Content Tactics – Executing Your Strategy on the Page
Instead of focusing on strategy, intranet consultant Wedge Black chose to bring the subject of content tactics to our attention. In his presentation at Intranätverk 2014, Wedge shared some valuable tips about writing in a simple but effective way, and how to lay out your intranet pages. Wedge began his presentation with a quote:
“Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.” ~ Kristina Halvorson
According to Wedge, the terms useful and usable are very important in this context. To be useful, the content has to help you do something, while usable is about being able to access the information when and where you need it. Since content strategy is a very big subject, Wedge chose to discuss content tactics – a matter of scale and focus – for each individual page on the intranet.
The purpose of a headline is to help a person choose what to read. And, perhaps even more importantly, choose what not to read. Not everything on an intranet can be important to everyone, as different audiences require different information. Therefore, the headline has to be clear and honest. In good communications, you want to cover the who, what, why, where, when and how. Wedge explains that if the headline and the two sentence summary (beneath the headline) covers the who and the what, the audience has a greater chance of working out whether it’s relevant to them or not.
Images need to be more useful than merely portraits, which belong in your profile within the people directory. Images need to attract interest and convey meaning. Wedge explains that you should use real people and real photographs from within your organization. Mobile phone cameras are fine for taking “real” pictures. Stock photographs are to be avoided.
Good web design practices say that you need to embed your links in meaningful text loaded with keywords. When you write “click here”, you’re not helping anyone find the next page or topic. The hyperlink should actually explain what you’re going to get even before you click it. An intranet packed with PDFs, PowerPoint, and Word documents slows everyone down. Nobody expects Wikipedia to offer PDFs on every topic; your intranet communications need to be in well laid out pages – which can link to PDFs (etc.) when necessary. Wedge’s advice is to always tell people when linking to a file or document, for example: Read navigation design using card sorting [PDF; 425KB] to learn more about designing menus.
Layout and “F-pattern”
A well-structured page on the intranet should follow good journalistic practice. Most people scan web/intranet pages for the information they’re looking for. So content authors should follow the inverted pyramid; start with the important things right at the top. Use separate paragraphs for each subject, and one or more subheadings to introduce new topics as you go down the page. The use of subheadings is really important. Why? Because people read in an “F-pattern”. This also means that the images should be put on the right-hand side, so that they don’t break up the reading pattern. If you’re interested in finding out more about layout and the “F-pattern”, please check out Wedge’s presentation at Intranätverk 2014 in the video below.
Write for your audiences
Following (when appropriate) the inverted pyramid format, and understanding how people scan-read pages, will help you write for your audience, rather than your boss. Using short sentences and bullet points makes it easier for readers to find what’s relevant to them. When writing, Wedge’s advice is to always be human – it’s not about crafting perfect sentences, it’s about communicating meaning. In order to do this, you have to empathize with your audiences and understand what it is that they’ve come to the intranet to achieve. For instance, the home page probably isn’t the right area to use humor, metaphors, acronyms and jargon. On a team site, however, it might be more appropriate. You have to know your audiences and their intentions – the broader your audience, the more simple and clear you have to be.
Message + Audience + Channel = good comms. Match the message to the audience to the channel. The first step is to imagine what the audience desires and where the audience resides. Then, it’s about finding the appropriate channel to reach them. Don’t consider the intranet as one channel; there are multiple spaces and digital channels within. For full details, see Wedge’s presentation on SlideShare and download his guide to creating intranet content .
Bio Wedge Black
Having managed intranets for global and regional companies, Wedge has been involved with internal communications since 2004. He champions the “people-centred task-focused” intranet, and has a soft spot for well-laid out pages that help people get things done. Wedge considers the presentation and clarity of content to be key to effective communication. Wedge founded the Intranet Now conference in the UK. Wedge publishes his thoughts about internal comms and intranet use at Kilobox Communiqué and his work has been featured at Simply-Communicate, at Melcrum, and in the Journal of Internal Communications. You can follow @Wedge for intranet ideas and conversation.