Making University news digital

Research has shown that digital users are rarely interested in the press release articles which are often shown under a ‘News’ heading on a university website. Back in 2013, Paul Boag quoted a report from Chris Scott who stated that “less than 1% of visitors view a news release.” The digital communications team at the University of St Andrews found similar results when looking at the data surrounding press release news stories on the St Andrews website. This is possibly not surprising; press releases are designed and created for journalists and contacts within the media, and simply putting them online will not necessarily make them appealing to a wider audience.

Screen shot of Boagworld website - do users care about your latest news?

In order to produce and promote news which meets user needs and increases engagement, the digital communications team wanted to understand the purpose of news on the St Andrews website, and whether there was a better way to meet the needs of the institution. After engaging with stakeholders and colleagues in Corporate Communications and the news team, we came to understand that the news team aims to promote the research findings, teaching excellence and current initiatives of the University, both via external media sources and through direct communication with those connected to St Andrews. There is a requirement to provide information both to journalists, via traditional press releases, and digital users, who expect news to be immediate, relevant and engaging.

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Today, the digital communications team works with the news team to create a new type of news content for the University website. The content is created with users in mind; covering topics which analysis has shown there to be an interest in, and incorporating vivid images, compelling video content and exclusive interviews. The stories – no longer promoted as ‘news’ – are not time sensitive, and are promoted on the University homepage and social media accounts for a one-month period.

We have mentioned our approach to creating this kind of news story before,  but recent examples of the long form news stories created are as follows:

These stories are responsive, using a modular design which is pulled from the St Andrews digital pattern library. The design matches the wider redesign of the St Andrews website, and the patterns designed for these pages have since been used in further developments. The content team now publishes out one long form story a month, showcasing the exciting research, teaching and projects taking place across the University. These stories are supported by promotion on social media, internal communications and through the contacts built within Schools and Departments.

Views of the long form stories in 2016

Data has shown a strong positive response to this new manner of displaying academic and University news to the St Andrews audience. Since the first new style content pages went live, these four stories have been viewed over 4,700 times. The pages are viewed, on average, for over 3 minutes, which is more than 100% longer than the time spent on pages on the University website as a whole. In addition, feedback from colleagues across the University has been positive, with members of the academic community contacting the team with ideas for future long form stories.

We believe that our approach puts us at the forefront of curating, moulding and promoting news in UK higher education; and we intend to integrate long form stories into our digital toolkit for future projects. With websites such as Buzzfeed, Vice and Pitchfork creating regular long form stories, Medium providing a platform to create long form stories, and Forbes advocating the use of this channel to communicate with millennials, we can only see the attraction of these stories growing.

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