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The State of PSE Web in Canada

While higher education seems to spawn conferences like dandelions on campus, we Canadians face a dearth of conferences focused on higher education recruitment, marketing, branding, or web marketing. That’s why Academica Group teamed up with Brainstorm Consulting Group a year ago to bring the SEMM Forums to various regions of the country, and why Melissa Cheater, a former colleague of mine here at Academica, felt compelled to assemble a group of like-minded people to stage the first-ever conference focused on PSE Web. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of gathering in a single lecture theatre with more than 150 of your Facebook friends, sitting down for two days of stimulating presentations and discussions about the latest thinking in web marketing and social media strategy. Here’s what you missed:

PSE Web Conference

May 26-27, 2010  |  Brock University, St Catharines Ontario

The End of the Web as we Know it

The conference opened with a keynote from Mark Greenfield, Director of Web Services at the University of Buffalo, called “It’s the end of the web as we know it (and I feel fine) redux.”  Technology is progressing exponentially, and Ray Kurzweil’s prediction of the singularity — when human intelligence merges with computers, when computers gain consciousness — may come to pass sooner than we think. Prototype interfaces already exist that project keyboards right on the user’s hand, and augmented reality promises to blend computing with our experienced reality.

Simultaneously, technologies are converging into multifunction devices like the iPhone and the iPad, which combine iPods, cameras, phones, laptops, video games, and other platforms in a single device. Magazines are moving to electronic formats, like the iPad or Kindle, and prototypes are being developed for folding electronic paper. Mark believes we will see an iPad we can fold up and put in our pockets in the next five years. (Can I pre-order one?)

“Ubiquitous computing” is coming – web 3.0 will be an Internet that connects objects, the way the social web connects people. You can already get internet-connected sneakers, fridges, ID tags, pop machines and laundry machines (see eSuds).  Campuses will start putting sensors into parking lots and on shuttle buses to allow students and staff to monitor transit options in real time.

“Ambient findability” is the challenge posed by an Internet that is growing exponentially. Findability precedes usability – you can’t use what you can’t find. Library science skills are going to be in huge demand going forward, but systems like the Dewey decimal system can’t cope with the variety and volume of data.

The reality of 24/7 internet access is finally here, with the advent of mobile web devices, and North America is actually far behind other world markets for the migration from desktop to mobile internet. The evolution will be as great as the shift from radio to TV. New iPhones have GPS, compass, and accelerometers — they know exactly where you are. Music identification software like Shazam gives us a taste of truly ubiquitous computing and how it can interact with our surroundings. Layar is pioneering augmented reality, and Georgia Tech is already building an augmented reality campus tour.  Cornell Compass is an online map that tracks alumni and friends around the world.  QR codes (two-dimensional bar codes) are making it easier for mobile devices to connect to your website and can be generated for free.

Flirting with Facebook

Ryan McNutt, New Media Officer at Dalhousie University, broke the ice by reminding us that we’re still very much in the awkward teenage years of social media. And like a good sex talk, he promised us the story of discovering social media at Dal, minus the bragging or exaggeration.

Dal became interested in Facebook several years ago, when 800 people joined a Facebook discussion group falsely accusing researchers of murdering dogs and puppies at Dal. A week later it was 20,000, and well over a million people eventually saw it. Dal did its best to respond to the crisis through multiple channels, but never really had the capacity to engage in social media itself.

Ryan’s experience at Dal began with rounds of presentations to committees and councils of all kinds, and gradually the campus community began to understand what social media was, but still didn’t know how to engage.  The solution was to lead by example; it’s always better to show than tell.

Universities have to resist the temptation, Ryan says, to treat Facebook as the magic bullet to solve all communication channels. The reality is, the user has more power than ever to shape their experience. It’s not enough to be on Facebook — your efforts need to be integrated with communications strategies and goals of the institution. Social media practitioners need to be clear about the call to action, the outcome behavior desired from the audience. You also need a very clear value proposition: why should people care about your content?

Universities are complex “ad hocracies” in which the ability to make a decision depends a great deal on the politics at the time. Authority and budgets are decentralized. If social media is about leveraging relationships online, ALL of the relationships matter. Dal attempts to coordinate social media efforts through a social media community that meets every two months, and uses a Yammer network (which is like an internal Twitter). Ryan now shares social media tidbits in the private Yammer network instead of on

Ryan says two types of challenges for social media appear on campuses: brick walls and pitfalls. “Brick walls” are particularly concentrated in offices that value consistency and control of communication; those values are tough to reconcile with the realities of social media. On the other hand, some who jump into social media without careful forethought can cause just as many problems for communications planning.

One tactic Ryan finds helpful is to adopt the mindset of a scientist: defining a question, observing, hypothesizing, experimenting, and analyzing. Brick wall stakeholders find this planning process reassuring, and obviously pitfall stakeholders slow down to stop and think. Strategy is a luxury worth fighting for, Ryan emphasizes.  Communicators need to carve out time every week to read, to research, to stay on top of new developments.  (And of course Academica’s Top Ten can help too!) Attending conferences is also part of the strategic thinking process.

Dal is currently working on a gestating blog platform. The analytics for Dal News have been finding that in some cases, much more discussion occurs on the Dal website than on Facebook — as for example with the case of discontinuing credit card payment of tuition. Dal encourages people to speak directly to the institution, so they don’t feel the need to vent on other platforms.

The “biggest black hole” at Dal right now (and likely at many institutions) is video. Dal is not equipped to produce or distribute video on its website. We’ve been dabbling in iTunes, but it’s time to strategically develop a solid platform, Ryan says.

Integrating Old Web and New

Nick Valentino and Laura D’Amelio, new media folks from York University, spoke on “Keep the baby, lose the bathwater.”  The website will always be the hub, no matter how popular social media gets, and all York’s social media links back to the site. Email will also be critical for some time. Chat/IM is most at risk of being replaced by social media.  Blogging has been around for more than a decade, so in many ways it’s “old web.”  Blogging is the human voice that complements the official institutional voice.  York’s webpages bring in Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Vimeo functionality in a sidebar.

A manageable approach to social media is to take one platform at a time and maximize your penetration before adding another. Facebook is the obvious place to start. York’s focus groups with students found distrust and discomfort with the invasion of privacy represented by FourSquarePosterous is a great tool to manage posting to multiple platforms.

York has a 17-page protocol document for social media, and a communications plan that guides social media strategy. Once the planning is done, test by doing. Monitor the responses and reactions to various kinds of content. Our students weren’t interested in signing up for events, but did respond to photos and video. Social media is a great place to see the response, almost immediately, to an email blast. We don’t need another broadcast medium. And the communications plan is flexible enough to cope if Facebook is replaced by other platforms over time.

York uses students to augment staff capacity to deal with social media, and puts them through a two-week training process on both the admissions process and the social media policies. The “York and U” newsletter for prospective students moved very well from print to email to a blog. York’s student bloggers are very clear that they are paid to be present in social media, so there’s no fear of being accused of “astroturfing.”

Dos and Don’ts of Webcasting

Steven Bochenek, of WithScience Communications, spoke on “Webcasting/Video as tools for recruitment,” based on his experience working with George Brown College and teaching at Centennial College. Webcasting involves several media in tandem, not just video, and is interactive. The potential for colleges is 24/7 and ubiquitous Open Houses.  Webcasts may have already peaked, since social media offers many of the same advantages.

Just because web video can be produced inexpensively, is no reason to be cheap.  Students recognize quality when they see it, and everything affects your brand. offered a series of 20 live interactive webcasts as long as 45 minutes, focused on different faculties or aspects of GBC. Now the site hosts the videos on demand. The webcasts featured real-time transcription of the discussion, to fit the accessibility culture at GBC. The video screen included a question box, links to OCAS and OSAP, and ended with a survey to gather feedback.

Lessons learned:  People prefer video to reading online.  Phish not, lest you be tossed back (don’t ask too many personal questions up-front). Prospective students enjoy factual how-to’s.  Live webcasts have surprises like wardrobe malfunctions. The video box should be bigger than the Powerpoint slide box. Content trumps glitz.  Video should be optimized for Macs — young consumers use Mac a lot more than B2B markets.

Content Strategy

Rick Allen, from Babson College in Massachusetts, reminded us that we’re all publishers, and should remember that we’re delivering valuable content to readers, not just marketing. A content strategy should plan for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.

Some red flags for poor content strategy: welcome and overview pages are redundant or trivial. FAQs compensate for ineffective site content. PDFs sidestep editorial process.  Related links are irrelevant or out of date.  Points of distinction pages that lack points of distinction. Design without content is decoration, and you can’t be a great designer without great content to work from.

It’s not sufficient to argue that the content contributors “need to own their content” — you need to establish the ground rules. Customers don’t forgive businesses for bad websites in the real world.

Web publishing is collaborative, and the content ecosystem needs to be effective. You need to prioritize message hierarchy, conduct a content audit, analyze the content and strategize a way to make the content work together.  You should provide a web editorials style guide, editorial process and calendar, linking strategy and page maintenance processes.

The publishing process consists of requesters, providers, creators, editors, approvers and publishers, but should not be done by committee. Measuring content effectiveness is essential, and should look at those web analytics that connect to business goals.

Rick is a big fan of Kristina Halvorson’s book, Content Strategy for the Web.

Canadian Edustyle

Stewart Foss, of, joined us via VOIP from Lethbridge Alberta for an overview of trends in design of Canadian college and university websites: “the good, bad, and easily improved.”  Edustyle profiles over 4,000 websites, and the community of 4,000 users votes on the quality of each site.  Not a huge number of Canadians schools have submitted their sites to EduStyle, so Stewart spent some time hunting for good examples.

If Google is an example of elegant homepage design, Lenoir Community College is Stewart’s example of atrocious homepage design, clearly by committee. Grouping links is a trend in PSE home pages, such as or Memorial (with expandable quick links at the top for internal audiences).  Informational navigation seems to be taking over from audience-based navigation. Many schools are creating campaign landing pages, such as

Stewart named  a dozen great examples of Canadian PSE websites out there: Selkirk CollegeBrock UniversityConfederation CollegeNAITUniversity of LethbridgeUniversity of TorontoUniversity of WinnipegSaint Lawrence CollegeUniversity of ReginaUBCTyndale University College, and Memorial University.

I’m particularly pleased to observe that 3 of Stewart’s 12 examples were recently developed by Academica Group (Brock UniversityTyndale University College, and Confederation College).

Stewart also shared some fundamental design principles that can be implemented in a few hours, between major redesigns.  He spoke about grid-based design, white space, typography, and information hierarchies. Canadian campuses have a very short window of time in which to gather good photographs in nice weather while the students are present. Minor adjustments to style sheets, grids, and photography can significantly improve legibility and friendliness of your site. He singled out beautiful photography on the  uLethbridge,  AthabascaU,  UPEI and  uRegina home pages.

Going for Gold

Mike Klein, communications strategist from the University of Saskatchewan, started the second day with a presentation on UofS’s use of social media at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.  With only two months’ notice, UofS had to have a presence onsite at the Saskatchewan pavilion, host an alumni reception, and participate in the Globe & Mail‘s “intellectual muscle” series.

Mike developed a social media plan to promote awareness and engagement with a variety of audiences, and to provide access to the Olympics for those who could not attend.  Mike and his team built a microsite as the core of the plan, with a variety of social mediate activities surrounding and connecting with it — including a live Twitter feed, Flickr, blogging, Facebook and uStream.

The city itself was “excitement and chaos” with traffic congestion, incredible crowds, and transit overload. The social media plan had to be flexible.  Mike had to rely on established trust he had built on campus.  And he found a graphic depiction of the plan (hub and spoke) made it intelligible, focused, and persuasive.

The microsite aggregated feeds from the social media, as well as related alumni and research stories from the UofS.  The UofS chancellor, a former Olympic curler, participated in the Intellectual Muscle series.  The husband of a staffer blogged consistently from the Olympics.  Mike captured 23 brief video interviews of alumni and Saskatchewan politicians at the event (and in the process learned that you don’t put political figures on Youtube with unmoderated comments).  They captured 101 photos on Flickr, including pre-event pics, but those drew few comments.

The photos, video and blog were repurposed on the UofS Facebook page, which generated 60 or so comments or likes.  Content was broadcast regularly using Twitter, including the hash tag for the 2010 Olympics (#van2010).  UofS planned to live stream a Vancouver alumni event to a simultaneous alumni event back in Saskatoon, but the event was scheduled opposite the Women’s Hockey game, right next door — so speakers could barely be heard on video.

In all, UofS’s social media budget for the Olympics (including salaries) was about the same as sending one person to a conference.  The effort, though modest, generated 846 visitors, 447 unique visitors, and 3956 page views on the microsite. 53% of visits were from Canada, so many came from 12 different countries.  The Flickr account had 2249 views.  The YouTube page generated 580 views.  And on a qualitative basis, staff and alumni engagement was great, and the University had an opportunity to connect with politicians and dignitaries in a new way.

Mike believes that this event helped lay the groundwork for future adoption of social media on the UofS campus.  One thing he would have done differently is promote the activities much more, both on-campus and off.

Emerging Trends

Naturally, Ken Steele delivered a fast-paced and engaging romp through news stories from recent years, highlighting seven themes: environment, economy, demographics, the Millennials, competition, marketing, and disintermediation of higher education. (If you want to know more, I’m available for conference and campus keynotes for a reasonable fee!)

Web Analytics

Rick Allen of Babson College spoke on “Making Better Decisions with Web Analytics,” and began by emphasizing that analytics are a core part of web strategy. The process should be:  1) objectives, 2) questions, 3) metrics — and usually it’s the second phase that gets skipped. Data doesn’t answer questions, data helps people answer questions. Context is critical.

Some key questions might be: are we providing the right content? Can users find it? What needs updating more frequently? What is the prioritization of content? Where do we target ads?  When should be post news?  What technology should we support?

Appropriate metrics for these questions may include keyword searches, referring websites, visitor engagement for video/audio/text content types, exit and bounce rates, returning visitors, traffic on updated pages, overall traffic and unique visitors, error page reports, annual and weekly traffic cycles, browser platforms of external traffic, screen size and network speed, mao overlay for visitors, email link tracking, user comments, time on page, conversion, subscribers, leads, and Google pageranks.

Correcting 404 errors and broken links promptly is essential — monitor error page reports constantly.  Flash and Javascript may not be accessible to many users — Babson had 7% of visitors who could not view critical content on the home page.  Web analytics should really be used in conjunction with clickthrough data from your email campaigns, although few analyze them together.

Rick recommends education (and shame) to gain support for analytics. Tracking metrics over time is critical.  “Start now and don’t stop.” But remember that analytics can’t answer all the important questions. Qualitative judgement is required to assess writing quality, effectiveness of communication, etc.

Stretching Your Resources

Melissa Cheater, from the Ivey School of Business (and the conference organizer), spoke to us about stretching resources and organizing our time to tackle social media. Her information architecture at Ivey has transitioned from a website architecture to a website AND social media architecture, half and half. Your information architecture isn’t just your website anymore — it’s all your content, wherever it is.

The key solution is “use RSS feeds and you’ll be fine.” Feedburner can give you data on readership of your RSS feeds, and provides a fairly short, permanent URL. The Ivey RSS feed now populates content on the Ivey homepage, Twitter, Facebook, and mobile apps.

Facebook: As for monitoring social media, Facebook is the toughest. Defensio protects Facebook from abusive posts, and can also be set to email you whenever someone posts a question mark. NutshellMail is a service that apparently will monitor and report on all activity on your Twitter and Facebook accounts. SocialMention is a search engine that trolls the blogosphere and social media. Addictomatic seems very similar. Google alerts are obviously helpful, and you can configure searches as “” to report on Facebook mentions. Facebook community pages are dividing traffic between your Page and your Community page.

Twitter: There are a great many Twitter monitoring tools out there. Cotweet works well for email notifications, and team monitoring. is useful. Hootsuite allows for management of multiple platforms by multiple people. Seesmic offers great flexibility too. SocialOomph can notify you of any mentions and has some unique features. Boxcar can push notifications to your iPhone. iTweetReply has push notifications on your iPhone for Twitter. will give you a Blackberry app that launches your website for $3. The hardest part is uploading the files to your server.

Risk Management in the Social sphere

Jean-Paul Rains from Laurentian University spoke about “Risk Management on Facebook.” It may be telling that he has a separate Facebook profile for work, “JP Laurentian.”

JP has been involved with social media since its beginnings: ICQ in 1998, Windows Messenger in 2002, Facebook in 2006, Twitter in 2009, and now FourSquare in 2010. 84% of young adults think people should ask permission before uploading their photos. Facebook’s terms of use emphasize that you cannot restrict the visibility of photos of you if they are on someone else’s profile. More than 600,000 Facebook users like the group, “We never read terms of service.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation defines “evil interfaces” as those that trick users into sharing more information about themselves than they really want to. Facebook users are furthermore suffering from “expectations mismatch” because Facebook was once quite private.

In court, Facebook profiles and posts are legal documents that can be demanded in court, if the judge considers them relevant to the case. Ryerson faced a $10 million lawsuit. Teachers in Australia were suspended for photos of themselves posted privately. A student was expelled for a Facebook status that threatened his teacher. A professor was placed on leave for his Facebook status too.  Photos of underage drinking are getting kids into trouble. A survey of 350 US employers, 44% checked out prospective employees, and slightly less checked out current employees.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects freedom of thought and expression, but does not supersede privacy legislation.

Photo consent can be required, even for an individual photographed in a public setting, if that person can be identified. The individual is entitled to control over their own identity. US law permits “socially useful” use without consent. In February 2009, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has proposed that non-users of Facebook should not be taggable, and that users should be prompted for permission before they can be tagged.  These changes will likely take two years, although yesterday Facebook announced simplifications to privacy settings.

Photos containing logos of other brands should probably be altered, since institutions could be sued for violating copyright.

JP recommends several strategies to control risk: internal social media guidelines, external Facebook policy, disclaimers, and photo consent for user generated content. Samples of social media policies exist online at Ohio State, Stanford, UCLA, and the University of Florida. Be sure to reserve the right to remove content. Other policy examples are here.

The #PSEweb conference was the number three trending topic on Twitter today, thanks in part to the fact that i have never seen so many Macbooks and Twitter accounts in one room before!  Melissa reports that plans are already underway for a PSEWEB 2011 in Toronto!  Hope to see you there!

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