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Who is in charge of selling UK Higher Education to the world?

In these days of anticipated national decline – even fragmentation – it is good to be reminded that there things the Brits are still good at, beyond Royal celebrations, the BBC and national surveillance cameras.

One such is the UK higher education sector which consistently ranks highly in world terms and is a destination of choice for many international students. Yet there is evidence that this sector could without attention, atrophy and fragment, especially in the area of recruitment.

This was brought home to me at this weeks’ BUILA annual conference held at the University of Glamorgan, where Sociagility’s very own Niall Cook (left) was invited to present on the subject of Social Media ROI.

The opening address from guest speaker Dominic Scott of sister organisation UKCISA set the scene and posed the key question : who is in charge of making the UK THE destination of choice for international students? His own answer was : no one.

As he and other speakers observed, what is in place now is deeply fractured: British Council, UKCISA, BUILA, individual institutions and recruitment consortia. And amongst the latter, a wide variety in mission, capability and resources and, even when well set up , liable to collapse. A case in point is, ironically, the industry-respected Wales International Consortium, which has just been cashiered after three years by the principality’s Vice-Chnacellors. Partly, it seems, this is because of the University of Wales accreditation scandal of last year.

And with quality issues raised by other failures in the purely private part of the HE sector, fragmentation has reputational impact. Is there a need for a regulatory framework ?

What all these groups agree on is that the current Govt policy on visas, driven by political considerations , has created a difficult , negative framework for recruitment. They cite lack of clarity, confusing regulations and occasionally inconsistent application by the UK Border Agency, itself in some turmoil.

From an outsider’s perspective, the sector does seem to be in part its own worst enemy, riven by differing academic viewpoints, sectoral politics and hierarchy. All now accentuated by increasing competition.

But surely this is one sector where some application of the massive collective brainpower available, backed by a sensible, consistent, supportive Government policy framework could allow proper coopetition and a winning UK strategy?

 

 

 

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Google knowledge graphs – infographics will never be the same again

The Googlemonster’s unveiling of its new ‘Knowledge Graphs’ makes perfect strategic sense for them and their finances. And it also makes huge sense for anyone trying to conduct a sensible search these days and get real value.

Since search became the dominant knowledge acquisition paradigm in the late 1990’s, there have been attempts to find some ‘meta’ search method. This usually involved parallel search and subsequent disambiguation – anyone remember Mamma?

But the huge power of Google and the simplicity of presenting results ranked by relevance to the search query largely made those attempts pointless – until recently.

The WWW set information free and made possible the inexorable process by which all human knowledge moves online and is created online – a huge attractive force like a reverse black hole. The volume of information is already overwhelming and growing exponentially. It’s all too much. So today, searching for anything is like trawling the top centimetre of the ocean for fish – you’ll get a meal but did you really find the best you could get? You won’t know unless you read x millions of individual results.

So Google attempted to create context by using algorithms to refine and prioritise the presentation of results based on prior user behaviour. But that has obvious conceptual limitations: finding the right type of information for me NOW is not necessarily optimised by what I searched for before, especially if I am searching for something entirely new.

The new knowledge graphs approach the problem from the other end by effectively offering a form of visual multiple choice. By doing so they bring back again the serendipitous joy of search , finding information you never knew you wanted – and connexions which you never knew were there.

They also re-introduce the whole idea of visual search – an idea which Microsoft’s Bing and newcomer* FidEq have also looked at as a more natural way for visually programmed humans to filter large amounts of information in pursuit of understanding. Before language there was sight.

Infographics will never be the same again – I hope.

* Disclosure: Tony Burgess-Webb is a minority shareholder in FidEq, which owns a US patent for visualisation of network connections.

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Facebook ads may be appealing but they are not necessarily engaging…

Well, despite the fuss, I doubt our friends at Facebook are too worried by GM pulling its ads. If it affects the price of their $96 Billion IPO by a few $100 millions well hey, they’ll grin and bear it, I’m guessing, from San Francisco to Singapore.

And you can’t blame GM for trying – ads seem to work most everywhere else online  eg Google – so why not on Facebook?

Well, even assuming the ads are great and the products too, there ought to be some red faces in-house and at their agency for assuming that, because their ads are appealing that they are also therefore engaging. As others have pointed out, social networks are for people to connect and, although there is a high tolerance of brands, especially amongst younger Western cohorts, they are not the real thing. Indeed, it’s a bit like being stalked. So it’s interesting that GM still want to be ‘friends’ via non-ad content.

But why is Google making a mint and avoiding the flak re ads? Simply, search is a whole different ball game – I’m not here to ‘hang out’ , I am here to find something so if your ads help with that, fine by me. (Your algorithms, mind you, are another matter.)

Coincidentally, Twitter has reported that some 140 UK brands are ponying up £20,000 or more each to have their tweets promoted for a day. Stand by for similar criticism of Twitter once this intrusion – especially in a mobile space – turns negative for a big advertiser.

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Shared ain’t (necessarily) Earned – de-blurring the publishing boundaries, Part 2

My post last month suggesting a development of the Forrester POE (Paid, Owned, Earned) media model in favour of a 4 part BEOS content model – Bought, Earned, Owned, Shared – has found some critics….

Where we can all agree is that whatever definitions we create, the ‘boundaries’ are blurring and this is generating real confusion. And we are all trying to make sense of a fast-changing scene – busily taking snapshots/instagrams of a moving stream…on which we are afloat!

However, there is a key difference of opinion out there around the definitions of earned versus social content.

I never much liked the ‘earned ‘ label. However it has become quite widely accepted, over a decade or so, to use earned to describe traditional non-paid media content: filtered, selected and editorialised according to defined rules and codes by a ‘closed shop’ of professional journalists. And usually controlled and distributed via traditional media brands – like ABC, the San Jose Mercury, the FT or AdAge.

By this definition, third party supplied content needs to ‘earn’ the right to be published – by conforming to rules and standards set by these media brands and their journalists – or it must be paid for.  As I have suggested before, it is by applying such rules (in the interests of creating good quality content) that trusted Western world media brands emerged from the mire of the 18th century mass publishing free-for-all often called ‘Grubbe Street’ (Grubbe = open sewer).

And while print distribution continues to decline, the importance and influence of this type of content on people’s opinions and behaviour is still critical. Indeed the model can thrive online. The UK’s Daily Mail for example, a mid-market tabloid, has seen readership of its print edition decline to about 2 million daily in the UK while its online edition now reaches an audited 100 million international users monthly. Pretty impressive. Other traditional media brands like the New York Times, the BBC, the Guardian etc have also had success by essentially replicating their controlled/earned content model online. And that’s quite apart from those who have created online media brands from scratch using the traditional model, eg Huffington Post, Mashable et al.

Meanwhile, shared media content represents the New Grubbe Street – it can be created by anyone: expert and amateur, customers, competitors, friends, foes, informed, ignorant, benign, malicious etc.

In its purest form, therefore, shared media content acknowledges no filters, no rules, no standards. This can create powerful, exciting and valuable content but ‘earned’ it is not.

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Thank the Internet for Tim but is he in time?

Tim Berners-Lee has entered the lists once again this week in defence of the Internet rights of the individual . Not only is he fighting on both sides of the Atlantic but on two fronts – against snooping and against commercial enclosure of the common land of the Internet.

In a recent post, I wrote about some of the hypocrisy around the UK Govt’s position in seeking to legalise snooping by GCHQ and other security organisations. Berners-Lee and his WWW Foundation have joined the debate big time. Those who have not paid attention to others on this issue may now perhaps pay attention to the ‘inventor’ of the World Wide Web and his plea that the coalition Govt stop the bill now. Despite being an unpaid  advisor to the same Govt on improving Internet access, he believes the dangers of gathering information on all citizens is highly dangerous , not just to those individuals but to Govt organisations themselves. There is still time for public opposition ( ie you and me) to prevent or change the legislation.

However, at the same time, across the pond, he and the Electronic Frontier Foundation  are also opposing the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) which is due for consideration by the full US Congress as soon as this Monday, 23rd April. In some ways this will have a similar impact to the UK legislation in that it achieves snooping rights for US Govt agencies by requiring commercial organisations to give up their consumer data.

As Berners –Lee says, this legislation, although national in origin, is international in scope.

“[It] is threatening the rights of people in America, and effectively rights everywhere, because what happens in America tends to affect people all over the world. Even though the Sopa and Pipa acts were stopped by huge public outcry, it’s staggering how quickly the US government has come back with a new, different, threat to the rights of its citizen

But in the same week, a more fundamental threat has also attracted Berners-Lee’s attention, namely the continuing encroachment on the open Internet he created, not by governments but by commerce. As in in the enclosures of public land in Europe in the 18th century, the ‘common land’ of the Internet created by hypertext links is being encroached on by closed networks and walled gardens and an online world driven by apps. Google, unsurprisingly, has joined in this protest – its own search paradigm is threatened. But Berners-Lee , typically, has also criticized Google , Facebook and others for the data they gather on consumers and then do not make available to them on request.

While the rest of us just get on with our lives, we should be grateful for champions of freedom like Berners-Lee and the Electronic Frontier Foundation who watch our backs.

Thank the Internet for Tim.

 

 

 

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Tracking the London 2012 Olympics sponsors’ social media performance

Today, 100 days out, the final countdown has begun for the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics and we are starting a social media performance study of the sponsors, using our PRINT™ methodology.

The 25 main global and local sponsors have paid heavily for official rights to the five rings. Estimates of around £1 billion ($1.6 bn) have been widely reported. But these sponsorship rights are just part of the cost. Partners and sponsors will have to spend much more on marketing to gain the full benefit from their involvement. No wonder they are so well protected and jealously guarded.

George Orwell’s dictum that “Sport is war minus the shooting” applies especially to the battle of the Olympic sponsorship brands and social media looks like being a new battleground. So much has changed since the Beijing Games… Facebook for a start.

So how will sponsors use their sponsorship rights to engage with customers via social media and networks?

The medal table below shows the starting positions for the 25 lead sponsors of the main games, ranked by their PRINT Index™ scores. The Performance Profile chart below that shows how they stand based on ‘status’, a measure of social brand power and ‘potential’, a measure of engagement activity (both key elements of the PRINT scoring methodology). We’ll be measuring changes weekly leading up to and during the Games and highlighting any interesting developments.

Comments and suggestions welcome.

Notes on our methodology

  • The PRINT Index™ is calculated using our PRINT™ social media performance measurement methodology, which provides an indicator of a brand’s effective use of social media to drive profile and engagement.
  • In this study we’re not measuring any brands other than the main games partners listed on the London 2012 website – for example, we’re not tracking likely ambush marketers. But we’re open to offers!
  • Whilst we have factored in multiple channels (sponsorship website, Twitter account, Facebook page and YouTube channel), we are measuring only those sites and accounts designated or dedicated to sponsorship activation by the brands themselves.
  • This is a quantitative analysis looking at the numbers using the PRINT™ algorithms based on more than 50 sub-metrics. However, there is clearly an opportunity for more detailed study and commentary (including by the brands themselves) about different brand strategies.
  • We’ve spent a good deal of time researching and identifying each brand’s sponsorship activation profiles and accounts for each channel (no easy task), but there may be some we’ve missed. If you think that might be the case, please let us know and we will incorporate in our next update.
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De-blurring the publishing boundaries: bought, owned, earned and shared media

The headline reporting a new study from Nielsen caught my eye recently. It said that 92% of consumers trust ‘earned media’ the most. There’s some interesting data in the report, especially the connection between relevance and trust, but I find the ‘earned media’ description misleading.

Earned media used to mean editorial in ‘the media’ (i.e. defined mainstream press/TV/radio/online) until Forrester redefined it to include word-of-mouth, friends’ recommendations, etc. (i.e. any kind of third party comment), as part of their Paid, Owned and Earned Media (POEM) model. Under this model there is no real surprise that ‘earned media’ generates most consumer trust. But since when was a chat down the pub with your mates ‘media’?

Part of the problem in defining where ‘social’ media sits comes from a similar looseness in definition – e.g. describing types of content when we mean the platform it sits on… and vice versa. Or confusing the communications intent of content with its attributes. Most of us have been guilty at times of switching from one description to another, sometimes mid sentence… Yet, for planning and analysis purposes, we need to maintain some rigour or we will forever be comparing Apples with Galaxies.

So here is my own four-part media model based primarily on type of content rather than platform or communications intent, for your review and comment.

Bought media

Time or space purchased on someone’s else’s platform, e.g. an advertisement or a sponsorship logo, jingle or ID. Total message control, usually within legal or regulatory limits.

Earned media

Reportage or editorial created by journalists working for a recognised media third party (originally the press, TV and radio but since expanded to include online) on their closed platforms, based on elements (text, graphics, video) provided by others or by investigation.

Owned media

Controlled content on a closed platform e.g. a brochure, retail space or website. Total control subject only to legal restriction.

Shared media

Anyone can play on an open platform. It’s about us not just about me. We can all engage as equals. Aka social media.

A new media model?

“Wait a minute!”, I hear you say, ”life ain’t that simple. All this is already mixed up and getting more so.” And you’re right. It certainly is. There is increasing confusion between media types (i.e. the nature of the published content itself) and its intended purpose, the channel it is on, the device which delivers it, the degree of interaction which is possible and, of course, its ownership.

For example, brands’ tweets frequently seem like they are just mini-advertisements: the UK’s Financial Times does this a lot, signposting its earned media content to build readership and thus boost rates for its bought media offerings. On the other hand, advertisements can include shared elements (real or gloss). Similarly, traditional, journalist-created blogs are open to interaction with readers to create shared content.  Meanwhile apps and smart devices have opened up new ways to ‘gamify’ previously fixed content, making it not only interactive but potentially social. The list goes on.

No model can be completely simple but for me a publishing/content based media model works best as a starting point. Twitter may be used like an ad channel but is first and foremost a shared media platform. The FT may share its content but is essentially an earned media platform. A website may have shared elements (like this one) but is fundamentally an owned medium. And an advertisement dressed up as an invitation to join a promotion on Facebook is still bought media.

What about you? Happy to move beyond POEM to BEOS? Got a better model to share?

Update: Since drafting this post yesterday evening, I see our client and partner Paratus Communication’s Adam Vincenzini has been pursuing a similar line of thought.

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Privacy, the public interest, hacking & hypocrisy

It might seem an unlikely fiction that both NewsCorp controlled BSyB and the UK’s coalition government would, in the same week, cite ‘public interest’ to justify online hacking but it’s just the latest episode in the ironic reality show called the Leveson enquiry.

BskyB says their illegal hacking of emails was justifiable because the hacked were ‘suspected criminals’ and therefore presumed guilty. The UK government meanwhile assumes we are all potentially guilty and thus security services should have the automatic right to do exactly the same as BskyB, but legally – and on a massive scale.

In the recent past, ALL the Press , including the now defunct NoW, The Sun and other Murdoch owned media, operated in a murky but largely establishment-tolerated underworld of competitive investigation. The wider ‘public interest’ defence was implicit. A free (albeit often intrusive and vulgar) Press was a necessary check and balance on the power of the political and moneyed classes. Few cared much either way then so the general public’s retrospective moral outrage now seems largely synthetic while the focus on Murdoch has been driven by revenge and fuelled by media competitors.

But the privacy v public interest debate is not new. Over the years we have all become used to stories of Press intrusion: from sifting through celebrity rubbish bins to royal ‘papping’ and embarrassing long lens photos. What is new is the online element which, because of its increasing pervasiveness, makes us all feel vulnerable, framing the old debate in a new and more personal way.

Who knows whether or how much the Leveson enquiry will change the way the UK media operate. But it has certainly highlighted the importance of privacy in a wired and wirelessly connected world where ‘information is free’. And, for me personally, to want to defend that privacy even more whether from tabloid hacks or security spooks.

The government meanwhile seems to be happy to hold two contradictory positions. It wants a snoopers’ charter for itself but has continued to defend the rights of civil servants and ministers to have confidential conversations and email exchanges.

So while the making of government policy is NOT a legitimate matter for public, your (and my) emails are? Call me old-fashioned but I find that a touch hypocritical.

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Why are Britain’s top universities losing out to the USA?

Our new report The Transatlantic University Divide shows that Britain’s top universities are performing far less well than their US counterparts on social media platforms which are important to their reputation and to domestic and international student recruitment.

We compared the scores of the top 25 US and the top 25 UK universities in the  2011–2012 Times Higher Education World University Rankings with their social media scores based on our PRINT™  measurement system. This, as followers of Sociagility will know, evaluates five social attributes of brands across multiple social media platforms.

The good news for social media specialists is that PRINT™ social media performance scores correlate directly with the THE  World University Ranking scores. This statistically significant level of correlation had a 99.9% confidence level, ie probability of not being a chance effect. So all you University based SM folk now have another reason why you should be allowed to do more….

However, the bad news for UK practitioners is that Britains’s top higher education institutions performed, as a group, only just over half as well as their US counterparts. Their average PRINT Index™ score was 72 versus an average US score of 127.

Worse, within the combined transatlantic group, only two UK universities, Oxford and Sheffield, made it into the top ten. Harvard (home of Facebook) led the pack overall.

The UK-only PRINT™ scores were led by Oxford with Sheffield second and Cambridge third. In the US-only PRINT™ listings, Harvard led University of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

So it seems to be a report card saying ‘could do better if tried harder ’ for most UK universities. With a few honourable exceptions, most of the leadership in social performance seems to be in the US and this could have implications for UK university reputation, alumni relations and recruitment.

What are the reasons for US leadership? Our study is statistical but, anecdotally, here are some possible causes.

Not only have US universities, many of which are larger, been devoting more time and effort, over longer, than most UK institutions but they have committed management support and dedicated resources across faculties and departments, not just a couple of people centrally. Reporting structures are said to be clearer and much content superior – but there is no sense of complacency. The top US universities we interviewed were not resting on their laurels but investing further in people, in listening capability, in measurement and on ensuring better value not just more volume.

One UK university leader we spoke to felt the reasons went deeper and that by and large the US institutions deserved their lead: “They have greater team spirit and this shows through in social media.”

Can UK universities do anything about it? My colleague Niall Cook previewed the results of our survey at a CIM Higher Education conference in Manchester (England!) last week and gave a list of five suggestions. These are all highlighted in the report.

Happy or unhappy reading, depending on which side of the Atlantic you are….!

PS And congratulations to Oxford and Sheffield.

 

 

 

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Can social media measures predict supermarket sales?

We’ve just used our PRINT™ measurement system to rank the UK’s top 10 supermarket groups and look at the relationship between their social media performance and sales.

This three month study, How ‘social’ is your supermarket?, shows that the social media performance of the UK’s top supermarket groups is highly variable. Some brands punch about their weight, others below. One or two aren’t even in the ring….

Does this matter? It certainly looks like it. Social media scores, as measured by PRINT™, correlate statistically very closely with sales and market share. But size isn’t everything. Tesco, for example, despite being the clear market leader, ranks third in social media performance – and this dropped from January to February

Our research also shows that changes in some aspects of social media performance – those most closely associated with active engagement – correlate closely with changes in sales and market share in subsequent months. It is too early to declare that PRINT™ can predict sales but this is a very interesting correlation and one we’ll be following up.

Our study was completely quantitative based on publicly available data and we deliberately did not speak to any of the chains – so their strategies and the rationales for them are unclear. What is clear is that some UK supermarkets believe that social media effectiveness helps provide a competitive edge and are executing well. Others may agree but, it seems, have a long way to go.

 

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