I thought I'd take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas! Today is our last day before the holidays and we're working on tying up lots of loose ends and making sure we're fully planned on our priorities for when we get back.

We've got some really exciting projects coming up in the new year (January is going to be VERY busy) so watch this space for regular updates.

To spread a bit of Christmas cheer here's a clip from my favourite Christmas film 'Scrooged' with a very interesting take on Marketing!

Exciting news here at Bedfordshire towers. We've been shortlisted for not one, but two Digital Marketing awards!

The first of these is at the CIM Marketing Excellence Awards 2012. We've been shortlisted in the Education category for our 2012 Digital Marketing Clearing campaign, which was managed in partnership with agency Statistics into Decisions. The award winner will be announced at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London on 6 March 2013.

We've also just had some more good news (especially for a Monday morning) that we've been shortlisted in the CIPR LPS Awards 2012. This is also for our Digital Clearing campaign and is in the Digital Excellence category. The awards ceremony for this will be held in Bristol on 7 February 2013 (admittedly a bit further to travel!)

I was really pleased with all the work and achievements of my team during Clearing and this is testament to the fact that we're ahead of the game and are really at the forefront of Digital Marketing. I'm sure we can keep up the momentum and continue to provide an excellent service and hopefully take home some awards!

Now I have two excuses to dust off the dinner suit...

(Also, a shout out to the Postgraduate Marketing Team and their shortlisted entry at the CIPR awards for their brilliant Postgraduate Life e-zine - we're all looking to a well deserved night out at the ceremony).
December is here so it's now fine to start decorating your house, office or children - well, that's my opinion anyway. SOME have started the Christmas celebrations much earlier... (you know who you are... ;))

The bespoke design off trophy -
actual size!

One responsibility that usually rests with my team is the design of the yearly University Christmas card. This is then signed off by the Vice Chancellor before thousands of copies are printed and sent to all of our many stakeholders, partners and friends. We also build an eCard version of it for staff to send out. We've had some great designs over the past years and we were determined that 2012 wouldn't be any different.

Therefore, we came up with the idea of a healthy in-team compeition - the  Christmas Card Design Off 2012. This involved Mick, Hannah, myself and our other best friend (namely Photoshop...) The winner would then be decided by a democratic 'first past the post' system (i.e. the rest of the MARC office voted for their favourite and whoever got the most votes won).

Despite a bit of cheating on my part (loose deadlines and submitting two designs instead of one) the votes were cast and the winner was Hannah with this brilliant design:

Hannah's winning design showing our Putteridge Bury campus in the snow and some subtle
footprints leading up to it (which are actually the University of Bedfordshire logo)
Hannah was rewarded with the above trophy (which in no way is second hand...)

So, if you've worked with us over the last year or more you'll be getting a lovely printed copy of Hannah's design through the post in the next few weeks. I won't showcase the losing entries here yet - who knows, we might try re-submitting them next year?!
We're always looking at ways of making our site easier to navigate and from looking at our statistics it's clear we get a lot of traffic from our red bar navigation. Therefore, we thought it was time for a reappraisal of this to help our users navigate quickly and effectively.

After lots of trials we settled on completely rebuilding our drop downs. These drop downs enable users to take a shortcut to the page or sub-page they are looking for, while also giving us a chance to link to key documents and events which we feel need highlighting.
From a design perspective, we felt a drop-down menu allows a ‘busy’ layout to be tidied up (and our site is over 11,000 pages!), with all of the sub-categories hidden away awaiting a mouse-over. Firstly, we needed to think about the action that users need to take to activate drop-down menus and decided that they would only show when clicked. The advantage of this is that the menu remains in place whether the cursor remains in the area or not. This therefore removes one potential source of frustration.
The 'mega-menu' on our new
International landing page

The next stage was to focus on the content and this was the most time consuming part of the process (which it should be!) We ran an audit of our most searched for/visited pages and cross referenced this with our key messages to ensure that we are guiding our users both where they want to go and to what we want them to see. This gave us our large range of links in related groups. We then authored a number of headings to group them together and put them into relevant column layouts.

The important thing here was to not offer too many options, save extra clicks where we could, and make sure we did plenty of testing (both with users and with different browsers). From this we also decided that our 'mega menu' would span the entire width of the page allowing it to be much more tidy and easy to read.

Our final big consideration was how this would work on a mobile device. As our site is responsive (and after lots of testing) we decided to avoid clutter and to focus on keeping it simple. We felt it would be easier if these long menus did not display at all on the smaller devices (i.e. smartphones) as too much content on smaller screen sizes regulated our main content.

So there we have it! The 'mega-menu' is now live and we'll be continuing to monitor the stats very closely to see if they've had the desired effect before developing them yet further...
It's Hannah here - it's been a little while since I contributed to our team blog, partly because Paul has much more interesting things to say, and partly because I have been out and about all over the campuses trying to coordinate the filming of a new University film!

I guess those of you in the know will be experiencing a sharp intake of breath at the mere thought of seamlessly organising four faculties, 19 different academic departments, a Students' Union and more than five locations - but actually this time around it is all going pretty well (famous last words...) I have a lot of 'virtual' contact with students via social media, which is one of the best bits of my job, and it's been good to get out of the office and to talk to some of our students face to face!

Under construction: the new PG Centre
I first worked on this project in 2010, just after I joined the Uni, and I suppose this time I know more people, have more friends in different offices and, most importantly, we have even more to show off. The new accommodation has opened, the PG Centre is almost finished (see photo from the tour I managed to wangle my way on to) and we have a number of new facilities that should make for a great visual spectacle (fingers crossed!).

What's more, we're working with a company who really seem to understand what Bedfordshire is all about and be enthusiastic about promoting what's on offer here. After a number of promising meetings with some very good production teams, we opted for Spectrecom for a number of reasons - including an additional angle on filming which we're really looking forward to seeing in the first edit! (More on that in future blogs...)

Video is undoubtedly one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal (the last version of the film had over 25,000 views in less than a year) but I think it can sometimes be difficult to approach it in an analytical 'marketingy' way. For this update project, we are focusing on the role the film will play in our wider conversion strategy, in terms of social engagement, online PR and mobile marketing, and the metrics by which we will judge its success as a project.

In other news, I have also been writing our submission for the CIM Marketing Excellence Awards, which gave me a chance to really interrogate the part social and video had to play in our clearing campaign, and produced some interesting findings to inform our campaigns going forward. So, we'll keep you updated and hopefully all our hard work will be rewarded with a night of celebrations on 6 March next year...watch this space!   

As well as our main University website there are a number of other sites which the Digital Marketing Team look after. The first is our staff intranet (in.beds) and there's also the dedicated Library website which is managed by their Web and Publications Officer.

We also have 45 individual micro sites (or 'project sites' as we call them). These vary in purpose, with the majority of them promoting various conferences and University funded projects. They are all setup and monitored by us and then the relevant authors are given access to go in and add content, which we approve.

Since our new website launch last year they've kind of been neglected so we felt it was about time we had a proper look at bringing them up to speed. so, the first thing we did was... Audit!

This threw up some very interesting results, especially with regards to the amount of page views and user engagement. Therefore, we decided that the first thing we needed to do was liaise with our authors to close the sites that weren't getting hits and prioritise the most visited ones.

It's always good if you can backup arguments with solid evidence, and the stats provided by Google Analytics have proved invaluable when undertaking with authors about possibly closing their sites.

The work has now begun on re-styling them all and we're really pleased with how they're all going to look. The new style is in keeping with the main site and now allows individual banners to be added. There's also loads of options to customise each site differently with 5 colours and various social media integration options.

Take a look at our Tilda Goldberg Centre site for a sneak preview of how they're all going to be looking as we roll out the new, refined design.
Last week I was asked to give a half hour presentation to our Marketing and Communications teams. The focus was to be 'Social Media do's and don'ts' and it was intended to touch upon what we are currently doing as a University, as well as looking at best practice in general.

This was actually a pretty wide brief, so I had a few problems condensing it down to the allotted time! The presentation itself went really well and there were also some great questions and debate afterwards from the audience.

The plan is, that this should kick off our crusade in the Digital Marketing Team to increase staff engagement with Social Media. We're also planning on running regular technical training sessions in the future, which will tie in with the publication of our revised Social Media guidelines.

Take a look at my (abridged) presentation below. We'll be publishing the full version (with audio) on our internal staff site soon:

Our Clearing 2012 website section
Phew! It's been a hectic few weeks at the University - especially for my team, who have been heavily involved in Clearing. This year, we were expecting students to take a more measured approach to choosing their places, and although it has been a slightly slower process, things have been very steady. After the launch of our Clearing site section on 16th August we were poised for a lot of visits but had no idea quite how busy our site would become.

Digital Marketing is definitely not a sector where you set up the campaign and sit back to see how it runs - it involves constant monitoring and refining... and that's what we've been doing!

We've also been involved in a number of other marketing avenues during this time, including some of the following (which you may have come across):
    An example of some of the daily
    statistics provided by SiD
  • Google AdWords
  • Facebook campaigns
  • Telephone monitoring
  • Daily YouTube videos
  • Audio adverts
  • Online chat
  • Progress reports for the Clearing room
  • Website MPU, skyscraper and leaderboard adverts
What has proved particularly useful for us is constant benchmarking on which campaigns have been driving the most traffic. This year, we've enlisted the help of SiD (Statistics into Decisions) to help us, and they've done a truly fantastic job of collating all of our data and turning it into something meaningful where we can see what is working for us, our prospective student's overall journey, and exactly where, why and how an application to us took place.

So what exactly were our findings? Well, firstly, Google AdWords is a very powerful tool indeed, and drove massive amounts of traffic to our site. I'd recommend any serious Digital marketeer who has not already done so to take part in Google's Certification programme to find out how to fully make use of it. Also, Facebook has proved itself to be invaluable (especially the targeted advertising). We've seen a massive rise in our Twitter interactions this year too which has started to highlight to others at the University the importance of a fast, friendly and accurate response to queries.

Like I said, it's been a longer process this year, but a very rewarding and successful one. Courses have been filling up fast and we are now down to just having a few places still available. We're looking forward to using our findings on this campaign to inform what we do next year so we can continue to market ourselves to the right people. The power of social media is becoming increasingly evident, along with the amount of website visits being made from mobile devices but what really matters is the content people arrive at at their journey's end.
Here in the Digital Marketing Team, we don't just concentrate on improving our website. We also take responsibility for setting in motion all of our Digital Marketing Campaigns and look after the University-wide social media provision.

This week we'll be taking part in a very significant event in the Higher Education calendar... Clearing! This really kicks into gear immediately after exam results are published (this year that'll be Thursday 16th August). Clearing helps applicants who have not secured a place at university or college, for whatever reason, to find vacancies on higher education courses. We'll all be banding together to make sure we offer the best service possible to students wanting information on joining our courses in September.

Posters depicting our three key messages
Our Marketing campaign this year focusses on three simple, key messages - the job opportunities available to graduates, the financial support and our great facilities. The print advertising we'll be running across the county is quite minimalist and aims to direct people at our website - and here's where we come in! The Clearing section of our site contains all the information students need to get in touch with us and we'll be updating it daily with key content. This will include: an up to date list of the courses we're still recruiting for, FAQs and links to our accommodation and campus tour pages. We'll then feature new interviews each day with students who have come through Clearing themselves, like this one:

We're also running extensive UCAS, Facebook, Student Room and Google AdWords campaigns as well as a Spotify audio advert so I'm sure you'll see us somewhere online in the next week!

We'd like to encoarage all potential students to also speak to us via our Twitter feed which we're relaying into our Clearing room via the great little online tool Visible Tweets. This will keep our operators up to date with what's going on.

Of course, the great thing about Digital Marketing is how easy it is to track, and this year we're really stepping up a gear. I'll be providing daily reports of the digital and print campaign's effectiveness. This in itself is a massive project, so will no doubt have a Blog post of it's own in the very near future. In the meantime, all the best for those of you who are getting your results on Thursday. Remember, we're here waiting to talk you through your options and next steps!
Now our website has been live for almost a year it's time to properly start analysing our statistics, look at tweaking the design, do some user testing and really look at how we can improve it yet further.

One of the main and most used features on our homepage is definitely our course finder:
All of our courses at your fingertips!
A lot of development and testing has previously gone into this and we've been working with the team at Funnelback to make it a really user friendly search solution.

This led us to looking at the one big issue we have - being a multi-campus university (five in total) displaying related courses in the search has proven very difficult at times. At one stage, all courses with the same name but at different campuses yielded the exact same results. For example, a search for 'Accountancy' bought up five related courses also all called 'Accountancy' - with no indicator they were different! Definitely not the best for students weighing up the options of what to study...

That's more like it!
Well, finally we have a solution! Using the content collected from SITs (our student record system) our clever little course finder can now display the campus as well as the course title in the related courses section. This makes it much more intuitive, gives the user a much more tailored experience and helps them easily navigate between courses.

So there you have it, related courses that really are related. We think the styling looks nice too, and this is just the first step. We already have a project spec written up to improve the tabbed site search and include our many YouTube videos in the results - we have all the great and up to date content so why not use it?

Watch this space for many ongoing developments. It's an exciting time for the University of Bedfordshire website...
Fun, true...and can be used to cover up 'to-do' lists
A quick intro, as this is my first go in the team blog - I'm Hannah and my role in the gang is digital marketing assistant, sweepstake coordinator and deputy pod tea maker. We'll be taking it in turns to share what we have going on, and from me you can expect ramblings mainly around social media and video. But I'm starting with yesterday's inagural European Users' Summit, where Paul and I joined a 100-ish strong group of Squiz and Funnelback clients and staff. Despite fate (and broken ticket machines at Hitchin) conspiring against us, we arrived just in time to grab a cuppa and a pastry courtesy of the amazing hospitality team (shout out!) at the very grand English Speaking Union.

We'd decided beforehand to take the 'Design and Technology' track in the morning and 'Web Solutions' in the afternoon. Design and tech sounded really fun, and allowed us to be geeky without fear of mockery from our colleagues! And web solutions speaks for itself - if you work in HE you'll know where we're coming from there! There were plenty of familiar faces from the Squiz London offices presenting, and it was also good to hear from John-Paul Syriatowicz, the MD from the Australian offices in the keynote presentation.

So there was loads to learn, plenty of people from other unis to meet and lots of new products to find out about (credit goes to Squiz for not plugging them too heavily!)

Highlights for me? Aside from Matt's declaration that "your finger is not as pointy as a cursor!" when discussing the challenges of designing for mobile, there was a great runthrough of Squiz's Roadmap system, as well as a demo of Edit+, which by the looks of things could make a big improvement to how easy colleagues around the University find it to edit their own content.

But the most enjoyable and relevant part was kept until the end of the afternoon session, where Dave the Trainer (as he is always called here) ran through using HTML5 for Matrix forms and covered off the main differences between what is currently supported by each browser. We definitely picked up some tips that should improve our forms, which is pretty important to us given that form submission is one of our main response channels, in terms of registration for open days and recruitment events, requests for prospectuses, and registering of interest in future courses.

One last extremely important part of yesterday, the I ♥ Web and I ♥ Search competition - which, as you can see from the below, was won (with our loyal support) by Duncan, who I was sat next to, and who shamelessly stole all our jellybeans in his bid for victory. (And he never even shared his champagne prize...!!) 

Last week I had the pleasure of flying up to Edinburgh for the Institutional Web Managers Workshop 2012. This was the first time I had been and I was looking forward to seeing how my counterparts managed their websites and teams at other universities. The venue and catering facilities at Edinburgh University were top notch, which made it much easier to concentate on the seminars and plenary talks which all seemed to have one overriding theme...Responsive design!

I was very pleased to hear that we're ahead of the curve on this one and that our website is on a very select list of seven HE sites which all go some way to being responsive. 'Responsive' is basically where a website resizes itself depending on the size of the browser in which it is being viewed - wheter it be mobile, tablet or desktop. One presenter went as far to say that this will be the standard for all websites in the future, and with our personal  usage statistics showing a sharp increase in mobile visits it looks like this will definitely be the case. Some even thought that in the future we may be designing for mobile first!

There was also much food for thought around having a content strategy ("Content is data. Store it. Catalog it. Share it. Present it visually. And re-use it"), dealing with social media ("can we justify our website in an era of social media?"), app development ("Apps are for tasks. The web is for content") and how to manage content management systems. I had some very interesting talks with other universities who are also using Squiz Matrix and made plenty of notes for future developments.

The main message was that it's important we are constantly developing, looking at our statistics to inform our next direction and, most importantly, making sure we have quality content.

All in all, a great three days and a much longer 'to do' list...!
So here we go...

(L to R Hannah Park, Paul Fryer
and Elisabeth Coughlin at the CIPR
awards 2011)

My name is Paul Fryer and I am the new Digital Marketing manager at the University of Bedfordshire. I've actually already been here for five years as the Web and Publications Officer in Learning Resources so I already have a good understanding of how things work at the Uni!

The idea of this Blog is to post details of any latest developments we're working on or are planning as a team or department. I'm very fortunate to have inherited a fantastic team (who hopefully I can coax to add some posts on here themselves in the future!), they are:

Elisabeth Coughlin - Web Editor
Mick Hart - Publications Officer
Hannah Park - Digital Marketing Assistant

So there you have it - let the Blogging begin! As this is our first post I'm going to be a bit self indulgent and briefly mention the silver Heist award I won with my old team for 'Best Internal Communication campaign'. It was a great night at the Queens hotel in Leeds and hopefully will be the first of many more accolades for us here at the University.

Next week I'm off to the Institutional Web Management Workshop 2012 so hopefully will have some interesting updates to share from there...
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