Answering my own questions since 2001

BCIT’s Change Network

WhatWouldYouChange.caLate last week, I got an email from BCIT about a new site that they launched: WhatWouldYouChange.ca. From their About page:

Change starts with one person, one idea. Change happens when one person acts on their idea helping it take root and grow into something greater. What is your idea for change?

That’s what this site is all about.

It’s a place to share your thoughts on what you’d like to change about pretty much anything, and have some fun along the way. Maybe you’d like to change something about the world or perhaps it’s personal change you’re after. Whatever, we’d like to hear about it!

As far as I can figure, it’s kind of a soft-sell recruiting effort, that combines various roll-your-own social media angles on a Drupal platform. You can talk about what you’d change on video, make a kind of photo collage about it or devise short, Tweet-esque messages of change.

I traded emails with Janeen Alliston, one of the project managers on the project. I asked her why they opted for these three particular flavours of social media. Here’s her reply:

The three pronged approach was the result of a user experience document created to guide the project. We thought about what would initially engage our target demo (16-25 years olds) and what would open the door to deeper engagement with other site members as well as BCIT faculty, students and alumni. Our goal was to provide opportunities for people to interact with the site in ways that are comfortable for them. Some are happy to view videos and perhaps share them online, others may be visually inclined but not good with the written word or vice versa.

With a little help on the Drupal and Flash fronts, they conceived, designed and built the whole thing in-house–quite an achievement. I think it’s got a pretty fun aesthetic, and I think I recognize that coffee stain in the upper right-hand corner from a familiar Photoshop brush.

What Would You Change? Everything

Locals may recognize a striking similarity between the concept of WhatWouldYouChange.ca and VanCity’s ChangeEverything.ca (here’s what I wrote about that project back in 2006). I asked Janeen about this:

We became aware of ChangeEverything.ca well into the development of whatwouldyouchange. We are targeting a much younger demographic with a more whimsical take on the notion of change.

I’m not sure what to say about that. I believe that they weren’t aware of ChangeEverything.ca at the outset of the project. But I would have been given serious pause whenever I learned about ChangeEverything.ca, and might have changed the new site’s focus (or at least its brand). The lesson, I guess, is to ask around when you kick off a project like this, and really do a thorough survey to understand what else, in terms of “competition”, is out there.

With my marketer’s hat on, I’m always a bit skeptical when organizations build their own social network. This isn’t quite that, but there are already existing places–YouTube, Facebook, Twitter–where this behaviour is taking place. In our experience, it’s really difficult to drag users out of those spaces and onto your own nascent site. You’re often better off working with your customers where they are, instead of where you want them to be.

But, then, I’m very frequently wrong. And this might be precisely the kind of site that’s attractive to young British Columbians (besides, you know, the fact that they’re asexually reproducing on Facebook). Best of luck to BCIT and the project team.

4 Responses to “BCIT’s Change Network”

  1. Dave Tanchak

    Thanks for the post, Darren.

    As the lead for the BCIT Web Team, I have to admit I was somewhat deflated when I learned of the VanCity site (honestly, I’d never heard of it). I waffled for a day or two trying to figure out how we might tweak our idea without having to redo too much of what was already done.

    While we did some perfunctory research to see if there was anything similar out there, clearly we needed to look a bit harder, as you say. In our defense, getting web and social media marketing into the planning pipeline at the appropriate time in BCIT’s recruitment cycle in time for proper user research, environmental scans and, ultimately, development, can be a challenge.

    We haven’t eschewed the existing social networks, but we are, admittedly, trying to understand how we can use them effectively in conjunction with our own web properties to engage our target audiences. How can we make people more aware of what we can offer in the realm of education, without aggravating them with endless, meaningless (to them) marketing messages? How can we demonstrate our willingness to engage their inquiries at a deeper level and in the forum that’s comfortable for them? What cultural changes (see planning note above) will we need to make at BCIT to make such efforts effective?

    This is just the start for us and we’ll learn a few things the hard way, to be sure. I appreciate your thoughts on the subject and welcome any other input from interested parties!

    darren Reply:

    Thanks for your reply. One recommendation I’d make is to include more ‘ties’ into existing social networks. So, integrate with Facebook Connect so it’s easier for people to register. If you don’t, accept embed code for videos hosted on other services like YouTube and the like. Or do some Twitter integration so that tweets sent to, say, @whatwouldyouchange get put in your super-short change queue on the site.

    Dave Tanchak Reply:

    We have all those things on our radar, particularly the ability to contribute videos hosted elsewhere. By the time we got to development, we had about three weeks before planned launch, so we had to scale back some of the functionality. The nce thing is we can add in the features as phase two, phase three, etc.

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