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Want to Be a Web Superstar?

So you want to be a web superstar! Doesn’t everyone? Well, in government, administrations change, priorities change, and technologies change. But the formula for being a web communications superstar – the ones with the great (or greatly improving) websites, the best web organizations, doing the most exciting new things – doesn’t change. Web superstars follow these 5 basic principles:

1. Put your customers first
How many hundreds of times have we said this…listen to your audience and they will tell you what to put on your website – and where. They’ll even tell you what words to use. Believe it.

Know who your customers are, understand what they want and need, and do everything you can to deliver it to them, how, when and where they can find it and use it. Be their advocate. Fight for doing the right thing for them.

Embrace the customer service standards established by the Federal Web Managers Council, and add your own. Measure them regularly, and make changes accordingly. If your bosses want you to do something you know isn’t right for your customers, don’t just salute and obey – share what you know about your audience; and suggest other ways they can accomplish their goals, while still meeting the needs of your customers.

Listen to your customers every single day. Read their email. Read what they’re saying on Twitter and Facebook. Get out and talk to them. Listen, respect, follow. Customer service – that’s Job One.

2. Teach and preach
Web superstars are great communicators. They’re both savvy teachers and committed evangelists. Teach your agency what you learn about your customers – what they like and don’t like, what they need and don’t want. Show managers how to use the web to work faster and smarter and serve your customers better. Use social media to teach your audience how find and use your agency’s services. Use your passion to convince others to try new things and venture into the unknown, to improve public service. Proselytize. Persuade. Inspire. Teach and preach.

3. Stay organized
You always will have too much to do and too many people to please. That’s the world of government web communications. It’s how you handle it that separates the superstars. You absolutely have to stay organized.

Build your team – both those assigned to work with you, those you need to work with you, and those you may want to work with you in the future. Put in the time to train them, encourage them, and keep them on track so you’re working together like a well-oiled machine. Publish policies, content guides, and operating procedures so everyone has standard rules to follow. Work with your bosses to establish accountability across the agency.

Make time to plan. Publish work plans and monitor implementation. Be ready to make adjustments and trade-offs as priorities change and opportunities arise. Keep everyone informed about those changes. Balance your workload. If you can’t do what you promised, raise the flag or make changes before it’s too late to succeed at anything. Roll with the punches. Do your job, help others do theirs, and know the difference.

4. Insist on plain writing
Government websites (including social media) live and die based on words. Good writing – good service…success. Bad writing – confusion, frustration, wasted time, failure. Use plain language yourself, and insist that everyone who contributes and maintains content on your websites or social media venues uses it, too. Stand up for good writing. Attack bad content. Find it. Test it. Fix it.

5. Lead
Above all, web superstars are great leaders. They’re visionaries. They look into the future and see new ways to serve citizens. They see new technologies and imagine how they can be used to improve customer service. They’re excited about the destination, and others follow because they want to share that excitement. Web superstars don’t give up when they hit a roadblock…they start looking for ways around it – or a better destination.

Be strategic. Read. Listen. Network. Analyze. Know where you’ve been and where you’re going. Look at the past. What worked? What didn’t? Why? What might work now that couldn’t work before? What successes can you replicate (do not reinvent the wheel!)? Look at what’s happening now – what’s good? What’s bad What can you fix? What should you stop? Look at what’s coming – what are the opportunities? What problems can you avoid?

Be courageous. Show some moxy. Step into those voids. Be decisive. Get into brief those executives. Write that memo. Risk failure to do the right thing. When you do fail, recognize it and change course. Quickly. Celebrate success – and lavish credit on everyone who helped create it. Stay focused, stay positive. Lead up, lead down, lead sideways. Draw the map for others to follow.

Look at the superstars in the government web community – the people you admire and trust – and you’ll see people who follow these 5 principles. Want to be a web superstar? There it is. Go for it.

Related Posts
Customer Service Mantra: Listen, Respect, Follow
Knowing Your Audience Is a Web Manager’s Most Important Asset
Keep It Plain
Past Is Prologue: Learn from Web History
Creating Web Strategy – How You Do It Is As Important As What You Do
Are You A Great Web Leader?
Balancing Transparency With Volume and Accuracy

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Heather Coleman

Thanks for these great points Candi! Any additional recommendations on how to manage all of the change that occurs in gov’t when it comes to maintaining a website? For example when an organization’s name changes and you need to change the URL and all mentions on the website of the old name. How do you update/inform others that might be linking to your old URL – or is it enough to just have it redirect to the new site? How does one go about establishing a brand identity online for the organization amist all of the change that occurs?

Candi Harrison

Heather – In my experience, change in government is the nature of the beast. So you just have to roll with the punches. The good news is that there almost always is a silver lining in all those changes – you just have to look for it or cause it to happen. One way to minimize the pain is to create rules that will apply when recurring changes pop up. Your example of the URL change is a good one. Our rule at HUD was to post a redirect for 6 months (hopefully, people linking to us are checking their links at least once every 6 months and will find the change), inform USA.gov if the link was one they featured, and make sure everyone in the agency knew about it so that our internal links went to the right place. It may not have been a perfect rule, but it was adequate. And we didn’t have to re-think the problem every time it came up. My other bit of advice is to make sure you give each problem its proper level of attention. Sometimes web managers get so caught up in the daily chaos (been there, done that) they start treating every problem with the same energy (thus, molehills can become mountains). That’s when you have to raise your head, look across the broad picture, and put everything into perspective. Keep fighting the good fight!