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New Media, New Engagement

In a belated post I had the opportunity to attend this one off conference on the 12th of October. Organised by the CIPR Education & Skills Group this was a one day event looking at the strategic use of new media in Marketing, Communications and PR in Education.

I’d gone along as I was interested to experience the other side of web conferences compared to the bigger events I’ve attended this year like d.construct and @media. Being specifically about the education sector it was interesting to meet some of the other web/marketing teams and see what is happening at the ground level in terms of the ideas and innovations being used on web within education.

Colin Hughes of MD of Guardian Professional gave a good keynote looking at the importance of social networking as a communication tool and made some really good points about creating engaging content and opening up data/resources to encourage a more open and community based approach to marketing.

The Marketing/Web team team at The Manchester Metropolitan University then gave give two presentations about ‘Maximising online communities’ and ‘Communicating the experience’ which formed the basis of a more practical extended session looking at work that they had produced and some other examples from projects across the web.

Things they looked at which I found interesting included the rate my professor website which is a very web 2.0 concept where students can rate their tutors giving an interesting and honest account of the quality of education available across our many establishments.

They then moved on to look at universities using podcasting with the Brunel University podcasts being the best example. These podcasts were launched in September 2006 and are aimed at prospective students who are thinking about going to university and take the format of providing information like audio presentations guiding students through the application process. I thought that this was a really good use of podcasting, engaging students and making the application process more enjoyable and also more accessible to students by providing a quality audio alternative.

Next they looked at the use of blogging with university websites looking first at the Manchester Metropolitan website where they have introduced blogs into their International section. This seemed to give a really good overview of the College for international students providing a real view of University and experience of living in the city of Manchester.
Other examples of universities integrating blogging into there sites included the University of Glamorgan (academic research based blogs) and University College London which have a transition website to ‘help students find all that a first year undergraduate student needs to get started’. This is established by letting students have blogs talking about there honest first year experience at the university.

After a break for lunch the afternoon started with a session titled ‘Warwick Blogs: A case study’ by John Dale, Head of e-lab at The University of Warwick. This was probably the best example of the day for universities engaging with blogging and Warwick are definitely the leaders in this field at the moment.

John spoke about the positive impact of allowing a network of student blogs to exist within the university and looked at aspects like how blogs provides a strong search marketing tool and help give an authentic view of the institution. The statistics point to the success of Warwick blogs with (at the time of writing) 4304 blogs, 77248 entries, 174467 comments, and 102425 images on the site which considering this it is limited to Warwick students and staff seems very impressive. The one thing I did pick up from this though, marketing success/awards etc aside was actually the sense of fun and community that this project had created which I thought was excellent.

The next session was titled ‘Digital Natives – Podcasting for communicators’ and given by Dr Bill Ashraf, University of Bradford who spoke about using podcasting as part of e-learning which seemed to be a very useful tool for delivering course content. This was later followed up by a session on ‘Podcast Technology and Broadcast Media’ by Alan Greenberg (Head of Education and Podcasting for Apple Europe) which was more about practical issues regarding podcasting and the potential of using Apple server technology to implement this (ie. a sales pitch really!).

The last session of real interest on the day was by Tom Abbott, Online Content Editor at The University of Warwick who talked about the universities Warwick iCast project. This project is the creation of an internet video news service as part of the main university website and shows how Warwick have been looking at how they can incorporate this new technology into there communications strategy, really enhancing their ability to engage with there users. Again this site seems to be the first to move into this area and is well worth checking out.

Overall it was a really interesting day and brought home the reality that there is definitely a shift in education with the transition of websites from static information sources to those engaging with users/customers and providing a range of interactive services. This is both exciting and challenging for smaller institutions (like where I work) and businesses but I really believe that the growing ability to connect and engage more with users/customers will make this well worth the effort.

Ben Holliday is an experienced design leader, writer and speaker. This is his blog (started in 2005). You can follow all of Ben's blog posts by subscribing to the RSS feed, or follow him on Twitter for more regular updates.