Pressing Rewind on UChicagoLaw’s Audio

Cross-posted on the University of Chicago Law School Electronic Projects Blog.

This week we launched an overhaul of how audio is stored, presented, and discovered on the UChicagoLaw website.

Chicago was a pioneer among law schools in terms of posting audio content, when it started posting recordings to the Faculty Blog back in 2005. Since then, we’ve assembled a library of over 400 files, that have been downloaded somewhere north of 1 million times. Dedicating all of that bandwidth to audio was starting to take a toll on the rest of our website, so we decided to take a cue from NPR and start migrating our files to Soundcloud. Two months later (and yes, I moved each one of those 400+ files by hand), our Soundcloud page is finally ready for prime-time. We’ll keep posting audio to pages on our website, but we’ll now be doing so as embedded Soundcloud widgets instead of via a player run through the audio module on our website. In addition to improving our site’s performance, we expect that using Soundcloud will make our audio easier to share (look for the “share track” link on the individual widgets) and make it more accessible to those on mobile devices, as well as expose our content to a whole new audience in the Soundcloud community.

The move has required some changes. Our podcast feed will now be served from Soundcloud rather than our own website, and we are only permitted one feed per account, so we will be retiring “Open Minds: The Student Events Podcast,” due to low subscription numbers. We will still be posting recordings of student events to Soundcloud and our website, however.

We’ve also made some tweaks to how users can find audio on our website by making it easier to reach the audio archives homepage from every audio page on the site, as well as by showing links to the five most recently added audio files on each of those audio pages.

So, bottom line: what does all of this mean for the methods by which you can stay up-to-date with all of the all of the great audio content the Law School is creating?

On our site: Visit our Audio Archives page to browse through the hundreds of audio pages located there. You can also find a link to the Audio Archives on the homepage of the website, where you will also see newly available audio listed in the “News & Media” scroll.

On Soundcloud: If you happen to be a member of Soundcloud you can follow us there; even if you don’t have an account, you can add comments directly to points in time of the audio file, or view playlists we’ve set up for things like Chicago’s Best Ideas or the recent conference on Crime in Law and Literature.

On iTunes: You can subscribe to our Faculty Podcast and get a new talk by our distinguished faculty or very special guests downloaded automatically to your phone or computer every two weeks.

On any other podcatcher or rss reader, or even email: You can subscribe just like iTunes, but Apple-free.

Have questions, comments, or concerns? We look forward to hearing them.

The Law School’s YouTube Channel

Cross-posted at the University of Chicago Law School Electronic Projects Blog.

Sometimes, when choosing social and software platforms, one chooses… poorly. That would seem to have been the case with the Law School’s choice of video distribution, a choice that we are happy to rectify today with the official launch of our YouTube Channel.

While it might seem we’re a bit late to the YouTube party, the problem is that we were actually a bit too early. When the Law School began regularly recording video of events like our Chicago’s Best Ideas lecture series back in 2008, YouTube had a 10-minute limit to videos that users could upload. Since most of our videos are of hour-long lectures, we had to find a new solution. We tried Google Video (this was before Google bought YouTube) but it didn’t work terribly well. Eventually we found, which did pretty much everything we wanted it to: allowed for long-duration uploads, integrated with our Drupal site, allowed for ad-free display, and so on.

While we did claim a YouTube channel and used it for various projects here and there, we stuck with Blip as our main video platform through the years, even after YouTube dropped their 10-minute limit and universities (including our own) began flocking to the service in droves, since we had already sunk so much time and effort into establishing our Blip presence. But a couple of months ago, Blip began mandating pre-roll ads before every video, a practice we found unacceptable for our non-profit institution. So, after five years and just under 60,000 views on their platform, we’ve decided to pull the plug on our Blip channel. I’ve spent the last few weeks porting our hundred and forty-odd videos over to YouTube, and look forward to all of the opportunities that the new (to us) platform provides: easier sharing, more opportunities for conversation, and so on.

Breaking Down #UChiLaw13

(Cross-posted at the University of Chicago Law School Electronic Projects Blog)
The Law School has had a robust social media presence for quite a few years now, but we’ve never really attempted to do a full social media offensive for an event like graduation. Mostly, this is due to the fact that our staff is so small that graduation is an all-hands-on-deck sort of event, so having anyone devoting themselves to social media during the ceremony is a luxury we can’t really afford. This year was no different, but, inspired by stories I heard at HighEdWeb Michigan of some of the commencement social media wins pulled off by other institutions, I decided it was time to take on the challenge anyway. By most every measure, we had a fairly successful go at it, especially considering the dearth of resources that we had to throw at the task (the sum total of which was basically my iPhone and me). Here are some things I think we did right:

  • Coordinate with larger units. I reached out to the University’s social media curator very early on, to make sure that a) we wouldn’t be duplicating hashtags, and b) on the day of graduation, when our #uchilaw13 hashtag started popping up next to the University’s #uchigrad13 hashtag, they would know what the heck it meant.
  • Start rolling out your hashtag early. We wanted to get the hashtag lodged in the brain of our audience as best we could beforehand, so we began a couple of weeks before the big day by including our hashtag on the Facebook event we had created. We also created and promoted a Spotify playlist called #UChiLaw13 about a week before graduation, and in the days leading up to it posted a couple of Instagram photos and a Vine tour of Rockefeller Chapel using the hashtag.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new things. This was our first time using Spotify, Instagram, and Vine as social platforms for the Law School. We weren’t sure what their adoption rates have been yet for our community, but figured that this would be a good opportunity to try them out as low-risk, high upside social options. Instagram was especially successful, I think, since it allowed us to cross-post photos to both Facebook and Twitter as well.
  • Create a central hub from which your audience can find you on the platform of their choice. Since we were using so many different platforms, we created a page on the website called #UChiLaw13 (where we also embedded our streaming simulcast) that listed most the different ways to get social around this event. We also used Tagboard as a way to aggregate all of these channels; this proved especially useful on the day of the event as a way to track everything that was going on.  
  • Make sure you reach out to your audience. We made certain that the graduating student we knew to be on Twitter knew about the hashtag by @’ing them a couple of days before, asking if they were getting excited yet; we also let all of our faculty know about the hashtag the morning of graduation, and were pretty successful in getting them to pick it up.

Some stats, as of 6/18:

  • “People Talking About This Page” up 261% from the previous week, Weekly Total Reach up 88%
  • Total reach for all #UChiLaw13-related posts: 23,250, of which 4,072 were viral; 1624 engaged users (about 7% of users reached)
  • Posts from the day of graduation: 10,213 reached, of which 899 were viral; 854 engaged users (about 8% of users reached)
  • By way of comparison, during the month leading up to and including graduation last year, our engagement was 3.5% of reach.

Other platforms:

  • 93 posts using hashtag across all platforms
  • 792 visits to uchilaw13 page
  • 443 views of Storify recap
  • 126 clicks on Spotify playlist
  • 63 clicks on Tagboard link

So what do you think? Did we try to do too much? Too little? How can we improve the social media experience for next year’s graduation?

Law School Project: 2012 Faculty Reading

In the course of my day job I don’t design a lot of websites from whole cloth, but one exception is the microsite I build for our faculty’s reading recommendations each year. I enjoy these projects, as they give me a chance to experiment with new techniques (this year’s was an experiment in responsive design), but this was the fourth year I’ve built one, and it’s become a challenge to think up new ways to display what is basically just a long list. So unlike past years, where I organized the list by faculty member, this year I chose to organize it by the books themselves. This wound up being trickier than I anticipated, since several faculty members had actually chosen the same book to recommend, but I think the final product came out pretty well.

Is Facebook Holding Pages for Ransom?

Back in September, there was some grumbling in the higher ed social media community (as well as elsewhere) about sudden drops in the “reach” stats of Facebook pages. Dangerous Minds said publicly what many of us were thinking: Facebook had reduced the ability of businesses and organizations to reach fans with (free) posts in order to drive them toward spending money on promoted posts.

Techcrunch posted a strident “debunking” of this point of view, arguing that Facebook had actually made some valuable tweaks to their EdgeRank system: “Most Pages weren’t affected by these changes, but spammy Pages got penalized and they’re the ones complaining. The moral of the story is don’t spam your fans, and everything will be fine,” they claimed. I found this less than convincing, given that nearly everyone I knew at other universities was observing a drop in reach numbers similar to the one I had noticed. Was it possible that Facebook saw us all as spammers? I decided to spend some time mining the Law School page‘s insights to see what I could find out. The (hastily pulled-together) graph below charts a set of metrics that I thought would be useful in this regard; the yellow shaded area marks the time when the EdgeRank changes became apparent.

Here’s what the stats tell us about the Law School Facebook page pre- and post-change, as far as I can tell:

  1. Part of the drop in reach I had noticed was the result of a serious spike in reach attained in July (I haven’t yet tracked down what that spike might have been caused by). 
  2. Our total followers (page “likes”) continues to climb at a similar pace.
  3. Our total number of engaged followers continues to trend up.
  4. Our engaged users per post dropped after the change but is still comparable with the same time last year, as did the average reach per post.
  5. Our average percentage of fans reached fell significantly below where it was last year (let alone where it was after the odd spike this past July).
  6. The average percentage of users reached who engaged with our content went up.
  7. Our negative feedback per post went down.

To my mind, there are two ways of looking at this data, especially the last three items. One is that the changes Facebook made are better targeting those of our fans who are most likely to engage with our content; the other is that they’re removing the ability for us to reach fans who might engage, but haven’t yet (a situation which could, conveniently, be addressed by spending money on promoting posts, which, according to TechCrunch “coincidentally started rolling out to more Pages in September”). Perhaps one’s interpretation of the data depends upon one’s opinions of Facebook’s motives, but I’d be interested to read your take on what the data might mean.

Redesign: TweetChicago

I’ve blogged before about a project at the University of Chicago Law School that we call TweetChicago; it’s a page that aggregates a number of student and faculty tweeters in a single place, to provide the viewer with a snapshot of life at Chicago Law.

After nearly three years of service, it was time for the page to get a facelift. We ditched the HTML/Javascript widget that we had been using to import our Tweeters’ feeds and went with Twitter’s new standard widget, which, unlike the previous version, will actually display retweets, and updated the look a bit.



How to Do Social Media Right (and Wrong)

(You might notice that this post looks a bit a different than usual — it was prepared with a new online tool called Storify, that makes it easy to stitch together narratives using the atomic elements of social media: tweets, Facebook status updates, and so on. They’re still in beta, but you can learn more or sign up for an invite here; it only took a couple of weeks for me to receive mine.)

Law School Project: Faculty Reading 2010

Each year since 2008, the Law School has compiled a list of reading recommendations from its faculty members as a sort of holiday gift for alumni. And each year, I design a new one-page site to house those recommendations. I think this year’s incarnation came out pretty well, as it’s a rather unusual way of navigating what is essentially just a *very* long list. Even better, we were able to tie this year’s edition into our recently launched Goodreads presence by making it easy for users to quickly friend us and become fans of our faculty members; accordingly our friend numbers on Goodreads increased by 50% within just a couple of days, and many of our new friends seem to have joined specifically for the chance to connect with us, an indicator of significant engagement.

Tracking the Law School’s Social Media

(cross-posted at The University of Chicago Law School’s Electronic Projects Blog)

I recently spent some time immersed in Google Analytics, trying to track the effectiveness of some of the Law School’s social media efforts. As these results may be of interest to colleagues at the University of Chicago and elsewhere, I thought I’d share the results here.

The goals of the Law School’s social media presence are:

  1. to increase engagement between the Law School with both current students and alumni, thereby strengthening their bond with the school;
  2. to increase engagement with prospective students, thereby increasing the chances that those students will choose to attend Chicago over one of our peer schools;
  3. and to increase awareness in the general public about the achievements of the Law School’s faculty, students, and alumni.

The primary method for achieving these goals is to distribute content from the Law School’s website through a highly dispersed network of “followers” and “fans,” and to allow those followers to not only consume our content but to spread it to their own friends/followers.

Tracking Method
My measurement for tracking the effectiveness of this method is to trace the amount of traffic driven to our website by these social media channels, as a means of indicating consumption of the content contained therein. I did this by creating segments based on referring URLs and examining the content consumed by the different segments. Of course, visits and pageviews are not perfect indicators of content consumption, but they are the best option that I could figure out how to measure using Google Analytics. It should be noted that the numbers below are based on sampled data rather than absolute numbers.


  • The Law School currently has just over 2,000 fans on its Facebook page, an average of 450 of which are active on the page in a given month.
  • Between 10/1/09 and 10/01/10, Facebook sent nearly 8500 visitors to the Law School website (this does not include the number that it sent to the Faculty Blog [just over 350] or the Becker-Posner Blog [just over 4,000]).
  • Other than search engines and the University’s site, only Wikipedia and Leiter’s Law School Reports sent more visitors during that period.
  • 27% of visitors from Facebook had never before visited the Law School’s site. This means two things:
    • 1) over 2200 people who had never visited the Law School’s site before were brought there by Facebook, and
    • 2) the remaining 6300 visits were from people who engage with the Law School repeatedly.
  • 18,728 pageviews resulted from Facebook
    • 17% were views of the home page
    • 16% were views of “student” pages
    • 7% were views of “news” pages
    • 7% were views of “prospective” pages
    • 3% were views of “alumni” pages  
    • 2% were views of audio/video pages


  • During the same 10/1/09-10/01/10 period, sent nearly 5,000 visitors to the Law School’s website; however, because of the many different ways people can access Twitter (third-party applications, etc.), it is likely that the actual minimum number sent from the Twitter platform is closer to 6,000, and the total could be as high as 10,000.
  • The Law School currently has over 3,500 followers on its primary account.
  • 19,013 pageviews resulted from
    • 22% were views of the homepage
    • 8% were views of “student” pages
    • 4% were views of “news” pages
    • 33% were views of “prospective” pages
    • 2% were views of “alumni” pages
    • 1% were views of audio/video pages


  • During that same 10/1/09-10/01/10 period, while only 492 visitors came from our LinkedIn group, 40% of those were new visitors. This is important because we know that the vast majority of our interactions with LinkedIn users tend to be with alumni, so this stat potentially indicates that alumni who are not otherwise visiting the Law School’s site are engaging with the Law School there.
  • There are currently just over 1,300 members of our LinkedIn group.
  • 1,552 pageviews resulted from LinkedIn
    • 18% were views of the homepage
    • 6% were views of “student” pages
    • 18% were views of “news” pages
    • 4% were views of “prospective” pages
    • 4% were views of “alumni” pages
    • 4% were views of audio/video pages

The biggest surprise for me out of all of these results was the large percentage of “prospective” pageviews generated by Twitter; I really had no idea whether our Twitter feed was reaching prospective students or not, but it appears that they are indeed our largest and/or most engaged audience on Twitter.

So, what do you make of these numbers, and how do they compare to your own? Suggestions for ways to improve both the accuracy of these results and the effectiveness of our social media efforts are, of course, more than welcome. 

Update: One stat that I forgot to mention: all of those pageviews generated by our social media were equal to just 1% of our total pageviews for that time period, which seemed surprisingly low to me. However, visitors referred by social media spent approximately 33% more time per page than the average time per page, which indicates that while social media may not be driving massive amounts of traffic, it is driving people who are more likely to actually engage with our content.