If there’s one thing Barack Obama taught us about the power of digital by the manner of his election, it’s that email still counts (and, for that matter, still works when you’re in government). For a while, I’ve been determined to focus more on how we use email as a corporate communication channel, particularly in the context of needing to justify why establishing new websites often isn’t a good idea.
We launched a project at work today that’s hopefully a step in the right direction: a kind of souped-up landing page for our new strategy for supporting economic growth, Going for Growth.
We’re probably not alone in having a few big policy themes which embrace a multitude of announcements, speeches and initiatives. The challenge for digital communications – well, for all communications, I suppose – is bringing these big themes out in ways our audiences can understand, and not losing the wood for the trees. Even on our own small interim site, thematic information is scattered across press releases, speeches and policy pages, making it hard to explain the drivers of policy, the history or the direction it’s going in.
This time, the initial request was for a new ‘portal’ but it quickly became clear that an aggregator would be a better fit for the content, audience and the commissioning team, who would be moving on to other things after delivery. So the page we built is designed to:
- Collate the content about support for economic growth on our site in a single place, making it more easily accessible to media and stakeholders
- Curate relevant content from other parts of government, demonstrating the cross-government nature of the policy, and hopefully engaging other government departments with communicating it in partnership with us (more later on that)
- Explain the vision and origins of a somewhat abstract strategic policy, as well as the progress to date and the future direction in an accessible way
- Engage audiences using channels which enable us to build up a community around this content
Our corporate site is WordPress-based (for now) but the page template itself is really little more than a shell. What’s interesting is what WordPress makes possible through its flexible RSS-with-everything approach and knock-yourself-out unrestricted approach to templating. But the interesting stuff happens elsewhere.
- The document itself is hosted on Scribd and embedded on a page, offering a pleasant browsing experience without the hassle of building a full HTML version. The PDF is of course downloadable too, for committed readers. There’s a video on YouTube (two in fact), press releases on NDS and the archive film of the livestreamed launch via Number 10’s provider. (And a bit of live tweeting around the launch itself, if you count that).
- We’re making liberal use of Feed2JS to help render an RSS feed as a list, comprising items across our site tagged in WordPress with ‘growth’.
- More interestingly perhaps, we’re using the social bookmarking service Delicious (as pioneered by Puffbox for the Governance of Britain site) to collect relevant announcements elsewhere in government via our corporate Delicious account, again tagged with ‘growth’. The RSS feed of these bookmarks then powers a little list on the page, enabling us to keep this content fresh easily, without needing to manually edit the page each time – it’s just a bookmarking job.
- In order to make better use of GovDelivery, a service we used previously just for powering email alerts to changed pages, we asked the team to set up one of their widgets – copying an idea done elegantly by the Highways Agency. These widgets offer a handy, embeddable version of items from an RSS feed (in our case, Piped-together) of Growth news from BIS and elsewhere, with built-in email subscription to topics from across our site. In principle then, these widgets offer a window into what Government is doing to support growth beyond a single Department and in a format which any Department or stakeholder could pick up and use for minimal effort. For instance, Number 10 kindly picked it up as part of their coverage of the launch:
The site was still put together, in-house (kudos for this project to Jenny, Michael, David and Rhys), fairly rapidly to meet a moving target, and there’s still plenty of work for us to do. The list of email subscriptions offered to you via the widget still needs tidying up; we still haven’t quite provided the killer resource for media that I’d hoped to I think; and though it’s less of a nightmare than an independent microsite to manage, it’s still likely to be headache to migrate across to a new CMS.
But we’ll keep tweaking, and with this low-cost patchwork of tools, hopefully we’ll nudge closer over time towards the goal of a truly engaging, useful and workable channel for policy news.