This past year, I led an effort to redesign the staff Intranet site for the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). After months of surveying, planning, and testing (see the part 1 blog post, How Do You Redesign a ‘Dinosaur’? Redesigning an Intranet Site: the Beginning Stages), the site was launched in Fall 2017. I learned several helpful lessons along the way that I wanted to share:
At the beginning of 2017, the ITIF (Information Technology and Innovation Foundation) released a report that benchmarked 300 federal websites in four areas: page-load speed, mobile friendliness, security and accessibility. Some sites fared better than others, but the report highlighted that our federal sites have a ways to go (DigitalGov included) in these areas. Looking at these four metrics is important as they directly impact our customers’ first perceptions of the quality of our government’s digital services.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Meals on Wheels America have created multilingual educational resources about financial scams that target the elderly which can be easily distributed to seniors in the communities they serve, and downloaded or ordered in bulk for free by the general public. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) Consumer Education & Engagement division offers a variety of financial education resources and tools. Our Office for Older Americans specifically strives to find the resources that best meet the needs of older adults in America age 62 and older.
This post was originally published on the HIV.gov blog. Editor’s Note: At HIV.gov, our team calls include a weekly update on digital trends. These updates allow us to stay current and inform our work. We recently asked HIV.gov’s former digital strategist to suggest ways our HIV partners can stay up to date with social media trends. Social media moves fast. It can feel like there is a new tool or feature to learn every day.
Merriam-Webster officially defines a meme as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” But these days, most of us think of memes as those viral posts online that convey a message using a photo with text. They range from funny to serious to offensive, and everything in between. Sometimes they include a call to action, and other times they focus on creating an emotion.
This month’s Plain Language of Community Practice meeting featured Katherine Spivey’s presentation, Plain Language Spectrum: Every Step Counts! In this highly useful DigitalGov University (DGU) webinar, she explains how you can move forward with plain language even when you don’t have permission to edit copy, followed by a half hour Q & A session. Many people don’t get plain language (also known as plain communication or plain writing) right the very first time, but through practice, can gain clarity and improve their plain language skills.
Twitter is more than just a platform for sharing news and updates: it can be a tool for directly communicating with your community and understanding what is important to them. One way you can connect with your Twitter audience is by hosting a Twitter Chat. They can be a good way to discuss key topics, raise awareness, and exchange knowledge and resources between you and the community. Several HIV organizations host Twitter chats on health topics, during HIV awareness days relevant to their community, and/or during HIV/AIDS conferences.
The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) recently published a report, Benchmarking U.S. Government Websites, that looks at the performance, security, and accessibility of the top 297 government websites. ITIF is a think tank in Washington, D.C. whose mission is to formulate, evaluate, and promote policy solutions that accelerate innovation in technology and public policy. Over the past 90 days, government websites were visited over 2.55 billion times. According to the Analytics Dashboard, 43.
We naturally gravitate towards story-telling. It’s part of our human nature that began thousands of years ago, well before the written word. We want to pass down our history and cultures, and we do this by telling stories because they resonate with us. Stories tap into our emotions. They make us feel. They move us to action. When we talk about the centennial of World War I, we have to make it personal for the American public, or else we run the risk of forgetting this war.
Regardless of the platform, industry or niche, you became a social media influencer in one of two ways: adopting early or promoting great content. Early adopters are willing to gamble on a new platform, try an untested strategy or set precedent for other users. The risk is in the understanding that they could fail publicly. The rewards, though, are equally large: the ability to amass a large and active following, build relationships with other key influencers, and succeed in a space that is equally forgiving of a short-term failure.
Every first week of every month, USAGov’s marketing team sends an office-wide email newsletter to give an update on past and current marketing efforts and campaigns. It’s how we try to help keep the rest of the office in the know. The monthly newsletter can spur a content idea, a future marketing endeavor, and act as a reminder of what’s coming up that month that contributors need to be aware of.
Guidance for Contributing Digital Content to FDsys (govinfo) is now available on FDLP.gov. Federal Information Preservation Network (FIPNet) digital imaging partners now have guidance documentation for creating and contributing digitally-imaged U.S. Government content to Federal Digital System (FDsys)/govinfo*. The guidance specifications are based on current best practices from the Federal Agency Digitization Guidelines Initiative and the Association for Library Collections and Technical Services “Minimum Digitization Capture Recommendations.” The Guidance document is provided to encourage libraries and other stakeholders to contribute digitally-imaged Federal publications to FDsys (govinfo) to increase access to legacy and historic U.
If you were to perform research on the value proposition of training videos, you would notice that opinions are split on their efficacy. Despite all the tools that are out there that can help you evaluate video quality, views, and drop-off, there are some things that should be considered in the analysis of your organization’s videos. As a member of the Service Design practice at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), I was tasked with a research project evaluating how non-consumers interact with the CFPB in regards to complaint data.
In a move to win back users and improve the company’s image, Twitter introduced quality filters in August. They followed this move in November with an option to mute certain words. These changes will have larger ramifications for federal agencies, who will need to focus on quality of content in order to retain their audience base and reach. In recent statement on the change, Twitter promised that the filters would “improve the quality of Tweets you see by using a variety of signals, such as account origin and behavior.
Recently, OMB released M 17-06, Policies for Federal Agency Public Websites and Digital Services, which provides agencies with requirements, standards, and best practices for federal websites and digital services. This new policy might have some of us reflecting on our websites and applications to make sure we are in compliance. This task might seem overwhelming, but the following methodology might just serve as a much needed guide. Recently, we interviewed Sara Wachter-Boettcher, author of Content Everywhere: Strategy and Structure for Future-Ready Content.
Summary: How to leverage your resources to reach Spanish-dominant Hispanics online. A recent DigitalGov University (DGU) webinar provided an introduction to the intersection of two teams with different audiences reaching consensus on goals to maximize insight and outreach effectiveness. Social Media Outreach Goals What does social media outreach success look like? Success is when agencies and stakeholders have developed relationships that support each other’s social media and digital campaigns.
I recently interviewed Daniel Kuhns, Web Manager at FEMA, about the site widgets and the FEMA app his organization has been developing. The widgets currently available include: FEMA App, Preparedness, Severe Weather, Private Sector, Kids Fire Safety, and Are you a Disaster Survivor. The FEMA App offers many features such as weather alerts, safety reminders, shelter information and contact information. This information can be very helpful in times of an emergency, and some of it, to include the safety tips, are available offline.
I recently asked some friends—a group of intelligent, successful individuals—what they knew about World War I. The responses I received included, “Ummm…..it was in the 1910s?” or “Started in Europe when the archduke was killed?” Beyond this, it’s mostly blank stares and shoulder shrugs. People who consider themselves history geeks might mention President Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points, or the creation of the League of Nations, but for many Americans, World War I is a forgotten war.
GobiernoUSA, just like USA.gov, is part of a unique effort with a large mission—to guide people to the government information and services they seek. We cover a lot of topics in Spanish via our website, social media platforms, email sends, and contact center. One of the communication channels we focus a lot of attention on is social media, and we routinely measure how our efforts are going. We focused first on our assumed engagement power hitter – Facebook, to learn more from its Insights analytics data.
We recently interviewed Sara Wachter-Boettcher, author of Content Everywhere: Strategy and Structure for Future-Ready Content. Sara, a frequent conference speaker, runs a content strategy consultancy, and is the co-author of Design for Real Life. She has extensive experience consulting with major brands, universities, agencies, nonprofits, and others to make their content more memorable, manageable, and sustainable. How would you describe structured content? Most content on the web is unstructured, meaning it’s just a page with blobs of text on it.
Imagine this – a go-to member of your organization just retired, a furlough is approaching, and now no one knows what to do. What communications need to go out? Who is considered ‘excepted’? Can the daycare center stay open? In the absence of mind-melds, how do you make expert knowledge easily accessible to newer team members? The Strategic Initiatives Group (SIG) at the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Office of Human Resources was confronted with the specific challenge of how to transfer complicated programs to new owners with no familiarity, so their team decided to build a tool to solve their specific problem and a host of others along the way.
Anyone engaged in content marketing or content production probably owns a robust editorial calendar. A calendar that is quickly updated, helps keep deadlines and is flexible can serve as a helpful blueprint of your content activities for the year. At USAGov we cover a lot of topics and partner with many agencies. Having an editorial calendar has helped us in a variety of ways, from staying on top of deadlines and deliverables, to giving us the space to focus on the topics that resonate best with our audiences.
This post is written by Jeannie Chen, Mary King, and Hilary Parkinson and is part of our ongoing series about our social media strategy. We welcome comments from staff, other cultural institutions, and the public, and will continue to update the strategy as a living document. When we introduced NARA’s new social media strategy in August, we called it a living document. But what does that mean? We wanted it to be the most relevant and up-to-date framework to guide our social media efforts, and to evolve as we worked.
The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) made history today by releasing the first ever iBook version of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). And while a tome about the complex rules governing the federal government’s purchasing process may not sound like a bestseller, the FAR is essential reading not just for federal contracting officers and federal contractors, but owners of small (and large) businesses, too. “Basically, anyone who does or wants to conduct business with the government reads the FAR,” said Dan Briest, Program Manager of Acquisition.
As localities struggle with issues such as the Zika virus and the Opioid epidemic, gathering and disseminating trustworthy information can be daunting. But one group of Federal agencies and offices have come together to create a free and easy way to incorporate public health web content, images, video, microsites, data, and infographics into other sites, apps, and social media. Digital media syndication of science-based resources from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) can be combined with your ongoing activities and can help coordinate health messaging for maximum impact and reach.
As any experienced retailer will tell you, the customer experience begins at the store entrance. Note the friendly Walmart greeter, the approachable minimalism of an Apple Store, and the calculated whimsy of Anthropologie. Store designers understand that a customer’s decision to make a purchase is often made within seconds of entering. The same holds true for visitors entering a museum. And while most museums are not expert peddlers of merchandise (though some museum stores certainly are), the savvy ones value the entrance experience and work to iterate and improve.
One year ago this week, we launched vote.gov (also known as vote.usa.gov). It’s a concise and simple site with a single mission: direct citizens through the voter registration process as quickly as possible. It was created by a joint team of USA.gov staffers and Presidential Innovation Fellows, all of whom work within the General Services Administration (GSA). Did it work? Yes. In fact, it worked so well that Facebook made it the destination for their 2016 voter registration drive.
What does Snapchat, the disappearing message-and-video platform most used by teenagers, have to do with government outreach and communications programs? Well, Snapchat has quickly become an incredibly effective digital storytelling medium, and content creators across multiple government agencies have adopted it as an important part of their programs. A recent New York Times article described how nearly 35 million users in the United States watched highlights and stories from the Summer Olympics on Snapchat.
Earlier this year, it was predicted that content marketing would become even more important due to its ability to enhance not just visibility, but also increase engagement with customers—who could, in turn, become great promoters of your content. Needless to say, much of our time these days as communicators is spent on developing, distributing, maximizing, and repurposing content. In the recent blog post, 15 Content Marketing Trends for 2016, it is noted that the “average American spends nearly four hours a day bombarded with different types of content.
We are fortunate to meet amazing immigrants every day and share in their immigration journeys. Now we have a unique opportunity to share their stories with the world using Instagram. Today, we launched our Instagram account under the handle @USCIS and @USCIS_ES (Spanish version) and will share photos, graphics and videos to highlight our vital work. Our Instagram handle joins our popular Facebook and Twitter accounts. Instagram differs from Facebook and Twitter by being visually focused with photos and minimal captions.
Health Resources and Services Administration’s Analytics Success: Using Analytics to Reduce Content and Improve User Experience Unlike out-of-town guests, you want your web visitors to stick around. So, if your site continues to see a bounce rate that stubbornly refuses to drop—it’s time to make some changes. That’s exactly what happened to the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) Maternal and Child Health Bureau’s (MCHB) website. Last year, in 2015, the site’s average bounce rate was 63% — and more than 70% for some key landing pages.
Many content managers in the digital world understand the irrepressible desire to improve, fix, edit, add, and move things around. It’s our job, after all, to nurture the ongoing process of creating, updating, and testing. But, there are those sites or pages that never seem to make it to the high-priority list. For our Web team, this was our Center’s staff Intranet site. Our Web team recognized that the Intranet was in need of attention.
Suddenly, digital video is everywhereon your social timelines. As a government storyteller, you may be overwhelmed about all the tools available and all of the features each publishing platform has to offer. Facebook, Twitter and SnapChat all offer great video platforms that are free and easy to use, plus they make it easy for you to market to your social followers on those respective platforms. When most people think of Google, they often think of the search engine, but Google also has been on the forefront of creating media and research tools, metric suites and content presentation platforms for years.
September is National Preparedness Month. FEMA’s Ready.gov is encouraging everyone to plan how they would stay safe and communicate during disasters that can affect their communities. Additionally, Ready.gov is encouraging full participation in America’s PrepareAthon! and the national day of action, National PrepareAthon! Day, which culminates National Preparedness Month on September 30. These days, you probably use social media to update your audience on what you are doing, share an interesting article or two, and catch up on the day’s news.
In six years, you can get a lot done! If you are the International Space Station, you could have orbited the earth 35,040 times. If you are Apple, you could have released 10 new iPhones. If you are the National Archives, you have gone from zero social media accounts to over 100! It’s been six years since NARA’s first social strategy was released. Things have changed in the digital universe, and so we’ve been working on a reboot of our social media strategy.
When some U.S. athletes at this month’s Olympic Games started showing up at their events with dark red circles on their torsos, sports commentators and the media hungrily sought answers to what the marks could be. In less than a day after the spots were…spotted, the story of the mysterious circles was becoming clearer: they were the result of cupping—a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practice that involves placing cups on the skin to create suction.
The Content Corner: On-The-Fly Content Strategies (Round-offs, Back Handsprings, & Double Twisting Layouts Not Required)
As effective marketers and communicators, we are constantly seeking new and improved ways to reach our audience or customer base. These days, our “online lives” intersect with every activity we are involved in, so timeliness is essential. With fresh ideas and engaging, perhaps interactive, content, we can literally make a difference in the lives of our audience. Much of this can be developed and organized through a well thought-out content calendar in advance that seeks to align our content with upcoming events and trends that our audience is interested in.
****We have previously written about microsites in the federal government. A microsite is a small collection of web pages—a subset of an organization’s full website. Partners can embed microsites that present curated information on a specific topic or campaign directly within their own websites. And perhaps best of all, microsites that are API-enabled are maintained and updated by the source organization so that when updates are made, those updates are automatically made on partner sites in real time.
The idea of portable content is nothing new. Content needs to be mobile ready, responsive, and readily consumed by tools such as the Internet of Things (IoT)—a proposed development of the Internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data. Developers need to stop creating fixed, single-purpose content and start making it more future-ready, flexible, and reusable. Two significant factors assist in portability are information architecture (IA) and content strategy (CS).
Facebook is a highly visual medium. Studies show that Facebook posts featuring photos are the most noticed, liked, and shared. Posts featuring an image stand out in the news feeds of people who like your page. While a great image can cut through the clutter, you don’t need to fill your feed. Think “representative” and high-quality images. Showcase a few great pictures that give a sense of an event–an AIDS walk, for example–and share the photos that bring to life an aspect of your work or your agency’s services.
Last summer, Kids.Gov revamped its presence on Pinterest in an attempt to find new ways to connect with its followers. The Marketing Team set out to learn more about our audiences and the kind of content they like. Despite being a difficult platform to navigate, we set lofty goals for ourselves and developed a timely strategy to pin every day. A year in… Twelve months later, our metrics are up and we correctly calculated that a shift to educational content would be key.
In early April, the National Institutes of Health put out a call for images highlighting NIH-funded scientific research. The image call was posted on the NIH image gallery website and advertised through the NIH Public Information Officers (PIO) Network. The NIH Image Gallery, which averages 6,000 views per day, features free-to-use images for the general public, educational institutions, and news media. Through the sharing of images, NIH hopes to distribute educational information, increase public outreach, and expand awareness of the scientific discoveries and breakthroughs being made by NIH-funded research.
So, you’ve recently joined an agile team — congratulations! Here at 18F, we work in an agile way — in other words, we base our designs on user needs, conduct usability testing, iterate quickly, and release MVPs (minimum viable products) rather than highly finalized releases. We take an agile approach to content too. While there’s really no “ideal” project or process most of the time, we’ve found that these guidelines help us develop useful services for millions of people.
Today, I am happy to announce the newly optimized DHS.gov website. Over the past year, DHS has worked behind the scenes to update and modernize our flagship website, making it faster and easier to use. Some of the specific differences you’ll see are: Compatibility for both desktop computers and mobile devices (phones and tablets) Cleaner, easier-to-read site format and presentation Faster and more accurate site navigation using our internal search function and external search engines (like Google and Bing) DHS.
The art of storytelling has been around since the dawn of mankind. Storytelling remains relevant today, and a recent effort by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows how agencies can use storytelling to showcase great projects while also teaching employees new communication strategies. Over the past year, Chris Reed, an environmental protection specialist in EPA’s Office of Policy, led a nationwide team that produced a set of 30 videos that highlight sustainability initiatives within the agency.
Summary: Improving the way you engage with the White House through our online petitions platform In July 2015, we announced a big change in the way we would answer petitions on We the People. We committed to responding to you within a 60-day timeframe, whenever possible. We assembled a team of people dedicated to getting your policy questions and requests to the right people so you get the most informed response.
Last spring I wrote about how we’ve been using more and better charts and maps to help you understand our statistics. Today I’m excited to tell you about a new set of graphical tools to make our news releases more illuminating at the moment of their posting. We want everyone to be able to “see” quickly what’s in the hundreds of news releases we publish every year—on price trends, pay and benefits, productivity, employment and unemployment, job openings and labor turnover, and other topics.
Deep down we’ve always known that people only read a small portion of any content shared online. In many ways that can’t be fixed but there are ways to help people read more or at least scan better. There was a book I loved as a child that featured the Sesame Street character Grover, titled The Monster at the End of this Book, where Grover keeps warning the reader to stop turning pages because there is going to be a scary monster at the end.
Transcreation is a relatively new term that blends the words translation and creation. In a nutshell, transcreation involves taking a concept in one language and completely recreating it in another language. A successfully transcreated message (either written or visual) evokes the same emotions and carries the same implications in the target language as it does in the source language, but in a way that resonates with the target audience. What’s the big deal you may wonder?
It seems of late that the focus on coding and technology within the federal space has become out of balance with that of good, solid content. As I believe I have said before with regard to user experience, great technology with poor content is still worthless. Amazing code that delivers poorly written or designed content still can’t help the user. And there is no code that I know of that can make bad content better for the user, aside from the algorithmically-derived content previously discussed.
I’ve recently been required to focus more attention on social media from a federal agency standpoint and this has directly led to a greater consideration of content. One of my first steps was to begin sharing various forms of content and gauge the success of each type. In today’s post, I’ll share what I have learned and hope it opens your eyes to how we measure success and whether our metrics are right or completely meaningless.
I feel as though I have ignored the beast in the room lately, and since I began my tenure on The Content Corner introducing that concept, I felt I needed to wrestle with it one last time before I depart. Previously, I discussed the concept of pair writing. Today I want to investigate how another software development concept can be leveraged to improve the quality and quantity of the content we create: Agile content development.
They ranked among our top three most popular emails in 2015. At USAGov, we know that email is often our #1 driver of traffic to our content, and nine out of 10 times it’s our go-to outreach tool for disseminating timely information. But doing email sends consistently and effectively isn’t always clear cut, especially when you have a combined 1.3 million subscribers. We send email blasts to our subscriber lists about all sorts of content based on what they signed up to get.
In this age of content marketing that has led publications to call certain ads “paid content,” those of us in government need to broaden our ideas about what “content” is. Many of us get it, but some agencies may also be missing opportunities because they don’t even grasp that content is a broad and fluid thing. Everything is content, not just words on a website. The federal agencies we commonly highlight fully get that and understand that a variety of content can achieve a goal.
When discussing trends for 2016, I made some mention of the content overload that started in 2015 but will certainly increase in 2016. Contently recently found that organizations created 73% more content in 2015 than in 2014. I see no reason why that number will decline in 2016, especially as content becomes the beast of burden of choice for a majority of organizations both public and private. Today, I wanted to share some content types that you can leverage to possibly help stand out among the deluge.
Many of us depend a great deal on subject matter experts (SMEs) to generate content that will eventually end up on our site. These are men and women that have critical knowledge to share with our audiences, and it is our job to make it match our various editorial and content guidelines. Using a simple tool called content templates can be very helpful in making our jobs as communicators and the SMEs’ job as straightforward as possible.
First, McDonald’s started serving breakfast all day. Now, Twitter announced it is dropping its 140 character limit for tweets. Black is white, up is down. Or is it really that big a deal? Is Twitter just keeping itself relevant in the battle for your content? LinkedIn and Facebook were first with their strong push for organizations to stop linking to content on their platforms and actually generate original content there.
Recently, I shared some suggestions and personal lessons learned for agencies either shopping for a new CMS or preparing to revamp their content strategy and workflow. Let’s take things one step further and focus on arguably the most important parts of your CMS: the content creator or user. Arguments can be made that content is the most important, but the user creates that content, so either way we have a tight first and second most important ranking.
Through the course of this blog, I have frequently mentioned the need to feed the content beast and have discussed tactics such as the content pillar and various other aspects of developing a solid content strategy. Recent research from the Content Marketing Institute found the average business-to-business (B2B) company uses 13 content marketing tactics or channels, such as blogs, videos, events, etc. I’m sure that most federal agencies also have as wide an array of channels as well.
This column revolves mostly around content creation and strategy, but an overlooked part of the content lifecycle is helping people find your content. Your content is made to be seen and without planning for promotion, it may never be found. The methods available to you may vary (wildly) at your agency, so remember your mileage may vary. So Many Options Within the U.S. Courts, a plan is indispenable just to navigate the myriad communication options available, both “print” and digital (I use print in quotes because generally these days a print layout will only be presented in PDF form.
Driving visitors to a destination means reaching your users where they are at. In 2005, as part of the greater USA.gov marketing strategy, GobiernoUSA.gov launched an email program. These communications initially took the form of short blurbs that directed people to important site content and promoted other government information hosted by various federal agencies. From disaster preparedness, to health care, to now Twitter chats and Google Hangouts… our email strategy aims to provide timely messages to the public via the channel of their choice.
The clarity of a headline or title plays a critical role in whether your content is ever seen and read by your customers. As the battle for eyeballs continues to escalate, digital media providers seem to be resorting more and more to “clickbait” titles and headlines. However, as with all forms of overused marketing, consumers soon learn to tune it out and develop negative reactions to any headlines that feature these worn-out tactics.
Over the last several years, continuing advances in computer processing power and storage have brought about the growth of what some call big data. Mobile and wearable devices now also generate large amounts of data via our interaction with various apps and our geographic location. This endless stream of information is being harnessed to create extremely informative dashboards like analytics.usa.gov and helping make advances in medicine and even farming possible.
While Facebook and Twitter are the most popular social media platforms (according to some rankings), your agency can and should evaluate the benefits of platforms like Pinterest, which have seen major growth in users and activity. In the last six months of 2014, Pinterest increased its membership by 57%, while Facebook and Twitter only grew by 6% and 18%, respectively. More than 60% of millennial moms use Pinterest, making it a platform perfect for agencies looking to communicate topics related to children and women’s health; DigitalGov previously discussed how the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Women’s Health used Pinterest as part of an inter-agency health campaign.
One of the more commonly overlooked pieces of any effective content strategy is a content style guide. Many times, content contribution takes place without even being aware of the need for a style guide, while other times a content style guide is considered something only used by print editors and publishers. Stalwarts like the AP Stylebook or the Chicago Manual of Style have been essential tools for editors and journalists since the 1950s, but they also have a critical role to play in the development of any content style guide.
Here at DigitalGov, customer service is a focal theme during the month of May, and by some type of cosmic chance, I was invited to share my insights on content strategy and content creation at a Customer Service Community of Practice event at the Department of Labor. The event focused on topics I commonly discuss here in The Content Corner, such as efficient and interesting content and how better content translates into better customer service.
There is a quote that goes something like, “Just because we can do a thing, it does not follow that we must do a thing.” I attribute it to the President of the United Federation of Planets in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, partially because I am a geek, and secondly, the internet provided no better options. It is an important mantra in life in general, but also very important in the world of digital media and your agency’s content strategy: sometimes you need to say no.
Good customer service includes user-centered design. For one digital team at the Department of Veterans Affairs, creating a veterans-centered experience started with one word: explore. The ExploreVA website provides a single location for veterans and their families to research the benefits that they may be entitled to receive. Benefits include health care, education, employment, and many more services. VA’s Megan Moloney, Director of Digital Media Engagement, and Josh Tuscher, New Media Technologist, spoke about ExploreVA and the process it took to develop this user-centered, interactive platform.
This story begins with a post about reverse mortgages, but don’t worry: we won’t go into the world of complex home loans. Rather, this is a story about how one federal agency is partnering with another to amplify its content and reach millions of people online—and why more agencies should do the same. Many federal agencies create valuable digital content, but distributing that content at scale can be a challenge.
One of the most interesting trends forming at the start of 2015 is the rise of new digital publishers. Online entities from Facebook to GE are continuing their strong forays into the world of content production. This shift, especially among social media platforms such as Facebook, Linked In and Snapchat, could significantly alter the digital landscape turning content partners into content competitors. No Longer Just an Aggregator LinkedIn’s decision to grow their original Influencer program from such respected names as Bill Gates and Richard Branson into a full digital publishing suite available to all their members in multiple languages may have been the watershed moment of this new age of content publishing.
No, this is not another post about podcasting but about a different voice entirely. It is the words you use, the conversation that you are having with your users. Is your content using the most effective language possible to communicate and to convey emotions like trust or empathy? As an article from Larsen Design states, “You don’t want to sound like Brahms when your audience is listening to Beck.
In May 2014, Sarah Crane discussed the importance of structured content, APIs and the development of a “Create Once, Publish Everywhere” (COPE) strategy at USA.gov via a three part video series. After my recent post about a world without Web pages, Sarah and I connected and we discussed the challenges she has experienced during the COPE project at USA.gov and some lessons to consider whether you’re at the beginning or early stages of a similar project.
Multilingual does not always mean multiple accounts or websites. Increasingly, multilingual content is delivered in an integrated way, with two (or more!) languages delivered on the same website, app, or social media platform. The World Digital Library (WDL) is one example of how multiple languages can be incorporated on single platforms. The WDL is a hub for cultural artifacts that includes books, manuscripts, maps, newspapers, journals, photographs, sound recordings, and films.
Along a somewhat personal journey (that you have chosen to join) to better define the term content, I’ve stumbled upon the puzzle of podcasts. Full disclosure: I have never been and most likely will never be a consumer of podcasts, ten years ago or today. I tried several times to listen to “Serial” and my lifestyle just doesn’t seem to allow for the level of concentration that a podcast requires.
A (possibly infamous) blog post from last Friday and the discussion/debate that followed reminded me of several important points that we all may lose sight of during our hectic schedules. 1. Audience Determines the Message The first big item was that audience determines message; or more importantly, the best way to reach your audience may force you and your agency out of your comfort zone. Thankfully, it makes you embrace new—and at times—slightly scary technologies and helps you redefine what your concept of content is.
I recently read a disheartening statistic which stated that only 32% of B2B organizations and 27% of B2C organizations had a documented content strategy. When you combine these results with the general assumption that the federal government lags behind in areas such as this (especially since content strategies have a marketing basis), then the number of federal agencies (large or small) that have a documented content strategy must be even smaller.
Metadata, tagging, content modeling … they’re not identical concepts, but they’re driven by the same basic principle: when you structure your digital information, it can be more easily searched, reused, connected, shared, and analyzed. If you’re new to structured content, where should you start? Ideally, your metadata strategy will be part of your overall content strategy. In practice, however, a lot depends on your agency’s culture, its technical resources, its existing practices, and the state of your content.
Imagine a world without Web pages, only intelligent, self-assembling chunks of content waiting to respond to your needs. The page is irrelevant, there may be no context beyond what is included in your content. The content has to survive on its own, perform its goals on its own. Originally when creating content, you would take into account the things that surround it on that page; they give it additional context and relevance.
Audit. It’s a word that generally has no positive connotations whatsoever. We hear the word audit and we think of tax audits or timesheet audits, etc. The word normally strikes fear or dread in the hearts of most mortals. But it is also a task that all websites will need to perform from time to time, and hopefully after reading today’s column you can view content audits as positive opportunities and not as dreadful chores.
As we all continue to wrestle with the “content beast”, one effective method for generating ideas for content and fleshing out an editorial calendar is to look for trending events or even upcoming holidays. In the spirit of full disclosure, the idea behind this particular post was inspired by the back-to-back Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day holidays (I decided to skip “Do a Grouch a Favor Day”). But its not as simple as picking a holiday or event and then just running with it.
There is a tendency in government to discount a range of strategies closely connected to marketing. A good example, and a recent buzzword, is content marketing. Content marketing’s main goal is to drive a user to click or sign-up; to turn them into a lead or a buying customer. We’re the federal government, we aren’t selling anything, we don’t care about conversions or lead-generation. Wrong. Citizens visit government websites more and more often to solve a specific problem:
Things you don’t know about this website, DigitalGov.gov, that is. It’s our first birthday, and we’re celebrating by sharing some fun facts with you. A more sober look at our strategy can be read on our 6-month post, but this is a party post! w00t! We’ve published an impressive 480 articles and counting (this post is like #485), and we are learning more and more about you. You still love posts on metrics and on customer service, but “Government Open and Structured Content Models are Here”?
Good content drives your digital presence. No matter what you produce content for—social media, websites, blogs—getting people to see your work is critical. But getting noticed is not as easy as it used to be. A recent Vox article on the future of blogging talked about this problem: “The incentives of the social Web make it a threat to the conversational Web. The need to create content that ‘travels’ is at war with the fact that great work often needs to be rooted in a particular place and context—a place and context that the reader and the author already share.
If you and your organization don’t already have a content strategy, then you are most likely working too hard to create content that is less effective in communicating your desired message and less relevant to your end-user. The lack of a content strategy can leave you at the mercy of the content “beast” where you are constantly scrambling to feed it with little time to think of the quality of the random scraps you keep flinging into the cage.
Resolutions and predictions abound this time of year. If you’ve already lost the fight to finally give up sardine ice cream, you can always resolve to maintain or improve your digital media accessibility. Some people say that accessibility and Section 508 compliance squashes innovation and new trends, but with the right approach, you can make them accessible. When you consider accessibility at every project’s onset, you’ll make the most of these trends and engage your audience and, perhaps, gain new users.
Six months ago, we launched this DigitalGov.gov platform to support federal agencies in delivering 21st century digital services and information to the public. It seems a good time to share some of the thinking that went into the development of the platform, and what we’ve learned so far. Looking back, we knew we had great content for digital innovators. Here at the Center for Digital Government at GSA, we created the go-to references for federal agencies around Web, mobile, social media, challenges and prizes, and were growing API content.
1. Meet all Laws, Requirements, Policies, and Directives for Federal Contact Centers Understand and follow all Privacy, Security, Disability, and Service Contract Act requirements. 2. Use Performance Metrics to Influence Business Rules and Drive Improvements Develop Key Performance Indicators/Metrics (see Performance Goals). CSLIC could be used as a start. 3. Develop and Use a Comprehensive Quality Assurance Program Monitor quality. Use data to provide feedback to website/content team.
One of the most important jobs for an organization is to think about the entire ecosystem of their brand and what the user experience is across each channel. Whether it is through accessing information on your site through various devices, calling a help line, engaging through social media, and/or having a face-to-face conversation, there may be any number of combinations for how people interact with your organization. And the expectation is that the tone, interactions, functions, and visual design will all be cohesive.
Improving the federal government’s ability to deliver digital information anytime, anywhere, on any device—via open content—is a key goal of the Digital Government Strategy. A content management system (CMS) can help your agency move to an open content model, making it easier for people to find, share, use, and re-use your information. The key steps in getting ready to move to a CMS include: Prepare Your Content Choose a CMS Migrate Your Content to a CMS Prepare Your Content Develop a Content Strategy A content strategy defines such things as topics, themes and purpose, and can also play a part in website governance, customer experience, metadata and search engine optimization (SEO).
Plan and analyze. Write and design. Test and refine. As Web Manager for Usability.gov, I have found that taking a user-centered approach is vital each time you improve or build a digital product, especially when the content is about improving user experience. In our recent reboot of Usability.gov we put our own advice to the test by evaluating the existing site and analyzing the extensive feedback on the concepts for the redesign.
Last week, we told you about the upcoming relaunch of Healthcare.gov and its use of the Jekyll website generator. Jekyll allows users to build dynamic websites served by static pages. To help manage large websites using Jekyll, developers working on the new healthcare.gov published the ‘Prose.io’ editing interface last year. Content editors will use this lightweight editor to create and manage content across the site. Prose is an open source web application that allows users to manage web content stored on GitHub’s code sharing service.
Recently HHS CTO Bryan Sivak outlined a new vision for healthcare.gov. The site will relaunch this June with a completely rethought design and architecture. The new healthcare.gov follows a new CMS-free philosophy. It will be a completely static website, generated by Jekyll. This shift will allow HHS to move away from the use of a content management system for managing Heathcare.gov. Website generators like Jekyll work by combining template files with content and rendering them to static html pages.