UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7 Jan 2010

'Modern' Art in Parade Gardens, Bath (from Flickr)

It snowed yesterday :-)  The snow was, of course, predicted.  For school children this was an unexpected day off school, with the delights of snowball fights and sledging (the hills surrounding Bath can make this a particular delight). And the snow also provided fun for others, as can be seen from this photo which is available on Flickr.

But for some of us it was a day in which we wondered whether we’d be able to get to work. So when the alarm went off on my iPod Touch yesterday morning the first thing I did was to load Twitter to see if what people were saying about the snow. And yes, although it was only 7 am, I was hearing from people around Bath and Bristol how bad the weather conditions were.

As I knew the weather was bad I decided to stay in bed for longer than normal.  For those who haven’t been to Bath or have only seen the touristy sights in the town centre, the University of Bath is situated at the top of a plateau, with a steep hill up to the University and in bad weather conditions traffic can’t make it up the hill.

At 07.21 the news arrived. A tweet from @UniofBath announced that:

Snow’s arrived & the Emergency Management Team have decided to close the Uni today.

This information (which was also sent to all staff via email) linked to a news item on the University of bath Web site which informed us that:

The Emergency Management Team will continue to keep the position under review. Every effort will be made during the day and tonight to facilitate the campus reopening tomorrow (Thursday).

An update will be posted on the University website by 7.30am tomorrow (Thursday 7 January) about whether the University can function as normal tomorrow.

And this morning another tweet arrived just before 07.30 with the news:

The University is closed today (Thursday 7 January 2010)

A great example of how a diversity of communications channels (Twitter, email, Web site and telephone alert line) are being used for such important alerts. And unlike terrorist attacks, such news is not unexpected (didn’t we have similar problems with the snow last year?).

Isn’t every University using such tools in similar ways? From tweets from @HerrDoktorc yesterday and today it seems not! Why is this, I wonder?


18 Responses to “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow”

  1. Emma said

    At University of Portsmouth we had:
    2 websites ( – i.e. the Offical one & the unofficial one)
    3 twitter feeds ( )
    2 Facebook pages
    All staff email (but there doesn’t seem to have been an all student one – I have a student a/c & there’s nothing in there…)
    Local Radio – which put it in with school closures.

    What I’d like to know is what method the majority of students used …

  2. Adrian said

    Hi Brian.

    We used the web, Twitter, Facebook and text alerts yesterday to inform people about the situation at Birkbeck (some classes cancelled, many still on), plus responding to individual queries by email/phone/etc. The problem with only some class cancellations, unlike your total closure, is ensuring the information is collated fast AND kept up-to-date. Sending out a message is the easy bit!

    Best wishes,

  3. Not everyone’s institution is embracing the digital movement the same way… I guess!
    I’m proud to say however that the University of Salford is tweeting, facebooking, updating its website and emailing updates about the weather condition to keep the staff informed… but I also happen to know that this is still not reaching everyone (for instance a colleague yesterday came to work to find the University closed…all because it didn’t cross her mind to check email, let alone twitter or even the website!)
    There is still work to do. A culture to change, both at institutional and individual levels, I guess. It takes time but things are moving.
    For instances, Uni of Portsmouth, Plymouth and Gloucestershire College seem to be tweeting too, but like Emma mentioned, I wonder how many people learned about their institution being closed via which channels :-) That would be an interesting study…

  4. Ian Cooper said

    As a clarification, Kent hasn’t actually had cause to close. My comments relate to past experience of closure notices arriving too late to be useful (e.g. arriving before people would have left home to attempt journeys).

    As we’re also on the top of a hill it’s useful to have an indication that a decision has been made NOT to close. I want to know that a decision has been made, not only when the decision is that we close, even if the university policy is “we don’t automatically close if it’s snowed”

  5. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by briankelly: “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, let It Snow” Does you organisation use a diversity of comms channels for snow alerts?

  6. They just need an email in their smashing new Gmail account which they gladly forward to another rather old Gmail account and pick up the good news that way.

  7. MMU uses a mixture of channels to communicate messages in these kinds of situations including:

    Updates on University’s website
    2 Twitter feeds: Main account ( and Student & Staff portal (
    Facebook page (
    All Staff email alerts

    It would be good to do some research into how these channels are being used and identify whether there is anything else we should be doing.

  8. Emma said

    Was your telephone alert line something that rang/texted you, or did you ring/text it? From what I can tell, we, like others, have a variety of online methods & local radio (I heard Bournemouth Uni was also closed via local radio), but no other methods, for those that don’t have internet at home & who maybe don’t think about local radio (esp. international students, I suspect)

    • The alerting service was provided by the University – I haven’t been involved. I’ll ask for a response.

      • Will Marsh said

        Hi Brian, Emma and other communicators across the country. I’m pleased our alert scheme has been well received. Our aim was to let people know as early as possible (before they set off for work) and in as many ways as possible (ie. not assume everyone had access to the Internet).

        The phone system is a recorded message (very similar to a person’s individual voicemail greeting message). It relies on the person ringing the number to hear the message I’m afraid – we’ll have to try the ‘ringing you’ approach next time! However, on Monday, when the University was open but the forecast was bad, we made sure we publicised how we would inform staff of any possible closure and that included publicising the phone number.

        Hope that answers the question?

        Best wishes


        Will Marsh
        Head of Corporate Communications
        University of Bath

  9. […] Brian Kelly posted this morning about his use of Twitter yesterday to find out that the University of Bath was closed for the day and of course we already know they’ve had experience of doing this before. On the Edge Hill account, I tried to blend news announcements with interesting things like a link to Andy’s photos but it’s hard to say how well used it was – we certainly added a few (real) followers to the account over the last 48 hours. This entry was posted on Thursday, January 7th, 2010 at 12:03 pm and is filed under About us, Design, Web Services. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. […]

  10. Mark said

    But how many tutorials etc went ahead through the use of web technologies, that otherwise would have been completely cancelled? Thats what I’d love to know. And I don’t mean the ones by web evangalists etc but the Joe Bloggs tutor who thinks “maybe I can you the web / VLE to get round this…..”

  11. Adrian said

    Mark asked about how many tutorials went ahead using web technologies. I can’t answer that for Birkbeck I’m afraid (not yet any way), but I would comment that my daughter has been doing her mock GCSE’s from home all this week via the school’s VLE (under exam conditions, supervised by my wife!), so if schools can get their act together well enough to do this kind of thing then I’m sure many Uni’s have. I’ll try to get some stats from our VLE people at Birkbeck about usage over the past few days.

    On the issue of data about which alerting channels are used and preferred, I added a quick and dirty 2-question survey to our cancelled classes web page yesterday to ask visitors how they heard about the page and how they would prefer to be alerted of such things. There were 254 submissions, and here’s the stats:

    How did you hear about this page?

    68% via College web site
    12% via email
     6% via other means
     5% via a friend (by any means)
     4% via Facebook
     4% via SMS
     1% via Twitter

    How would you prefer to be alerted of such news?

    43% via email
    24% via College web site
    21% via SMS
     8% via any and all means
     2% via other means
     1% via Facebook
     1% via Twitter

    When considering these preferences it is perhaps necessary to state that our typical student is in the 35-40 age bracket, not 18-21.

  12. […] home and snow, when I popped onto Twitter and discovered that Marieke Guy (UKOLN remote worker) and Brian Kelly had done the same […]

  13. […] Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow […]

  14. […] of a co-ordnated effort as described on Brian Kelly’s blog how the University of Bath used a range of communication channels and technologies to inform their […]

  15. Ian Bruce said

    As an aside, as well as publishing regular *informational* updates on the official website / Facebook / Twitter, we also posted some photos of the campus in the snow on Facebook and were surprised how popular they proved to be:

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