Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Getting organized: Figure out what resources you have

So, presumably, you know what to do now that you have the goals. What do you have (or not have) to make this happen?


Comparing website development with creating printed documents is not a good idea.
Money makes the world go around, and that also goes for the Web. If you have zero budget (that is, your salary is the budget) then that cuts way down on what you’ll be able to do... and, hopefully, on what you’ll be expected to do.

Websites are not free. Most people kind of get that now, but you might still run across little pockets of irrational thinking. You have the same costs you would have for creating a printed document like an annual report... just without the printing and mailing. A lot of time-consuming and expensive steps come before you print a document. In addition, a website needs a lot more content written and graphics created than an annual report.  Your organization’s website needs to... you know... change every now and then.

A small budget is actually a blessing in a lot of ways. Like having measurable goals, it adds focus to your life. If you walk into a situation where there is a six- or (heaven help you) seven-figure budget associated with a website, spending that money in a responsible way becomes another enormous task (and you should probably have an experienced consultant backing you up). If you don’t know a lot about what you are buying, this becomes a rather daunting task that takes up a lot of time.

Human resources

Make sure anyone editing your website text knows your organization.
This could be a staff of full-time web people, a “buddy” helping you with the management, access to a few freelancers, or the bored intern in the corner that no one can figure out what to do with. You’ll need help so if you haven’t been offered the bored intern, ask for him or her. See if there are any ambitious administrative assistants who are looking for something a little different to do. It doesn’t have to be full time for your helpers. Someone who is helping you out “in their spare time” can do the following:
  • Organize content (articles, PDFs, audio or video, graphics).
  • Track down organizational graphics (like logos), PDFs or other things that you need for the website but can’t seem to find anywhere.
  • Find free stock art for you to use on the site.
  • Write or edit editorial content.
  • Check vendor proposals against a checklist of requirements that you give them.
  • Tag content for search engine optimization (find out more about search engine optimization or “SEO” in Section 5).
  • Check for broken links, broken graphics, or anything “weird” on your web pages.
  • Participate in marketing outreach efforts for the site.
  • Check the organization’s social media presences for questions or issues and bring any to your attention.

Be careful to align the task to the person’s skill set. Don’t give the person with fourth grade grammatical skills editing or outreach tasks. If someone has never really used the Web to do anything more than browse sites, don’t give him or her the Facebook account to maintain. That person won’t know the social rules around how to interact on Facebook (like don’t constantly blast people with advertisements) and might do real damage to your efforts.

No matter whom you give this responsibility to and how much you trust this person, force yourself to check in on him or her regularly. It’s easy for your helpers to make honest and well-intentioned mistakes. It’s important that you catch those mistakes before they snowball. Website development happens quickly so those snowball mistakes tend to grow quickly.

Existing web resources 

Sometimes you can be surprised at what people have put out on the Web in your organization’s name... including people in your own organization. You are rarely dealing with just one web presence (website, Facebook page, abandoned mini website relating to a specific promotion, etc.). Start by getting a list of organizational web presences from the person who came before you, your boss, or a helpful colleague who seems particularly knowledgeable. Don’t rely on your organization’s IT person/staff. Nobody tells them anything.

It’s sad but true.

Next, find out who (if anyone) has been updating the website. Start a list of web addresses, login names and passwords, as well as any information about the person who set them up, why they were set up, and when. A lot of the information you find will be wrong, but if you have either login names or the email addresses of the people who started up the accounts, you can usually delete them. If you can’t find any, start contacting the companies running your web presences and explain. This is a common problem. You might need to make a lot of phone calls and do some faxing, but you’ll get your login information.

You have the list? Great. That list represents the initial scope of what you are going to have to keep updated, and what you are going to shut down.

Use quotes in your search engine searches to get more specific results.
Now hit the search engines to find the web presences that your organization doesn’t know about. You’d be surprised how often that happens. You can use any search engine you are comfortable with, but be creative with your searches. Start with your organization’s name. If your organization’s name is more than a word or two, do it with quotes.

This task also has another use. You’ll start to see what comes up on the search engines when you put in your company’s name. Search engines need to guess what your organization is and where it fits in this great big crazy world based on the content on its website. The guesses are usually pretty good, but they can be a little odd sometimes. Make notes of the “odd” ads or websites that show up next to your organization in the search results. You might be able to adjust this with a little search engine optimization later.

You will also see competitors. Look at their sites. You’ll need to know what they are doing for two reasons:
  1. So you can do it better, and
  2. So you know what to focus your efforts on. (If your competitors aren’t bothering with Twitter, maybe you should put that a little further down on your own priority list.)

Keep notes of everything you uncover 

Always back up important documents in at least two places.
Combine it with any goals or existing strategy information you got earlier. Put it in a nice binder or save it in a special folder on your computer. This will be your initial web management documentation. Your documentation should be centralized so that people who are working with you can get to it and add to it themselves. Don’t worry about inconsistency in format or how something is written. Focus on completion.

There’s going to be a lot of documentation and you have better things to do than check every tech note for grammar or capitalization.

When thinking about what to document and how to organize it, think about what your boss would need if you won the lottery tomorrow and decided to retire to your own personal tropical island. Always think about what you would need if the same thing happened to your team/helpers/vendors.

In your first year, you should have the following:

  • Basic documentation about the website should be pretty complete.
  • There should be a few people who routinely refer to and add to the documentation.

For a large corporate site, assume you’ll be spending an average 20-30% of your time on documentation. It’s a time suck, but worth it so just plan for it. For a little corporate site that doesn’t get updated very much, the documentation will take a lot of time up front but then you’ll be able to put it away until the next redesign.

Some ways to centralize documentation include an office network drive, online editable documents, and an online backup system.

What is “basic” documentation?

“Basic” documentation for a website is basically all of the information you just spent time gathering yourself.
  • A list of all of your organization’s web presences.
  • Budget.
  • Goals.
  • Analysis of the competition.
  • Who is working on (or is responsible for) what.
  • Contact information on any outside contractors you have working on the website (particularly any technical vendors such as who is hosting the server).
  • The location of the passwords (since putting passwords in a shared document isn’t terribly secure).
  • Any scheduling you have for editorial content, outreach, or website reviews.
  • The location of any graphical resources you have.
  • The location of your web analytics reports.
  • Any editorial guidelines you want followed.
Next: Password security.

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