Giving control of a website to a communicator can be like giving a pub to an alcoholic.Writers and communicators have many of the skills needed to achieve great things on the Web. Public websites and intranets run on content. Writers and communicators have been trained in creating content. There should be a natural fit.
However, when communicators get control of websites, particularly intranets, they immediately make them look like daily newspapers. News is important on an intranet but it is rarely the top task.
When the homepage is dominated by news you are not necessarily communicating more. In many situations, you are damaging your reputation as a quality news source. Forcing news into people's faces just annoys them.
Many websites also make the mistake of increasing the quantity of news they publish. Another element that will certainly help turn people away is the use of websites for propaganda.
A press release is classic propaganda. It is written in a fawning, self-congratulatory manner. (I'm speaking as someone who has written quite a few of them.) Historically, press releases were never intended to be read by the public. They were a way to sell a story to the press. They have a place in a website's press archive, but they should not be on a homepage. Publishing a press release on a homepage says the communicator is too lazy to take the press release and turn it into a story.
We are dealing with a world exploding with news. A June 2008 study published by The Associated Press of Young Adults' News Consumption found increasing signs of "news fatigue." One of the negative results of news fatigue was that the more overwhelmed or unsatisfied young people became, the less effort they were willing to put in.
The study went on to state that "this young audience had little patience for formats that promise and don't deliver." It's not just a young audience that is proving impatient and skeptical. I remember being with an engineer once as he scanned the intranet homepage of his organization. He shook his head and smiled cynically. "Not another 'our great organization saving the world and feeding the hungry children' PR story," he sneered. "I want hard news, practical news. I want news that will give me ideas for new products."
"The enlightened consumers turned news into "units" of social currency that could be used in a variety of interpersonal situations - to look smart, connect with friends and family and even move up the socio-economic ladder," The Associated Press study stated.
"The competing notions of "news fatigue" and "news as social currency" stand out among these findings," the study continued. "This study demonstrated across cultural boundaries that the news can turn consumers off, just as easily as it can turn them on. The key value point to the audience was news they could use."
In an age of attention deficit and impatience, news created on organizational websites and intranets needs to be brutally action-oriented and to-the-point It needs to help people do things. It needs to be practical and real. And it needs to be newsworthy-not simply put up because it's Tuesday and we need to publish something.
Customers need news they can use.
About the Author
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.