News Centre – the content strategy in action (sort of)

The work we are doing on the content strategy is very much about actually doing a bunch of work whilst I write the strategy down.

One area where is has been the case is with the councils news and press stories – this week we launched a new News Centre (see below) which was built using wordpress but actually the technology isn’t the important development here.

It really represents the start of a process which will see the county councils website and web domain change over the coming months as the content strategy starts to have an impact. The next main change will see the homepage and only the homepage updated…This has been based on statistical data and also good practice set by other councils such as Liverpool and will evolve as we start to gather more intelligence and data about how people use and want to use our web.

The News Centre starts to introduce some common components (a global header menu, a global footer menu and a federated search facility) which will be applied to a number of our sites (new and old) over the coming months to help bring together our domain from a visual and design perspective…the challenge over time of course will then be to consolidate where appropriate technology but only where it demonstrates value for money and efficiency.

The federated search has been an interesting areas to think about as we could have and actually can easily demonstrate the idea of this through the use of google custom search and this may well be one of the solutions we consider for our public web presence…it is after all very effective, cheap and most of all it delivers results in ways that people are familiar with.

Another area which has been interesting is how we actually bring what are essentially external microsites into the domain without migrating content from one system to another…we have explored reverse proxy but this isn’t sustainable and pushed too much effort into ICT and this is obviously not a good use of there time…so we will continue to explore the options within our technical limitations.

We will be seeing this as an iterative process so the new homepage is essentially the start of a rolling process of changes which will be based on reviewing content, understanding user needs and improving the overall user journey, starting from google – the end result should see our content reaching our beyond our website and into social spaces where people are and that is where we believe the content should also be available where appropriate and practical.

We don’t have the resources and support of the Government Digital Service but we do share the same passion to create a better overall user experience for those accessing the councils content and services.

I did mention back in the summer of last year that my team would have a blog and that is still our intention but as is the case with most things our own priorities have gone to the back whilst we focus on making significant progress across the council…in the meantime progress and updates are likely to be made via my blog.

One of the benefits of the news centre, aside from simply managing council news in one place is that it is now the single platform for the whole of communications. We have an editorial team who manage it like a “publication” and ensure that stories, features, images and video are all available to ensure we get the messages out. So it has been more than just a website, it has been a huge culture change and continues to be – for the better of course.  We will be continually developing the site in an agile type way and we will be looking closely and opening up comments and discussion on the site very shortly. This is where the content strategy provides some influence – one of the objectives is to increase the engagement on content – one easy way of doing that, is opening up comments and discussion.  We just need to work through some internal processes in terms of how we respond, moderation etc.  It is after all a learning curve for a lot of people.

The Head of Communications (my boss) Tony Parker has been instrumental in driving this through, obviously supported from a technical point of view by my team and in particular Russell Taylor (Project Lead) and Tim Barrett (wordpress wizard), but in fact the whole team have played a huge part in making this happen (Sam Freeman, Matt Down and Patrick Jones)…I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’ve got a great team and they are really pushing things forward.

In a Nutshell – Reflecting on Devon’s Social Media Journey

Following on from Andrew Beeken’s post about Lincoln City Council’s Social Media Journey in response to SocITM’s Helen Williams.  I include the response that myself and Russell Taylor have provided for Devon County Council.

1. Why have you chosen to use the social media channels you have, and how did you go about building a successful presence?

We chose platforms that had a high volume of users and therefore an element of penetration with local citizens. In terms of building a successful presence, we initially reposted and fed content via the councils RSS feeds in order to learn how the tools worked and to allow time for staff to grow in confidence around using the tools appropriately. We try to ensure that content is relevant and timely as well as expanding our responses and conversation due to resource constraints.

Russell Taylor:

I think the biggest increases in our presence (followers, messages, referrals) have always been linked to the promotion of topical current events and information like elections, extreme weather, budget consultations, and campaigns etc. So we try to promote these events through our social media channels when ever it’s appropriate.

2. How are you using social media?  (e.g. corporate communications tool managed by comms / service specific news from individual services themselves / campaigns / engagement tool / customer service / promotion of the local area)

We are using social media in a variety of ways – corporately we have Facebook, twitter, vimeo, blogs, flickr and some services have also developed a presence – for example libraries have used flickr to show photos of library refurbishments. It is an evolving approach and we are constantly learning how to best take advantage of particular social media tools either through opportunities such as extreme weather or by learning from other councils or other organisations we also promote via website.

Russell Taylor:

As Carl mentioned we use social media for a number of things and learning as we go. Our earliest use was for corporate communications in Twitter and Facebook. Our press releases were published into these channels. This then expanded to include announcements/promotional messages requested from other departments/partner organisations (e.g. events, alerts and campaigns).

We also try to help other organisations spread their important messages. Our YouTube channel includes many other organisations (Emergency services, DirectGov, NHS) videos in our playlists to help increase their reach. We also retweet other organisations messages were appropriate to help spread the word on important announcements (e.g. District council updates on road closures)

3. How long have you been using social media and who is involved?

we set up twitter 2.5 years ago (not sure when Facebook was created) and is has been driven primarily by the webteam with increasing contributions from other parts of the council

Russell Taylor:

At the moment the Corporate Web Team publish most of our none automated content. However as we increase awareness of social media throughout the council more of our messages are requested by other departments. We are also in the process of training users from our Customer Service Centre so they can publish their own message and provide support.

4. Who’s in charge and do you have a strategy / policy? (eg, is it comms / web / services / corporate policy or chief execs)

We have a social media policy which is documented and approved, but do not have a formal strategy. However our unwritten strategy implicitly implied by the policy is to allow and encourage access and usage, linking to business outcomes and outputs, whilst managing and mitigating risks and reputation damage. We also encourage sharing any learning across the council and wider

No one is formally in charge although the chief executive is social media and social networking champion.

We do not currently have a web manager who would be seen as a key driver in progressing and co-ordinating this activity further

5. What benefits do you see from your efforts in this area (to your organisation or customers)?

Here are some of the benefits we have seen from using social media:

  • ability to rapidly communicate messages to a vast number of people either directly or via retweets and “likes”
  • access to low cost development tools to reduce the cost of web development in some areas (blogs etc)
  • 2 way engagement and communication with people from Devon and wider.
  • the potential to reach people who may not normally visit our main website for information.
  • ability to share richer content e.g. video, photos etc (YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr)
  • mobile access – social media isn’t a 9 to 5 channel so being able to update the feed from home or on the move can be extremely useful when there is a requirement to get messages out quickly (e.g. Extreme weather/events)

6. How do you manage your social media activity? (automation, monitoring tools / software?)

For our automated messages we use RSS feeds connected through Twitterfeed. We link our Twitter and Facebook accounts using Hootsuite which we also use to monitor our mentions and references to Devon County Council.

7. What tips would you pass on to others?

Don’t try and solve every problem, start with small projects and grow and scale them up. Engage with people inside and outside of the council. Learn from others and adapt quickly. Stay positive and promote the channels via your main website

Russell Taylor:

Think about who your audience is and what information they would be interested in. Is your audience different for each social network? If so consider altering the content/tone for each. It can take time to increase followers/awareness so don’t expect too much too soon.

A new era for corporate web

Today marks the last day of the corporate web team as we know it. The current team consists of Myself, Sarah Evans (Intranet & eServices), Russell Taylor (Web Development Officer) and Patrick Jones (Web Support Assistant).

The team is essentially separating into strategic web (my post), which is moving into Corporate ICT and operational web (Russell and Patrick) which is staying in Corporate Communications but refocused and realigned (further context of how this split came about here). You may have noticed that Sarah was not included, Sarah was only seconded into the team and unfortunately she is now returning to her substantive post.

I have mixed emotions today, sadness of losing a great team to work with and a great team to manage and i would like to say some good friends as well. I wish them all the best for the future and i know each and everyone of them will succeed. i do however feel happiness as well around starting a new challenge of taking forward the strategic web agenda, including social media. It is an exciting time and we are starting to implement and support some really great innovative projects, i am hoping that we can do a great deal more as well.

Anyway – A few photos that i have taken today of the team at work and our workspace…

Russell
30/09/2008
Sarah
30/09/2008
Patrick
30/09/2008
Me
30/09/2008
Our wall – notice the picture of Australia…..
30/09/2008
My tree “ob”
30/09/2008