The rise of conversational content and how it will affect content creators

Digital officer Geraint Northam attended a couple of conferences over the summer where conversational content was discussed. For him, it’s a fascinating area with potentially huge implications for the type of content we’ll be creating in the future, particularly within the higher education sector. 

Conversational content tries to mimic the natural way humans talk to each other, to help solve various tasks. You may have come across this type of content when using text ‘chatbots’ – artificial intelligence software.  

Conversational content is very different to the more traditional content (text, images, video) that we’re used to working with. 

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A new framework for digital projects

We introduced a new project management framework and governance function a year ago. It’s transformed our ability to respond effectively and flexibly to priority business needs. In the first of two posts, deputy head of digital comms Alex Pardoe explains how. 

Where we were 

When I started in this role in early in 2017the team was really struggling to cope with the competing demands from across the University. These sort of things: 

  • Work requests could arrive from anywhere: email, phone calls, Yammer comments, meeting minutes, post-it notes on desks, chats in kitchen area, chats in the pub etc. 
  • Objectives undefined/entirely absent – why are we going to do this work? 
  • Scope of work undefined – what are we going to do, when do we know we’ve done it… and do they agree?   
  • No one talked about cost. 
  • And many, many more… 

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18 things we learned about content design

Jeremy Torrance, head of digital comms, reflects on our recent two-day content design workshop.

If you’re producing content for websites and you haven’t heard of content design you really should take a long hard look in the mirror. Content design – creating content that’s focused on what the user needs to know rather than what publishers want to tell them – is a skill every content producer needs to have.

It’s not easy and does require something of a change in mindset. So to get our content folk on the path to enlightenment we brought in Hinrich von Haaren from Content Design London for a content design workshop.

After the session I asked all the attendees to share one or two things they learned from it. Here they are.

User needs

  1. Does your content strictly cover a user need? If not, bin it.
  2. Business needs and user needs do not need to be in conflict with one another. It’s tempting to start a project with the business needs in mind, but you won’t necessarily reach those objectives and targets if you can’t engage and help the user. By putting the user needs at the core of the project you are more likely to meet your business needs as well.
  3. During content planning, explore the acceptance criteria which underpin user needs. (more…)

User testing on the cheap 

User testing is the cornerstone of every successful project. And, say digital officers Charlotte Brewer and Geraint Northam, it needn’t break the bank. 

User testing tends to be thought of as a lot of work. Planning, finding volunteers, making sure they turn up, preparing and managing the session, reporting and summarising it afterwards – all take significant time and effort. 

It’s worth it. As a digital team we want to find problems, solve them, and improve the user experience. This then allows the University to meet its business objectives. 

But does it have to be so time-consuming? We’ve started to embrace ‘user testing on the cheap’ – quick, small tests done often.  (more…)

Modernising the staff experience

Launching the University’s first intranet has thrown up some interesting challenges, says Intranet manager Steve Wright.

Two weeks ago, we released a beta version of a new intranet for staff and postgraduate researchers. We’ve designed with mobile devices in mind, applied content design best practice, and met accessibility standards.

So far, so commonplace you might say. But it’s been an unusual project for quite a few reasons.

First, it’s totally new. Surprisingly (and it was a big surprise to me when I started here in July 2018), the University hasn’t had a global intranet before. Internal-facing content and information has historically been stored at the local level: on faculty, school or division sites.  (more…)

How one small team can support a vast community of publishers

Digital Manager Antony Theobald on how improving our internal support processes will ultimately benefit users of our website.

Here at the University of Bristol, we operate a devolved publishing model for web content.

‘Devolved’ publishing for us means we have nearly 2,000 web publishers creating and updating content across hundreds of sub-sites and pages under bristol.ac.uk.

For us as a digital team, this has some pros and many cons.

Without going into all of those here, we’ve recently started addressing one of the major cons: one small team supporting a vast community of publishers.

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A more meaningful use of analytics

Web analytics are powerful tools. But, say Digital officer Geraint Northam and UX officer Becca Edmeads, you’ve got to know how to use them. 

Most of us use analytics unquestioningly. We don’t stop to think how accurate they might be, let alone what they might actually mean.

It’s important to recognise that analytics don’t give the full picture – they’re an indication of patterns of behaviour or trends. We need to educate ourselves on why the data might not be entirely accurate. (more…)

If our content’s not accessible it’s not usable

Digital officer Charlotte Brewer on why accessibility in web content should never be an afterthought.

It’s really easy to create content, but it’s also really easy to create content that’s hard to use.  

It is easy to assume if I can use it, it’s fine.  

This assumption ignores the fact that other people may not be fine with your content. It ignores people with a disability or cognitive condition who might struggle to use your content.  

This is why accessibility is so important. Put simply, accessibility is about making sure everyone can use the content you create.  

When I first started my career, I honestly didn’t think about accessibility. I am a native English speaker, with no disabilities or diagnosed learning conditions. The thought that anyone might struggle with the content I created didn’t cross my mind.   (more…)

Thinking about a product approach

Let’s start with a quote:

“Most web teams I’ve met are being nibbled to death by tiny tasks. They don’t have time to focus on what really matters – the top tasks* – because the org is so vanity-prone, inward-looking and organisation-centric.” Gerry McGovern – Transform: A rebel’s guide for digital transformation, Pg158

I’ll wager most higher education digital teams can relate to this. We’re no different at Bristol. This is exactly the challenge we face. There are so many demands on our time it’s very hard to make the time and space to focus on the important things. But when us digital folk try to kick back, we’re told that each project is utterly crucial, has an unmissable deadline, and has some seriously senior backing.

Many of us will secretly face-palm when we get these responses, but it’s a natural way to think and act. We should be more surprised if our colleagues didn’t respond this way. But the fact remains – we are all too often stymied by ourselves.

So how to change things? How to help refocus our efforts onto what really matters to our users/audience/students?  (more…)

Raising our publishing game

Digital never stays still. Consultant web developer Rich Higgins looks at how we’ve been prototyping to ensure we don’t get left behind.

There’s a lot of content to publish at a university. Course information, research stories, news, events… the list goes on. On top of that, media consumption and audiences are increasingly varied and global. Digital is more important than ever, but what do we mean by digital? 

“Applying the culture, practices, processes & technologies of the Internet-era to respond to people’s raised expectations.”

Tom Loosemore’s oft-quoted definition suggests more than just reading from a computer screen instead of a printed article. It suggests we need to raise our game to meet the ever-evolving user needs of our time. And at Bristol we’ve been looking at doing precisely this.  (more…)