Colin Buttimer is Central Saint Martins’ web manager. It is a role that has morphed and expanded exponentially in his four and a half year tenure. We spoke to Colin about the ways in which he responds to new digital technologies and his vision for increased interactivity between the College and its students.
My role was a new role. I began as a web co-ordinator, and I’m now web manager.
At the beginning I was responsible for maintaining and developing the CSM website. Then I was asked to develop an intranet for the College.
During the last four and a half years the world of social media has expanded rapidly. We reacted by creating a Facebook presence which now has about 25,000 followers, our YouTube channel was launched and we have just under 6,000 Twitter followers. We are struggling a bit with Twitter. We use all these social media channels to promote courses to prospective students. Within my marketing role, the bottom line of any web or digital development is recruitment. Naturally brand communication and profile raising are important, but the priority is recruitment.
Within that time we also launched the blog. So, from one website it has gone to a website, intranet, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a blog.
Facebook and Twitter allow Central Saint Martins to express its own identity.
CSM’s own courses also develop their own web presences, which I think works well. Several course leaders have created course websites and to a fair extent that’s understandable – I wouldn’t want to control their ability to express themselves, plus we don’t have the resource to do everything that the course leaders need to do. The only question is whether those websites are actually doing the job that the course leaders need them to do, which is largely about recruitment and also about profile and keeping information up to date.
At the moment our website is being redesigned and restructured. The current address is csm.arts.ac.uk and by this time next year it’ll be arts.ac.uk/csm. So it will be less a collection of seven websites, more one website with a section for each of the UAL’s Colleges. We’ll have freedom to design certain sections, and it will probably be more specified in other areas.
I’m one voice among many, but one of my hobbyhorses within the current UAL website is that it’s very Web1. It’s old-fashioned in the sense that it’s just like a print prospectus online. You put things up there, and that’s it. There’s no interactivity. There’s no ability for other voices to be heard, except for comments on the blog. I’ve been campaigning for more interactivity in some way.
For example on the first day of term I went out with my phone, took a picture of students on The Street and uploaded it to Facebook with the message ‘welcome back to new and continuing students, hope you have a great year’. If I’d put that on the blog I would not have got any response at all that I could have seen. I put it on Facebook and I got 262 likes and 13 shares and 8 comments. Whatever you think of Facebook, it’s extremely good, obviously, at connecting.
I would like to see websites that provide a sense of being responsive to you – where their fabric changes. If you go into a shop that has 10,000 visitors in a day, you will see the effect of that on the environment. Everything from tired staff to dirty windows and footprints on the floor. If you go to a web1 site, one person could have visited it or 10,000 – it makes no difference to its ‘state’. And that again is about the interactivity – I’d like to see everything being interactive. You click a link and you’re going somewhere, that’s interactive in one sense, but that digital space doesn’t really change in response to your presence.
The website itself doesn’t change, but obviously you can see if the statistics are rising or falling, if there is an increase or decrease of visitors. For instance, with the search box: the server in the background will capture that data and if lots of people are searching for a key word – because they’re not finding something immediately through the navigation – it’s something you need to make clearer. Those are the ways I tend to respond. At the moment I’m arguing for a feedback form – London College of Fashion is very good at that. For me that would be the big change, it would be a more responsive design. The ability for our visitors to feel that they can engage more with the website.
There’s another aspect to digital that we now have – a Customer Relationship Manager database. If you were to email firstname.lastname@example.org that will now go into a CRM database system and we can track what enquiries are coming in. If there are lots of queries about something in particular, we can investigate whether all is working well online, or not.
I mentioned responsive design earlier. Another key part of website design is engagement. We’ve started to send people an email after they attend an open day to ask what they thought of the experience, and ask if they can suggest how it could be improved. Three or six months later we’d send them an open invitation to the degree show, just to maintain their awareness of us. So digital is not just about web, it’s also about communicating through email and text as well.
Today’s web is less about silos of information and more about the dissemination and maintenance of that information in multiple places – it’s atomised.
For instance, you have to publish stats for every course on the government sponsored unistats.direct.gov.uk. That’s then freely available information and off the back of it, anyone can set up sites comparing universities. Which? Magazine scrape off a lot of information and compile a whole page with links, and it looks like an official website for us. It’s very well done but what it actually reveals is the notion of information just staying within one website is becoming outdated. It’s quite easy updating information in one place, but once you have to keep an eye on all of these other locations, well that’s more of a challenge.
Keeping ahead of the curve
Mobile usage of our website is now at 11%. And that’s split 50/50 between iPads and iPhones. We did do an iPhone app, but if I was looking at doing something now, I think the website should just be mobile compatible and should work on iPhone, iPad, whatever. Unless there is some kind of clever idea that is more touch or mobile specific then we just have to do something that’s flexible.
So, all in all, there has been a great deal of change during my time at CSM, and I can only see it continuing.