Tag Archives: MA

Seeing the world through square images and Instagram filters

When I started my InstaMA project I genuinely had no idea how time-consuming – and valuable – it would be to truly immerse myself in its community. Or that I would be dreaming in square images – every content opportunity was viewed through an Instagram filter and a square frame. It took over. But after three months the pilot is over, I can take my foot off the gas, reflect a little and take stock of what I’ve learned.

My own personal use of Instagram is merely to keep a record of my top memories and best photographic endeavors and I rarely venture into content beyond that posted by my friends and family. Conducting an Instagram pilot on The Open University’s account made me look at things in a much broader way (and if you need a reminder of exactly what I’m doing, see here) and I’ve enjoyed the experience.

Share the love

Lurking is all well and good but getting stuck into Instagram is the best way to engage with people and increase your following. I immersed myself in the OU community and it was great – not only helping me to come up with content ideas, create and share content, but also chatting to students and sharing in their success – or in their low moments. A comment from your university when you’ve reached the peak of procrastination is a pretty good motivator. I now ‘know’ some of the OU’s followers, I see and talk to them regularly via Instagram and feel much more able to ask things of them, because I’m giving back (like chatting to Chloe which is using Instagram to drive traffic to her blog and build her business). And when I say I, I mean the OU, of course.

What this pilot has uncovered is that Instagram is far less broadcast than I realised and there’s real value in chatting to your audience. I have to confess, when the pilot started I was seeing everything as a potential Instagram post, I was even dreaming in square images! But I’ve learned – and am still learning – a lot.

Instagram success is not instant: invest serious time into monitoring

Newsflash: engaging with your community WILL eat up a lot of time. What I thought would be a few-times-a-week monitoring task turned into a nightly one – there were so many #openuniversity postings that in order to keep on top of them, I had to like and respond to comments daily. I also found it tricky to keep on top of conversations unless I responded as soon as someone commented and a notification popped up on my phone. If I ignored the notification, the chances are I’d never have found the comment again – this is one of the downsides of Instagram, so I did feel a bit like a slave to it, and to my phone, during the pilot.

I naively thought I’d be able to carve up tasks throughout the week and, like a good little postgraduate student, be methodical, practical and organised throughout this pilot. Not so. I’d hoped to be able to follow the timetable below, but I couldn’t keep on top of the replying to comments and liking photos if I didn’t do it nightly; it just got too much.

Monday Monitoring Monitor relevant hashtags and like and comment as appropriate
Tuesday Talking Comment on relevant posts, respond to comments
Wednesday Wisdom Research
Thursday Thinking Develop new content ideas
Friday Review Weekly review of stats – likes, comments, increase in followers, what worked well, what didn’t
Saturday Business as usual
Sunday Stats Note weekly stats and increases

There is much less tagging of accounts on Instagram than use of hashtags. For example, @theopenuniversity was tagged a miniscule number of times compared to the number of #openuniversity posts. My tactic was simple: to engage with anyone who commented on an OU post, and to follow the hashtag #openuniversity, liking and commenting on those posts. And I hunted around for other hashtags used by Instagrammers and dipped in and out of them too: #openuni #oustudent #ou and our graduation hashtag #ou_ceremonies.

This took time. At the start of the pilot there had been 17,557 mentions of #openuniversity and at the time of writing this post there are 20,514. That’s 3,000 uses of that hashtag over a three month period, so approximately 1,000 per month, 250 per week, 35 a day. Now 35 doesn’t sound much but if you let that monitoring slip by a couple of days you have 100 posts to flick through, like and comment on.

Community engagement takes a lot of time, and just as much time is needed creating your posts. But after a three-month pilot (which was meant to be one month, then two) it’s clear there is always more to be done. I’d committed myself to posting at least once per day, but it’s easily to let things slide and find yourself scrabbling around for content. On some days, something was better than nothing but this won’t be the approach going forwards.


I introduced some new hashtags: #ouselfie and #ouacademic. The first was to encourage members of our community to take photos of themselves and post them. Students were already doing this but I wanted to students to engage and offer to share some of them. The second was to try and engage academics and, for those active on Instagram, to share their content which always seems more genuine when coming from a personal account. Despite promoting this on the OU’s intranet site, engagement from academics directly via Instagram was relatively low with just two or three academics contributing fairly regularly. I did however, get suggestions for content and submissions via email, including some nice shots of campus.

photoShare the love wider: third-party content

A great way to show off your community and reward its members, is to share their content. There are various ways you can do this, including apps like Repost but I find them clunky. I simply took a screen shot of the photo I wanted to share, cropped it, and then posted it directly (no reposting per say) – but first I asked permission to share it via the OU account. No one ever said no, which was great, and I always tagged them in the photo and thanked them for letting me share it. Doing it this way also allowed me to add my own filters to their photos or, in once case, blur out a cat’s ID tag in which its owner’s mobile number could be read. On the whole, most of the third-party shared posts got better engagement than our own – how else would we be able to delve inside our students’ lives in such a genuine way, see them studying in their bedrooms, their kitchens, with their pets on their laps and while entertaining children. They were authentic. To a lesser extent I also shared some academic’s photos directly via Instagram.

Instagram doesn’t have to be lonely

The intention was, as part of this pilot, to collaborate with partner organisations and undertake some kind of takeover. This didn’t come off, mostly due to lack of time, but we did join forces with the OU Library. They were thinking of starting their own Instagram account to run alongside their already successful Twitter and Facebook accounts, promoting library resources and actively engaging with students. Unsure how time-consuming it would be to take on Instagram, our pilot served as theirs – how would the library get on providing us with regular content without the pressure to update their own channel? And how would we, owners of the corporate social media channels, get on posting daily?

The library provided some content for us to post, including a ‘shelfie’, a video flipping through the pages of a George Orwell original, and a series of photos from the OU’s digital archive which I posted out each Thursday for #ThrowbackThursday, including hashtags #oulibrary and #oudigitalarchive – these hashtags were agreed with the library and while they don’t have their own account on Instagram they do have their own community through the hashtag.

I also conducted this pilot almost entirely alone (well, I have an MA to finish, my colleagues don’t) but it’s always good to get feedback from colleagues and help creating content if you can. I thought it would be easy to tackle this alone and well, really, more hands on deck would probably have had a greater impact.

maggieIf you ask a question do you think you’ll get more comments?

Yes. Yes, you will. Any content I posted which included a question got much better engagement overall. For example, weekly content posted for #ThrowbackThursday got decent engagement in terms of likes but minimal comments. On the photo of Margaret Thatcher (right), taken in 1973, I asked ‘What were you doing in 1973?) which got a lot more comments – most saying they had yet to be born, or my favourite, “I was but a twinkle in my father’s winkle.” In essence, ask a question and you will get answers.

Have a sense of humour

Tone of voice in important and I set this up from the start – our tone on Instagram is professional but informal and with a sense of humour. We wanted to come across as friendly, chatty and approachable. When one curly-haired graduand posted a picture on graduation day complaining that the OU doesn’t provide mortarboards (not part of the OU’s formal dress) I responded with ‘Because we don’t want to ruin those lovely curls.”

fridayprocrastDon’t be afraid to go for the easy wins

Once you know your audience, tap into their weak spots. And what I mean by this is post content you know they’ll like. It’s an easy win. I know firsthand (because I am one) the life of a distance learning student means  studying all hours. So our post which simply said ‘Hands up who’s studying on a Friday night’ (posted on a Friday night, no less) got massive engagement.

I see lots of post by students of their study spaces and procrastination concerns, including posting to Instagram, so I posted an image which said ‘Get off Instagram, you’re supposed to be studying’ which got massive engagement as I’d caught lots of students red-
handed and it had made them chuckle. Also, knowing when key dates or deadlines are coming up and offering up a snippet of motivation can help spur people on.

refelctionAdd an incentive

Students love sharing their experiences, advice and tips but you may need to tease it out a little. I tried this in a few ways – one asking a direct question ‘How do you juggle study’ with a juggler pic, which posted to gain some quotes for some new marketing material on how students fit studies around their other activities. I also ran a competition to support marketing’s New Year ‘reflections campaign’ asking students and grads to reflect on what they thought of the OU before they started studying compared to how they feel about it now. And I offered up three £20 Amazon vouchers for three ‘winners’. This post gained 120+ comments, more than double that of any other post we’ve posted to date. What it didn’t do is gain us many more followers.

Reward loyalty

It’s easy to find out which followers engage most frequently with your content, and I did this using our social media monitoring/scheduling tool Social Sign In. Reward them. Talk to them, like their photos, share their photos, and give them an occasional shout out. Oh, and follow them back!

If you build it… they still might not come

If you’re starting an Instagram account or dusting off an old one, you’ll need to tell people. You can’t expect them to know you’re there. After a good three weeks of posting decent content on Instagram after the launch of our pilot, I started telling people in the following ways:

  • Pilot mentioned in weekly cross-department editorial meetings (spread the word, contribute etc)
  • Series of three once-weekly articles posted on intranet (to increase staff and academic engagement – definite peak in followers around these times)
  • Mentioned in November and December editions of eNewsletter, sent to 400,000 students and alumni (slight rise in followers after each, although CTA was low down the newsletter)
  • Promoted via other social media channels, namely Facebook and Twitter on several occasions, including pointing to an Instagram Story when covering Harrogate Degree Ceremony.
  • Going forwards the Instagram handle will be included in publications like the 2017 Graduate Directory (printed).

What’s next?

You know when I said I could take my foot off the gas a bit now the pilot has ended back up the top of this post? It was a complete lie. What the above has illustrated is there is still a huge amount to be done, and this will be highlighted in a report to my line manager. There are still things I want to try but haven’t got round to, like animation (check out Rachel Ryle’s legendary work), and clearly defined branding for this channel (check out Matt Crump and Sara Tasker) as well as a channel strategy going forwards which aligns with university and communications unit objectives whilst also engaging with our community and continuing to grow our followers. Oh, and the rest of this MA to complete. Eek!

Cor blimey, that’s a long post. Huge congrats if you made it to the end. If I don’t write all this stuff down, I’m afraid it’ll float clean out of my head. What’s next? Well, if you can bare to read more I’ll be writing about mobile phones, health and safety and why salsa dancing could be the key to keeping mobile journalists fit and healthy. Oh, and some academic stuff too, of course.



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Introducing #InstaMA

ig-grabSo, the final module of my MA in Online Journalism with BCU is called the MA by Practice and it’s worth a whopping 60 points so I need to do this justice. I’ll be working on it part-time over two semesters on top of my 31-hour work week, two small children, a husband, a dog, netball matches, some semblance of a social life and a partridge in a pear tree.

My motivation? Graduation is next summer, it’s so close I can almost feel it and I really, really want it. I don’t have a degree so didn’t get to experience graduation in my 20s; this will be a real prize for me, graduating at the grand old age of 37 and being a role model for my children who will get to see me cross the stage. I’d always told myself that scraping through this thing would be enough for me but, actually, after getting some decent marks I want to give this my best shot.

So, what am I working on now? Entitled #InstaMA I’m working on a pilot project on The Open University’s Instagram account (and if you don’t follow it, PLEASE do it in the name of education!)

I work in content and social media at the university and am using my study time to develop the OU’s Instagram channel. The project will be defined by these stages:

  • Research (initial and ongoing)
  • Pilot project: eight weeks of throwing up content to see what works and what doesn’t
  • Review (ongoing and post-pilot)
  • Reporting and analysis: once the pilot is over I’ll draw some conclusions, make some recommendations and draw up a 2017 strategy for the OU’s Instagram account going forwards
  • Write a book: I’ll then take all this knowledge, dice, it slice it and throw in some humour then wrap it all up in the form of a published eBook
  • Submission: I’ll then submit this along with a report and hope to God I pass with flying colours.

Sounds simple? Well, actually, that’s a lot of hard work. But I’m on it, and thoroughly enjoying it. With that said, I may need an Instagram sabbatical by the end of it, I’m starting to dream in square photos!

More academic/problem-solving coming soon…

PS If you have any info on Instagram – tips, tricks, hacks, research papers, experience, photo apps etc, I would LOVE to hear them. You can tweet me at @robynbateman or leave a comment. Thanks.

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Tinkering with social videos

Scientist being filmed with a mobile phone on a tripod

Today I’ve spent a lot of time tinkering. This follows on from last night’s tinkering session. This might mean I’m a bit of a tinkerer.

So, I’m working my way through Robb Montgomery’s mobile journalism course on Udemy (which is excellent so far, more to follow) and got distracted by the section on useful apps. So I had a tinker.

This inspired the set up for this morning’s filming with three Open University academics who are taking centre stage at a Soapbox Science event in Milton Keynes on Saturday 9th July. These events happen each year across the country, in which the finest female researchers are encouraged to shout loud and proud about science. Julia, Claire and Vibha from the OU are talking about plant wars, sniffing out disease and 3D printing on the moon, in short.

For a longer explanation of what they’ll be getting on their soapbox and shouting about, watch this video.

That video. That was what I’ve been tinkering with all morning, using an app called PicPlayPost.

Here’s what I did right and wrong…

Right (ish)

  • Recorded individual clips with each of the researchers so I could pull three different clips into the app.
  • We recorded with the sun on the researcher’s faces (avoiding too much squinting) for a nice, bright video.
  • We used lapel mics and an extention cable so the sound is clear.
  • I reshot some footage because a group of people in the background decided to do tricks with their cigarette smoke and this showed up loud and clear in the video and distracted from the speaker.
  • I was armed with lapel mics and an extension cable so we got good audio (why does a plane always fly overhead when you’re filming?)


  • I recorded the nodding bits afterwards, mostly because I wanted to get the important bits – what their talks are about – first, and for them to focus on that part. But I should have taken into account the following: keeping them on exactly the same spot to film the nodding so the backgrounds don’t change and they don’t appear too big or too small when they switch from talking to nodding or vice versa. I had to do yet more tinkering.
  • I should ave recorded longer nodding parts. I didn’t take into account that the first and last speaker would have to nod one way for twice as long (to cover two other people talking). This meant I had to stitch two identical nodding clips together to make it longer and this isn’t seamless.
  • I should have recorded them, appearing to stand in a row, so the background fit like a jigsaw in the background. As it stands the backgrounds don’t match up.
  • I should have had them standing the same distance away from the camera for consistency.
  • Their summary’s are way too long. While each section is only around 45 seconds long, this is a bit too long when the three talks are added up and more importantly nodding for 45 seconds looks a tad odd – I found myself looking at the nodding scientists rather than focusing on the one who was talking, which is a bit distracting.

Trying is learning

This isn’t the perfect video but I learned plenty, not least that there are some cool apps out there that help you think more creatively about how video content is promoted on social media. I spent 30 minutes filming and taking photos and around two hours tinkering with video – editing, loading it into the app, adjusting and then re-editing bits, all done on the iPhone 6S.

But my tinkering didn’t stop there. I also tried the ThingLink app which allows you to create interactive photos. Using this app I added value to a fun photo by using three video pop-ups for each of the scientists and an info button to explain who they are. I love this. So simple but in a few easy steps you have something people can immerse themselves in – and who can resist a play button, right?


What I should have done is filmed the scientists to fill the frame, in the individual videos which would have worked better in the pop-ups, they’re a little far away.

But the good news is that Jennifer D Begg of TeamTwoBees flagged up this video as a good example of how to use ThingLink in her digital content Learning Hive on Facebook.

Screen grab

In summary, plenty of lessons learned! Not least that tinkering with this stuff, even if it looks awful and will never see the light of day, is the only way to learn new skills.

With some of these tools and tricks in my mind, it will help me visualise the next story I work on.

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Finding my #mojo: Mobile, memories and an MA

A few weeks ago I was in Cornwall strolling sunkissed beaches, chasing after two excitable children and eating LOTS of ice cream. And with clear blue skies every day, it was pretty glorious and a very welcome break from the daily grind. But I still had my next MA assignment in the back of my mind… (wondering about the last assignment? I passed, yay!)

During my week-long hols on the Cornish coast, I took a step back from Facebook, my usual social weapon of choice for personal endeavours, instead plumping for Instagram – showcasing my holiday highs with a series of photos and videos shorts. And they had to be good ones, I wanted to hone my skills.


I’m pretty much decided that the focus of this next module, production labs, will be on mobile journalism. The details have yet to be ironed out but I consider myself a storyteller in my personal and professional lives and a mobile phone comes with me in both.

So, I spent more time than usual trying to capture holiday moments on my mobile phone. I thought about composition, set some pictures up, captured some spontaneous stuff and did a spot of video editing using iMovie when the kids went to bed. Simple stuff, mostly hyperlapse or slow-mo edits, a few cuts and a few transitions.

I wonder, if in taking time to produce a good picture, I was in anyway compromising the memory-making process. Would memories be stronger if I didn’t have a phone in hand, would the images I captured be more authentic if not so thought out? What is more important, the image or the moment-in-time memory? Or is it the ability to capture one without compromising the other?

I learned some stuff

I actually think both are important. I will always have the memories, they create themselves by the nature of being a family and doing family things on a family holiday. Capturing them on camera is part of the memory-making process and taking good photos just means I have a better recording of that particular memory. And I’m really pleased with my shots, and my mini videos. And because I set myself this challenge as soon as we set foot in Cornwall, I was on the look-out for pictures opportunities from the off. I’m not a fan of parents constantly glued to their phones when with the kids so I whipped it out for photos and videos only, editing, cropping and loading to channels took place when the kids weren’t around.


And I did learn a few things… Not least that Cornish wifi is a bit iffy. I learned that fading into a video from black results in a black video on Instagram rather than an opening image of the action (see below). This looks pants. I learned that I need to remember to film in landscape – I always do this at work because I tend to use a tripod and mobile clip so have to, but for some reason, casual in-the-moment recording is always in portrait and I need to remember to stop that. A great video of a ‘bury grandad in the sand’ memory would have been much better in landscape.


Capturing the content is the easy part though, stories and opportunities present themselves and the tools, technologies and a bit of skill help to hone those stories in whatever format is chosen. It’s what comes next that takes the time, which matters less in a personal context but very much so in a professional one.

The other week I shot some video to do with the ExoMars Mission mid-cruise check-out. Getting the story and footage was simple, editing too, but the hosting, loading, formatting, meta data, multiple image cropping, hyper linking, reworking for social channels, hash tagging, scheduling, publishing part takes a lot longer.

Quality versus efficiency?

And is all this crafting of content worth the extra effort? Or is mobile journalism in its truest sense, shooting something and publishing straight to social media – raw, authentic, and more efficient way? Where does the need for quick turnaround trump a polished, more professional piece of content? Does it need to be great or good enough?

These are some of the things I hope to explore in my current MA module – and I need to get a wriggle on, the clock is ticking!

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Video chat: learning from others who are doing it well #MAent

The rain was pouring. In the space of an hour I’d driven around endlessly to find a parking space – the only one available was in a flooded patch of car park. I’d stepped in a muddy puddle in my nice, bright white Converse, I’d queued and paid for a train ticket I didn’t use (floods delayed or cancelled all trains to London Euston) and I’d lost my cars for 10 minutes in my own coat pocket. It hadn’t been the best start to the day. But it got better!

Thanks to the power of online, what was meant to be a cosy chat with Jennifer D Begg in the comfort of her Camden office space, turned into a Skype chat instead. I had a camera and online voice recorder set up, Jennifer was armed with a camera at her end too. And guess who’s footage came out best? Jennifer’s, of course, because she’s the expert. That’s right, she’s the co-founder of TeamTwoBees.com, a digital marketing and training consultancy – and the inspiration for ContentEdMK, the focus of my enterprise project.

Showing people how to do it for themselves

Jennifer came to my official place of work to talk about social media, creating super quick Instagram videos, and opening up access to her closed Facebook group offering a wealth of extra training materials and a place to continue our learning, ask questions and mingle with peers.

She inspired me with her informal approach, her enthusiasm and her passion for showing people how to do things online so they can go on and do it themselves. And she’s flying the flag for women in technology, selling to concept that tech doesn’t have to be intimidating and front-loaded with jargon. As she puts it, ‘education is a gift no one can take away from you’ and if Stephen Hawking can write a children’s book explaining complex scientific theories, then it should be pretty easy to teach people how to use technology.

Listen to Jennifer: she talks a lot of sense

Here are five super short videos (here’s the album on Vimeo) where Jennifer spills the beans on how she got started, biggest issues for small businesses, online training and fee structures.






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