Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Social Media and the School of the Built Environment

Social media: interactions among people 
in which they create, share and exchange information and ideas 
in virtual communities and networks.

Back in the old Darcy Building at the start of 2012, Gina Dalton asked me a question. 'Shall we start a blog to tell the story of the Department (of Real Estate and Construction)?' To which I replied 'Yeah, OK then.'

Four years have passed since our social media experiment began and quite a lot has changed. We've learnt a lot, created a lot and told our story. We have a new home, an amazing new flagship building and we have joined with Planning and Urban Design to form the School of the Built Environment (SBE). As well as the blogs (of which there are now three), we've developed our presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter and we've used Google sites and blog newsletters to provide our applicants with additional information. What started as an experiment to help convert applicants into students has become so much more.

Our audience at the Spark session. A good turnout from across SBE and beyond.

This blog post forms the basis of a presentation about social media (part of the SBE SPARK series). There are two parts: the first is about what we have learnt (and are still learning) and the second gives examples of experiments and outputs from across the School.

So, to what we have learnt...
  • Experiment. 
  • Have a plan and update it frequently.
  • One size does not fit all. What works for one group (or audience) may not work for others. 
  • Be professional, but also remember to inject some personality and style your output to suit your audience and the platform you are using. 
  • Check spelling, readability and punctuation. 
  • Use social media statistics (basic statistics are built into most platforms) to see how your audience reacts and then use this to refine your outputs.
  • Engage with colleagues and students - they may not want to be directly involved, but this is where the 'raw materials' will come from. And most are happy to provide them. 
  • Keep going. Social media does not work if you stop for too long. It takes a certain level of commitment.
  • Do not nag or annoy your audience (again statistics are useful here as is actually talking to some of your audiences - maybe in a student focus group).
  • Think about the way in which the thing that you want to promote/create will work best on social media. Is what you have promotable? How are you going to do it?
  • Go for a surf and see what others are doing. You may find some interesting stuff.
  • Think of added extras - photos, profiles, staff interviews. Useful when promoting a course. 
  • Tell stories. Words or pictures.
  • Use a good photo-editing tool. Even photos snapped with a phone can look great. 
  • Make your visuals look good and use enough of them. It helps.
  • If you're creating original content - make the most of it and think about how to use it. Share on different platforms and even in paper form.
  • Share other people's content to enhance your own (but always acknowledge your source - this is usually done automatically if you share articles/links). 

Examples of the use of social media by the School of the Built Environment (links in red):

For applicants - Andressa Minogue uses a (closed) Facebook Group to create an online community for the MSc Real Estate applicants ahead of their arrival. She also pioneered the use of Google sites to create an additional source of information for applicants/enquirers - this has now become the applicant portal.

In teaching - Laura Novo de Azevedo has been using Pinterest (the online pin board) and Facebook (closed) Groups for students working together on live projects in Urban Planning.

For research promotion - Dana Vilistere tweets at Brookes_Impact about research taking place across Oxford Brookes. Cycleboom and Global Science Spaces are research projects which SBE staff (Tim Jones and Dave Valler) are involved with and are excellent examples of social media presence.

For our alumni - a number of (subject-based) alumni groups have been developed within SBE. These have proved useful for graduates (and current students) to keep in touch with us, each other and the job market. They have been a useful source - for the development of the Real Estate Mentoring Scheme, graduate profiles and ideas for course development.

For the promotion of SBE and its activities - we have developed 3 blogs for the three subject areas in SBE: planning and urban design, real estate, construction. SBE has a Facebook page and Twitter profile. The subject areas are also represented on Facebook - Real Estate and Construction subject page and Brookes Planners and Urban Design Facebook groups (these are all well established). Real Estate and Construction also has a presence on Pinterest (an experiment). The content that is developed for the blogs is also used as the basis for printed material (applicant newsletters/posters) and we have produced a Facebook book. As well as online promotion, the blogs and Facebook page are promoted via our business card.

Finally, thanks to the many people and especially the TDE Marketing team at Oxford Brookes, who have contributed to and supported our venture.

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