After nine months with Shorthand, Imperial College London feature stories have seen 142% higher average unique pageviews and 50% higher average time on page.
Andrew Youngson is the News and Campaigns Content Manager at Imperial College London, and led the editorial aspects of bringing Shorthand to the university.
Before using Shorthand, Imperial published their feature stories on a bespoke CMS used by the university’s news site.
As Andrew explains, the CMS was great for news, but wasn’t necessarily suitable for longer feature stories.
“The stories inevitably looked the same as our shorter stories, and didn’t provide that immersive reading experience. By immersive, I mean not interrupted by all the skyscrapers, headers and banners that you would have on any of our other platforms. For our feature stories, we were looking for an uninterrupted experience.”
A proven solution
After trialling a few options, Andrew and the team landed on Shorthand, a company he’d been personally following for years. Shorthand were well known for customers like the BBC and Sky News, and Andrew was interested to see how the platform could work for content produced by the university.
“We ended up choosing Shorthand for a few reasons. I subscribe to the Shorthand newsletter and knew that the platform could be used to make some amazing immersive stories.”
“Then there was the platform’s ease of use. This was critical for us, given how many different people produce stories across multiple teams.
“Our IT team was also pleased that we could easily host and publish stories from our own servers. It’s also important for us to work with a company with longevity, and Shorthand just seems to be on a real upward trajectory.
“Finally, there was the support that the Shorthand team gave us through the procurement process. This was incredibly important to getting the project over the line, and gave us confidence in the platform.”
After managing a complex internal process, Andrew was delighted to get the project up and running. “It was absolutely brilliant to be involved in something from the ground up, and that we were determined to do right.”
Absolute gold dust
After Imperial College London joined Shorthand, the team were given ‘white glove’ onboarding to help them get up and running immediately. For Andrew, this made a potentially complex process “really, really easy. We had a lot of specific requirements, but the team at Shorthand bent over backwards for us so many times.”
Andrew notes that there were many stakeholders involved in the procurement process at Imperial. “The Shorthand team knew exactly how to keep the process moving forward. It absolutely made the difference for us. We were appreciative of the flexibility and also the structure that they offered in the process of onboarding.”
Andrew’s a big fan of the training provided by Shorthand’s team, and cites it as a key reason for the success of the university’s Shorthand stories to date.
“The fact that Shorthand offers regular training sessions is absolute gold dust to somebody in my position. The training is great. Nobody's ever come to me confused.
“People can immediately start learning about the platform, without having to wait for us to offer our own internal training. It means people can maintain that enthusiasm they have for telling great stories.”
A better digital magazine
While Andrew was interested in a better reading experience for his feature stories, the design team were looking for a better way to publish their biannual magazine.
“The magazine goes out to a huge distribution list of our alumni,” Andrew explains. “It’s a major piece of work for the College, with a huge investment in resources. The work we publish in that magazine is top-level storytelling with bespoke photography and illustrations.”
However, the team producing the magazine had one major problem. “It was almost entirely in print. While our audience loves the print experience, there were no great ways to replicate this experience on our existing channels.”
As Andrew explains, the content was too visually rich to simply publish on Imperial’s news site or main website. And publishing the content with a PDF magazine reader “wasn’t the same at all. It wasn’t even a scratch on the proper reading experience.
“We knew we needed to find a better way to digitise this content and make an enjoyable, engaging experience. Shorthand was the perfect tool.”
A flexible digital storytelling platform
A key benefit of Shorthand, Andrew says, is that it allows anyone in the team to make great content, without being a designer or developer. “There's a really strong structure in terms of the content blocks that you can choose from. These really strong, tried-and-tested building blocks allow anybody to come in from scratch and tell great stories. The real creativity with our digital storytelling comes out of that foundation.”
Andrew uses the example of Shorthand’s Reveal section. “It’s a really simple and easy to use feature, but it has so many different applications. Our team is really able to bring their creativity to Shorthand and flourish.”
This has made it easy for Andrew to onboard new people to Shorthand. “There's a confidence there in the platform that even brand new people immediately have. And that makes my job so much easier.”
The results are in
How do Imperial’s Shorthand stories perform? When benchmarked against stories published on Imperial’s news site, Andrew says that the team has seen “a significant bump on the average time on page. Since our October launch to June 2020, the average read time on Shorthand stories is 3:41, as compared to 2:38 for stories on our news site. It's over a minute longer that we're getting on average for time-on-page. So that's fantastic.
“We're seeing really good engagement across the board and especially good engagement on our community content,” Andrew says. “This is also true with our popular science content, such as our pieces on gravity or solar system exploration. We're achieving really great engagement with that content because it's published in an engaging, immersive way. People seem to be really enjoying that.
“Our Shorthand stories are performing on every metric that we've been measuring ourselves on, such as scroll depth, clicks on page, and click-throughs on social media. The targets and stretch targets have been met on all our content.”
Andrew recommends other organisations pay attention to their analytics, as it is immensely helpful in reporting to budget owners and other decision makers. “It’s important to be armed with the facts to justify the investment we’re making in this content.”
More stories to tell
Andrew says one of the secrets to the success of Imperial College London’s Shorthand stories is the great process the team has in place. “We developed a content strategy, a mission statement, and a process for how stories are developed. And that continues right through from publishing to analytics and reporting.
“Shorthand is an easy platform to work with — and even quickly produced stories look great. But that doesn't mean you should take shortcuts. The best stories on Shorthand are always the ones you've spent time loving and crafting.”
Andrew still feels like he has a lot more to achieve. “We’ve done some great work, but there’s still so much great work to do with Shorthand. There are new features coming out that we’re excited to use, and the entire team is learning all the time. That’s the great thing about digital storytelling — there’s always more exciting ideas to explore.”