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Why on earth would a university research faculty need the help of a marketing agency – and what are they doing learning about social media?

The Cambridge Centre for Gallium Nitride, part of the University of Cambridge, perform research on the light emitting materials at the heart of energy efficient LED light bulbs, the “blue ray” inside a blu-ray player and many other current and future technologies.  Recently, they got in touch with us with a problem.  Their research team had applied for a grant to fund their research project into Gallium Nitride  but as part of their grant application, they needed to prove two things: 1. How their work would be engaging to the public; and 2. How they would deliver this message to the public. That’s where we came in….


The research project was focused on generating industrial and commercial opportunities that could save lives, energy and money through ground-breaking UK-based research in Gallium Nitrides. The team had rightly identified social media as the perfect cost-effective tool to have conversations with everyone with an interest in their research – members of the public, scientific experts, teachers, journalists, politicians or other influential people.

We delivered a tailored programme, spread over two days.  This combined a mix of participation-based, workshop-style sessions (to draw out key objectives and the skills within the team); more formal speaker led training, advice and guidance (provided by one of our expert education marketing associates); and the development of a set of recommendations for action over the course of the project.

In the first session, Helen Hammond, who led the project, worked with the group to explore the objectives from the project, as well as the tools (and skills) available.  This was then written up into a bespoke master social media strategy document for the project. This included a write-up of the observations into a focused, plain-speaking document, setting out the path proposed. It highlighted opportunities as well as barriers to success and included suggestions for target audiences, tools and messages. Most importantly it proposed clear, measurable objectives and a step-by-step way forward for the team.

The document planned out social media activity both at a strategic level (i.e. how it directly contributed to their goals) and also a tactical level (week-by-week, platform-by-platform). It included template social media content plans and reports for the team to take away and use.

The second session (on day two) was all about how to use this document.  The group was taken through each step, as well as the recommended social media tools. They learnt how the plan should work in practice, tips for using the social media tools properly, and had an opportunity to ask questions.

Having included details of this training and strategy work, in their application, the team was awarded an initial funding grant to get the project off the ground. So, that’s a big tick in the first box!

But it did so much more than that. Over the months that followed we saw an explosion of activity from the team, as they put the plan into practice.   Their social media reached a wide and varied audience – from students and local business through to press and school children.  They employed the approachable tone of voice (set out in the plan) to make their work more accessible and understandable to all.  Social media has been used to share news of awards and activities, high-level articles and content, profiles of the team members (highlighting their education and career paths), video materials, news and press clippings and more.  There were two activities that made their work really come to life, though.  First, photos of ‘real people’ working in the lab and as a team – this humanised a very technical project and made it instantly more engaging.  And, second, photographs and posts on sessions the team ran with local schools, like Chesterton College, and in the local community – such as getting involved with Soapbox Science in Cambridge.  When you look at their LinkedIn feed you see a project that is utterly centred in community engagement. Not only does this help people to understand how even the most complicated science impacts on our lives… it also fulfils the brief we were set, here at Elephant Creative.

Take a look at their Linkedin page.

The social media training made us rethink how we present the research group to the outside world, and has had an impact across the board on our outreach programme – not just what we do online, but also our interactions with local schools and policy-makers.  We’ve got some really ambitious plans for our youtube channel in particular, which (taking Helen’s advice) have been developed in dialogue with school-teachers to make our web resources as useful as possible.  However, we’ve also realised that using social media really effectively needs a lot more effort and resource than we originally imagined, so we’re applying for “Impact” funding to take these plans forward.