Mark Higginson

The web is a social artifact
Here is a selected collection of related items


14 August 2014

Advertising university Clearing via social platforms.

Today was A-Level results day which also means Clearing – the process by which students without an offer contact universities with space on a course they wish to study. By the afternoon it's largely all over. The whole process of university application, governed by UCAS, makes for a highly constrained set of circumstances as students check their results and, if necessary, see who has courses available.

From a marketing point-of-view it's interesting to think about the psychology of the individual going through this process. Above all you need to be helpful, sensitive and treat them as more than a set of grades and a warm body to place on a course. From a social platform perspective it's important to remember that Clearing is irrelevant to the majority of followers of a university's page.

My favoured approach is to provide relevant information, i.e. the number of the Clearing line for anyone happening by our social profile on the day. That's it. On Twitter I share the occasional nice tweet from excited students who are glad to have their place confirmed. The reason is simple – an emotional response from someone on such an important day is good to share and a reminder for a good proportion of our audience of their own results day, as they are or have been students themselves .

Spamming your own stream is a no-no. The University of Sussex were posting course-specific entry requirements to little or no response:

I very much doubt people are using Twitter to search for available courses. A test would be to create a campaign based on this keyword with the objective of a 'website conversion' or 'leads on Twitter'. You'd then keep these tweets out of your own timeline and could properly measure the reaction.

As a general rule I only 'speak when spoken to' when representing the institution. Barging in is poor etiquette, as we can see here:

If you do this enough times it's bound to go wrong:

... and you end up with your best performing tweet of the day and appearances on Buzzfeed and The Huffington Post.

This was even worse:

Ultimately one should consider when taken as a whole whether this both best represents the institution and whether it's effective at helping students find a suitable course on which they'll be happy. I'd suggest not. In my opinion Sussex get the tone wrong.

For an event such as Clearing paid advertising gets the best results without requiring a huge budget as your goal is to gain significant reach within a limited time frame. The other advantage is that it keeps these specific messages away from your existing followers and, through targeting, hopefully reaches relevant people.

It's also important to remember that social media provides a supporting role among many other factors influencing a decision. This year we led with a short film made by two students which was a low-key look at life in Brighton. It conveys a sense of mood and place and has nothing to do with grades and league tables. For the right person it implicitly communicates that Brighton is a place that would suit them. For the prospective student considering their options it's a nice way of putting the university forward without a hard sell.

This film was combined with a few sponsored posts and promoted tweets pointing people to our main site. Overall our campaign needed:

Around 15,000 people interacted with things we created and posted to Facebook, Twitter or YouTube and each was linked by the 'living here' theme. Given the limitations on our ability to directly target people in Clearing and having to use the proxy of age, other interests, etc. when creating our adverts this was a good result.

I generally dislike 'awareness' as an objective as it isn't immediately measurable but where specific content is available it can be useful, especially in the run-up to a specific event, hence the use of the video in conjunction with other activity in this case.

Typically I regard 'paid social' as the unspeakable in pursuit of the unmeasurable as this activity is very traditional in its nature, even if the mechanism is different. To my eyes this isn't social media as none of this is peer-to-peer sharing; it's advertising using data people have either explicitly or incidentally made available to the social network whose advertising functionality we happen to using.

Interestingly this thread on reddit worked very well: Some UCAS/Uni Advice with 82,000 readers, around 400 users on the thread at any one time and several hundred comments.

Let me know what you think on Twitter


11 August 2014

I was starting to be haunted by a feeling that the world itself was so weird and so rich in cognitive dissonance, for me, that I had lost the capacity to measure just how weird it was.

William Gibson on Why Sci-Fi Writers Are (Thankfully) Almost Always Wrong

A Gazan teen live-tweets being bombed by the IDF to tens of thousands of followers on Twitter.

A Russian soldier's geotagged selfies place him inside Ukraine during a time of increasing instability.

A militant group using their social media followers to intimidate the population of a city on which they are advancing.

A team of civilians operating a 1970s NASA satellite out of an abandoned fast food diner.

The future is here and is being distributed whether we like it or not.

Let me know what you think on Twitter


10 August 2014

As you can see, nearly everyone who visited my site came for the original image, maybe scrolled once or twice through others in that set, then left.

Things I Learned After My Photo Hit #1 on Reddit, and Why I Probably Shouldn’t Have Posted It

This highlights how a photo of Mount Fuji posted to reddit resulted in thousands of visits to the original photographer's website. No one looked at anything else. No one bought a print. They came. They stayed for that one page. They left, never to return.

I've seen this happen loads of times myself. A post goes up on a popular hub site that undoubtedly has a huge readership. There is a nice link back to a client's blog or similar and a good reason to click. The result is a few hundred or thousand referrals. No repeat visitors. Essentially worthless given the effort involved.

Welcome to the world of content marketing and an industry totally at odds with the reality of how attention works on the web.

Let me know what you think on Twitter


07 August 2014

Attention is like weather.

These tweets from Mat Honan are completely true. To my eyes attention on the web is like a weather system. There are larger forces making it all work that while we can grasp the fundamental rules the subtleties of all this in effect lie just outside our ability to predict what might happen.

This is why I rail against posts with titles like these:

Ain't gonna happen.

I need to invent a neologism – something meteorological applied to the study of network effects on the web that expresses the seeming randomness of it all.

Let me know what you think on Twitter


05 August 2014

We have seen a huge increase in Facebook traffic, an area where we hadn’t been focusing. It had previously been all about Twitter. Journalists are all on Twitter, and obsessed with it, so that is where the energy had gone. An assumption had been made without looking at data.

Facebook and fewer stories behind rise in web traffic, says Telegraph chief

Remarkable. Facebook has over five times the active user base of Twitter and yet the Telegraph Media Group's editor-in-chief says they didn't look at the data. I would also worry that he seems to see the two as equivalent; if you chase 'traffic' your thinking narrows to the point of only seeing the numbers. Yet he also states "the goal is to maintain a quality product". This is contradictory in so many ways, not least of which is the equating of 'journalism as product'.

Let me know what you think on Twitter