Tag: user experience

Social media in higher education: Where do we go now?

Social Media1 Comment

The following is my guest blog post for the Higher Education Development Association to be published mid-June.

Social media is everywhere. Particularly in higher education, every institutions home page now proudly boasts a complement of follow buttons from the ubiquitous Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to the fast growing Pinterest, Vimeo and Google+. Matter of fact, some publications estimate as high as 98% of institutions are active on at least one social media platform.

So how are we going?

While it’s hard to make a call on how effectively we as a sector are using social media, it’s a safe bet to assume that most institutions are struggling to understand exactly where it fits into the existing communications mix and what they should be posting which is ironic given the sheer volume of content we generate. The problem is that social media is often treated like another channel, lumped in with television, radio, print and (to a lesser extent) email without much consideration to the seismic change it has had on society, culture and the way we interact with each other.

Social media isn’t just another channel to broadcast messages. It is more than a specific platform but a monumental change in human behaviour.

To illustrate what I mean, consider the students who are the lifeblood of our institutions:

  • They are as old as Amazon and eBay
  • They grew up with instant messaging, mobile phones and SMS
  • They have always turned to Google and Wikipedia anytime they have a question
  • They rely on social networks to stay in touch with their friends and make plans for the weekend

Most tellingly, the way they communicate is in stark contrast to how their parents do. They are no longer ‘locked in’ to a medium but are happy to converse non-linearly across multiple platforms. A conversation that begins in the classroom can spill over onto Facebook and IM before finding its way to a blog a few days later igniting a debate in the comments followed by rebuttal post on another blog. This is accompanied by a back channel discussion on Twitter with complementary photos uploaded to Instagram and indexed using the same hashtag. While this may seem confusing to digital immigrants, for digital natives like them, it is very much the norm.

Free social media

The future isn’t coming; it’s already here.

As a sector, higher education has typically required that people engage on our terms when we are ready. The level of paperwork and hoops prospective students must jump through to study with us not to mention deal with while they’re here sends a clear message: you must do it out way.

For our students, technology and the Internet isn’t something new to be fawned over; it’s been part of their lives as long as they can remember just like electricity, gas and water that’s it’s just expected.

We must take off the kid gloves and fully embrace social media. It must be taken out of development, walled off from the big, bad world and put into production.

In a world where we can pick and choose the mediums we participate, organisations can no longer dictate the rules of engagement. For higher education to continue to engage students and remain relevant, Universities must deliver dynamic, transmedia experiences that respond and adapt to the learning style of each individual student, a la the Khan Academy, or risk alienating future cohorts.

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How To Avoid Creating A Monster

Digital Strategy, Social Media2 Comments

There’s a great quote from Jurassic Park that I’m constantly reminded of. Right after all hell breaks loose and dinosaurs have taken over the theme park, Jeff Goldblum’s character confronts Richard Attenborough’s and says “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Probably should've thought this one through...

Every time when brainstorming, planning or generally creating, I try to reflect on those words to keep things in perspective.

Our natural inclination when designing anything whether it be a new website, campaign or Facebook page, is to cram into it as many shiny new things as possible. You will no doubt be familiar with the incessant tinkering and growing functionality that occurs without a tight scope and good leadership. When you work in marketing or advertising, it’s easy to get excited about what’s new because we all want to push the envelope and stand out from the pack. The danger comes when we push things that little bit too far and  we bolt on more features then necessary that it stops making sense to the consumer and becomes a confusing mess. The secret then is to keep it simple and focused on what matters to our customers.

  • Google destroyed Yahoo, Alta Vista and all the other search engines because it did what it did really well and put user needs front and centre. You type in a keyword, hit search and get back pages of relevant results. No muss, no fuss.
  • The best mobile apps aren’t the ones that try and do everything but are focused on a particular utilitarian task. They don’t try to cram in a whole load of features that might not get used and focus on the cherry on top.

But you knew that already.

The reason why I was inspired to right this post is because of a great book – actually, more like a manifesto – I read by Steve Pressfield, author of The Legend of Bagger Vance and The War of Art. Entitled Do The Work, it addresses the challenge artists face about overcoming internal resistance, putting your head down and getting to work. One of the techniques he suggests to stay focused is to think like a screenwriter or playwright and boil your project down to three acts:  a beginning, a middle and an end. Act One, Act Two, Act Three.

For example, this is how Pressfield explains Facebook in three acts:

  1. A digital commons, upon which anyone who wishes may establish, free, his or her own personal “page.”
  2. Each page owner determines who is permitted access to his or her page.
  3. Thus creating a worldwide community of “friends” who can interact with other “friends” and communicate or share virtually anything they want.

Everything in-between is filler; the tactics undertaken to get from 1-2-3.

Next time you sit down to develop your idea, first try and explain it in three sentences. Having this fundamental understanding of the what and the why could mean the difference between setting yourself up for failure and delivering a successful project in-scope and on-budget.

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