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Making the most of the open web

Three experts discuss how to use the social web to increase traffic to your work and make it more discoverable

What does your web traffic mean to you? Whether it’s the opportunity to start a conversation on your blog, a new audience for events, or a network of social media savvy advocates, your use of the open web is key. We asked three experts in blogging, events and social media strategy to share ways that colleges, universities and other learning providers can increase the eyeballs on their corner of the world wide web.

Top tips – blogging
Brian Kelly

Brian Kelly has published over 1,000 posts on the UK Web Focus blog, with the 1,000th post announcing that Brian was runner-up in Computer Weekly’s IT Professional Blogger of the Year award.

But the blog is not one-way communication, nor simply another way to self-publish. For Brian blogging is an important aspect of the open practice he feels is particularly appropriate for those working in innovative areas in higher education. "Publishing my thoughts and ideas openly on my blog enables me to get timely feedback on new ideas," he explains. “Such feedback can help to gain a better understanding of how new developments in the online environment can be developed for the good of the sector.”

How could blogs form part of the research lifecycle? Brian explains that he floats initial ideas on his blog; these are then refined by the comments and by discussing them with colleagues on Twitter. He crystallises the arguments into papers, which are then peer-reviewed and made available on the University of Bath institutional repository. And so the process of refinement and argument continues.

For every 100 readers, 90 will be lurkers, 9 will contribute occasionally and 1 will be an active contributor.”

But ensuring a strong conversation on a blog requires you to build up an audience for your posts. “The point of a blog is often to change people’s minds – or my mind,” Brian says, referring to the online conversation that is all important. “The 1-9-90 rule has been used to describe engagement in online environments: for every 100 readers, 90 will be lurkers, 9 will contribute occasionally and 1 will be an active contributor. There is therefore a need to build and develop a community if you wish to ensure that there is the critical mass required for the community to participate”.

Encouraging people to comment on your blog in this way not only boosts its usefulness to you, but also allows you to evaluate the success of your posts in a much more authentic way than merely looking at blog stats. You can look, for example, at whether key people have commented, or examine the spin-off conversations it’s sparked on Twitter, although comments on mailing lists and in real life can be more difficult to track.

Brian’s most viewed post ever received 1,420 hits in its first 24 hours, over four times the regular number of views, largely due to its content (the Russell Group on Twitter) and its viral success across the social web. The success of the post also allowed him to interact further with his readership through the many comments posted. Using survey forms to discover people’s views is another useful way to gain a deeper understanding of what the silent readership is thinking.

Read Brian’s most popular post.

Brian’s has many strategies to make sure his posts can be found from many different locations on the web. For example, he uses automated feeds to send out his blog posts on Twitter and Facebook the moment they’re published, and he also registers his blog in online directories to help find new audiences. And why bother? It’s because people can only engage if they can find your blog. Using an open platform like Wordpress ensures the technical end of things takes care of itself – so you can concentrate on starting the conversation.

You can read advice on making the most of the web on Brian’s blog UK Web Focus

Top tips – running a successful hybrid event
Grace Owen

When you’re used to holding an event in a building, with a registration desk and your delegates siging up to collect their names - how can you open up your event and bring in your online audience too? JISC’s Communications Co-ordinator, Grace Owen, shares her top tips on how to run a successful hybrid event.

Top tips – strategy
Steph Gray

Steph Gray is director of Helpful Technology a digital engagement agency working with clients – often in central and local government – to use digital tools and techniques to work more effectively and save money. Steph has been working in digital and e-government for a decade and is former Head of Digital Communications at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

JISC Inform joins Steph over Skype to find out what advice he can give colleges and universities embarking on their first use of digital communication tools such as Twitter and Facebook through to those who are well established and looking for the next new tech trend.

Podcast

Listen to the audio podcast (4:34).

Helpful Technology.

Brian’s tips for growing an audience:
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1.
Have an authentic voice. “People won’t engage with a marketing voice,” he says. “You need to have an opinion.”
2.
Use headlines that intrigue while setting up an expectation which is met by the post.
3.
Adopt a writing style which encourages feedback and comments. People search with the words they speak with, so search engine optimisation can be as simple as emulating this same concise, clear language.
4.
Comment on other people’s blogs and, if appropriate, link back to related posts on your blog.
5.
Have a Twitter account and use it to publish details of new blog posts. “Last year most traffic to my blog came from Twitter and people searching on Google. Without Twitter, many people would not have been aware of my posts, and I would have missed out on the opportunity to get useful feedback”.
6.
Link to other people’s content, especially blog posts. “The importance of citing work is well understood in higher education. However citing blog posts can be particularly important as automatically-generated ‘trackbacks’ can provide links which help to ensure that others can follow distributed discussions.”
7.
Use tags to annotate your posts, but don’t over-use tags. “Tags – or categories – can help to aggregate related content and knowledgeable blog users will know how to subscribe to RSS feeds for categories of particular relevance to them. However adding dozens of tags to a post will diminish these benefits.”
8.
Register your blog in blog directories as this can ensure that your blog is visible in other places. Brian says, “I register my blog with Technorati and EBuzzing. Not only does that ensure that people can find my blog if they search using these tools, they also provide analytics which, if interpreted carefully, can help to identify successful engagement strategies.”
9.
Have a blog policy. The policy should describe the purpose and scope of the blog and the intended target audience. “Make it easy for others to understand what you blog is about. They can then make an informed decision on whether to subscribe to it or not”.
10.
Although Google and Twitter can help people to find your blog and bring knowledgeable users who will subscribe to receive it automatically through RSS feed, remember that many potential readers may prefer email. “Have a link to an email delivery service for your blog posts, and explain to your readers how it can be used.”
11.
Above all, enjoy blogging. Brian says, “I find this much more rewarding than writing peer-reviewed papers which are published many months after doing the work and, in a typically repository, don’t have a social element which makes it easy for readers to respond.”

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