Tuesday 11 June 2013

Dealing with requests for news features: Whose homepage is it, anyway?

Poster Layers, 2009-05-13
Who's got top billing?
Image by Michael Comiskey
and used under creative commons
Webmistresses and intranet-meisters will quickly recognise a serial homepage news item requestor.
This person thinks their service, event or publication is the only topic that anyone in the world/organisation can possibly be interested in, and is so vital it must be featured prominently for at least a month.
You might think you can feature it for a day or two and then remove it and they won’t notice – wrong. The moment you give something else top billing, your phone rings, and they’re telling you that they’ve had loads of feedback that no one can find their information.
That’s not to say their anecdotes aren’t true. Those who have always been given homepage features for prolonged periods may not think it's important to put much thought into their permanent pages – if indeed they have them. They've probably not thought about making them easy to find, using search-optimised language. They have also trained their users to be lazy, so now they expect to be able to spoon-feed their audience with a direct link, rather than using the search or A to Z or navigation occasionally.

What to do

  • Spend some time with this problem user. Understand what they need, and offer genuine solutions where you can.
  • Explain that it’s not wrong to expect users to have to work a bit and look past the homepage, as long as you educate them of the need to do so, and make the search and navigation work.
  • Recognise that the web team may partly be to blame – have you actually checked that their pages are in the right places in the navigation, cross-linked them from relevant related pages, and done what you can to boost the return of logical search results? Is it easy to find archives of older news items?
  • Explain that after a while users will become blind to the same old content. Better to take the feature away and bring it back again later in the month, because the visual impact of the change (especially of a new image, but even of the changing shapes of the words on the page) will do more to draw attention than a clipart icon that's quickly becoming part of the furniture.
  • Explain the dilemma you're facing. For example, you might say there are 2,500 pages on the intranet and, believe me, everyone wants a slot on the homepage. We can’t possibly do this so we try to be fair, and rotate in everything in a timely fashion. but we must also ensure that the structure, search and permanent content is top notch, so everyone can find what they need regardless of the current homepage content. (Then drawn them into your plan to improve their permanent pages.)
  • You may also be able to offer some alternative channels or widgets for promoting their content. For example, send them to internal communications colleagues for possible inclusion in the next all-staff email, or see if they can turn their news item into a question for a poll, interview for your staff magazine or feature for the chief exec’s blog. You might be able to re-purpose web news for your intranet, or vice-versa. If your organisation still has a print budget you could even send them off to a designer for a poster campaign.
Rather than seeing this person as a periodic pain, try to fix their problem. It may not rid you of the requests completely, but at least you’ll understand their requirements better and, with luck, they will understand why you can’t always give them top billing and appreciate that you are doing your best to help them. You’ll also hopefully be better able to differentiate between times when they are ‘crying wolf’ and when there is a genuine need to pull out the stops for them.

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