Friday, 24 September 2010

Case Study: Sandwell PCT Social Marketing Hub

Sandwell is located in the West Midlands and the PCT covers a population of approximately 320,000 people. The PCT has recently begun to develop it's social marketing and launched a website ( to support their efforts. We're going to take a look at this website and discuss how it achieves it's goals, but first below's a link to a great video produced by Sandwell PCT, explaining exactly what Social Marketing is.

The first impression I get from the website is that it's a lovely design, being bright and cheerful, with the colour scheme and illustration in the banner. The name, "Over the garden fence" implies a neighbourly community conversing. This matches the stated aim in the tag line, this being "Providing people a place to share their insight on health and wellbeing across Sandwell".

The welcome message goes into further detail, describing the site as a hub for sharing Social Marketing insight within Sandwell. The page does this by allowing people to register, then upload insight documents. These are displayed in chronological order underneath the welcome message.  Filter options appear to the right, with a search box and pinboard displaying popular search times, allowing a user to find posts on specific topics. Above this is a big red button, linking to an area where users can register, then leave posts.

And that's it. Very simple, with nothing extraneous and doing nothing more than what it says on the tin. This is probably the biggest positive of the site. A user knows straight away what the site does and what it does is right there on the same page, so they can find what they want as quickly as possible. This is perfect from the users point of view. Websites often get bogged down in bells and whistles, to the point where they lose sight of their core reasons for being, which may keep it out of sight for the user too. Over the garden fence doesn't make this mistake.

It's a great little website, but what else could they do going forward? Here's our suggestions.

Without being an administrator for the site, it's difficult to say how much traffic it's received, but it may be an idea to make this a little more visible. If it's not obvious that a page is active, it can actually discourage people from using it further. A few tweaks here and there, to show how many people have downloaded a document and visited a post, as well as some pointers to encourage further comments and debate would go a long way to achieving this.

The PCT will have conducted their research and determined that there would be uptake enough for this site to justify commissioning it. Promoting the site, both internally and externally, as an ongoing process would help increase this uptake, with things such as regular email campaigns highlighting points of interest within the site.

The website looks great, but maybe encouraging contributors to include relevant images or videos with each post would make it even more visually appealing. Social Marketing, even within a professional context such as this, is about people and it would be good to get a feel for this on the page. The copy in each post is useful and informative, but if this is the only place where the people of Stanwell can see all the initiatives their PCT are conducting as a whole and they're essentially the customers, perhaps “selling” them a little more would be a good idea.

As mentioned before, the simplicity of the site is fantastic, but maybe splitting the posts into categories and displaying them in the spare space usually used to navigate between pages in the banner, would improve the user experience further.

At this stage in the internet's development, Social Media functionality could also be built in to the website. This would include allowing users to share a post to Social Networks, such as facebook. This may not seem immediately relevant, as the documents are more internal than public facing, but you can presume that those that do share have similarly employed people within their online social networks. Besides, the welcome message on the site does state that it's also aimed at the public, so helping spread items to non-employees within the Sandwell area through Social Media, wouldn't be a bad thing.

Just one tiny little negative to finish (sorry Sandwell!). The logo to the top right links back to the home page, whereas I expected it to go to the PCT website and certainly think it should. There should also be a link in the welcome message. In fact, I couldn't find a link through anywhere on the website. I found the PCT website through Google and again, couldn't find any links back to Over the garden fence. It's a website to be proud of, so should be well displayed and easily reachable through wherever Sandwell has a web presence.

But that's a small niggle really and the site is a great example of a PCT beginning to embrace and see the importance of Social Marketing. Well done Sandwell!

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