7 steps to resolving the line between internal and external audience needs

In many of the projects I work on, when I analyze content, I discover that there are big pockets of content intended for internal audiences — committee meeting agendas, program reports, and the like. In discussions with the people who produce this content and publish it on their organization’s websites, it usually comes to light that these people want external audiences to know about the good work they’re doing.

They’re going about it in the wrong way, though, perpetuating silos and creating additional confusion for their audiences.

Members of an association, for example, do want and need to know that the association’s staff and volunteers are considering new programs and making sure that the existing ones are effective – but seeing the agenda and notes from the committee meeting where those decisions are made is not the best way to do it.

In order for content to achieve its goal, it needs to be informative to the audience, and its relevance needs to be explicit. That requires context and editorial treatment.

(Further, the editorial treatment should not become its own silo – which I’ve seen happen too. The information about the outcomes of the committee meeting should NOT have its primary home on the site in the “news” section because the Public Affairs staff writes it, or in the association’s publication because the magazine editors write it, or in the board section because the decisions were presented at the board meeting. Your audience doesn’t care who wrote the content – from their perspective, the organization created it.)

Program decisions and updates need to live online with the rest of the information about the program, regardless of which department creates that information, or where within the organization the decision takes place. Of course, it should be highlighted as an important news item when it’s announced, but the topic that the update is about needs to be the determining factor about the information’s primary home on the website.

As for who “owns” the content, I recommend that it always be a collaborative effort between subject matter experts and professional communicators.

My clients don’t always have the staff needed to do this kind of editorial translation. Here’s what I recommend to them:

  1. Do a pilot. For a few small efforts, try crafting the write-up as I’ve outlined it above. Compare previous phone calls or usage of the program.
  2. Make the business case for the value of communications, tying the goal of the effort to the outcome. If it’s important that the organization have this program and make sure that members know about it and use it, investing in communications about it is as important as creating it and supporting the infrastructure for that.
  3. Set expectations about roles and responsibilities, outlining the collaboration between subject matter expertise and communications.
  4. Report on the results. If it’s successful, share that story on a regular basis. If it’s not, adjust and then report on those ongoing efforts.
  5. Involve everyone and be transparent.
  6. Set expectations, even – or especially – with volunteers, so that they understand there’s a new and valuable added element of the programs they work on.
  7. Always, always, always remind people about the purpose of the program, the efforts to date, and the progress. It’s all too easy to lose sight of the bigger picture, and in my experience, that leads to squabbling about the small stuff.

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