Friday, 16 October 2009

Automating events notification

After last week's Friday afternoon blogpost on how I'm using RSS, Twitterfeed, Twitter and Facebook to engage with our students, I thought I'd write a follow up.

Up until now I've only connected up our news item RSS feeds to Twitterfeed but I haven't connected up our events RSS feeds. The reason for this is that some of our events (e.g. our workshop programme) we publish in bulk at the beginning of term and so RSS out from these wouldn't work in a timely fashion. Then I had an idea (just as I was trying to get to sleep) - what about creating a collection portlet on our website (Plone) and set the criteria to only display events that are 24 hours in the future. Then if the RSS from this collection was connected to Twitterfeed the events would appear automatically on our Twitter account 24 hours before they happen, which in turn would appear on our Facebook fan page. All of which would neatly feed in to our followers' news feeds without me having to do anything (or without having to pester other people to do anything).

So this is the criteria I set in the Plone collection item:
  • Item type = Event
  • Location = [relevant folder]
  • State = Published
  • Start date (and this is the bit that makes it work in a timely fashion) = 1 day/in the future/on the day
And to my considerable astonishment it worked!
So now we'll be letting students know of events, via Twitter and Facebook, 24 hours before the events happen, without having to do anything. And whilst this clearly doesn't stop the need for conversation - it does help facilitate it.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Trying hard to connect

I thought I should write something about how I'm using Twitter and Facebook in Student Development at the University of Leicester. Two important things to say first:
  1. I'm not saying we're doing it perfectly - I just want to let people know what we're doing and invite comment. Some things are going well and some things could definitely do with improving - I'd be interested to know your thoughts
  2. I've had a lot of advice, some of it inferred from how I see people using Twitter and Facebook and some of it direct advice (thanks especially to @caffeinebomb, @ajcann, @fawcettbj and @thisisdavid)

What are we doing?

We're trying to connect with students in order to make them aware of the services we offer to help them in their studies and their career planning. I've recently revamped the Student Development website to make it more dynamic by adding lots of RSS feeds to get news articles out. The other thing I'm trying to do is to connect up to people's social spaces using Twitter and Facebook.

Broadcasting (the easy bit)

The easy bit (although it took a bit of thought to connect it all up) is broadcasting. I didn't want to have to do this manually so I've automated it using a combination of RSS, Twitter, Twitterfeed, Facebook and a Facebook application called selective Twitter status (see 'How are we doing it?', below).

Conversation (the more difficult bit)

The more difficult bit is actually having conversations with people, and this is the bit we need to work on more. Having conversations takes time and resources but is the bit that makes the biggest difference. I'm using Hootsuite to allow multiple users to tweet to our uolsd account. Hootsuite took a bit of figuring out but is great now we've got the hang of it. The people who tweet to the account are me plus our Helpdesk staff - these are PhD students who work for us on a casual basis in our Student Development Zone. We need to work on this more because the PhD students haven't used Twitter before, and we also need to get a consistent voice. Generally speaking we are being reactive, responding to requests, rather than proactive. As we follow more people though we should begin to see more people who we can help. I am trying to follow only University of Leicester students who first follow us - that way we are a) responding to the needs of our students and b) hopefully it doesn't feel like we're stalking them(!).

How are we doing it?

The diagram above shows how it works.

And that's it! We're slowly building up a bit of a following - currently 201 followers on Twitter and 147 fans of our Facebook page. We have a link to our Twitter and Facebook information on every page of our website, along with a bit of an explanation, which you can see here.

That's a bit rushed but I'd be interested in your comments and suggestions.