How to measure social media influence: research findings

By Lara Carim, on 23 January 2017

The UCL Digital Communications team recently commissioned research to help us measure and map the influence of accounts that engage with UCL on social media.

The research findings provided a huge amount of data to digest, as well as much food for thought regarding process and cost benefits.

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How to measure social media influence: the UCL challenge

By Lara Carim, on 19 January 2017

The social media landscape offers an overwhelming variety of reach and engagement metrics, but what do they actually tell us about the influence our social media activity has?

The UCL Digital Communications team regularly evaluates the social media channels we run in terms of growth and engagement. We also take a holistic view of performance for cross-network campaigns.

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New website: About UCL

By Sasha Arms, on 3 November 2016

The new About UCL website has launched this week at:

The relaunch follows an extensive process of technical and user research, user testing and iterative redevelopment.

Key findings from our early research showed that the About UCL website serves multiple audiences, and that users expect to find top-level information about UCL on the website, with links to full information elsewhere on the UCL web estate.

Audiences and content

Given the nature of the About UCL website, it caters for a particularly large number of audiences. This involves a balancing act to deliver information in a way that meets most users’ needs.

We honed in on the audiences our research showed were the main priorities: prospective students, prospective staff, and partners who may want to work with UCL. Current staff and current students are also audiences the About UCL website attracts.

However, we were pleased to find commonalities in these audiences’ content needs and how they expected the website to be organised. In addition, the fact that our research strongly showed users wanted pared-down content, with links to fuller content on other UCL websites, helped us create a stripped-back information architecture that delivers users directly to summarised information.

Old About UCL home page:

Old About UCL website


To redevelop the About UCL website, we followed a rigorous website development process following industry best practice. This included:

  • background research, which involved interrogation of statistics via Google Analytics, one-to-one interviews with UCL stakeholders, desktop research e.g. review of ‘about’ sections of other websites, and an online survey to identify key audiences and content needs
  • analysis, which included the identification of user-centred site objectives, developing success criteria and measures, identifying a list of content and undertaking card-sorting exercises with key audience groups, developing an information architecture, producing page description diagrams (PDDs) and identifying desirable multimedia and visual assets
  • development, which involved creating a new Sandbox website, iterative development and user testing with key audiences using desktop, iPad and mobile phone platforms.

User-centred website objectives

The objectives we identified following the user research were:

  • practical information: signpost users to key related information about UCL and top-level information about the university
  • university achievements: depict unique, impressive and inspiring information about UCL
  • UCL life: stimulate engagement with UCL achievements, activities and compelling factual information
  • sense of place: create a feeling that UCL is modern, exciting and authoritative.

New About UCL home page:

New About UCL home page

New website characteristics

The key new characteristics of the new About UCL website incorporate all the prominent findings that emerged during the website redevelopment project.

  • Content is organised into new sections: who, what, why, where and how. Many participants in our card-sorting exercises and user testing identified this as a clear way of organising information on this website.
  • Each of these sections also broadly aligns with the key messages UCL released earlier in the year. A collection of case studies can be found in each section of the About UCL website, relating to the topics covered in that section, e.g. case studies about UCL’s people, past and present in the ‘who we are’ section.
  • Key statistics appear throughout the website. Users called on us to find a more visual way to depict some of UCL’s top achievements and unique selling points. The infographics of these statistics are also available to download in a .zip file, so that staff can easily reuse them in their own communications.
  • New content has been added to the About UCL website to meet users’ needs. This includes information about UCL’s institutional plans and strategies, a 360 (virtual reality) tour of UCL campus highlights, and examples of UCL’s research and community impact.
  • Some of the content from the former About UCL website remains on the site, but in an updated format, such as the history section.
  • The website is mobile and tablet friendly after being redeveloped using UCL’s Indigo design pattern library.

As with all our website relaunches, we will revisit the site in a few months’ time to ascertain how users are interacting with the new design, and will continue to make iterative developments to the new approach as appropriate.

Visit the About UCL website.

Social media video part two: the 360-degree video revolution?

By Robert Eagle, on 15 August 2016

Within tech and social media circles, everyone is talking about virtual reality (VR) and 360-degree (or 360) videos.

Facebook has prioritised it, allowing users to upload 360 videos and investing in and developing a VR headset called the Oculus Rift. Samsung has emerged as an early consumer industry leader with the Samsung Gear 360 camera to accompany their Galaxy smartphones and VR headsets. YouTube even rebuilt its video player from the ground up to allow users to upload 360 videos as they would any other video.

With Goldman Sachs predicting the VR industry’s value to be at £80bn by 2025, it’s clear we are at the beginning of a VR revolution that has the potential to change how we capture our environments and tell stories.

So what does this mean for communicating news stories, student experience and research findings at UCL? I’ll share what we in UCL Communications have been learning about 360 videos.

360 videos on social media

As I mentioned in my last blog post about live streaming on Facebook, 2016 is the year of social media video innovation. 360 videos’ first wave of mass appeal this year is on Facebook.

Still of UCL's 360 campus highlights film

UCL’s Flaxman Gallery in 360 degrees

I have made three videos with the Ricoh Theta S that we have uploaded to both YouTube and Facebook. The first was an atmospheric video of highlights of the UCL campus. Viewers enjoyed the novelty of having an interactive video. Spin your smartphone or tablet around and suddenly you can look around campus 360 degrees.

As most of our videos are viewed on mobile devices, it makes sense that we create videos catering more to smartphone users than the traditional PC desktop user. This isn’t without its problems, however, as many people at UCL may have antiquated PCs with old versions of web browsers incapable of playing 360 videos.

However, if we want to lead technical innovation in communications in higher education, we need to start to experiment with new tech before it is universally accessible. That will help us determine the most effective use of the technology by the time the majority is on board.

As far as statistics go, the film reached nearly 46,000 users on Facebook with over 20,000 views. It was also relatively popular on Twitter with nearly 11,000 impressions – that is, the number of users who saw the tweet.

Following the campus highlights, I went around the Slade MA/MFA Degree Show, capturing the buzz and student performances. Tracey Emin even made a cameo twice in the video.

The most complex 360 video I’ve made yet was about a trip with a UCL Institute of Education project on teaching the First World War.

Telling stories in 360

Tyne Cot cemetery, France - still from 360 degree WW1 centenary film

Still from 360 degree WW1 centenary film

I actually made the First World War 360 video concurrently with a 6-minute standard flat film. When you watch the two films together, you get a sense of how different the pace, character development and storytelling are.

Simply put, a flat 2D video allowed me to get across a lot of information through talking head interviews, interspersed with close, mid-range and wide shots that provide context and editing pace.

360, however, is an entirely different language of film-making. I had to leave behind a linear journey narrative structure and instead embrace atmospheric audio, and allow the audience to explore the landscapes. I brought in voices of participants, but there are no talking heads to camera.

Where do we go from here? This is only the beginning of 360 films at UCL and more broadly. On a technical level, I’ll be using the Samsung Gear 360 camera more, as it’s higher resolution. On a conceptual level, I want to start playing with interviews in 360 and incorporating animation into videos.

I’m currently developing a series of 360 films on how UCL students and staff in Computer Science, Psychology and the Bartlett have been using virtual reality technology for several years, long before the latest 360 video craze.

Points to think about before making your own 360 video at UCL

  • Gimmick factor: Are you using this technology simply because it’s new and cool, or do you want to say something in 360 that you can’t say in a flat film? Not everything is suitable for 360. Atmospheric and immersive experiences are a good place to start.
  • Cameras: Check out this list of camera options
  • Placement of camera: If you can’t get your 360 camera in amongst the action, don’t bother. A 360 video shot from the back of the room is not engaging. You’re better off shooting with a video camera and zooming in.
  • Height and monopod: Height is usually best at eye-level, though you can play around with different heights if you want your audience to see something from above or below. More importantly, you’ll want a monopod (around £70-£100), as a tripod will appear in shot below the camera.
  • Audio: Because the audio on the Theta is poor, I use an external audio recorder and match up the sound when editing. Having sumptuous audio is absolutely vital to creating immersive 360 video.
  • Resolution: The Theta has terrible resolution when blown up on a PC screen, though it’s adequate for a mobile screen. The Samsung Gear 360 Camera has nearly twice the resolution, but you need a PC or Samsung Galaxy phone to download the footage. There are more advanced ways of making 360 videos (e.g. with a GoPro 360 rig), but these are complicated to produce, so I’d recommend you pay a specialist production company to do this for you.
  • Editing and uploading: Fortunately, you can edit 360 footage as an equirectangular (a sort of Mercator projection) ratio in normal editing software. The key is to export as a high-res Quicktime file, convert to an MP4 file at 20mbps and then inject the 360 metadata with Spatial Media Metadata Injector. Then the video is ready to upload to Facebook or YouTube as any other video file.

Tempted to create your own 360 video? Let us know how your 360 plans and how you get on, or feel free to ask any further questions:

Latest developments in social media video: part one

By Robert Eagle, on 8 June 2016

As the in-house multimedia producer in UCL Communications since 2009, I’ve seen the world of online video grow and diversify in the past seven years. But now is the most exciting time in a decade for online video (since Google bought YouTube in 2006), and here’s why: the recent accessibility of live streaming across social media and the impending explosion of 360-degree videos.

2016 is the year of social media video innovation. In this, the first of two blogposts, I’ll share lessons UCL Digital Communications have learnt from this brave new world of social media streaming video.

UCL live streamingStreaming video on social media

Until now, streaming video has been somewhat inaccessible for most people. UCL’s Digital Media Services team have been live streaming events at UCL for several years through UCL Live and YouTube. However, they used specialist cameras and streaming software to produce complex live streams.

In 2015, apps like Meerkat and Periscope appeared, making live streaming accessible to everyone with a smartphone. Periscope worked via Twitter and attracted 10 million registered users by August, while Facebook watched from the sidelines and took notes.

In December, Facebook announced they would start rolling out live streaming to members. This spring, many users from news agencies like Channel 4 and Al Jazeera to individual members started streaming from within the Facebook app.

Whenever a user live streams, Facebook sends a notification to followers and friends. So while you might miss your auntie’s latest pic of her cat in your already saturated newsfeed, you’ll know when she’s live streaming her moggie’s antics, as you’ll receive a notification during and after.

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UCL Antenna: our new digital publication

By Ben Stevens, on 21 January 2016

With attention spans supposedly getting shorter by the day, it might seem a strange time to launch UCL Antenna, our digital publication on Medium – a platform that specialises in in-depth, magazine-style features.

UCL Antenna front pageBut has a diet of Buzzfeed and Vine really dulled people’s appetite for the kind of journalism that explores a subject in detail rather than in listicle format?

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UCL Instagram channel surpasses 11,000 followers

By Kilian Thayaparan, on 26 October 2015

UCL’s official Instagram channel has accumulated 11,000 followers – an increase of approximately 90% since this time last year.

The milestone comes as a result of a year of student-focused campaigns and initiatives – a response to the growing popularity of the photo-sharing platform, particularly among young adults.

UCL Instagram channelThe channel features news, events, competitions and a variety of images illustrating life across the UCL community. Popular posts have included a marriage proposal between two UCL alumni, the ever-popular Main Quad and a video showing 1950s life in a women’s UCL halls of residence.

A particular highlight over the last year was the #loveUCL competition 2014-15, which received almost 2,000 entries over the course of the academic year, and its success has led to a reworked version for 2015-16.

The best images are featured in myUCL, UCL’s weekly all-student e-newsletter, which has also been relaunched this term in line with student feedback, and now features even more student-generated content.

In addition, the channel has also been a core element of the recent #newtoUCL campaign, which set out to welcome new students joining the university and to provide useful information across our central social media channels at the start of term.

Follow UCL on Instagram and tag your photos of UCL life with #loveUCL, and we’ll aim to share them with the UCL community.

@ucl on Twitter: defining audiences and content

By Sasha Arms, on 21 October 2015

UCL runs hundreds of Twitter channels, run by faculties, departments, research centres, individual programmes, student societies, and everything in between.

It’s fairly unusual for an organisation, albeit a large one, to have so many Twitter handles. Many organisations have stringent, centrally managed social media policies, aiming to retain an element of control and consistency over social media communications. At UCL, we offer guidelines and other information via our social media website, but our colleagues across UCL running social media channels have overall responsibility. The array of voices across these social media channels build up a picture of the diversity of life at UCL.

The Communications and Marketing (CAM) office runs a few of UCL’s central Twitter channels. For a number of years, @uclnews has been UCL’s main Twitter channel, run by the Media Relations team. Other colleagues in CAM run @UCLEvents, @UCL_IntOffice and @pams_ucl.

The Twitter handle @ucl had previously been registered by a user unrelated to UCL. However, in October 2014, we were successful in a process to acquire @ucl.

Who is @ucl for?

Since UCL has so many Twitter channels targeting distinctive audiences, we decided to make @ucl the channel that brings together the highlights of life at UCL. Communicators and marketers like to define specific audiences for specific channels, and most of the time, this is best practice. In this case, however, most of UCL’s other Twitter channels were established before @ucl was acquired, with most accumulating a following of users with specific interests. UCL’s overall Twitter space was clearly lacking a handle that draws the ‘best bits’ together.

As a result, our early research shows that @ucl appeals to current students and staff, who use the channel to find out about and share top level announcements, opportunities and goings-on around campus. Alumni like to keep an eye on this information too, while prospective students get a flavour of life at UCL. Global spectators with an interest in research and innovation get a snapshot of UCL’s latest activity.

UCL on Twitter

UCL is such a bustling and thriving place, there’s always more going on than we can tweet about, but the Twitter handle provides our rapidly growing following with an overview of what’s happening at UCL, much like the UCL homepage.

What’s the difference between @ucl and @uclnews?

The biggest task we’re working on at the moment is to differentiate between @ucl and @uclnews, so that internal and external audiences know which channel to follow to meet their needs.

@ucl is aimed at external and internal audiences interested in what’s happening across the UCL community, with a focus on publically intelligible information.

@uclnews is aimed at anyone interested in UCL’s news and latest research.

Followers of @ucl can expect to see highlights of life at UCL, a snapshot of the latest activity from across the university, UCL achievements and top-level practical information for staff and students. The tone of the channel is warm and digestible to the educated layperson. It emphasises an array of voices from across UCL. Typical tweets include:

Congratulations to Sudanese artist Ibrahim el-Salahi, who has received an honorary doctorate from UCL @SladeSchool

Calling all students joining us in Sept: our new students website is full of useful & practical information  #newtoUCL

@ucl on Twitter

Followers of @uclnews can expect to see UCL’s latest press releases, coverage of UCL in the media, UCL’s latest research and links to opinion pieces from UCL academics. The tone of the channel is authoritative and focused on key newsworthy information. Typical tweets include:

Catch @helenczerski, @apontzen & @LSmonster answering listeners’ science questions on @BBCRadio4 #InsideScience

Tropical forests will still exist in 2100 – but they will be a sorry sight … (@SimonLLewis of @UCLgeography)

@uclnews on Twitter

As you might expect, there is a close relationship between these channels, and we therefore retweet each other on occasions or post about the same story, when we believe information is appropriate and interesting to both sets of audiences.

Over the coming months, we’ll be working on embedding the understanding of these two channels and their complementary purposes through staff communications, and by working with UCL’s other Twitter channel managers to help us spread the word. Do follow @ucl to see these plans unfold, and give us your thoughts.

See also: this two page document explaining the difference between @ucl and @uclnews on Twitter (doc, 16kb).


New website: Communications and Marketing office

By Sasha Arms, on 20 August 2015

The new website for the Communications and Marketing office (CAM) has launched this week at:

There have been aspirations in CAM for some time to update and improve the website, namely to be as useful as possible to the colleagues across UCL we support, as well as to reflect the breadth of work CAM does. We started the new website process in March 2015 and are pleased to unveil the new website this week.

Principle issues

1. A common piece of feedback CAM has received is that our colleagues across UCL do not necessarily know which team within CAM is responsible for specific areas of communications and marketing. CAM is comprised of five teams: Communications, Corporate Events, the International Office, Media Relations and Publications and Marketing Services (PAMS).

These teams look after everything from digital communications, branding implementation and public events, to the print and online prospectus, graduate marketing and international student recruitment. Understandably, therefore, it’s not always clear to people which team or individual is responsible for what.

Old CAM website home page

Old CAM website home page

2. Furthermore, from the feedback we’ve received, it’s clear that when our colleagues across UCL get in touch with us, they do so with a specific activity in mind. This principle formed the basis of our new website structure. Rather than having to work through team pages to find the one responsible for a particular activity, users can now view all the activities CAM is responsible for from the home page of the CAM website.

Activities are thus at the core of the website, and each activity page summarises the support available to UCL departments in relation to that activity, as well as the key contact(s) for the activity, relevant resources, and links to related activities.

New CAM website home page

New CAM website home page

3. Since relatively small teams in CAM aim to support the whole UCL community, our time can sometimes be spread quite thin. That’s why it’s also important for us to provide resources and toolkits to help more colleagues across the organisation. As well as having these available on relevant activity pages, we have a dedicated A to Z of resources on the new CAM site, giving users easy access to the range of resources the department has available. These resources will be added to as more are developed.

4. Finally, with the release of the new Indigo framework from Web and Mobile Services (WAMS), we were keen to implement a CAM website that took advantage of the new elements made possible by Indigo, such as responsive templates.

User testing

Once we had developed a first version of the new CAM website, which addressed these principle issues, we invited a sample of ten users from a range of UCL departments to take part in user testing sessions, aided by some user testing software called Camtasia. Users were asked to complete a series of tasks designed to test fundamental aspects of the website. They were also asked to think of real-life needs they might have in relation to communications and marketing, then see if they could fulfil their needs using the website.

We recorded some key themes from these user testing sessions, both positive and negative:


  • Users liked seeing the list of activities up-front on the website and thought the activities list covered everything they might be looking for on the website.
  • Users could easily find the contact details of CAM staff responsible for specific activities and areas of work.
  • Users liked the consistent layout on each activity page and felt this would make the site easy to use on an ongoing basis.


  • Many users did not notice the top navigation links and introductory copy on the home page.
  • Users expected the website to look more ‘visual’ e.g. with images, although users also felt the lack of visuals made it obvious the website was aimed at internal audiences.
  • Many users stopped scrolling at the end of the activities list on the home page, presuming there was no further information, when in fact there were two further sections.
  • Most users did not find the Resources section.

We responded to the negative aspects we recorded in the user testing sessions by:

  • making the top navigation more prominent, introducing a left-hand navigation from the home page, and making the introductory text more prominent by pulling out links to other key sections of the website
  • introducing images to key landing pages of the website, while maintaining best practice in terms of not adding too many distracting decorative images
  • removing the sections previously appearing at the bottom of the home page, since the more prominent navigation and links at the top of the page removed the necessity of these sections
  • making the Resources section more prominent as a result of the improvements to the navigational links.
Resources page on new CAM website

Resources page on new CAM website


After implementing the recommendations we compiled from the user testing sessions and further refining the new CAM website, we are pleased to launch the website this week. The website can be found on the same url as the old CAM site:

If you have any queries or feedback about the new CAM website, please contact us at

UCL Maps: technical challenges (part 2)

By Nick Dawe, on 4 June 2015

(Note, this post continues on from UCL Maps: finding the way to a new website)

Prototype development

Based on our user stories, I could start developing a basic prototype. However, it was obvious from the outset that there were be some technical challenges to overcome. In particular, I needed to address how an effective university map website could:

  • be mobile and touch-device friendly
  • be able to integrate route-finding tools, rather than expecting users to ‘hop’ off to another site to use these
  • make it easy to find a location.

As solutions to these were investigated, they were continually tested by UCL staff and students through task-driven testing sessions – which continually yielded useful results (even when it meant that we had to completely start again on some ideas!).


UCL Web and Mobile Services has produced a helpful framework known as Indigo, which can be used to build UCL-branded responsive websites quickly and easily. This was ideal for us to use, as it removed a lot of the headaches of having to design and develop the site’s layouts, allowing us to focus solely on the map and its user interface (UI).

From our initial research and recommendations, it was obvious that a lot of the extra information on the current Maps website was not used (apart from the links to downloading map PDFs). Therefore the new site would have a map that would take as much of the available window space as possible, with a small UI taking up just a fraction of this.

A new map overlay also needed to be designed. While the old one certainly worked well, there were areas where its colour scheme didn’t have enough contrast against the Google Maps background, which could cause problems for some users. As a result, Rory Morrison, one of UCL Communications’s graphic designers, worked on a new version that could work best in this setup.

Responsive maps

The initial design, as displayed on any device with a small viewport, presented the map and then the UI ‘stacked’ below. While the UI’s own design was still being worked out, a new problem for touch devices became apparent.

Google Maps overrides the default scrolling behaviour of its maps. So, if you scroll on the map itself, the page won’t move up or down as you’d expect, but will instead zoom in or out of the map. This effectively meant that ‘stacking’ the map and UI created a site that was particularly hard to use, because the user wouldn’t be able to scroll to the UI if it was below the viewport fold.

This was rather frustrating, as the best solution found was to display an additional link to the UI for touch devices, which displayed on top of the map. All other devices would still let users scroll through content (meaning that we could still simply use the same Indigo patterns without any modifications).

However, for touch devices, the UI link would need to be fixed to the bottom of the viewport. On occasions when additional information would have to be displayed (e.g. a location’s details), the map would then be hidden, with the information filling the screen.

(Note – screenshots below are based on the final website)


UCL Maps website on mobile touchscreen


UCL Maps website location on mobile touchscreen































Route-finding integration

As previously mentioned, another aim was to integrate route finding tools, based on CASA’s popular routefinder website. After CASA kindly provided us with the original source code and data, I was then able to work on:

  • developing a version of the route finder that could work on UCL supported technologies (e.g. PHP and MySQL)
  • updating it with new UCL locations and possible routes.

The technical details of this are out of the scope of this post, but another challenge was to then understand how best to integrate these tools with the main map UI.

Location route and directions (as displayed on final version of the UCL Maps website)

Next… how a UI was designed that could make it easier for users to find locations.