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...!
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