As I pause for breath after a frantic week of Clearing activity it's time to play a bit of blog post catch up. It certainly has been a case of hitting the ground running and getting involved in every part of the campaign one way or another (not just the digital marketing mainstays of PPC and website analytics).

One big stand out event this week was Wednesday's campaign launch led by a forty person strong Flash Mob in the Luton Mall:

This proved a great success (particularly on Facebook) and the effort to organise it from our Marketing team cannot be underestimated! Personally, I'm a massive fan of any sort of activity that gives us the opportunity to differentiate and stand out from the crowd. I'm sure that we're not alone in that our senior management are reluctant and nervous to try new things like this that could potentially harm the brand or fail together. However, in my opinion a much more risky strategy is to not take any risks at all. This sort of thing motivates staff in the marketing team to really enjoy their jobs and not get stuck in the drudgery of repeating the same tasks year in year out. You only have to look at companies who were scared to move with the times to see what effect the former can have (Blockbuster video anyone...?)

Results day is is when most university
marketing departments come alive!
Another lesson we learnt from this is the importance of reacting quickly and riding on the wave of any current buzz. By getting the video uploaded pretty much immediately we were able to capitalise on the conversation that was already taking place and maximise the viewing potential - plus we're giving people the content that they want to see.

Our Market Research manager has a theory that Clearing is where universities really come alive and try their best to stand out from the crowd. I've definitely seen this with some innovative examples by our competitors to try all sorts of new and improved tactics such as personalisation (e-cards), student engagement (submit a selfie), informing and helping (infographics and animations), customer service (24 hour phone lines), distinctive positioning (TV/cinema advertising) and using current students as ambassadors.

However, there are also some examples of when this increase of activity can go horribly wrong if you don't have the resources to sustain it. Anyone who has been monitoring Clearing conversations this week would have seen two such examples of when social media campaigns can go wrong (mainly due to the use of automated Tweets). One such example is below:
This 'automatic' response set up for the Sheffield Hallam President SU became the most retweeted item on the first day of Clearing and was retweeted over 837 times with over 1,600,000 views. Personally, I have never been a fan of auto responses (despite some agencies recommending them to us) and the above is testament to why!

The fifth most retweeted item on results day (over 200 times, with half a million impressions) was also was picked up by mainstream media like the Huffington Post, pointing out both Sussex and UEA being caught out:
These funny but potentially damaging mishaps totally dominated the conversation on Twitter for day one of Clearing. Needless to say there will be a review of the social media policies/guidelines at these three universities!

The reason we were able to pick up on these immediately was due to our increasingly sophisticated media monitoring system which has been built for us by Statistics Into Decisions. This year we get live dashboards of which Tweets are picking up the most traction on a national scale for every UK HEI.

Terminal 4's Digital Marketing trophy?
By doing this we learn vital lessons for our next campaign and also can stop any negative conversations picking up traction. We also use it to optimise our website based on browsing behaviour and track phone calls next to location to marry up any potential leads.

It looks like we're in it for the long haul but at least we got some great external recognition for the team's hard work over at the Terminal Four HE blog. I wonder if that's a real trophy in the picture...?
So for the first time in two years I missed a scheduled Monday morning blog post! Could this mean I'm losing interest? Of course not! A week's holiday got in the way but now normal service resumes.

"On your marks, get set..."
From the look of my diary that week away is going to prove essential as the first week of UCAS Clearing awaits. Whilst some teams produce the majority of their work in the lead up to Clearing our Admissions team and us are poised on the starting line like Formula 1 drivers. Let the annual Social Media onslaught and PPC bidding battle commence!

In the lead up to this I've also been completing all five of my staff reviews. Personally I feel that this is one of the most important parts of the job as without the properly trained and motivated staff the company is going to suffer. They're also vital for formally recording all the great achievements of the team and also for requesting any external staff development - after all, if you're not continuing to learn at work then you risk not reaching your full career potential.

An important aspect of a good appraisal is that nothing discussed by the manager should be a surprise to the employee. If you surprise a staff member during an appraisal meeting, you have not communicated well in the weeks or months leading up to the meeting.

However, a bad appraisal system can have the opposite effect. I was once part of a company where the staff reviews were geared solely towards the teaching staff and required three 'observations'. The issue here was that not only did it make support staff (professional services) feel they were second best but that it was unrepresentative of how everybody worked. I distinctly remember spending 30mins watching someone use a photocopier so we could add a tick next to it on their form!

When appraisals go bad!
I also agree that the most effective and credible feedback an employee can get is from the work itself. If the manager is not respected, it is usually dismissed as inaccurate. The odds of negative feedback improving performance are much lower than the odds of it disengaging the employee. I myself know from experience that the most satisfaction I can get from work is seeing an idea that I developed flourish and really excite the office about the prospect of it being part of the campaign (and then succeeding!)

For us, working in Digital Marketing makes target setting relatively easy as it can be locked down to actual quantifiable data (e.g. increasing website conversions). These targets should also be put into context as employees need to know how their day-to-day work contributes to the organisation's success. That's why it's important to cascade down the company's vision.

Managers should also praise and reward good performance as it happens, and deal with problems as they arise. If they do this, performance appraisals will be a simple, straightforward task that serve to recap what they and their employees discuss regularly. One thing I'm planning on doing better this year is now following up these reviews, and following employees' development throughout the year.

Another way of monitoring success is of course my old favourite - external awards! One way of sweetening the pill of being back to work at our busiest time was the news that we were again shortlisted for the Anglia, Thames and Chiltern region Pride Awards 2014. This is again for last year's cinema advert in the category of 'Best Integrated Campaign'.

The real challenge here will be deciding whether or not to attend the ceremony on 7th November in Cambridge or my potential IDM graduation on the same day in London! Maybe I could making a flying visit to both!?
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