Thursday, 26 June 2014

How to build an intranet

Redeveloping a corporate intranet can seem like a daunting task – securing buy-in from senior management; capturing technical requirements from across the business; ensuring compatibility with the existing technical infrastructure and software solutions; fostering employee adoption and so on. This series of articles looks at how to get started:

1. Aligning your intranet strategy with your business objectives

2. Identify your starting point

3. Intranet vendor selection and management

4. Hosting and infrastructure of your intranet

5. Intranet accessibility

6. Sustaining your investment

7. The impact of an intranet on cultural change

8. Content credibility

9. Removing old ways of working


Thursday, 12 June 2014

Writing structures

Conveying complex written information in an easy to understand format is an
essential everyday skill for communications professionals. Here are 9 persuasive writing structures to consider when constructing your text:



 1.       Order of importance


You may want to structure your messages in order of importance. For example, if you are writing instructions on how to change a lawn mower blade, you would tell the reader to turn off the electricity supply first!


 2.       Chronological order


Arranging information into chronological order can help the reader to gain a sense of where they are in series of events, and help them to prepare for what is coming next. Examples of writing in chronological order would be: a day in the life of x; a historical account of events; a process that you are guiding the reader through.


 3.       Groups


It may help your reader if you group information under key headings. Remember, people are unlikely to read online information at the top left of the page and read every word. They will scan headings and sub-headings to find information relevant to them. For example, if you are writing copy for a recruitment webpage you might split the copy under the headings of ‘Graduates’, ‘Experienced professionals’, and ‘Interns’. This allows the reader to skip to the section relevant to them straight away.

4.       Location


Can your copy be structured by reader location? This is especially important if your information contains calls to action that differ depending on where they are based.


5.       Benefit-costs


The benefit-cost structure allows you to spell out the pros and cons of a situation. This can be particularly useful in change management situations, because it can help to demonstrate that a number of view-points have been listened to and understood, even if the outcome is not what the reader wants to hear.


 6.       Problem-solution


Think about a trouble-shooting guide and you understand how this writing technique works. If for example, I have a problem with my washing machine, I want to be able to scan down a list of headings that describe my potential problem, and read the one or two paragraphs containing the solution underneath.


 7.       HW5


What, Who, When, Where, Why, How. With this technique, you are likely to be detailing the facts around a particular event. For example, if you are organising a conference, you will list what the event is about, who should attend, when it is happening, and so on.


 8.       Simple to complex


You may be aware that some members of your target audience will be more knowledgeable about your subject area than others. This technique ensures you explain key messages in a simple to understand manner at the start, and lead on to more complex detail for those readers that require it. If your audience only read the first two paragraphs of your text, they should go away with the key messages you needed to deliver.

9.       General to specific


Think about the opening paragraph to a newspaper article – generally, this will summarise the issue in very broad terms, and then go on to provide the specific details of the case.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Get the perfect exposure for your comms - with AEB

Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) is a kind of safety net for ensuring your picture has a good exposure. When you shoot in auto mode, your camera’s light meter selects the shutter speed and aperture for you.

To use AEB, you need to take three identical pictures, the:

·        first will be slightly under exposed
·        second will be ‘normal’ exposure
·        third will be slightly over exposed.

Most digital cameras allow you to select the degree to which you want the first and third shots under/over exposed, via the setup menu. 

Setting AEB varies from camera to camera so check your manual for a step by step guide.

Don’t forget to turn off AEB when you are done!

Creating a splash with images

Creating an image like the one above is relatively easy to do and is a great exercise to learn more about shooting in manual mode.
 
You will need a:
  • digital camera (with manual mode)
  • flash (ideally an external one)
  • bowl of water
  • drinking straw
  • tripod.
 

Setting up your camera equipment

 
1. Fill the bowl with water as much as possible. The bowl will need to be in the place where you are going to photograph it, before you fill it up. I took my photograph in my kitchen because it is a nice bright room and any spills were easy to clean up.
 
2. Mount your camera onto a tripod. This is important because we want the image to be as sharp as possible. Using a tripod helps to eliminate camera shake.
 
3. Switch your camera to manual mode (M) and move it as close to the bowl of water as possible (about half a meter away).
 
4. Now we need to select a shutter speed. As a general rule, your shutter speed should be equal to, or less than, your focal length. So, if your focal length is 60mm, your shutter speed needs to be 1/60 or less. However, we want to freeze the action of a water droplet, so we need a really fast shutter speed - this is why we are using a flash. Set the shutter speed to around 1/200 or 1/250.
 
5. Next, select a narrow aperture (I used an aperture of 8). This will help to make the water droplet nice and sharp.
 
6. Finally, change your ISO to between 100-400. The lower the better. I used 100.
 
Now we have set the three components of exposure - shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Take a test shot, remembering to use your flash, to see if you are happy with the result (don't worry about the focus for now - this will probably be blurry). Play around with the camera settings until you are happy but remember, keep as high a shutter speed as possible. If the image is too dark, try increasing your ISO. If your image is too light, try decreasing your ISO. Failing that, select a wider aperture (try 5.6).
 

Getting the perfect shot

 
7. Hold your drinking straw in roughly the place that you think the water 'splash' will be (you may need somebody to help you). Now, with your camera in manual focus, make the drinking straw as sharp as possible through the view finder.
 
8. Use the straw to drop water into the bowl (I suggest using an assistant for this). At exactly the same time as you drop the water, press your shutter and take the photo.
 
9. You will probably need to adjust your ISO or aperture until you are happy with the exposure.

How to compose a photograph

Adding an image to a website, blog article, or publication can really help to improve your communication. Here I will explain how you can use the rule-of-thirds to help you compose your photographs for a really professional finish.


The rule of thirds helps the composition of your photographs, making them easier for the human to understand.

When taking a photograph, imagine that the image you see is split into a nine square grid (three rows of three squares). The points at which the squares intersect are the points of interest and you should aim to put the subject(s) of your photo at these points.

In this photograph, I have positioned the little girls face at the 'first' intersection point. The eye instinctively knows to look at the little girls face even though it is not in the centre of the photograph.

Sustaining your investment in an intranet



Back to the index - How to build an intranet


A new intranet is likely to require a substantial financial investment by your organisation. Make sure you get the best return on investment by maintaining as much control over future phases of development as possible.

Action point – Think about who will own the source code of any bespoke development work carried out – your organisation or a third party supplier. What will happen if you want to make changes to this code in the future – will changing it put you in breach of any service level agreements held?


Action point – If you plan to own and modify source code written as part of your intranet development, make sure the developer adds detailed commenting to the code, so it can be better understood by other programmers who access it later on.


Action point – If a third party is developing your intranet, make sure key employees within your organisation have the opportunity to learn how the new technology is configured, as it is being developed (build and learn). This way, you ensure knowledge is transferred throughout the process.



Next article in the series - The impact of an intranet on cultural change

Intranet hosting and infrastructure

Consider where your new intranet will be hosted – in-house or off-site by a third party? Will new servers be required?  This will depend on a number of factors such as the size of your organisation; your attitude to information security and risk; and your available budget. If a third party will be hosting, where is the physical location of the server - will this be sub-contracted out to another organisation?

It is likely that you will want your intranet to interact with your other existing IT applications. Identify what these are, and what they are built with - for example, are they part of a .Net framework? Will you link to Active Directory Integrated Authentication or will users need to sign-in to the intranet?



Action point – Talk to your IT team about the existing technical infrastructure/applications that any new intranet software will need to be compatible with.


Action point – Involve your IT team in the project as early as resources allow. If your intranet is being built by a third party supplier, it is important that they establish good working relationships with your internal team.

Action point – Talk to senior management about their attitude to internal documents being hosted by a third party.


Discussion point - What are the pro's and con's of hosting an intranet internally?

Next article in the series: Intranet accessibility

Back to the index: How to build an intranet



Building an intranet - identify your starting point


Back to series index: How to build an intranet


You may be in a position where you are building an organisations first intranet. More likely, you will be updating or replacing an existing intranet. This comes with its own set of challenges and benefits:

Benefits
Challenges
There may be an existing recognition that an intranet can bring business benefits.
You will need to establish whether investment in your existing intranet was depreciated over a number of financial years. If it was, and that investment has not yet been fully realised, you will have a tougher job building a business case for a new one.
If your existing intranet has a back-end reporting system, you will have some information about what employees find beneficial. This might be in the form of most frequently accessed content, visit duration, or user feedback. If there are clear areas that are working well, you will want to consider replicating these on the new site.
People can be resistant to change and you will need to explain to employees why you want to change a system that they don’t perceive as ‘broken’.
Once the new intranet is in place, there will be some early adopters and some later followers.  
Regardless of its current effectiveness, you have a starting point for your intranets taxonomy and information architecture structure. This will give you clues about the internal language used within the organisation.
Your current intranet will no doubt contain lots of useful information – as well as some that is out of date or no longer relevant. Either way, a decision will need to be taken on each piece of information to identify an owner and make a decision to transfer, archive, or delete it.



Action point – Identify what is working well on your current system, as well as what can be improved.


Action point – Do some research into when your existing intranet was built. What was the original budget and how was it accounted for (has the investment been realised)?


Action point – Identify early adopters and encourage them to be intranet champions – selling the benefits of the new system to their colleagues.


Action point – map out the existing information on your intranet and identify an owner for each page. Secure agreement at management level to invest resource into cleansing the information. Take time to explain the process to content owners, agreeing realistic review dates. Once it’s reviewed, make sure it’s kept up-to-date until the new system goes live. Don’t underestimate the time and effort this part of your intranet development project will take. It could be a separate project that you need to run in parallel with the technical development of your new intranet.


Action point – think about your existing information architecture and layout. Even if they are successful, explore alternative formats. Use these formats for the basis of user testing. Once the information architecture framework is in place, it is extremely difficult to change, so use this precious opportunity to explore different ways of working.

Aligning your intranet strategy with business objectives



Back to the index: How to build an intranet

Justifying the cost of a new intranet to those that hold the purse strings can be extremely challenging. 
To help your business case, make sure you identify clear objectives that are linked to corporate  outcomes and build  your intranet strategy around these. For example, your objectives might be linked to:
  •    Facilitating the reduction of email traffic
  •    Sharing of information quickly across geographical locations
  •    Increasing cross-departmental collaboration
  •    Document management and version control
  •    Communicating and securing buy-in for business events
Discussion point - What strategies did you / will you use to influence decision makers and secure support for the development of your intranet? 
Next article in this series: Building an intranet - identifying your starting point

Action point - Identify the business objectives for your intranet and make sure they are understood by key decision makers. Talk to key individuals separately to make sure they have fully understood the benefits a modern intranet will bring before presenting the business case at Board level.


Intranet credibility

Back to series index: How to build an intranet


The inability to locate information, or uncertainty about its reliability, poses a serious risk to the credibility of an intranet as the central, trusted source of business information. This has the potential to affect user adoption rates.



A powerful and reliable search function is key to credibility and I would argue as important as a well designed information architecture. A good search will scan both webpage and document content and allow users to filter the results by file type. Searches by keywords, phrases, Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT), and wildcards(*, and ?) should all be possible.
Of course, you can have the best search facility available, but if your content isn’t written in a way that is optimised for the web (SEO), users will express dissatisfaction with it, because it won’t always return the results they expect to see.


Action point – Find out whether the reporting system of your current intranet (or server log files) tell you about the search terms employees have entered in the past? Analysing the search terms entered will provide you with an important steer on the taxonomy of your new site.


Action point – Create a plan for the ongoing maintenance of intranet content. Secure buy-in at management level to dedicate resource to this task.


Action pointIdentify whether users will want the option of searching specific areas of intranet in isolation, as well as the site as a whole.


Action point – Educate employees about the value of adding meta-data to their documents and content pages. The best search on the market won’t operate fully without this – it’s a case of rubbish-in, rubbish-out. Plan in resource to educate content authors in the basics of writing for the web (SEO).

Remove old ways of working

Old habits die hard, so wherever possible, remove the old ways of working. If employees are used to storing documents on a shared drive instead of uploading them to a document management system on your intranet, that is what they will continue to do as long as they are technically able to do so.
Examples of tasks that an intranet may 'replace':
  • Room bookings
  • Claiming expenses
  • Completing 'return to work' information
  • Completing a time sheet
  • Storing documents to a shared drive
  • Storing and looking up contact details (this could be internal or external contacts)
  • Newsletters
  • Completion of internal training modules
  • Logging IT helpdesk requests
  • Completing a purchase order
  • Book annual leave


Action point – Identify what employees can do offline, as well as via the intranet. Think about what would happen if the off-line option was removed. Talk to your senior management team about removing these old ways of working and make sure it is factored in to your project plan.

Back to series index: How to build an intranet

Intranet vendor selection and management

Back to the series index -  How to build an intranet


For the purposes of this article, I have assumed that you will be procuring services from a third party supplier, rather than using an in-house team of developers.
Take your time when selecting a vendor as once contracts are signed, they will be with you for the medium to long term.

Before sending invitations to tender, invite a number of suppliers for informal discussions to learn about the products and services they have to offer. This is an important step in the relationship building process. It will also generate some useful discussion and provide you with ideas you may not have thought of.


When considering suppliers, there are a number of important factors to consider such as:


·         their ability to meet your technical requirements


·         value for money


·         experience of working with organisations in your sector


·         geographical location


·         after sales service model – direct access to development team or account manager


·         ability to meet procurement framework standards (such as ISO accreditation for information security)


·         client references (from existing clients of your choosing)


·        age of company and their financial stability (run a check via Companies House if they are UK based)


·         the size and expertise of their development team


·         whether they own the software solution or are a reseller of the product


·         their roadmap for product development


·         their ability to provide training


·         cultural fit with your own organisation (visiting their offices can help you to get a feel for how well you will work together).


Action point – Decide on your criteria for selection and weight each element in terms of its importance / impact.

Action point – ensure any contracts/service level agreements between your organisation and the supplier include financial penalties for late delivery or failure to deliver. Of course, in relationship management, the use of carrots rather than sticks should be the preferred modus operandi – but you may want to keep a stick handy.

Discussion point - What do you consider to be the critical factors for consideration when selecting a third party supplier? 


Next article in this series - Intranet hosting and infrastructure

Promoting a competition via Twitter



If done well, promoting a competition via Twitter can be a great way to:

  • reach new audiences quickly, and encourage them to follow you
  • persuade others to re-tweet your information
  • drive traffic to your other communication channels such as your website of Facebook page.
Here are some points to consider if promoting a competition via Twitter:

     1.  Create a #hashtag for your competition. This will allow you to easily see who has re-tweeted you, and what the sentiment of conversation around your competition is.

2.  Don’t rely on the Twitter search facility to be able to see all comments and re-tweets – it will only show you the last 7 days (correct as of June 2014). If your competition runs for longer than this, and a condition of entry is a re-tweet or commenting using your #hashtag – how are you going to successfully track entries?

3.  Provide a link to your terms and conditions. Entrants should know where to find details of the competition conditions of entry, closing dates, and so on.

4.  Beware professional compers! Some people set up Twitter accounts specifically for the purposes of competition entry. If you acquire a lot of such followers it can dilute your core of quality subject related followers.

5.  Don’t forget to maximise the online exposure that your competition generates, after the closing date. Tweet the completion results, and encourage the winner and their network of friends to do the same. Ask them, for example, to post a picture of the prize. Encourage the winner to promote your next competition, and so on.


6.   Don't forget to follow the winner of your competition, on Twitter, so that they can contact you with a Direct Message - they will be expecting to be able to do this!

Friday, 6 June 2014

Should you PDF website content?


1. Difficult to find – because most PDFs start life as a Word document, it is unlikely that they have been optimised so that the content can be found by search engines.




PDFs tend to be long and text heavy, making it improbable that they are optimised using keywords the intended audience will be searching for.




2. Difficult to open - your audience is less likely to be able to access PDF content because, for example, they cannot open the PDF format you have saved using the software on their device.




If users do have the right software (such as Adobe Acrobat), they will have to wait for it to open before they can read the content – interrupting their flow and causing unnecessary frustration.




3. Difficult to navigating - browser commands do not work because the content of a PDF is within its own sub-environment, and is not being viewed via the internet.




By opening a PFD users have now moved away from your website and because a PDF does not typically contain the website navigation, they will find it difficult to get back to their original location.




4. Difficult to read – PDF is designed to be printed on paper, not read on a computer screen. With an increasing number of users accessing content via smart devices (with smaller screens), the font will probably be too small to read (unless it is printed onto paper).




5. Difficult to search – the search facility in PDF readers is primitive and relies on an exact text string match. So, unless your users know the exact phrase they are searching for (in your long, text heavy PDF), they are unlikely to find it.

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