Category Archives: Uncategorized

Chinese social media—a new way to engage with students

China has its own series of social media channels that are designed with the Chinese audience in mind and different to the ones we are familiar with in the UK. Instead of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp; the two most popular channels in China are Sina Weibo (the equivalent of Twitter) and Wechat (similar to Whatsapp).

As part of a new international marketing campaign we started investigating Chinese social media channels as a way to reach our prospective Chinese students. We launched the University’s corporate Sina Weibo account in November 2014 and this month (March 2015) have just launched our presence on WeChat.

By having an account representing the University on both Sina Weibo and Wechat, we are introducing Exeter to Chinese students, keeping our current Chinese students connected with us, reaching out for prospective students, communicating with them, and providing them a fabulous University experience.

Sina Weibo

Sina Weibo is a mix of Facebook and Twitter. Sina Weibo is a platform where people can express their opinions, share their personal experiences in the form of text (usually around 140 characters) and attach photos, videos and longer articles. Sina Weibo has over 500 million registered accounts, and out of them, 143.8 million are monthly active users, 66.6 million are daily active users. weibo

The university account on Sina Weibo was set up in late November 2014. We have over 1,300 followers on Sina Weibo.

On Sina Weibo, we “weibo” quite often each day. Normally, 2 to 4 messages go out every day, attempting to be enough to capture people’s attention but not bombarding them. The content could be anything ranging from University photos to University events. In a nutshell, anything that may be of interest for our prospective and current students and also showcases the University’s improvements and achievements.

On average, our posts are viewed around 3,500 times and occasionally, it can surge to 7,000 times depending on how explosive  the news is. We also get “likes”, comments, “reweibo” and questions every day. For example, during February, a number of students contacted us on Sina Weibo and told us about the difficulties they had when trying to pay their tuition fees. For easy and obvious questions, we helped them directly if we knew the answer. For some tricky ones, we directed them to SID and as far as we know, all of them have now been able to pay.


Wechat is a free app mainly based on smartphones and tablets. It is similar to WhatsApp but offers a greater deal of functionality. Based on the Internet, Wechat can be used to send free text, voice messages, videos, pictures and make free video calls. Figure shows that as of January 2015, Wechat has more than 1.1 billion accounts and of them, 468 million are monthly active users. WeChat also has 100 million users outside of China., It is the most popular app among Chinese. wechat

Our University’s account was promoted on 10 March, 2015 and we have more followers every day. In just over 2 weeks, we have gained over 250 followers on Wechat.

Our followers on Wechat will be able to view all of our articles, which are about the most important news about the University, such as our China visit events. Our followers will be able to ask questions via Wechat, and they will get a timely response. It is like a mini website too so our followers are able to find information such as accommodation, maps, applications and the contact details of relevant departments very easy and quickly.

Laura Li
Chinese Social Media Officer

An introduction to Instagram

By Emily Chapman, Web Marketing Officer for HR Services and Communication and Marketing Services

Instagram logoInstagram is an online photo and video sharing social network. Instagram is app based and makes use of the ever expanding technology that today’s mobile phones offer. It was set up by two Stanford graduates in 2010 and was purchased by Facebook in 2012. Moving forward two years Instagram is now the fastest growing social network and the one that receives the highest level of engagement from users, roughly 1,000 comments and 8,500 likes per second.

  • Engagement on Instagram is 15 times that of Facebook’s, with users spending an average of 257 minutes per month on the app.
  • Instagram receives 1,000 comments and 8,500 likes per second. That equates to 1.2 billion likes per day.
  • 200 million people across the world now use the photo app, sharing 60 million images a day.

Photo filters

Instagram’s key selling point is the photo filter, a layer that, when added to a normal photo, gives it the look of professional editing. Some filters enhance the colours in a photo, while others can alter the light, change the focus or even age your photos to give them a vintage or retro look. Instagram currently has a set of around 20 filters which you can use to give your photos a more professional finish. Using a filter is not required though and #nofilter is one of the most commonly used hashtags on Instagram.


If you love your hashtags then Instagram is the social network for you. Using hashtags on Instagram is the best way to get your photo in front of other people. Instagram posts do not work in the same way as tweets (where the content of a post is searchable) so hashtags are key for users to find new content and people to follow.

What’s the most popular hashtag on Instagram? #love which has been used over 696 million times.

Exeter on Instagram

The University has a corporate Instagram account which you can follow @uniofexeter or go to Over the past year our levels of engagement have more than doubled and we are continuing to build our presence on Instagram alongside our other social media channels.

Instagram is a fantastic way to give our followers an insight into life at the University whether it be through photos of campus across the seasons or photos of special events in the University calendar such as graduation.

Our 5 most popular photos on Instagram so far are:


Reed Hall at sunset

The Forum

The Forum decorated for Christmas

E pumpkin

A Halloween pumpkin with the Exeter E carved into it


The University of Exeter sign

The Piazza

The Piazza on a summer’s morning

For guidance on how to build your community on social media see other related articles on this blog and speak to your Web Marketing Officer.

Rethinking the Undergraduate Study website

On February 20th we launched a brand new Undergraduate (UG) Study website. This is the website that showcases our undergraduate programmes to prospective students around the world. It’s the most popular part of our site, attracting more than 6 million external pageviews each year from more than 200 countries and territories.

The new site has been designed to meet the changing demands of visitors to our website, including the use of mobile devices, which has seen a 15-fold increase over the last two years. We also met the technical challenge of incorporating rich course information from iPaMs, our emerging Integrated Programmes and Modules System.

UG Study - responsive course pages

UG Study – responsive course pages

Planning and preparation

We refresh the UG Study website every year, but for this year’s full redesign we went back to first principles and asked ourselves fundamental questions about who our prospective students are, what they want from a website and how we could best provide it.

  • We listened to prospective students who told us where the UG Study website fits into their information-seeking habits, what they want from the website and how this differs from, for example, the printed prospectus.
  • We reviewed websites across UK, US, Canadian and Australian higher education looking for inspiration and examples of best practice.
  • We looked at the sites of large charities and public bodies to help us understand how they encourage their visitors to engage with them.
  • We examined sites which supported ‘big decisions’, such as estate agents, healthcare providers and financial institutions to better understand how they helped visitors to find the right product for them.
  • We read research papers and industry reports to understand that visitors to university websites expected to find familiar user interfaces and tools from ecommerce and social websites, such as search filters, expandable panels and tabbed content.
  • We analysed our web traffic and discovered that course pages, visit day pages and application information account for almost all the traffic to the site, and that almost 20% of visits to the site were made by mobile users.

Designing and building

Based on our research we designed a new scheme for the UG Study site. We aimed to give the pages a more contemporary feel, to increase the amount of space we could use for content by introducing a horizontal navigation menu and to create a set of responsive page layouts which would dynamically adjust to the size of screen the site was being viewed on.

We developed wireframes to represent our main page types and began the ongoing process of testing with potential users of the site and improving our designs based on their feedback.

Creating a single page which will adjust to display well on different devices requires content elements such as text and images to show and hide, resize and reposition depending on the size and orientation of the screen. Responsive design adds a great deal of complexity to content planning and the team had to learn new ways not only to code the website but also to create and manage the content.

Integrating data

We knew from our research that prospective students wanted to find detailed breakdowns of the courses they were considering. To allow us to deliver this, we developed new methods to import data from the iPaMs database into our Web Content Management System. Not only did this present huge technical challenges as we pulled content for more than 300 programmes from one database into another, but with colleagues in the Colleges and the Marketing Team, it required an enormous amount of work to ensure that the data was current and accurate.

Adding search

We built a new ‘course search’ tool, developed using Funnelback, our website search engine. This allows us to index only the UG course pages and bring back results in a form which can be sorted and filtered by criteria such as course duration, location and study options.


Once the site began to take shape, we involved the whole team in testing it for content, appearance and functionality on a huge range of devices. With a site built for smartphones and tablets it’s no longer enough to look at it in the most popular browsers on a desktop PC. We conducted detailed testing on more than 20 different platforms, choosing those combinations of device and browser which were most popular amongst our users. We could have tested five times as many.

Sharing our work

We took the developing site around the University, demoing it to groups and meetings in every College and involving hundreds of staff members, incorporating their feedback and comments as we went.

Launch and beyond

The site was launched on 20 February after more than 12 months of thinking, planning, experimenting, constructing, populating, data-cleansing and testing, testing, testing, all of which was undertaken by the Web and Marketing Teams, with great support from colleagues across the Colleges and Services.

Traffic patterns in the month since the site went live are very encouraging, suggesting that users are engaging with the site more than with its predecessor.

  • We have seen a 43% increase in the number of pageviews per visit to the site
  • a 58% increase in the average visit duration and 
  • a 54% decrease in the bounce rate (i.e. the number of visitors who leave the site immediately after arriving).

Looking specifically at mobile visitors we have seen even more positive results including

  • a 77% increase in the number of pages per visit and 
  • a 142% increase in the average visit duration.

We think the new site is a big step forward. It achieves what we set out to do and, we hope, meets the needs of today’s prospective students. We will continue to learn from the users of our site and to improve it further in the weeks and months to come.

Take a look at the UG Study site and let us know what you think in comments.

Rob Mitchell
Web Editor

Introducing the iExeter Governance Group

iExeter is the University’s smartphone app. Launched in 2012, it has been delivering services to more than 10,000 registered users throughout this academic year.

Here’s what it looks like:

The project to develop iExeter finished in January and now ownership has passed jointly to Communications and Marketing and our colleagues in Exeter IT. Oversight will be from a new Governance Group which meets for the first time next week.

The group is made up of representatives from:

  • Communications and Marketing
  • Exeter IT
  • The Students’ Guild
  • Learning Spaces
  • Student Services
  • Campus Services
  • Academic Colleges

The principle aim of the group is to ensure that iExeter continues to meet and, hopefully, exceed the needs and expectations of our students.

Uptake of iExeter has certainly exceeded our initial expectations. More than half our students have registered for the app and our technology partners oMbiel tell us that this puts us in the top 2 or 3 universities in the UK for take-up. The feedback we’ve received has been positive and the usage stats show that where the service is directly relevant to mobile users then the app is becoming the preferred channel. We’re already seeing access to personalised timetabling information via the app beginning to overtake access from desktop machines. Which makes sense!

We’re using this data to plan the next round of developments, focusing on what our students tell us they want to see.

We’ll keep you updated as we progress, but in the meantime if you have any comments on the app, or ideas for new features, let us have them!

Birch Engine Optimisation

Last week I read a magazine article, which coincidentally talked about the very activity that I, and my colleagues, had spent that day doing. The article said: ‘As the saying goes, ‘If you want to feel good, do good’. Research has proved that volunteering boosts happiness, partly by making you feel more connected with others.’

By the end of the day the team were too tired to attempt even a single 'bunny ears'.

By the end of the day the team were too tired to attempt even a single 'bunny ears'.

I felt strangely pleased to read that, and could vouch for its accuracy. We, the University of Exeter Web Team, had spent that day out of the office on a Community Challenge day, a scheme whereby the University allows each department one day per year to work in the community, doing something of benefit to others.

After much discussion and Googling, we selected Moor Trees as our chosen organisation, mainly because we felt that their work – growing and planting native trees in nurseries and recreating woodlands mainly in the Dartmoor and South Hams areas, was the polar opposite of our everyday work – based at our computers, working with one of the most modern and least tangible of technologies – the internet. We felt how better to benefit the community than to contribute to our beautiful local landscape – and frankly, to benefit ourselves by getting out of the office, away from people and computers and getting our hands dirty – literally.

It was an incredible stroke of luck that our visit coincided with some of the warmest March weather on record, and the day’s early chill gave way to clear blue skies and sunshine. Having gathered at an innocuous-looking gate in a hedge in Dartington, we sat around the ash remains of previous campfires as Michelle from Moor Trees gave us a brief introduction to their work and the nursery that would be our base for the day.

A few nervous titters about the composting toilet thankfully proved unfounded (visions of ‘that’ toilet scene from Slumdog Millionaire flashed through my brain), as it was less ‘Glastonbury’ and more ‘rustic campsite’.

Moor Trees’ shed was a new, proud addition to the nursery which provided welcome shady refuge at lunchtime (yes, it was THAT hot!) and also home to the old Web Team favourites – tea and cake.

So after these introductions, ‘Team Roots’ set to work – some pollarding trees (a method of pruning), some planting out one year-old oak trees into beds (these will be planted out into woodland when they are three years old). Others began repairing the wooden beds in which the acorns and young trees are planted. The beds are frequently damaged by tree roots growing under the planks, which then break when the trees are lifted, so they need frequent repair. Other members of the team were hard at work weeding pathways between the beds and the beds themselves. We were all able to have a go at most of the jobs throughout the day, although some stayed with the manly hammering and sawing work repairing the beds, and some stayed with the humble task of weeding all day.

There was a palpable sense of achievement by the time we were slowing down at the end of the afternoon. The heat had dissipated a little as a fresh breeze picked up, and we tidied around the nursery and emptied wheelbarrowful after wheelbarrowful of weeds on to the compost heap. We could look over the site and see the difference we had made – Michelle from Moor Trees seemed genuinely pleased and impressed that we had managed to complete all the tasks around the nursery in the day, including weeding the entire site, which leaves them with a well-prepared site for the new season ahead. As their busiest season is winter when the young trees are lifted and planted out, the nursery sites suffer a little neglect and need a good dose of attention from volunteers come February/March-time.

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the day was the sense of teamwork. There was a pleasure in everybody working together, enjoying relaxed pockets of conversation, only bettered by the beautiful views provided by the South Hams countryside. The constant company of birds twittering and singing in the trees combined with the distant choo-choo of the Buckfastleigh to Littlehempston steam train was an enjoyable soundtrack to the day.

I think we all agreed that we couldn’t have had a more satisfying rest for our brains while enjoying physical work and fresh air, achieving something beneficial for ourselves, for Moor Trees, and for generations to come.

Media studies

Last week saw the conclusion of this year’s Student’s Guild Sabbatical Officers election campaign at the University. Once again the Guild here broke records for the levels of participation and the campus was filled with enthusiastic students having fun boosting their favourite candidates.

The web has long had a role in student elections here – we’ve had online voting for 6 or 7 years – but this year things seem to have moved to a new level. We had a call the Friday before last to say that some of the students had staged a flash mob on the Piazza in the middle of campus, and that we had some film footage. We thought for a while about whether this was the sort of thing we should be running with, wondered whether it gave unfair promotion to one of the candidates, then stuck it on our YouTube channel and tweeted and facebooked it. By the following Monday the clip had been watched 4,000 times. A week later and it’s pushing 9,000 views.

I thought this was an example of one of the candidates stealing a march on the others, but no. It turns out that you couldn’t be a serious candidate in this year’s elections without your own campaign videos.

We had other, slightly less appropriate Flashes (Warning: Slightly Not Safe For Work).

Some managed to combine campaign messages with serious larking about:

Others seemed to be working on a more subliminal level, although quite what they were conveying wasn’t always clear:

Some of them had fantastic production values:

Some of them were creative sweeties, and even included QR codes for mobile voting:

Some came across as bizarre performance art:

And some seemed to lay their candidates open to a charge of littering:

Very few of the clips went for straight manifesto delivery. All the candidates seemed to conclude that a video could do a thousand times more than a poorly photocopied poster in terms of establishing an impression with their electorate. Even those clips which did detail a specific platform played with the format and tried also to show some personality.

And if all else failed and you couldn’t ape the established news media, you could always just co-opt them!

With one exception, each of the clips above – and these are just a selection – was watched more than 1,000 times during the campaign, that’s against a total number of votes cast of 6,501 which perhaps says something about the reach of videos like these. Of the 5 elected candidates, 4 had online video as  part of their campaign.

We may look back with regret in years to come when our candidates are running slick attack ads against each other, but for now we applaud their ingenuity, their hard work and their sense of fun.

An Apple for teacher?

I work in an almost Apple-free institution. At least, we think we’re Apple-free.

Historically Macs have not been widely supported here, although some colleagues do use them. There are good reasons for this and I’m not an IT strategist so I shall gracefully turn away from discussing them, other than to confirm that my priority is to be able to share, collaborate and work with all my colleagues, rather than to have a shiny aluminium unibody space capsule of a machine glowing elegantly on my desk. I’m happy using my PC.

Despite the fact we don’t support them, don’t purchase them, don’t install and use their devices in our offices, they are in the hands of our customers and over the last few years no company has shaped, informed, affected and attacked the way we do digital things here more than Apple.

The way our sites and services look is now challenged to live up to the grey, sleek almost Scandinavian aesthetic that Jonathan Ive and his disciples have propelled into cultural dominance.

The shift to mobile sites and services, which is finally having a real impact on what we’re doing and planning would not have happened so explosively without the iPhone.

And now the iPad, a sleek lozenge of plastic and metal which has the potential to replace a briefcase full of notes and papers, your atlas, your portable DVD player, your camera, your filing system, your bookshelves, your audio library and much more is making inroads.

"Now, can you point to the ATP molecule? (image copyright Apple 2012)

"Now, can you point to the ATP molecule? (image copyright Apple 2012)

No ad for the iPad is complete without shots of schoolchildren conjuring magic from its screen and, the implication is, being changed forever. Following Apple’s announcement of textbooks for iPad yesterday it looks like we’ll soon be seeing the same shots featuring rather more grown up, perhaps slightly spottier students.

See the YouTube clip for more details (and more shots of transformed students and their grateful teachers).

Although the focus of yesterday’s announcement was on US Schools, I can see this having a direct and perhaps much more immediate impact, on the way university students are taught.

The commissioning, production, approval, adoption and distribution of school textbooks is carefully controlled and regulated. University lecturers, many of whom are at the cutting edge of the use of technology for teaching, are creating and distributing material to small groups all the time, to their own timetables and governed only by their own expectations.

If Apple have, as they claim, put the means of production of engaging, interactive, always-up-to-date learning material into the hands of teachers and academics, and if, as they claim, existing material can be iBooked and distributed in a matter of minutes, then we may well have another revolution on our hands.

There are serious challenges implicit. All universities have carefully planned and supported Virtual Learning Environments which provide a means to create educational material as well as a repository for them. They offer a rich experience, bringing together collaborative tools, mixed media teaching materials and interaction with classmates and teachers. iBooks may do none of those things as well or as coherently in the context of a large institution. But they look exciting and clearly have something to offer and, more to the point, they are about to be pushed at us from every angle by the most powerful marketing outfit of the 21 century.

Watch this shiny screen space.

Job vacancy: Web Officer

We have a vacancy for a Web Officer, to replace Nick Southall who is off to join our Marketing Team. The post offers dedicated support to our Research and Knowledge Transfer service. The Web Officer manages web and social media to promote the University’s research and business-facing activity and supports the development of digital services to help our researchers.

It’s an exciting time to join the University of Exeter and this post would suit a web professional who has a passion for research or an insatiable curiosity to find out what some of the world’s leading academics are up to, and to tell that story to the public.

You can find full details of the Web Officer post here.

What we talk about when we talk about web

Tomorrow we’re holding our first web innovation showcase here at the University of Exeter. It’s been organised by our spirited colleagues in the Web Innovation Project with the intention of demonstrating to colleagues lots of the useful, interesting and fun web-based services that are out there.

Specifically, we’re aiming to show them things they may have heard about but not had chance to investigate or even see. Which puts those of us called upon to run one of the five stands in an interesting position.

I’ll be sitting underneath a banner which says ‘Information’ in a 72 point bubble font. I’m supposed to be espousing the benefits of services such as CiteULike, QuickMark, Limesurvey, EndNote and a whole bunch of Google services too.

Here’s the problem: I spend lots of time talking about these and other services, but next to no time using them. I suspect most of the others involved in the showcase might be in the same position (although they may not admit it). We spend so much time noting the hypothetical usefulnesses of so many different tools that we rarely get the chance to use them to solve the problems our colleagues encoutner every day.

Luckily i’ll have a conspirator, Sue, who knows all there is to know about bibliographies and citation software and will work wonders with that stuff. I’m left looking at those tools I do understand and use to a certain extent - including RSS, Delicious, Twitter, Google Labs Alerts and Docs, iTunes and QR codes - and wondering how to make them appear like useful things for my colleagues to get to grips with.

Preparing has also made me wonder how or indeed if these things are useful for me at all, or just things I feel I ought to know about in case a use presents itself at some indeterminate point in the future.

I think it will be a great session. Hopefully lots of people will learn lots of new things.

I’m also hoping that in the spirit of Web 2.0 I can collaborate with the people who visit the ‘Information’ stand to figure out which of this huge range of services and tools might actually be useful when applied to the ‘real’ world.