Strategy, Systems and Staffing – putting it all together.

In this earlier post, I explored how certain sites have enjoyed a very long life span and avoided the need for radical redesign. They’ve achieved this through a focus on strategy and content that allows for a more iterative approach to the website, the overall design, and the tools powering it.

Let’s continue to figure out how we can stop throwing away expensive and time consuming website and CMS implementations after only a few short years, and instead focus on establishing a strong foundation that will support all of our digital initiatives indefinitely!

Strategy

Strategy must guide these projects. Not micro-strategy. Not even website strategy. I’m talking big-picture strategy. These conversations should encompass your brand, your overall business goals for the next ten years, your marketing targets, and how your business can thrive in a digital ecosystem.

Your strategy should include your company’s vision, its mission, your core values, and your target markets. It should start from the heart and soul of your organization, and if that sounds “silly” to you, then you’re missing the big picture. Trust me when I tell you that if you really want your organization to succeed and grow, you can’t skip this stuff. Want a refresher? Read The Advantage or Get a Grip?—?two of the best business books I’ve read.

A critical element of strategy is identifying clearly and measurably what success will look like.

How will the team know their initiatives are succeeding? How will upper level management know that the costs and time investments are paying off? You have to identify these benchmarks and goals early in your strategy work, so you can be sure to set up methodologies that will empower you to measure the results, and hopefully share the successes.

I suggest you develop a roadmap for your upcoming website project that includes these larger outlooks, and also includes planning and thinking around the entire digital space, because the traffic that arrives at your website likely comes from some other digital place, and likely departs to a digital space. These are systems, not silos and your strategy needs to be planning for all fronts. (We’ll talk more about this in Part Three!)

Your digital strategy must align your audience needs with the structures you begin to create for the systems. On a specific website instance, you’ll want to ensure your information architecture is not only aligned to your audiences needs (organize the content in ways that make perfect sense to your audiences not your internal organization), but flexible enough to iterate and adjust over the next ten to fifteen years.

You know what your organization does today?—?the programs that you offer, the tickets you sell, the events that you promote. There’s zero likelihood that these details won’t change over time. You’ll be growing and changing in response to the market pressures and societal influences. Your website needs to respond as well.

The strategy you set today must accommodate the changes in your fundamental business tactics or you’ll be stuck pushing a very large boulder back up this hill.

And while long-term strategy might sound like a daunting job, it actually enforces simplicity to come into play. Think of your initial website as a solid framework?—?something simple that you can build on in the future, without fear of the unknown.

Systems

If you’re rethinking your website right now, you’re probably thinking a lot about the content management system that will support it. Look for a system that will let you do what you need to do, not lock you into a static framework or a slow-to-evolve enterprise system. Choose the system that will give you freedom down the road (this is why we love open-source solutions) and look for options that are developed on universal platforms (PHP, MySQL).

Also, make sure your development team understands how important it is to keep things layered and portable. Part of your initial strategy discussions should include the question, “What if we have to move all of this content into a new CMS in three years?”

Be certain that you’re prioritizing the needs of the CMS user, not the recommendations of the IT team who will never have to enter content into it, or work with it on a day-to-day basis. Ensure the technology is flexible enough to grow with you, but don’t buy into more than you need. Your system should give you room for evolution, but it should not become a constant burden on your team for maintenance and security issues.

If you’re spending more time and money on technical adjustments to your website than you are on generating content for it, you’re wasting your time and money.

Some CMS solutions are tempting because they seem to offer the most options and “everyone” seems to be an expert for hire on these systems. But you have to ask yourself whether you really need a huge range of solution options with thousands of freelance developers to comb through every time you want to make a technical adjustment.

The CMS solutions we generally work with are BigTree, WordPress and Drupal. I’ve also heard good things about Craft, and, well, that’s it. There are thousands of CMSs out there, and you may find the perfect one for your organization. Just be sure the system will be sticking around, you’re not locked to one company for all technical needs, and you’re not setting your internal team up for a big technical uphill battle.

Here’s a great test to help you evaluate whether the system you’re considering is too complex. Find several members of your community who may be asked to contribute to the site every few weeks or months. Give them a quick demo covering the exact tasks you anticipate they would need to accomplish within the system. Then, ask them if they feel they would need a training or a “refresher” to complete those tasks when they returned to execute them in about 4 weeks from that initial demo. (If you have the ability to actually conduct this test?—?definitely do so!) If they feel they would need a refresher or an entire new training, you’re setting yourself and your team up for frustration and failure, and I’d suggest looking for a simpler system.

Staffing

Digital is its own beast, and needs its own beast tamers.

You have to be prepared to hire qualified people to put into these jobs. Don’t think you can tack these responsibilities on the tops of other heads in your organization. Definitely don’t try to add this on to your IT team’s responsibilities, or your traditional marketing or communication team’s plates.

You will need someone to oversee everything, such as a Director of Digital Marketing. This hard-working person will be well-served by (at the very least) a content strategist, a digital marketer, and a photographer / videographer. (Tip: Most good videographers are also good photographers, but not every good photographer can handle video.)

This is the team that will create the content, ensure that it is aligned with the big picture strategy, and get it into the proper channels. Often we find that an internal team needs an “ambassador” of sorts. This person’s role is to spread out throughout the larger organization and unearth the stories and content that are worth bringing to the website, and who understands the strategies and structures in place?—?enabling them to usher that content online in the most efficient and tactical way possible.

These are your storytellers. Empower them.

As a group, they should be adept at working well with others and able to be proactive at developing a strategy to keep the content flowing in from all the various outliers within the organization. They will also need to tackle micro-strategies along the way, helping ensure that your digital presence is nimble and can easily support the changing needs of the organization.

Your digital team should allow you to take advantage of one of the web’s most powerful tools: data.

They should be prepared to generate reporting on the effectiveness of their work. They should have quarterly, monthly and weekly goals. They should have tactics in place to accomplish these goals, and these tactics should be well understood by the entire team. These digital goals should align with the organization’s primary goals. So if “growing awareness on the West Coast” is a business objective, these micro-strategies should be addressing that in some capacity, and the data should support the effort.

Few websites are launched with the full contingent of team members that we’d recommend for the long term. The idea is that whether you start with one person, or half of a person, you’re thinking about what you’ll eventually need. Be aware of these coming changes, plan for them, and start keeping an eye out for the right people.

Putting It All Together

The hard truth is that there is no technical magic bullet to replace a well staffed team and a good strategy to work with. Creating content is hard work, and you have to find people who are good at doing it, and enjoy it. Then you have to make sure they are empowered to do it quickly, easily and painlessly. Content strategists understand that content is more than a passive consumption process. They understand content has to be perfectly aligned to the audience, the channel and the action they are trying to elicit.

Ideally you have a master-plan that maps your strategy to the structures to your content creators (and content strategy) to the audiences. These elements all are interconnected and the CMS needs to ensure these connections can be managed easily and successfully.

Be prepared to continuously work on your website and your digital marketing. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to redo something completely to make an improvement. Use analytics to let you know what’s working well and not working well?—?and then adjust. Let your strategy guide you, and empower your team to do the work necessary to push everything forward. If they know what their goals are, and are empowered by the tools they have at their disposal, you’ll find yourself in a constant state of growth and evolution.

If you launch a new site or digital marketing initiative, and let it sit there with little adjustment over time, you’re doing it wrong.

I’m someone who likes to be prepared, and one thing I’ve learned during my 25 years in this industry is that things change, and they change fast.

There’s just no guarantee that disruption won’t completely upend the digital ecosystem?—?we’ve seen it happen too many times. As we head forward into the world of chat-bots, augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, self-driving cars and the Internet of Things, we have to plan for unknowns. The best way I know to plan for unknowns is to have a nimble system, a strategy that is focused on big-pictures and not tied directly to tactics, and a smart team who understands their roles, responsibilities and accountabilities.

This is an orchestra you’re conducting. It requires attention to details, technical brilliance, the right people in the right seats, and a world-class score. But this is not a one-night performance. Your website, digital initiatives and team must be set up to last indefinitely.

There is no ending to this symphony, only iteration, evolution and growth.

If you enjoyed this post, help more people find it by clicking on the heart icon below. I’d love to hear from you as well, so feel free to reach out to me here or on Twitter (@traceyhalvorsen), and let me know what you think!

 

Want more? Read Part I and Part III of the Never Ending Website series.

Share on Twitter or Facebook Published March 8th 2017