write digital copy
write for search engines.
- People read differently online – They scan read in an ‘F’ shape and are task focused.
- Rule of 2s is crucial – a) 1st two words in the headline need to include the key word / topic, b) 1st two lines in a paragraph need the rub of the matter and c) 1st two paragraphs tell the whole story. Content after that point adds value, a different perspective to the above, but the user must get the gist without needing to read much.
- We write headlines – but writing content is half the job…
- Digital PR is just as important – 3rd party websites linking back to us hyperlinking a keyword will pay dividends.
- User behavior on site from our email and social isn’t analysed much, but it will be. Everyone seemed open to trying out UTM tags on the URLs we tweet etc.
Participation on the call was great, as is always the case. The proof will be in the digital pudding as to whether a style guide alone will mean we rank better for important keywords. As I’ve said before, this website is a working prototype where we’re still shaking out the best ways of doing things. Maybe we should consider GOV.UK’s approach of peer-to-peer approval before content is published. It may slow down lead time between writing content and publishing a little bit, but could help us improve things further, and is the spirit of the consortium after all. One to think about.
(Not blogged for a while whilst getting my head around the new job. Picking things up again and republishing here so I have a record.)
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I’m excited to launch this blog. It’ll be our scrapbook for ideas, prototypes and progress for digital and non-digital work. For this first post, I wanted to set out the stall for how we’ll improve our digital offering from here on in.
There are a lot of benefits for EEN clients now that we’re an integrated consortium of UK regions and countries that deliver EEN services, with Innovate leading. To realise these benefits we have ambitions for stronger interconnected technology, which will improve the customer experience but also enable us to work smarter. Hence #newEEN in the title of this post.
That ambition may end up with a new website and will certainly mean changes to this one. Consider this website a working prototype that we’ll build upon. I should say the agency behind it has been great. Thank you.
These are #newEEN’s digital principles*
- Start with user needs (not our own) – The design process must start by identifying and thinking about real user needs. We should design around those – not around the process.
- Insight led, data driven – We routinely use feedback from users and performance data to make objective decisions about what to deliver and when.
- Do the hard work to make it simple – Making something look simple is easy. Making something simple to use is much harder, especially when the underlying systems are complex.
- Iterate. Then iterate again – The best way to build effective services is to start small and iterate.
- Work in the open – We share what we are doing as often and as freely as possible because scrutiny from users and colleagues makes us a more effective team and improves our products and services.
- What would GDS do? – We’re following a well-trodden-by-government path where many issues are not new and solutions to them can be reused, as can intelligence to make our own.
Innovate UK is part of BIS, which is a government department. That means as lead partner for this EEN consortium, there’s an approach we, Innovate UK, have to follow to ensure efficient spend on the right solution. That means a no-stone-unturned discovery phase. We then prototype an alpha, test that, and if that works develop the alpha into the fuller service, called beta. We then test that, and so on.
Once we’ve made the alpha, this whole project gets assessed by a Board at BIS (not unlike a PhD viva) against an 18-point service standard. If we pass assessment, we progress to beta, which again will be assessed. We then go live but with the website ‘beta’ badged so we can really test the service. Once everyone’s happy, the badge gets removed. It doesn’t stop there though. Iterative improvements will be made to the live service throughout its lifetime until it’s retired. This might sound heavy handed but, trust me, this really sharpens the product. We’ll come out with something better as a result.
Starting on the right footing
Our England, Northern Ireland and Wales consortium has set up a comms working group, of which digital is a part. Members are working on a style guide for all authors to work to. Some others are trialling utm tagging URLs we publish, so that in Google Analytics traffic can be apportioned by partner and other parameters. Following successful trial, this will roll out across the consortium. This group will also review analytics data and insight from usability testing to inform tweaks to the current site. Expect blog posts on all of this in due course 🙂
Most of my time is being taken up with getting ready for the agile process. Proper discovery will start when we have appointed a supplier. We’re in the throes of business case approval so can’t appoint until after then. I’ve already shortlisted a couple of suppliers from gcloud so the project can get going quickly.
Other things done in readiness for kicking off the project…
- Worked up user needs that the management team and comms group contributed to and I’ve validated with GDS.
- I’ll be interviewing participant clients for each group so I (as a newbie) can get under their skin, but also see the robustness of the needs we’ve come up with.
- Usability testing to identify fixes for the interim site.
- Configuring Google Analytics so it plays the way it should and benchmarks can be established. I’m also trialling Decibel Insight which looks very interesting.
- 301 redirects from legacy sites as well as referrals from GOV.UK and the European Commission.
- Meeting other gov colleagues who work in the SME space. For assessment, I need to be clear how the different propositions hang together to warrant their web presence.
- Understanding the assisted digital needs of our users, starting off with number crunching that some new friends of mine at BIS are kindly doing.
- Technology architecture. This is a biggie. Sitting behind the new website we come up with, there will be a customer relationship management tool that needs a lot of configuration. My colleague James has been beavering away validating requirements, writing user stories and data dictionary, and so on, ready for when the agile process can start. CRM is a big piece of the digital service puzzle but isn’t insurmountable. Our biggest hurdle will be APIing partner opportunities from the European Commission’s site. This is an ever-changing challenge. I’m getting my head around it, but this will be the appointed agency’s biggest challenge at Discovery. That and stakeholder interviews to make sure the service we build to meet user needs works for us internally too.
Phew. Long blog. Sorry. Clearly a lot to do. To coin a Mike Bracken phrase just this once… Onwards!
Today’s my last day as Head of Social Media at ONS. A stint of 2 years, 1 month and 25 days commuting between Bradford on Avon and Newport has finally taken its toll. Unsurprisingly, it’s not a common commuting destination from Wiltshire according to this data vis on commuting patterns.
I’m taking a role at Innovate UK in Swindon. Still a bit of a hike, but not quite as far and about half the cost. It’s a broader role than just social as well, which I was conscious couldn’t become all that I was known for. I freelance at a local charity to keep other digital skills sharp which has been a total privilege, but the time has come to pull everything together to one full time role.
I’d like to think the team and I have ONS’ social media in better shape than when I started, when things were more reserved and cautious. Also, props to the content guys at ONS who set up around the time I joined, making all the stuff in this blog so much easier to do.
Particular standouts, I think, are
- Engagement, reach and followers have all gone up, with no ad spend < Twitter has really matured for us. We’re not the right brand for Facebook, but have had some good wins to the extent our organic reach is going up, when the global trend seems to be the other way. We tried google+ which didn’t work and even thought about WhatsApp. It would have been nice to branch into Pinterest but it didn’t feel like the return would be there for us.
- Live tweeting along to the Autumn Statement < ONS’ role is to inform debate. So pointing to already published content is an obvious thing to do, although it treads a fine line with political debate and forecasting which we don’t engage in.
- Piggyback TV programming < hands down our engagement peaks and gives existing content a fresh audience. We don’t get involved in the content progamming which cites different sources to suit its editorial direction. Opportunity for ONS to get closer to that to then reap better, integrated, social media executions?
- Q&As < some work, some don’t and this largely depends on the stats being standout. Opportunity to build something more consistent, like #ODIFridays?
- Tweeting statistians < Social mediaing professionally as individuals isn’t natural at ONS, unfortunately. It’s working for about 10 statisticians. Others have fallen by the wayside. But this community is growing as newbies learn of the rewards to be gained. It’s quality over quantity with this but has been really labour intensive for me which is a common theme for the open policy community across government which I guess is the closest comparison.
I’ve done a couple of talks lately, one at Scottish Government and another at #SoMeSW, where I summarised what the team does and shared what we’ve found to work for us. The latter also included a bit about my time at 10 Downing Street.
This is the next big social media leap for ONS I think. As I alluded to above, it’ll take time and some serious graft. I guess there are several ways to approach it but it feels to me the trick is to make it part of a statistician’s day-to-day work. Social customer service is part of what the team does well. A natural progression to it is assigning the query to the statistician in Hootsuite to respond from their own Twitter account, which they do.
The tricky bit is to take things one step further and have them proactively looking out for and engaging in discussions and being always on. My central team can’t be across everything, nor do we know the intricacies of the subjects well enough.
Monitoring / listening
We’ve only really got going with this. It stalled because our last supplier, Topsy Pro, got bought by Apple who terminated existing contracts. Since then trialling and appraising alternatives has taken time.
I decided on Brandwatch. It’s not the most intuitive, but persevere for a couple of weeks and you’ll see why we bought it. Its integration with Hootsuite is a real bonus too. On a more pragmatic note, Brandwatch were the only supplier to offer unlimited mentions which sat better for us given how widely our topics are discussed, though ‘mainstream’ mentions tend to be around whichever Whitehall department’s policy, rather than our stats.
If it’s useful, here’s Rebecca Carson from Brandwatch talking about evolution in this space.
Like I say, we’ve only got going with monitoring. Right now, we’ve got the searches sorted, but it’s what we do with it that’s the big opportunity, I reckon. Because social isn’t high on everyone’s agenda at work, a daily summary of those queries filtered by lists of political, policy and journalist types gets sent around each afternoon. It takes about 20 minutes to make the summary. Because we focus on statty mentions, volume isn’t massive. Broaden it and there’d be some awesome opportunities and more robust insight (like the work Jamie does at Food Standards Agency) to be gleaned. Planning for the next census is warming up. A perfect opportunity?
Optimising social media content
We tagged urls we posted on social for a time so we could see what messages / content / subject drove the most time on site (at the time, our best equivalent to a conversion). Hootsuite / Webtrends integration, then tableau visualisation saw to that.
ONS will start using Google Analytics soon which should offer up better insight. Brandwatch can API into Google Analytics which could make for some great integrated dashboard action. Anyway, copy formats introduced 18 months ago seem to be working and is the value the team add to draft content passed our way; to add the last bit of polish to content and editorially judge how, when and if things should be posted.
ONS feeds the news cycle, has content to be authoritative in trending social media topics, and is a repository for masses of content that stats folk use to inform / make their work. As such, my team haven’t done any long term campaigns. That’s not to say we shouldn’t, it’s just not been a priority for a thinly stretched team. Our users are niche and we engage with them directly, which is weird given how much coverage our content gets.
This sort of thing would be led by the comms guys who, organisationally, sit separately to us. ONS’ social media team sits in digital, rather than comms. It was something I pushed for soon after I started here and not surprisingly splits opinions. It’s allowed social media at ONS the space to be progressive, be really close to the user-focused digital content being created and contribute insight to what we know about these users.
Thoughts from We Are Social
We Are Social put out a forward looking blog last week and these bits struck me as applicable to ONS social media right now:
“Rather than Facebook and Twitter executions, the focus will be on understanding social behaviour, creating ideas that people want to share, talk about and get involved with.
“Instead of surviving on one-off campaigns, brands need to create ongoing storytelling to be visible within this data driven world. Content creation is no longer enough.
“We will see a change in the form of collaboration between brands and influencers, from the one shot outreach approach (mainly earned media) to a more structured partnership model (mainly paid media) where the two parties can collaborate regularly to co-create a long term narrative.
“If 2014 has been the year of content creation, 2015 will be the year of content ROI”.
Whoever takes this job on, good luck. It’s a great role with a lot of opportunity to make your mark. If you want to meet for a beer, just shout. Social media has become a successful staple for ONS and we have a lot of users who appreciate the service which in the fickle social media world, is no mean feat.
The Autumn Statement happened today and obviously featured a lot of our statistics. Here’s a sense of the volume of mentions over the last few days. (It started trending a day or so ago, so the explosion really shows how much chat there was.) Whilst in the past we haven’t tweeted along to these events, recent efforts in republishing our content around TV programming has proved so successful, we wanted to progress onto live events as well.
Rather than fact checking as such, our job is to inform debate and encourage greater use and understanding of our statistics so tweeting signposts to our content should it come up is an obvious fit. For a while now, we’ve had tweeting statisticians at ONS which have had lots of mini successes. What started as a trial has reached day-to-day for us, we just need scale and a greater breadth of authors – something we’re working on organically. Anyway, the statisticians were the face of our content today with @ONS retweeting so it still reached the same users but they could see and interact with the statistician behind the numbers and relationships beyond today, can grow.
The control room as I called it, consisted of 10 colleagues from across ONS’ economy function, and
- Monitoring major conversation themes on the big screen
- The speech itself streaming on my iPad underneath it
- 20 or so pre written tweets of content areas we assumed would come up – uploaded to hootsuite and ready to post
- Several devices with hootsuite on so we could all assign content to each other as well as post it – we worked in subgroups so if one group was consumed with something, it didn’t stop momentum of the entire operation listening and posting
Overall, the hour went well. The content performed well given the context of a trending # not to mention the speech itself being somewhat of a distraction to people looking too closely at stats content right there and then. Some users seemed to appreciate our efforts too…
…though star of the show of our content was…
an interactive as they nearly always are for us. Something to bear in mind for next time.
Head of Social Media
A while ago I presented at a gov statsy thing in Leeds and bumped into Gregor Boyd who’s a statistician at Scottish Government. We talked about the work he’d started with @ScotStat and I offered to run a day’s workshop for Scottish Government statisticians wanting to develop things. It covered:
- what the team and I at ONS have learnt over the last two years;
- a mini unconference / free for all to discuss their plans and pains; and then a
- thorough look at digital content, namely copy, static imagery and interactives.
Here are my slides (with Scottish references I was assured would be well received!)…
…which seemed to go down well…
Although someone got upset by my scoring in the quiz
Importantly, of the 30 or so in the room, 20 had personal Twitter accounts (a prerequisite to signing up to the workshop). This was really important to enable wordsmithing exercises and an online treasure hunt / quiz, but it also ensured we could get into the nitty gritty of how the guys could improve their work, instead of them just sitting through something on social media basics. (The whole workshop did focus on Twitter a bit too much though, which was appropriate for where the guys were with their work. It’s organically done well for ONS for a reason, so it made sense to concentrate on that. Plus there’s only so much you can cover properly in a day.)
The day also included three talks from people behind @NatRecordsScot, @NHSNSS and @SGRESAS which sat really well with my stuff. We also talked about some practical challenges and how they might be overcome; some easier than others.
So yeah, all in all a worthwhile trip. I’ll run an iteration of it for February’s Digital Festival at ONS. Just need decent phone signal or a big room with wifi – both in short supply 😦
Not letting our work in the social media space stand still for too long, we’ve been debating whether ONS should start experimenting with mobile messenger apps. Thinking about WhatsApp in particular, I’d see it adding to our channel mix that day-to-day wouldn’t be too far removed from how we use Twitter.
On one hand messenger apps are taking off in a big way as an alternative to (historically) costly text and picture messaging. Blackberry Messenger was among the first which is hailed as a reason why the brand is / was successful with the younger demographic. Facebook Messenger clearly has big weight as does WhatsApp* (which Facebook have bought) and a few others which are either part of a wider social life network proposition or standalone.
On the other hand, messenger apps aren’t yet built to fit in with what we do day-to-day here (though we could work it in no problem). More to the point, there aren’t many stellar examples of messenger apps working for users and brands alike. Unless you know of any? We’ve watched BBC and Channel 4 focus on one off subjects (Indian elections and Scottish Independence Referendum respectivily) and Huffington Post make it a daily feature of 1-2 messages. The latter is more akin to our business.
That younger demographic point is important. There’s an assumption that only students and youth use messenger apps. The link above suggests that might be right, but how do we know for sure in our case without analytics? It’s the interest in the subjects or propensity to engage with our content that’s important. Setting up WhatsApp and acquiring some anonymous subscribers tells us very little about who they are, what they want and how we could serve them better. We could use URL tracking to understand what works and what doesn’t but I suspect trends would mirror patterns of what’s hot and what’s not that we see on other channels.
These sorts of questions feel like the early email marketing days and that’s definitely matured into a really effective method of sending and receiving messages. From a user’s point of view they can sign up and unsubscribe to specific topics rather than receive everything – which using WhatsApp would be of danger of right now.
I sound like I’ve not liked the idea of ONS and WhatsApp from day one, when in fact I was quite keen, but wanted to be led by our user’s appetite for it. If there is sufficient demand, we’d definitely trial it.
I’m just not sure the appetite is there just yet. There could be a role for it now with a youth brand but probably as an extension of a campaign. If that’s you, here’s some thoughts on brands adopting messenger apps to their mix from a friend of mine.
*Always makes me think of this old commercial.
(Republished from ONS digital publishing blog)
It’s been a while since we blogged on here but work’s been ticking along nicely and we’re now at the point where we’ll look around for a supplier to make our new site.
(Republished from Dorothy House Digital blog.)