital marketing, audience is everything

9. Not repurposing content - cutting content in lots of different ways can ensure we get the most engagement out of everything

9. Underestimating mobile - When working on a shiny new Mac it's easy to forget that the majority of the content is going to be viewed on a little screen.  Mobile must be a consideration in everything your brand does online

9. Not converting web traffic to leads - Whilst Google analytics is an essential tool I'm on a mission to try to cut generic reporting from  our monthly reports. This is because the statistics that matter are the hard leads and conversions from our CRM

10. Not being helpful - The death of any piece of content

Seeing the new students and visiting the hospitals has put my own job into perspective.  By keeping these major missteps front of mind it can save time, money, and stress, and help make our campaigns more fruitful in the long run. 
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