You know when you start to see or read more about a topic as soon as you start focusing on it…well I’m getting that feeling with content strategy and in particular content strategy in local gov and the public sector.
I’ve come across 3 great posts today, one of which was highlighted via my content strategy partner in crime @sarahlay on twitter…
(@sarahlay) February 10, 2012
When I picked this tweet up I was actually already reading and digesting this post on Creating Content that serves a civic purpose… and what made this seem more than a coincidence was the related link at the bottom of the article that Sarah linked to (see image below) – was actually a link to the article I was already in the middle of reading.
Anyway, moving beyond the strangeness that happens in the social web and onto some of the interesting points that are highlighted in these posts.
One of the most basic levels which I think we often forget is this list provided in the Civic Purpose article
To make sure the content you create in the public interest fulfills its responsibilities, there are a few standard rules you should follow:
Use plain English and avoid jargon, as the diversity of the audience will likely span the socio-economic spectrum.
Focus on what the consumer needs to know, and how the particular services or information offered on the site can help. Limit information about why or how the government entity achieves its goals, as this extra information can confuse or frustrate people who visit the site looking for answers.
Format content in a clear, compelling way. Government websites must compete with consumer websites that offer similar information (and all the bells and whistles they offer such as compelling graphic design, widgets, social media icons, and content rich blogs).
Check — and double check — your facts. For many citizens, information shared by the government has an innate relevance and gravity, while others automatically doubt information from any level of government, and dismiss it as self-serving. To gain the trust of both audiences, it is critical that the content be factual, accurate, have transparent input, and be beyond reproach. It may also be appropriate to have your content reviewed by experts to ensure accuracy.
Information needs to be easily accessible and relevant, even though government services rarely compete with private sector services.
A .gov (or equivalent such as gov.au, gouv.fr) extension provides an air of authority, so be sure to reserve these URLs for your content, if possible.
The last point about the domain providing an air of authority rings true for me right now, as one of the key outputs of the content strategy that I am writing is that we aim to create a “Single Domain” and this in local gov terms may not be a single technology platform either. But the key point is that we should recognise that our content has a level of trust already and we should be able to build on this and ensure that wherever our content is pulled or pushed across the web the trust and authority remains, otherwise it may lose its purpose and meaning.
Moving onto the post that Sarah linked to written by Rahel Bailie - the examples of how engagement of content should be seen is a great way to explain how traditional local government webpages should evolve and reuse content from across the wider website as well as incorporate other relevant content. Rachel suggests:
….Encouraging engagement means presenting content that presents opportunities to get involved, at opportune places on the site. To do that, the architecture of the website needs to be well thought out, and the content should always appear in consistent ways and in consistent places. In the case of home owners recycling, a home owner interested in a greener community should be able to find information about how the recycling program fits into the larger sustainability initiative, and ways they could get involved, from participating in a neighborhood initiative to sitting on an advisory committee. The logical places to show these opportunities is not only on a community advisory page, but in the places where interested constituents might go for other information such as on a neighborhood page, on a page with other recycling-related information, in a Facebook post that links back to information on the site, or in a sidebar on a page about green communities….
….The decision of whether or not to engage with a government organization is a choice on the part of the constituent; providing that opportunity is the responsibility of the organization…
The last post which I found really interesting was primarily aimed at “how non-profits can profit from content strategy“. It highlights some key areas when thinking about content strategy which are equally applicable to localgov in my view…I’ve not copied the whole post but have simply listed the headings below.
- You’ve gotta start somewhere
- Document what you have and what’s working.
- spend time on workflow
- Know your audiences
- Pay attention to your business model
- Use your money wisely.
- Keep hope alive
The first and last points for me are probably (right now anyway) the most important to keep hold of, as it is very challenging for many people to unlearn what they know about local government web management.