By Colin Kelly,
Whether it’s a public facing website, or a company wide intranet, it’s safe to say your organisation is creating more online written content that at any point in its history.
But are you truly making the most of the unique opportunities online offers?
Most organisations don’t.
All too often I see bloated sites regarded as a dumping ground for every mundane piece of information, rarely updated blogs, press releases scanned and uploaded as PDFs and in general online material that doesn’t do you justice and nobody takes pride in.
Consider this: if you’re working at a mid to large size organisation and government department with a couple of hundred employees, it wouldn’t be unusual for you to be attracting 25,000 unique visitors to your website across a month. That’s more than the readership for some fairly large local or regional newspapers.
In the last 10 years, websites have changed from being static, brochure style self promotional holding pages, to interactive, engaging and immersive online experiences. At least they should have!
So why are so many organisations still not getting it right. I believe the answer is because many senior people in large organisations simply do not like writing.
Think about it. Our attitudes towards writing are largely shaped by our experiences in education. This will vary depending on where and when you went to school and the particular teaching style of the time.
Broadly speaking, for most of the latter 20th Century, your ability to write at length at school was perceived by many to be an indicator of your intelligence. Being able to write in particular quantities was valued.
Tasks would be set and pupils would ask ‘how long should this be?’. Punishment exercises were set along the lines of ‘Write 300 words on the importance of paying attention’. Essays were submitted on the understanding that every word would be read and then marked. Pupils wrote for a captive audience. We assumed our work would be read, right till the end. Academic writing, is all about building towards the all important conclusion.
If you couldn’t do that, or didn’t like it, the education system of the time assumed you were inferior and lacking intelligence. Some of your colleagues might have experienced physical punishment if they failed to submit written work of a suitable length or quality.
As a result, many of your colleagues – perhaps current senior management or leaders in your organisation – grew up and entered the workplace with a severe dislike of writing. It made them feel inferior. Writing is something they have worked hard at getting away from as they’ve moved through their careers.
I want you and your colleagues to understand now that writing for online has no relationship to a person’s intelligence. You might have excelled at academic writing in school or university and could find yourself struggling trying to adapt to writing for online. It is an entirely different discipline, requiring a new set of skills.
When you encourage a senior manager to start a blog and are met with resistance, it might well be because that individual assumes a ‘blog’ somehow means writing an essay. They think you need 300-400 words, written in discursive essay style.
The very thought of it brings back the horrors of their school days. But it needn’t necessarily be like that. In our training we’ll look at blogs some of which are no longer than 3 sentences. If someone left school prior to 1996 they may well have never produced any written work that included hyperlinks. No wonder they aren’t full of enthusiasm when you suggest they create a ‘thought leadership’ article for the company intranet.
Our ‘Writing For Online’ workshop is regularly updated with the latest case studies and examples. The day features several writing tasks which you’ll receive a friendly and encouraging critique on. You’ll learn simple techniques and systems you can apply to your writing to make them fit for purpose for online publication.
Your ability to write well for websites has no bearing on your intelligence and little to do with your academic writing ability. It calls for a new set of tools and skills which we’ll introduce you to and you’ll develop quickly. And if you already have these skills, our session will help you improve further and return to the workplace to up-skill those colleagues who need some help overcoming their negative writing experiences of the past.
Here are a few quick ‘Golden Rules’ for better online writing.
- Bullet Points: A quick way to keep the word count down. Restrict yourself to explain whatever you’re writing in no more than 4 or 5 bullet points.
- Hyperlinks: If something he already been said online, don’t waste time saying it again. Link to it. Great online writing is often little more than signposting to relevant content elsewhere.
- Answer Questions: Blog posts and page titles attract more readers if they relate to genuine queries audiences would be likely to type into Google. Increasingly, they might actually SAY the words to Google or another ‘voice first’ device. ‘How can I….?’ type posts perform extremely well and are often among the most shared pieces of content.
- Learn From The Data: Online writing is a vast subject and no trainer can claim to know all the answers or preach from the front like a guru. Every organisation is different and you shouldn’t be overly influenced by what the consultant or the handbook tells you. You should be led by your own data. A basic knowledge of Google Analytics allows you to see what pages are most read, where people go next, what links get clicked, what content types perform best and you can make informed decisions about your work based on credible evidence.
Colin Kelly is a CIPR trainer. To find out more about the Writing for Online course click here.