Thursday, September 26, 2013

What does a “web manager” actually do?

The answer to this question will depend a bit on your situation. 

In an ideal world, a web manager should:

  • Communicate with and teach in-house clients.
  • Manage expectations up, down, and sideways.
  • Come up with and manage the strategic plan for the website.
  • Come up with and oversee scheduling.
  • Schedule (and possibly create) editorial and graphical content updates.
  • Manage a budget.
  • Assess and prioritize new ideas/opportunities that pop up through the year so that they align with your organizations priorities.
  • Maintain focus on key goals of the site throughout the year (shield the site and your team from distractions).
  • Manage the process and ensure the best possible coverage of the site.
  • Oversee and maintain ongoing documentation to ensure that knowledge remains with the corporation and doesn’t disappear as people come and go. Since people coming and going is just a part of life, you might as well plan for it.

There are several likely scenarios for your current situation, but they all pretty much boil down the following:

  • You are doing this with full-time help (Manager mode)
  • You are doing with ad-hoc help (volunteers) (Politician mode)
  • You are doing this all by yourself (Superhero mode)

The Manager mode

This is a classic business model that most people are pretty comfortable with. You have supervisory authority over a group of people who are performing specific tasks toward specific performance goals. They are motivated to cooperate with you by the desire for a paycheck. That said, there are aspects of managing the smart, creative personalities that best support websites that might be a little different for you. As a manager you may be able to avoid most of the hands-on work on the site, but you’ll still need to make broad-based decisions and keep people focused on the strategic goals. You’ll need to know enough about the technology and about how people use your organization’s website to be sensitive to how changes in editorial style or visual design will impact your audience (and your goals).

If your site is run from a CMS (content management system), get yourself trained on the system. Even if you can’t do every trick, make sure you have a good overview of how things work in your head. You’ll need an idea of what the system can and cannot do when someone stops you in the bathroom and wants to talk to you: “I’ve got this idea for the website....”

Key Tasks for the Manager

Since the Manager has people who can focus on things like keeping the website running and updating content, his or her top four things move more into communication and supervision:

  1. Communicate with and teach in-house clients.
  2. Manage expectations up, down, and sideways.
  3. Manage scheduling and budget.
  4. Maintain focus on key goals of the site throughout the year (shield the site and your team from distractions).

These four things are the most critical, but the other aspects of website management need to get fit in as well.

The Politician mode 

I’m going to take a rare, positive view of politicians here. Many of them are actually trying to make the world a better place by inspiring, charming, or cajoling people to work (usually without reward) for the greater good. They have to do this without any kind of direct authority over the people they are working with.

If you are going into Politician mode, you are still ahead of the Superhero. You actually have help. The catch is that you don’t have much (or any) authority over those helping you, which makes your management tasks a lot trickier. You need to push people to stay on task and on schedule, but if you push too hard they’ll stop working for you. Pushing too little gets you a team that is working when, and on, whatever they feel like.

This is a tough role to just step into if you don’t have some experience (or natural ability) doing it. You need to be confident from the get-go in order to successfully pull off what might seem like an overwhelming task. If you aren’t sure if you can do this, consider pulling back into being a Superhero or asking for more clear supervisory authority. Temps (over which you’d have clear and specific authority) are often not that expensive and will set you comfortably into the Manager mode.

Key Tasks for the Politician

As the Politician, you’ve got help but it might not always be there. Your focus has to be on continuity.

  1. Keeping the website running and up-to-date from a content perspective.
  2. Manage the process and ensure the best coverage possible for the site.
  3. Assess and prioritize new ideas/opportunities through the year.

The Superhero mode

Once you get past the muscles, Spandex, and ticker-tape parades, you get see the real nuts-and-bolts of a superhero’s life.

The good stuff…

  • You have something that your colleagues don’t have (in your case, control of what goes on the website and where). That is often a source of political power in an organization.
  • When you do something really great, you get all of the glory.
  • Superheroes are highly valued by their communities (i.e., organizations) and those communities will work to keep their superhero around.

…and the not-so-good stuff.

  • There always seems to be someone trying to make a mess of what you just cleaned up.
  • When something goes wrong, you get every call. Superheroes don’t get vacations.
  • When you screw up, there is no one else to blame.
  • Beyond a trusted sidekick or two, you really don’t have anyone else to help you out.

If you are walking into Superhero mode, you need to focus on containment. You need to control the scope of your tasks and responsibilities. Don’t underestimate that last bullet under “the good stuff.” If you are the only person who is running the website and there really isn’t anyone else to do it, it is in the best interests of the organization (and your colleagues) to keep you working on it. If you are having problems, ask for help. Don’t be whiney, but do say something. You might not get exactly what you ask for, but I guarantee that you will get listened to.

You’ll be juggling lot of different tasks and responsibilities. You need to make sure have a set base of responsibilities that you are sure you can achieve. If you are still feeling ambitious, then build from there.

Even a movie Superhero can’t be everywhere and do everything all the time. Most bosses will understand and respect you for setting these expectations. If you burn out or decide that you can’t do this work, the website becomes your boss’ problem again. It is in his or her best interest to make sure you succeed at this.

Key Tasks for the Superhero

You are doing this on your own, so let go of anything you don’t have to do. Focus on the basics.

  1. Keeping the website running and up-to-date from a content perspective
  2. Assess and prioritize new ideas/opportunities through the year
  3. Communicate with and teach staff about the website

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Section 1: What did you just get yourself into?

It happens everywhere. A person quits, a vendor disappears, or someone just wakes up one morning and decides that “wow… we should really be updating our corporate website.”

Regardless of where it came from, someone – who likely has a full-time job keeping him or her busy and likely knows little about computers – is going to get stuck with the responsibility of updating (or building) a website.

Maybe it’s you.

Here’s how you’ll do it.

First the good news 

You don’t need to be some kind of a computer wizard to do this. The tools for updating websites are really as easy to use as Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint. The hard stuff – the “coding” – is comfortably buried behind the scenes. It might take a bit of training and practice to get used to the quirks of a particular system, but it’s not rocket science.

Alphabet soup of web development skills you don't need right now.The key is not to overcomplicate it in your own head.

Seriously: Let the people who love this stuff do this work. Ultimately, it’ll be faster, cheaper, and give you better quality results than you trying to teach yourself.

While it’s good to know some of the standard tools of the Web business (Adobe Photoshop, Macromedia InDesign, Flash, etc.), I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that you can get quite far without learning them at all. The text update tools look just like Microsoft Word.

If you can run Word, you’ll do fine updating a website. If the website is running on a content management system (CMS), you might need some training on that. Those are often just a little… odd in places (weird terminology for saving a change or extra steps for putting a graphic up or something like that).

Now the bad news

This is a huge amount of work. Updating website doesn’t have a “beginning” and “end” like updating an annual report. Websites are constantly changing and growing. You can hand off the management of a website, but you will probably never see a website “finished.” If this is a temporary assignment, you’ll have to define “finished” yourself. If you are being pulled in to oversee a redesign or replatform (both large projects that mean you are making really big changes to how the website looks or works), make sure you and your boss are clear about what, exactly, your tasks are and what will happen with the site when those tasks are complete.

What is a redesign and what what is a replatform?
What I think you’ll find surprising is the amount of time you’ll spend talking to your colleagues about the website:
  • Why does it take so long to do anything?
  • Why can’t my content stay on the home page forever? Don’t you know how important it is/I am?
  • Why did you use that ugly color/font/photo/layout/headline?
  • Why can’t I have my picture on the home page?
  • How come X (random colleague/department) is better represented on the website than I am?
  • Why does the site need such a large budget? Can’t you do this with less and let me have your slice of the budget?
  • Why isn’t there anything moving on the home page? I love websites where things move….
  • Why do I have to write something new? The stuff I gave you last year is still current.

Web people (or those who maintain computers and software) have a reputation for being a bit grouchy. After the fourth or fifth time of answering the same question (often for the same person), you’ll probably get a little grouchy, too.

I suggest dealing with your grouchiness with deep breathing and yoga. Booze is too fattening and smacking the person will just get you fired (or sued). There are some basic answers to these questions toward the end of this book to get you through this.

You can do this

You are probably asking yourself “what did I just get stuck with?” A lot... but don’t panic. If you manage your time, manage your stress, and work and play with others well, you’ll do fine.

You might even find that you like it.

A website is an important way for your organization to communicate with its customers or constituents. You have been handed control over something very important. It’s a treasure. Treat it with care and respect and it will do a lot for you and your organization.

Next: What Does A Web Manager Actually Do?

Monday, September 23, 2013

I'm baaaack!

It's been a while since my last post. Sorry about that. I've been writing books and one of those books is called Excuse me? I'm Doing What Now? The Office Worker's Guide to Managing A Website for Those Who Just Got Stuck With It.

I'm going to publish the whole book here in annoying, backward chronological Blogger fashion. If you find it useful, there will be a printed and electronic version of the book up on Amazon. It won't take too long. I'll announce it here.

I'd love your feedback on this. I'd particularly like to know where the holes are.

The book is written with the following situation in mind:

You are an admin of some sort in an office. It's a nice office that sells services or widgets or something. Your company doesn't need the Web for all of its business, but it needs to have a Web presence of some sort. Up until recently, the website was run by a freelance "web guy," but that person recently got another job. The management of your company thinks that maybe it's a good time to bring this work in-house. 
They look around for an option and see you - a smart, reliable admin who knows the business and does a good job with most everything he or she does. Your supervisor comes over to you. "Great news! You're in charge of the company website." 
"Excuse me," you say. "I'm doing what now? I don't know anything about websites." 
"We'll buy you a book. We'll send you to a conference. You'll figure it out. If a high-school kid can do it, why can't you? 
You try to keep the bile down and smile. "Of course," you say, more as a prayer than a statement. "How hard can it be?"

The book is written in a humorous, reassuring way that covers the human elements of running a website as much as the technical aspects. It tells you how to make use of others' knowledge in order to fill gaps in your own knowledge. It defines some basic terms that you are likely to run across and even holds your hand through a redesign or replatform of your company's website.

Section 1: What Did You Just Get Yourself Into?