If you've worked on a fairly large web project, this story will be familiar.
First the executive announces its strategy
The Executive announces its new business strategy: we must improve our online customer experience. A fancy report says the current website is terrible: it's not mobile responsive, no one can find anything, and the content is rubbish. Quite frankly, it’s embarrassing. Fixing the site is the biggest initiative for the year. There's a lot at stake.
The Executive gives the green light to a whopping budget: a nice slice of the cake for design, a humongous chunk for technology, and a few crumbs for the content stream. But that’s OK—an army of staff will pick up the slack and write the content in and around their everyday jobs. Sorted.
Then the web team recruits staff to write content
Someone in the web team — a content manager if you’re lucky — will go around and let staff know of their new content writing responsibilities.
You discover that’s you: you are one of the chosen ones. When someone from the web team finally visits, you give a vacant nod “yeah sure”. After all, you can relax for now. The content isn’t needed for 6 months. And anyway your manager urgently wants this "very important" report. She didn’t even mention writing web content. Besides you like what you wrote for the current website. You can’t imagine why users are having problems with it.
Two months pass, and you get another friendly visit from someone in the web team: How’s the content going? You mumble something about being very busy with other work priorities but "no worries, you’ll get to it." Meanwhile your manager keeps piling on other urgent work.
Three months pass, and you see that person from the web team down the hall. Yikes, she’s coming towards you. Quickly you divert your eyes, pretend not to see them, take the stairs. Phew, you got away this time.
Four months pass, and that someone from the web team is waiting for you at your desk. She’s begging this time. You sheepishly apologise, but quickly add, "You’ve had no training, no time, and no support. How could you be to blame?"
Web team is powerless to influence work priorities
The web team has tried everything in its power to stop this from happening — again. But that’s just it: they have no power to ask staff in other teams to do something. Unlike the design and tech streams, the content stream of a large web project has to engage with many business units to get content ready. Even if the web team has a fleet of web writers doing the content, they still need business experts to be available.
Those business experts and staff writers have managers giving them other work. They are given no time, no training and no managerial support to write content.
They simply won’t write content, unless their managers tell them to. And surprise surprise, their managers won’t tell them to, unless their managers tell them to. And so on, until you get to the top where the original online business strategy was conceived.
Only the executive has authority over managers who set workloads
Only the executive has the authority to ask managers to ask staff to write content. Only the executive can affect the whole chain of command. Content will only be a business priority if the whole chain is on board. The person with that power is usually the CEO or the 2IC.
The message needs to come down the chain to the managers setting the workloads of staff writers and subject matter experts. Otherwise web content will always take a backseat to other business priorities.
If content is not given priority, the business goals of the website will not be met. You may have a shiny new website at go-live, but the content will be poor. And poor content means poor user experience.
In a few years' time, another fancy report will tell you what you already know: the content needs improvement.
Four things the CEO can do to change how the story ends
The CEO may not have to do much to change how the story ends. Four things could be enough:
- a clear directive to all managers to make content writing a priority and link this to performance measures
- a video message to all staff stepping them into the vision and strategy for the new website, and why quality content is critical to success
- a regular message in the CEO's newsletter, reporting on content progress and praising staff who meet content deadlines
- approve budget for writer training so staff know how quality digital content works and what it looks like.