Category Archives: Users

Going Above and Beyond in Wales

In December, the Oxplore team were invited to attend the Seren Network’s conference ‘Above and Beyond’. Seren is a network of regional hubs designed to support Wales’ brightest sixth formers achieve their academic potential, and the conference brought over 1000 of them to Newtown in Mid-Wales.

Given the sheer number of students, we invited current Oxford students, Joseff and Tamsin, along to lend a hand in delivering workshops and demonstrating the site

We delivered workshops with over 200 Year 12s, and enjoyed seeing how they responded to the tasks we set for them (creating, discussing and presenting their ideas for Big Questions). Being put on the spot – especially when you’ve been travelling in a coach since 6am – can be daunting! Their ideas were creative and their responses astute and considered. Joseff and Tamsin roamed the workshop rooms to challenge their assumptions, and at the end of the sessions the Welsh students submitted their own Questions to us to bring back to Oxford. We put them – all 275 of them – to the Director of Undergraduate Admissions who carefully considered them before choosing 4 to receive prizes from us….

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Bringing the Oxplore concept from Oxford to Wales allows us to spend some time away from our desk and the ongoing task of developing new content and live streams. It also allows us to meet some of the young people we want to encourage to use the site. In our development, feedback was crucial, and even now we’re keen to test the ongoing appeal of the site. On this occasion, 95.2% of those surveyed said they would use after the session – and a modest (well, it was Christmas) increase in pageviews and visit duration from Welsh users bears this through into site usage.


Reaching ‘Generation Zzz’

The aspect of the Oxplore project that I am asked about most often is how we are using social media to reach our target audience of 11-18 year olds. This group are naturally social media savvy – indeed in some of the schools we’ve been in thus far, pupils have described social media as one of their main ‘hobbies’! However, this group are also notoriously hard to market to – often referred to as  ‘Generation Zzzz’. So, we’ve been using the past months and our pilot periods to test what works to ensure we divert our efforts to the most effective tasks when we launch nationally.

Our starting point is by ensuring we are everywhere our users are – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat. If another network pops up and grows in popularity – we will move there too. This is a necessary flexibility in the social world. We’re already slightly victim to the more private networks like WhatsApp that our audience are moving towards.

social-media-2173511_640We have a fairly busy programme of scheduled ‘organic’ or free content. Throughout both our pilots, I’ve been scheduling educational but easy to digest content around the theme of ‘Big Question of the Week’. This is a content-led approach which helps us build up our reputation for interesting and provocative approaches.

In this organic content, each network has its own challenges and opportunities. For example, on Instagram it obviously has to be a visual post and the current scheduling option from Hootsuite is not ideal, but hashtagging makes the content very discoverable. On Facebook, it is tough to break out from those who have already decided to follow your page but the content delivery types are very varied.

We are advertising on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Thus far, my general opinion is that the targeting options on Facebook and Instagram are more useful for reaching our audience because we can segment by age into the 13-18 age group.

Twitter does reach a large audience and the clickthroughs are actually slightly higher over the period, but the segmentation options do not give me enough reassurance that we are reaching young people. Twitter does not gather date of birth or more detailed information about the users, it segments by interests and some characteristics as well as location. The trends seem to suggest 11-18 year olds are less active on Twitter, and their number (11.7% of all users) is dwarfed by the 18+ demographic.

Facebook and Instagram both offer much more tailoring because of the information they hold on the users. It is very easy to build up a profile by age and location (down to the km) and include potential interests from an unlimited support. While the anecdotal wisdom I’ve heard always suggested that younger people were less interested in Facebook, statistics suggest 84% of the demographic have a Facebook account.

I’m using the pilot period to trial different advert types and target different segments. The main purpose here is to see how broad or narrow to set the audience for the best return. For example, in one test I ran a split test across three groups: one for every young person in the region, one for young people with some specifics (like maybe they liked science or reading) and their current level of education, and another targeting down to specific groups they might be in or the pages they might follow. There is something a little Goldilocks here, and the evidence so far suggests that Mother Bear’s porridge is getting the most bites!

The social network advert managers do tell me how the ads are performing, the cost per interaction and some of the demographic details (like, for example, all our advertising is currently hitting 2/3 girls and 1/3 boys). However, in creating the advert I’ve taken the time to use the simple campaign URL builder so that I can track the source of the visits through into our Google Analytics. This shows me that in general most of our mobile referrals spend a shorter time on the site than users coming from our sources (like Googling us). So, getting them there through social media is only one part of the challenge when dealing with Generation Zzzz….


Image by Wakalani (Flickr), CC BY SA

What we learned from teenagers

This week we held the last of our consultation sessions with the group of 11-16 year olds at the Into University centre. As we move away from the conceptual and into the technical side of development, this seems like a good time to reflect on exactly how 14 rowdy young people have shaped our ideas.

The content we are collating is structured around questions. Most of these were voted for by the young people – they were rated highly as sparking their curiosity. Some of the questions we came up with and that we thought were interesting were given a resounding thumbs down from the group. We’re not pursuing them. Even more pleasing – questions that the group came up with together will feature on the site for launch. Their suggestions in this area were particularly insightful and challenging.

The notion of wanting to have a say came across loud and clear from all the sessions. At times the debate of the suggested content had to be curbed to get back to the task at hand! To harness this enthusiasm, forming and sharing opinions is key to our concept – so our users can feel a part of the debate. The notion of reward and gamification (through achievement badges and/or levels) proved a popular idea too so that will be a part of the user experience. And, while we didn’t end up going with one of the names they suggested, the name we’ve chosen was overwhelmingly their first choice name from our list of suggestions.

We obviously hope to stimulate and engage all of our users when the site launches. However,if we can meet the high expectations of our first consultative group and do justice to their ideas we are on to a winner.

Some of the Year 11 girls debating debating

Checking and balancing

Every project needs a place to sense check. We’re at the stage with the digital outreach portal that many, many decisions that will shape the portal need to be made swiftly. In the next few weeks we’ll be making further steps forward in our plans for content, branding, visual identity, site design and more. With so much happening at once, we’re lucky to be able to sense check ideas and learn from the potential portal users that make up our consultative group.

As we blogged after our first group, we’ve brought together a group of 14 young people with the help of Into University’s centre in Blackbird Leys in Oxford. As the weeks go on, we remain delighted with our young people’s enthusiasm. They’ve picked up our brief and needs quickly, and they’re certainly informing our decision-making through a combination of debate, voting and individual written feedback.

Last week we asked them to consider the pros and cons of ‘gamification’ of the site. They told us how they like to feel like they’re achieving things and a part of a bigger community, but there were some that were not convinced by some attempts to engage them. They also told us what they liked in terms of ‘look and feel’. It isn’t surprising that ‘digital native’ young people have some very particular thoughts about the style of the digital resources they interact with. They are also helping with the ongoing task of choosing a name for the portal.

This week they worked in smaller groups and were able to interact with wireframes of some concepts. For the first time, I think they were able to see how their ideas have already been listened to, and they were able to see something tangible. They were asked what they liked and didn’t like about each design.

Some of the things that they liked included some of the innovative interface features (more to be revealed soon) and the ability to see what is newest on the site. Interestingly, they preferred scrolling down to scrolling across a carousel. Not only is their feedback detailed and specific, but it is clear that our group take their responsibility seriously. Discussion was considered throughout, and most groups worked without even taking a break between designs!

Thumbs up for scrolling down.
Yau Hoong Tang (Flickr) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Meet the users

How do you know what young people think about learning, exploring and developing a portal for them? Ask them.

Yesterday we held our first consultative group session with eleven young people based in the Oxford area. Our hosts were the Into University centre in Oxford who are used to working closely with young people. The individuals in our group have been specially recruited as representative of future users of the digital outreach portal. We’ll be meeting with our Oxford consultative group weekly over the next six weeks.

The purpose of the consultative group is to receive ongoing feedback from our core audience as the digital outreach portal develops. We will ask their opinion on everything from content and design to navigation and naming. We know that young people can be a challenging audience to reach, and particularly with a first of its kind project like ours. This is why we’re going out to meet them already – we want them involved in its development. What’s more, we know young people use the internet and engage with digital technology in a way that is completely different from us older folk.

Lisa Ritager (Flickr) CC BY-NC-ND 2.0The primary focus of the first consultative group was to get to know our participants better, in particular the way they like to think and the kinds of questions they find most interesting. Just as importantly we’re interested in what devices they use and what they use them for. Participants were asked to bring to the session the device they most commonly use to access the internet. Unsurprisingly all of our young people brought their smartphones with them, with one even bringing a tablet too. Guess that supports our view for mobile first design!

One key take-out from yesterday’s session was simplicity and ease of use, rather than design, were key criteria identified by young people for the site. This will surely impact on the site navigation and look/feel. Another key issue is the potential challenges of accessing the site using mobile data as opposed to Wi-Fi – especially if you don’t have lots of data on your phone contract.

Overall we’re thrilled with our first consultative group and are looking forward to continuing to work with such brilliant, thoughtful and engaged young people – we’ve got a great bunch!