The 1,000+ Page Website Overhaul…How to Undertake a Massive Website Rewrite

Much has been written about crumbling infrastructure throughout the United States.

If it’s not roads and bridges, then it’s internet networks and dated telecommunications infrastructure.

But not so much has been written on the effects of aging on internet content.

The internet has been around long enough that many sites have compiled years of content and supplemental pages.

How do companies and universities manage updating and creating content for huge, often unwieldy sites?

A large content production or migration project can appear daunting at first.

Anyone who’s worked on one of these projects for the first time inevitably has come out the other side with a laundry list of learnings.

From architecting new structures to staffing a writing team large enough to complete the project in a timely fashion to hand-holding subject matter experts and ensuring an efficient workflow, large content project managers will have had to work through the bottlenecks common to such large-scale projects.

Preparation

A proverbial analogy for today’s large-scale content production projects might be different takes on “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

If we consider the content as the “baby” and the platform as the “bathwater,” you can see how the various iterations of these projects might look:

  • If you chuck the baby, then the scope of the project involves producing all new content to populate your current platform.
  • If you chuck the bathwater, then you’re looking at a content migration project where the biggest challenges become identifying content you want migrated to a new platform and new content you want produced (an example being your company’s desire to migrate your content and data to the cloud).
  • If you’ve chucked it all, or perhaps have no baby or bathwater to begin with, then your challenges multiply.

Obviously, there are subtle variations to each of these scenarios.

And while there are plenty of marketing firms that can handle large-scale content management, when it comes to actually producing the living, breathing content that your users will consume, the task of creating compelling and cohesive content on a large scale can prove challenging without a well-honed writing team in place.

Assembling Your Team

Even if your company employs a third-party marketing firm to handle content production and management, many marketing firms don’t staff a large enough writing team for such large-scale projects.

So, the first issue that needs tackling is ensuring coverage of the sheer manhours required to produce large amounts of high-quality content while maintaining an attentive focus on cohesion.

It’s not enough to simply hire 10 or 15 writers and divide up the work.

Those writers need to form a fluid team that works well together, understands the broad scope of the project, and can converge to meet a common goal.

Project managers will be the critical hub for these types of large-scale projects.

Not only will they be involved with staffing a cohesive writing team, but they will also be instrumental in attaining consensus for the style guides that need to be produced, in drafting training materials and process documentation, and in assisting through the decision on what to repurpose and what to scrap.

Project managers are also key to keeping a project on budget and on schedule.

Wintress Odom, Owner of Houston-based The Writers for Hire, says “To ensure the project stays within scope, each individual writer needs to understand how much time they have allotted per writing task, else ‘small’ overages on individual tasks can add up to hundreds of extra work hours.”

Extra works hours can equate to budget overruns and missed deadlines.

Oh. And, of course, you need an editor.

At the risk of going over the top with the proverbs, when it comes to editors, you might consider that too many cooks spoil the soup.

Odom says, “For large projects with multiple writers on a team, it’s important to have a single editor.”

She qualifies this by explaining that a single editor will have the entire vision of the project within their scope, and by introducing multiple editors, there’s a good chance the rate of inconsistencies in tone, content, and style grows exponentially.

Together, the project manager and editor will oversee the writing team and ensure stuff gets done on time.

Ramp Up

At project inception, one essential key Odom identifies is in ensuring the initial architecture takes into account not only the form the project is to take, but also in preemptively constructing a chain of command that will streamline the decision-making process and save time and headaches down the road.

For such a large-scale project, everyone involved has to be on the same page.

This is done by documenting workflow and review processes before a single word gets written.

Process documentation can range from the bare minimum to quite extensive.

On a large project, you might find the need for some or all of the following:

  • Project workflow guides
  • Content guide
  • Chain of review roadmap
  • Stakeholder responsibility definitions
  • Writer and stakeholder training on project-specific software

Odom stresses the need to have most of this in place before starting a project. “You are bound to tweak processes as you go along, but starting a major website overhaul without key procedural documents is a costly mistake.”

The one exception?  Surprisingly, the style guide.

“If a company doesn’t already have one,” says Odom, “trying to create one before the project is somewhat ridiculous.  You can’t possibly anticipate all of the nuances you’ll run into, from capitalization preferences on company trademarks to oxford commas.”

Odom suggests recording preferences – building a living style guide – as the project progresses.  Then, completing a front-to-back edit just to implement style guide decisions right before launch.

One last invaluable tool for allowing the writing process to flow much smoother is the key messaging platform.

Most larger companies have this valuable marketing tool already.

It’s a master marketing message document, covering the company’s branding as a whole as well as each individual product and service the company offers.

The key messaging platform provides cohesion across all marketing mediums and ensures not only consistency in branding and style, but also a roadmap to avoid multiple content producers from having to reinvent the wheel.

Thankfully, the internet makes available a wealth of prompts and tools for creating effective key messaging.

Workflow

Throughout her career, Erin Hanson, Content Marketing Manager at Autodesk in Northern California, has had to learn many lessons through trial and error.

Earlier in her career, Hanson was charged with the daunting task of overhauling content for the entire University of California at Berkeley extension course catalog, a project which ended up taking over two years.

To give you a sense of what one of these large-scale projects looks like, consider just a handful of the tasks Hanson had to manage for the university’s site overhaul:

  • Drafting and distributing requests for proposal for third-parties
  • Gap analysis for requirement gathering from student information and records
  • Gathering information on each field of study’s course descriptions and certificate programs
  • Creating and managing content hubs for each of those fields of study
  • Conducting student interviews—one in each field

“The bottlenecks,” Hanson describes, “were everywhere. To begin with, there was a lot of data, old systems that needed to be shut down, migration to plan out and the need to get sign off from academic stakeholders.”

For Hanson, now at Autodesk, the reliance upon technology to manage large scale content cannot be understated.

She uses a wealth of technological trappings such as digital asset management software and other browser-based search tools to manage an immense workflow.

Odom agrees on the use of technology in workflow management and recommends using a task-based workflow process to track the current status of each website page.

This type of system means that a stakeholder can see any page’s progress at-a-glance.

The system also makes it easy to see where pages might be held up – scheduled for a subject matter expert interview, waiting on technical content review, or stalled due to an unanswered question.

A proper workflow management system will also allow for per-task conversations, feedback, and communication.

The alternative is corresponding and trading files through email or a less sophisticated file-sharing system which Odom dismisses as “a total mess.”

Working With Subject Matter Experts

Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels

High-level subject matter experts aren’t always in great supply.

Realistically, the ones in your company likely have some of the best and most relevant insight into the content you’re producing.

However, relying on in-house subject matter experts to produce content may represent a general misalignment of goals.

Consider:

  • SMEs don’t have time. A subject matter expert is likely fully immersed in their job responsibilities and may not prioritize their assigned content production duty.
  • SMEs are not always good writers. These folks may be the best at what they do, but when it comes to articulating that for the rest of us, they may not be good enough writers.
  • SMEs have different goals. Marketing department and corporate bonuses are often built on key performance indicators, many of which are deadline driven. SMEs, on the other hand, may have an entirely different set of KPIs, in which case they’re not incentivized to work within the timeframes your content production project demands.

As an alternative to relying upon in-house subject matter experts to produce well-written content, try using those SMEs as mini-editors.

It takes far less time for an SME to make themselves available for a brief interview, and to review and comment on content created by someone else than it would take for them to sit down and craft new content from scratch.

When interviewing SMEs, Odom recommends modifying communication styles and setting clear expectations.

The discourse style of an enterprise developer is bound to be markedly different than a financial advisor, for example.

When working with SMEs, Odom has found that “Some people just don’t do well with pre-call preparation. They need to react to your questions off-the-cuff.  Others want prep questions and campaign briefs to feel comfortable.”

Finally, one of the most important elements of creating large amounts of content quickly lies in being able to shepherd those SMEs through the writing and editing process.

Relationship building becomes paramount as there will inevitably be the occasions when a SME is dragging his feet in getting back to you.

Conclusion

Whether you’re migrating and repurposing large amounts of content or you’re charged with scaling a new project which might feature tens of thousands of pages, you’ll want a clearly defined plan of attack and a staff of qualified writers. Tweet this

But perhaps the greatest dividend to having completed a large-scale project is that you now have a team in place that’s fluent in your culture, your subject matter, and your goals.

Odom agrees.

After working on a large project, “We now know how all those departments work, we know all their key messaging. We just happen to be offsite.”

Don’t Let a Crisis Freeze Your Business-Blue Bell’s 2015 recall is a lesson in crisis management

When it comes to customer loyalty and crisis response, communication is key.

And a little planning can go a long way toward repairing the damage.

Blue Bell is a great example of how a company can bounce back from a potentially reputation-damaging event.

For ice cream connoisseurs living in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and a few surrounding states, Blue Bell isn’t just a brand of ice cream – it’s THE brand of ice cream.

Known for its nostalgic packaging and down-home personality as much as for iconic flavors like Cookies ‘n Cream, Dutch Chocolate, and its original Homemade Vanilla – Blue Bell is a beloved Texas institution with a die-hard fan base.

But in the spring of 2015, “The Little Creamery in Brenham” – which is actually a $600 million-dollar corporation with manufacturing plants and operations in several states – was linked to a Listeria outbreak that originated in the company’s Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, factory.

Three people died, and at least ten people were hospitalized.

For the first time in its history, Blue Bell recalled its products from store shelves.

A temporary shutdown – another first for the company – followed, as Blue Bell brought in outside specialists to clean and sanitize every piece of equipment used in the manufacturing process.

As the cleanup efforts got underway in the company’s plants, a different kind of cleanup began in Blue Bell’s Brenham, Texas, headquarters.

Blue Bell executives hired a public relations and crisis communication expert to help them craft a response and manage their interactions with customers and the community.

 

Hesitation isn’t an option

In the event of a crisis – whether it’s a Listeria outbreak, a defective product, or even a data breach involving sensitive customer data – you can’t afford to hesitate.

At best, your silence and inaction is interpreted as evasiveness; at worst, you’re opening the door to rumors, speculation, and accusations.

Blue Bell hired Gene Grabowski, a self-described “Crisis Guru” and public relations expert, to help them re-establish consumers’ and retail partners’ trust in Blue Bell ice cream.

Grabowski has seen this dynamic firsthand, and he has worked on crisis management campaigns for companies ranging from toy manufacturers to pet food companies to national restaurant chains.

The company’s efforts paid off.

With Grabowski’s guidance, Blue Bell survived the recall with its reputation largely intact.

Rather than pointing fingers or voicing criticisms, loyal customers rallied around Blue Bell and took to social media to voice their support, creating fan pages like “We Stand With Blue Bell Creameries.”

 

 

When the company released a limited selection of products post-recall, fans took triumphant midnight selfies in front of newly stocked shelves.

The lesson? When people really love a product or company, they’re willing to forgive and forget. Tweet this

Of course, not every company in crisis has the advantage of a big-name PR guru.

We interviewed Gene Grabowski to learn more about responding to a crisis with your reputation and your customer base intact.

 

Build your team

Grabowski says that effective crisis communication does not start with a plan.

He’s quick to point out that plans are important, but a good strategy should begin with people.

It’s critical to have a team already positioned when there’s a crisis--one that’s been carefully assembled beforehand, because it’s impossible to do that in the midst of the chaos.

There are too many variables in a crisis that can never be planned for – like looking up and seeing CBS on the doorstep.

Your plan can predict what 100 questions could be, but remember, there could be that 101st question that you weren’t expecting .

It takes creativity and experience to know how to answer that one as well.

-Gene Grabowski

 

For some companies, it might make sense to look in-house and build a team of creative, smart people who can remain cool under pressure.

Other companies – like Blue Bell, for example – may prefer to seek outside help from a consultant or company that specializes in crisis communication.

Either way, Grabowski’s advice remains the same: Build your team first.

From there, if you want to sketch out a rudimentary crisis response plan, that’s fine.

But remember that a plan can only take you so far, especially in a crisis where, literally, anything can happen.

 

Assess (and plan for) risk

Once you have a crisis team in place, it’s time to think about worst-case scenarios.

Grabowski recommends creating a matrix of high-risk, highly problematic scenarios.

The list will vary depending on the type of company, product, and customers involved.

For retailers and financial institutions, for example, data breaches and hacking might be at the top of the list.

For food companies, Grabowski says,  “It’s likely that sooner or later, contamination will become an issue.”

Once you have a list of potential crisis situations, think about how you’ll respond.

While every situation and company is different, a basic plan should cover a few broad areas like:

 

  • How are you going to notify your customers of the crisis? How will you ensure that people hear facts, not rumors or theories? Will you issue press releases? Sit for interviews? Who will be the point person for media inquiries?

 

Grabowski says it’s important to send the message that the company understands the problem and is completely focused on finding a solution.

He added that this is how Blue Bell managed to maintain its relationships with its customers and retailers during the time of the crisis. “We spent a great deal of time communicating directly with them about how we were resolving the problem, so that they would trust us enough to keep the product on their shelves when the recall was over,” he said.

Blue Bell made a point of communicating with customers early and often, issuing press releases every time they expanded a recall or learned more about the source of the outbreak.

 

  • Recalls and regulations. This is where an experienced team is critical, says Grabowski. Whether you’re working with in-house executives or an outside consulting team, you’ll want to make sure that you have people on your team who know the rules, inside and out. These are the folks who will help make key decisions — such as Blue Bell’s decision to issue a voluntary recall of their products, rather than waiting for a directive from the FDA.

 

  • Admit your mistake. And then apologize. Don’t underestimate the power of a sincere apology. Rather than sidestepping the issue, admit that you made a mistake – and let your customers know that you’re working to make things right. The company’s CEO and President Paul Kruse released a video apology, saying that the incident had left him “heartbroken.”

 

  • Media (and social media) coverage. “The rumor mill has to be nipped in the bud as soon as possible,” Grabowski said. “You have to react to rumors in real time. Correct everything that’s incorrect and set the record straight immediately.”

 

The best way to approach a media outlet that has published erroneous information is to be direct. “Contact them and say, ‘I know you want to be accurate, so please set the record straight.’ You can’t let rumors grow; they’re like weeds in a garden.”

It’s equally important to pay attention to social media.

Blue Bell made a point of communicating with its customers through social sites like Facebook.

And, not every company has been around as long as Blue Bell (the company is more than 100 years old).

Advantages aside, though, there are a few important lessons that business owners in every industry can take away from the Blue Bell crisis – and its well-crafted response.

We interviewed Gene Grabowski to learn more about responding to a crisis with your reputation and your customer base intact.

 

Build your team

Grabowski says that effective crisis communication does not start with a plan.

He’s quick to point out that plans are important, but a good strategy should begin with people.

“It’s critical to have a team already positioned when there’s a crisis–one that’s been carefully assembled beforehand, because it’s impossible to do that in the midst of the chaos,” Grabowski said. “There are too many variables in a crisis that can never be planned for – like looking up and seeing CBS on the doorstep. Your plan can predict what 100 questions could be, but remember, there could be that 101st question that you weren’t expecting. It takes creativity and experience to know how to answer that one as well.”

For some companies, it might make sense to look in-house and build a team of creative, smart people who can remain cool under pressure.

Other companies – like Blue Bell, for example – may prefer to seek outside help from a consultant or company that specializes in crisis communication.

Either way, Grabowski’s advice remains the same: Build your team first.

From there, if you want to sketch out a rudimentary crisis response plan, that’s fine.

But remember that a plan can only take you so far, especially in a crisis where, literally, anything can happen.

 

Assess (and plan for) risk

Once you have a crisis team in place, it’s time to think about worst-case scenarios.

Grabowski recommends creating a matrix of high-risk, highly problematic scenarios.

The list will vary depending on the type of company, product, and customers involved.

For retailers and financial institutions, for example, data breaches and hacking might be at the top of the list.

For food companies, Grabowski says,  “It’s likely that sooner or later, contamination will become an issue.”

Once you have a list of potential crisis situations, think about how you’ll respond.

While every situation and company is different, a basic plan should cover a few broad areas like:

 

  • How are you going to notify your customers of the crisis? How will you ensure that people hear facts, not rumors or theories? Will you issue press releases? Sit for interviews? Who will be the point person for media inquiries?

 

Grabowski says it’s important to send the message that the company understands the problem and is completely focused on finding a solution.

He added that this is how Blue Bell managed to maintain its relationships with its customers and retailers during the time of the crisis. “We spent a great deal of time communicating directly with them about how we were resolving the problem, so that they would trust us enough to keep the product on their shelves when the recall was over,” he said.

Blue Bell made a point of communicating with customers early and often, issuing press releases every time they expanded a recall or learned more about the source of the outbreak.

 

  • Recalls and regulations. This is where an experienced team is critical, says Grabowski. Whether you’re working with in-house executives or an outside consulting team, you’ll want to make sure that you have people on your team who know the rules, inside and out. These are the folks who will help make key decisions — such as Blue Bell’s decision to issue a voluntary recall of their products, rather than waiting for a directive from the FDA.

 

  • Admit your mistake. And then apologize. Don’t underestimate the power of a sincere apology. Rather than sidestepping the issue, admit that you made a mistake – and let your customers know that you’re working to make things right. The company’s CEO and President Paul Kruse released a video apology, saying that the incident had left him “heartbroken.”

 

  • Media (and social media) coverage. “The rumor mill has to be nipped in the bud as soon as possible,” Grabowski said. “You have to react to rumors in real time. Correct everything that’s incorrect and set the record straight immediately.”

 

The best way to approach a media outlet that has published erroneous information is to be direct. “Contact them and say, ‘I know you want to be accurate, so please set the record straight.’ You can’t let rumors grow; they’re like weeds in a garden.”

It’s equally important to pay attention to social media.

Blue Bell made a point of communicating with its customers through social sites like Facebook.

 

  • Think prevention. All companies have issues to manage — but Grabowski said that when a problem becomes a full-blown crisis, it’s often because the company didn’t deal with it before it got out of hand. Does your organization have any current problems that have the potential to spiral out of control? Make sure you don’t ignore present issues while planning for the future.

 

Crisis recovery—Blue Bell and beyond

Grabowski is the first to admit that Blue Bell has bounced back remarkably well from its listeria crisis. “Their case is very different from most other companies,” he said. “They had the benefit of over 100 years of brand loyalty . . . and they had successfully cultivated a family-owned, family-run image with good old-fashioned family values. That’s how they’ve survived this.”

Of course, that’s not to say startups or companies with a more corporate or edgy image can’t survive a crisis.

As Grabowski is quick to point out, accidents happen to everyone – and the key to surviving is preparation, plain and simple: “You get through this by keeping an open mind for solutions, by having the best people on your team, and by demonstrating that you’re ready to do whatever is necessary to prove the product is safe to be on the shelves again.”

 

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