The digital artefact I have been reviewing is Payton Sassano’s travel blog, Here Today Gong Tomorrow, which also includes an Instagram page. Payton is an international student currently studying communication and media at the University of Wollongong. She decided to build an online presence which provides an honest and authentic glimpse into life as a foreign exchange student living in the Illawarra.
I immediately felt drawn to this project because I recently completed a short exchange program at the University Leeds in England and I appreciate the need for a platform which compiles destinations which are exciting, affordable and close by, when you’re studying in a city you’ve never before experienced.
Payton’s methodology included capturing her images in an authentic manner. She visited the locations herself and captured her own images. She then, in some cases, wrote a blog post on the attraction or area in general. She highlights the best aspects of each destination and usually offers information such as public transport, the time it takes to travel to a particular destination from Wollongong, or close by cities.
Utility & Trajectory
This artefact has a strong primary utility: to showcase Wollongong as a travel destination for an international university student. The social utility is significant. My own study abroad experience demonstrated to me the need for a service that assists international students with simple, fast information that gives them ideas on where to spend their time and the best way to do so. Similarly, it`s a gentle reminder to local Illawarra residents of the abundant variety of destinations they have on their doorstep.
This project also possesses a strong utility for local businesses in the Illawarra, and to the University of Wollongong in its self-marketing to international students.
The trajectory of this project has potential to grow. In Payton`s beta presentation, she spoke of her intention to open up the project to other international students to share their own experiences on her platform, to increase the span of content she can provide. The hashtag “#lifeinthegong” is what she will use to capture this content.
Payton’s objective has remained fairly stagnant, however she’s adjusted the creation of her project at various intervals this semester in response to feedback. This feedback has come from both her seminar curation and analytic tools on her online platforms.
Since her initial pitch, Payton has opted to make the Here Today Gong Tomorrow Instagram page the primary focus of her artefact, rather than the website. Based on WordPress analytics, there wasn’t enough traffic incoming to sustain her effort to write detailed blog posts about her travels. A survey she conducted (via Instagram) during her seminar curation suggested that Instagram was the preferred way of Payton’s audience to interact with her project.
Initially, the Here Today Gong Tomorrow Instagram page didn’t generate significant activity. Payton examined similar accounts, such as GongSpotting, for inspiration and several takeaways from this account have helped her to build her Instagram account.
Payton reiterated the format of her Instagram posts as a result of this research and findings. She’s striving to be more informative, rather than purely focusing on aesthetics. In her beta pitch, she revealed that Instagram best allows her to reach her target audience by both immediacy and accessibility. She’s also decided to use a medium-length caption to accompany her images, like Gong Spotting. These captions will feature vital information including public transport details, a star rating, the best time to visit particular locations and location highlights:
Additionally, she’s using more hashtags. Initially, Payton used mostly generic hashtags, like #nature, #travel, #wanderlust and #photography. . Now she is utilising some which are specific to the Illawarra, such as #uow, #illawarra and #nsw. This has led to an increase in post likes.
A recent addition to the Instagram page is a reel of highlights, which are sorted via location or experience:
Each section contains footage from its respective area. Payton incorporated this in response to seminar curation feedback.
Constructive Feedback on Beta Demo
The idea behind this artefact is brilliant. Wollongong hosts a huge number of international students each semester and it is refreshing to see the local area (as well as other destinations worth seeing) marketed by one of those students, giving this presence the ‘honest’ value Payton was striving for.
The existing content is strong, but could be used across different platforms such as Trip Advisor, or even the owned media particular destinations to build an audience and garner a stronger reputation. Because several reiterations in format took place, there`s a slight inconsistency in the way the Instagram posts are formatted. Some lack hashtags and captions, which is a missed opportunity to connect with the intended audience.
I’m unsure about the decision to cut the WordPress blog. Even though it generates much less traffic than the Instagram page, I think it’s still a worthwhile venture. The Instagram survey gave students the opportunity to select WordPress or Instagram as the better platform. Just because Instagram was the more popular answer, it doesn’t necessarily mean the blog is unworthy. Perhaps consider pasting the exact same content on the blog as Instagram so it isn’t too much extra work. Part of your target market is international students who may visit the University of Wollongong to study in the future – and they may be more likely to search for “things to do in Wollongong” on a web engine rather than Instagram – cater for these people too.
To build on your content, you could incorporate more blog posts about culture shock, initial differences you noticed between Australia and the USA, and your experience at the University of Wollongong itself. This would also further differentiate you from existing Illawarra travel blogs. These could be written by other international students studying at UOW across different faculties, as you mentioned in your beta that the next step would be recruiting other people to submit images or experiences to your artefact.