Can I Play, Too? Involving Staff Members in the Web Content Creation Process
The time has come. You’ve done your research to find out your audiences, figured out how to create great content to meet their needs, and you’ve convinced your organization’s staff and leadership that it’s time to build a new website.
Now it’s time to involve your staff in the process - since they are the issue experts that should work with you to create or revise your website’s content. At Americans for the Arts, though everyone on staff has an interest in the success of the website, only some of the people on our 70-person staff are what we call “content creators” – the ones who write the content.
Web content is often a collaborative effort between staff, a marketing/communications team, and a web team/contractor (who will see the content last and pull everything together to publish on the website). Though it may seem like a simple trickle-down workflow, we actually all worked together from the beginning because each group had something important to add – the staff member was the issue expert, the marketing/communications team was the storyteller, and the web team was the functionality guru.
As Website & New Media Associate, I took part in strategizing and organizing the work delivered by these content creators. I helped them understand their options for displaying their content on the new website, based on the code and functionality options that would be built into our new website.
This blog post will share the methods we used during our website redesign to involve these staff members, collaborate to bring about great ideas, and manage the overall project so deliverable deadlines were met.
First Step: Feedback, Presentation, and then More Feedback
To get staff involved in the website project, we distributed a survey (using SurveyMonkey) so they could give us their honest opinions on the current website. After we combined this feedback with all of the other research we had done in preparation for a new website, we held an introductory all-staff meeting where we led a formal presentation (based on our Vision Document) on the direction we wanted to head.
We wanted this presentation to be as transparent as possible so that information would only come from the web team and no one else – as we mentioned earlier, getting staff buy-in was crucial to the project’s success. After the presentation, we encouraged another round of feedback so that we could further refine any points of contention, so that every voice was heard!
Second Step: Brainstorm
Once we were clear on a direction, we started our first of three rounds of “content meetings” – focusing on brainstorming with entire teams that were responsible for sections of the website. This was our opportunity to get all stakeholders in a room, look at their current web presence, and throw out ideas for their web presence on the new website.
We asked questions like:
- Please explain how this section of the site can help you meet your problem’s goals and strategies.
- What single, unique, focused message should the audience walk away with after seeing this section?
- What imagery do you envision using in your redesigned section?
- Briefly describe your current content and what needs to be done to make it ready for the new website. (Is it out-of-date, verbose, lacking imagery, boring, borrowed/not original, not properly attributed, nothing but links to other sites?)
- How often will you have updates to your content, and on what schedule?
These questions helped spark great discussions about how the website could be a strategic asset for our departments.
Third Step: Visual Examples
After our initial brainstorm, we prepared a visual layout of each of the main pages that we had discussed with each team – we found it easiest to use large sheets of legal-size paper and Post-It notes (each representing a different piece of content) so that things could be moved.
We then met with each team again, showing them our example and giving them the opportunity to come up with their own suggestions of potential layouts.
By that point, we’d decided our new website would be using Drupal as our Content Management System, we introduced common Drupal terms like “blocks” to help develop the team’s understanding of website a little further.
Fourth Step: Setting Deadlines
This was the most important step – at our last official “content meeting,” we presented staff with our plan for creating new content and amending their current content to make it stronger for the new website.
In this meeting, we discussed how to create great web content in further detail, talked about best practices for web, and designated who would be in charge of writing which content. We also created content templates – one for each of the different types of content on our site – that included text and image guidelines to make it as easy as possible for staff to develop their content in a consistent manner. For example, we used this template for our Arts Awards content type.
At this point, we also introduced a very helpful project management tool that would keep everyone on track with their assignments and deadlines - Asana. I cannot stress enough how important it was for us to have a project management tool like Asana or Basecamp in our tool belt - it was one central location where all documents and information for the site could be kept, and it allowed us to maintain an approvals workflow for editing.
It also helped us hold staff (and ourselves) accountable, as each person that followed a specific task in Asana would get automatic emails when that task was updated or if a deadline was missed.
If your project is on track, the content creation process will be the all-important moment when your website will start to round out and take shape - and your staff is the key to this process. Just remember that establishing trust is imperative. Here are a few final things to remember as you go through this process:
- Stay positive and listen.
We listened and the listened some more - repeating what we heard, asking thoughtful questions to keep the dialogue going, and reassuring everyone that they had been heard. It’s important to encourage staff and let them know that this project won’t be a success without their involvement. Acknowledge that they are adding this work to already heavy workloads, and always stay positive.
- You are an expert, and they are, too.
Think about the last time you got your car checked or visited your doctor - you listened to the mechanic and took the doctor’s opinion to heart because you regard them as experts in their fields. They also likely displayed a confidence in the information they provided, and you trusted that they had done the research to back up that information.
The same principle applies with how you approach working with staff – if each of you comes in prepared for your own role and views the process as an opportunity for collaboration, then you’ll be able to achieve a sense of mutual respect and value in bringing much-needed expertise to the table.
- Transparency is a must!
Be as clear and as upfront as possible with staff about the process and its direction. Articulate why their contributions to the project are so important, and demonstrate the difference they are making at key milestones in the project by sharing deliverables when you can – it will help them feel involved in the process.
You want to be authoritative when giving instructions and setting deadlines, but don’t forget that it’s important never to miss an opportunity to show gratitude for your staff’s contributions and collaborative spirit.