The biggest challenge in being a Web Content Manager is not learning HTML or dealing with the complexities of social media. It is a more prosaic one – how do you get people to write content for your web site?
I’ve worked in web content for organizations large and small, in government and outside of it. The same problem comes up again and again. An organization wants a web site that contains timely, accurate, relevant and (hopefully) engaging content. But they are dependent on people with various levels of interest to actually write the content.
Web sites rely on these subject matter experts (SMEs). They produce program descriptions, product pages, explanations of government procedures, “about us” pages, executive bios, instructions on how to fill out forms and everything in between. This content is the vital core of the web site; without it, you have an empty shell.
Most of the time, these people don’t work for you. They’re in some distant department, charged with updating their section of the web site. They have differing levels of comfort with writing. They may, in fact, hate to write and look at producing content for the site as some onerous chore.
How do you get SMEs to write content for the web site?
How much traffic does your site get? Has it won any awards or received recognition? Do you have a file of nice comments from readers? Share this information with your SMEs. Let them know how much the web site matters and how important their content is to it. I suggest reporting web metrics to your SMEs. Give them numbers that they can share with their bosses and brag about.
Tip: Put all your web metrics, awards and nice comments into a fact sheet or web page that you can easily share.
Respect Their Time
Make the content submission process as painless as possible. Have an editorial guide to share with SMEs, as well as quick description of how the publishing process works. State what you need from them clearly and concisely, with word counts and deadlines. Don’t inundate SMEs with information that they don’t need to know, like esoteric web technologies that they’re not going to see. Give them deadlines that are doable but not so far in advance that they seem theoretical. I like deadlines in the 2-4 week range.
Tip: Create an online editorial kit for contributors, with everything writers for the site need to know.
You think such childish tactics don’t work on senior staff? You’re wrong. Telling a GS-15 that all of his peers have updated their sections of the web site but he hasn’t – that really works. Someone should write a research paper on the use of playground tactics in the office.
Tip: Hang a chart in your office listing sections of the site and if they’re up to date.
Write It Yourself (Not Really)
Early in my career, I wanted a designer to help me design a new section of the site. He said he was too busy. So I built a rough layout myself. After I showed it to him, he took one look and said, “This is terrible. I’ll do it.” Problem solved. Sometimes, people just need something to respond to. Put your ideas on paper and show them to your “too busy” SMEs. They may find it easier to work from something that you’ve started.
The content published to the web site is just a fraction of the content produced in your organization. As a Web Content Manager, your job is tell the story of your organization online. You need to know what’s going on in different departments, what they’re working on and what’s coming up. In a nonprofit I worked for, I did this by walking around. I’d talk to the press people and magazine editors and writers that I knew. Dropping in on them, I’d find out if they had anything good that I could put up on the web site.
Tip: Formalize the “walking around” process by having a SME group that meets regularly. Though this isn’t as fun as walking around.
Web technologies come and go. Policies, procedures and government requirements change. But the one constant in web site management is the problem of getting people to write content.