What makes a great web feature? (AKA content criteria)

What content hits Ohio State’s digital properties–and why?

A variety of considerations go into making digital content decisions for osu.edu, university sites, Ohio State social media channels and OSU Mobile. The best stories work through two lenses: A reader sees a fun and interesting piece, while Ohio State communicators see a chance to share strategic messages in line with the university’s brand.

The top three considerations:

  • How does this story advance Ohio State? (What messages does it hit?)
  • Why should users read it? (We live in a busy world with lots of competing content–so we need to tell stories in layman’s terms and explain the promise of research. Answer a user’s question of, “Why does this matter to me?”)
  • Is the timing right for maximum punch? (A health-related research story, for example, tends to get longer read times and more clicks in early January–and it wouldn’t be late summer on osu.edu without football-related content that highlights Ohio State’s strong traditions.)

On osu.edu, the main feature (“hero space”) is essentially the print version of a cover story–a centerpiece that showcases current students, faculty/staff or alumni and hits research, athletics or one of our major Ohio State initiatives. We think about Ohio State’s biggest priorities–the discovery themes, research/innovation, great students, outreach, etc.–and use plain language (no jargon!) to make them accessible.

The “news and events” section is populated by @OhioState on Twitter–and is the place to see the most up-to-the-minute info about Ohio State at any given point in time.

“Watch” showcases new videos, from University Communications and partners around campus; this is a way to show dynamic video content. And the “events bug” area is the place for promoting major university events–a Wexner Center exhibition, Pelotonia or Homecoming Week, for example.

Web writing: Things to consider

Before I joined Ohio State as a staffer in 2005, I was a print person through and through.

I’d written for daily newspapers (including the Dayton Daily News), an alt-weekly (the late, great The Other Paper) and a magazine (Columbus Monthly). I had the story-finding and writing skills I needed to write and edit Connect e-news and osu.edu features–but my tech skills basically ended with “turn computer off at night.” (A big behemoth desktop PC, of course.)

And now, I was Ohio State’s new web editor.

I looked around for conferences and tried to read some how-to’s. But I learned the most by becoming a voracious consumer of web content–reading everything I could get my mouse on, watching web video good and bad, downloading podcasts, clicking my way through slideshows. What did I like and get lost in? When I found something that resonated with me, I asked, “How can I make this work for Ohio State?”

Here is my best advice for print writers who want to transition to writing for the web:

  • Take advantage of the medium. Don’t force users to scroll through long chunks of text. Work to break them up (e.g., this photo-driven story on Ohio State arts outreach efforts in Weinland Park). Adapt trends–like Buzzfeed-styles “listicles”–to your advantage (e.g., this piece welcoming orientation students and families).
  • Be engaging. It’ s my belief that social media has changed user expectations significantly: It’s no longer enough to share our story. Our audiences want to participate. On osu.edu, we strive to give them something to do to, whether that’s clicking through an interactive timeline (see the history of the Ohio State/Michigan rivalry) or “traveling” via Google mapping technology. We ask questions on social media and use Storify to compile social media responses from our audiences; see the responses to Ohio State’s call for #BuckeyeLove stories.
  • Timing matters. Get familiar with your sites analytics and post appropriately during traffic peaks and valleys. Consider what’s “hot” at the moment, too: On osu.edu, we featured the evolution of Brutus the week before the first game, when fans were starved for anything Buckeye football. Around New Year’s, when everyone is making health-related resolutions, we share #healthyOSU tips and research news.
  • Know your audience. Who are you writing for? Answering this question will help you with content strategy. For example, Ohio State’s Facebook page is a great place to engage alumni, while Instagram skews younger–so we target alumni on Facebook and concentrated our orientation social media efforts on Instagram.
  • Do a tone check. Our writing strives to be warm, friendly, interesting and interested. It’s smart and it’s fun–just like Ohio State itself.
  • Teamwork rules! The best web content is created by teams that include writers, photographers, graphic designers and developers. Don’t be an island.
  • Test early and often–and be patient with yourself. Making mistakes is part of the process. But soon enough, you too will be a web geek like me:

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#new2OSU: a welcome via web, mobile and social

This summer, University Communications has teamed up with Enrollment Services to give orientation students and parents a big Buckeye welcome. Our coordinated plan encompasses osu.edu, university social media channels and the OSU Mobile app–the places where we want to interact with Buckeyes throughout their lives, from prospective students to alumni.

Our strategy: to use our top digital properties to share important orientation information, capitalize on the popularity of Buckeye traditions and build community at Ohio State. An important part of the plan: having fun! During orientation, we have a chance to grab students’ attention and show them why they should keep coming back to osu.edu features, OSU Mobile and university social media account. To that end, the communications need to feel like Ohio State itself: warm, friendly, interesting and engaging.

The tactics supporting our orientation strategy:

On osu.edu: A Buzzfeed-inspired orientation feature tells students and parents what they need to know before they come to campus–from the down-to-business basics (like class scheduling and finding your way) to inspiring Buckeye pride. Multimedia writer Monica DeMeglio worked with First Year Experience and orientation to get the content orientation families tell us they want–then tell it in a fun, Ohio State-branded way. Part of the feature:

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On OSU Mobile, we’re running five short features, each one edited from the web feature and tailored for the mobile medium. The features are extremely user-centric; we used geofencing and tailored the feature to hit at the right time. Users on the Oval will see a feature about Buckeye pride. At night, they’ll see a feature about navigating the city of Columbus. Near the Student Academic Services building, they’ll see information on Ohio State services for students. (The OSU Mobile team–especially Interactive Communications Director Jim Burgoon–worked with us to make this happen.) Below, the Buckeye pride feature–and its geographic boundaries.

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On social media, we’re engaging with our audiences using #new2OSU. We have three goals: to share useful news and info, to inspire Buckeye pride, and to build meaningful connections among students. On Facebook, a welcome-to-orientation post was shared widely. On Twitter, @OhioState is responding to excited new Buckeyes and RT’ing and MT’ing #new2OSU posts–including those from alumni offering wisdom to the Class of 2018. And we’re not the only ones: Various Ohio State accounts, from Athletics’ account to faculty/staff to current students, are joining in and using the tag to welcome new students.

Multimedia specialist Lauren Boyd and photographer Jo McCulty are concentrating on Instagram, because it skews young, just like our incoming students, and it’s growing. A favorite example of social interaction on the site: this recent photo. The commentary is great: Buckeyes are not only liking the photo, but also tagging their new friends.Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 3.36.21 PM

When orientation is finished and students are back home, we’ll be looking at the analytics to determine the popularity of these efforts. Those metrics will help us plan for Welcome Week–and also learn what resonated with audiences as we think about orientation 2015.