The Intersection: Jan 2014

Welcome to The Intersection, a series designed to help you anticipate and prepare for public policy challenges and opportunities.

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In the Rapid-Fire World of Digital Public Affairs, Can Slow and Steady Win the Race?

I don’t buy into New Year’s resolutions. The pressure to change too much too quickly may benefit the health club sales guy tasked with standing outside hawking memberships (avoid eye contact!), but most of us find that for lasting change, slow and steady really does win the race.

In the world of web design, however, slow is a four-letter word. Digital practitioners are constantly pushing the envelope, and our digital practice group thrives on rapid evolution. We can’t wait to bring the latest tech advances to our clients. But can organizations keep pace strategically, without attempting too much too quickly and risking digital burnout? Absolutely.

By making incremental changes and focusing on central shifts in your digital mindset, you don’t have to chase every shiny trend or completely disrupt your long-term strategy to make vine videos or an app for wearable tech. The following future-focused concepts represent a sea change in digital development. Each can be implemented with minimum pain and, over time, maximum gains that will carry you through 2014 and beyond.

THE OLD WAY: Create a static set of pages to present your information in one way.
THE NEW WAY: Tailor your content to provide relevance by asking your visitors what
they want.

The current phrase “content is king” could be replaced by “relevance is king.” For instance, public affairs campaigns need to communicate different messages across multiple areas. A website that intercepts visitor location can provide geo-targeted content, automatically displaying information about local issues and a customized call to action. But that’s just the beginning.

"Relevance is king."

Today, consumers are increasingly comfortable giving information online to organizations they trust. Thanks to apps that access location and contacts, users are accustomed to giving information in order to improve their experience. It’s not necessary to build an app to do this. Simple techniques like adding a poll, using Facebook log in for blog comments or simply asking visitors direct questions about themselves can help provide more relevant information. By respecting visitor data, sophisticated digital campaigns maintain trust, build audience expertise and tailor content to best persuade or activate each visitor. This mindset will serve organizations well as techniques for customization become more sophisticated in 2014 and beyond.

THE OLD WAY: Plan for every possible user experience.
THE NEW WAY: Responsive design with progressive enhancement.

It’s no secret that we love our mobile devices…until we see the newest one. As tech companies announce their planned 2014 device releases, it’s easy to panic about how your website will work on the latest screens. Web designers have grappled with multiple screen sizes for years, trying to plan for every potential scenario.

With today’s proliferation of devices, there are simply too many to plan a website design that is tailored for any one device. That’s where we look to the emerging standard of progressive enhancement. Instead of creating a site and then trying to make it work on every new device, we focus first on creating a digital experience that will work beautifully on the lowest common denominator – tiny screens, slower connections, etc. Then, we can add to the experience if the site detects a larger screen. These websites maintain usability even when facing device proliferation.

We recommend that organizations take this approach for new websites, taking additional time to plan which enhancements to build upfront and considering additional tweaks post-launch. For instance, we can launch a website that works well on all devices, then gather post-launch analytics on the number of site visitors using unusual tools, such as a high-retina display. We can then recommend whether it might be worth it to improve the experience further for this type of user.

THE OLD WAY: Make sure your content will last for several months if not years.
THE NEW WAY: Develop a content strategy that enables two-way conversation and keeps your website fresh and up to the minute.

Because relevance is king, timeliness is more important than ever, which means infrequently updated web properties will lose out to more timely competition. This can be a struggle to reconcile with internal bureaucracy. Organizations that streamline their approvals process can allow website managers to push content out more quickly.

"Video is a smart experiment in 2014."Flexibility with respect to the type of content featured on a site can also open up opportunities. For instance, an organization blogging regularly could switch things up by featuring an external contributor or posting a video interview. (Video is a smart experiment in 2014, since in 2013 we saw digital ad dollars shift to video, as it performed better, and websites like Twitter and Facebook updated their platforms for better video sharing.) Pulling in external feeds that update on their own, whether from social media or some lesser known sources of publically available content, can provide your visitors extra value. Regardless of the type of content, enabling your visitors to comment and connect with your organization and each other ultimately keeps the most important thing – your relationship with your audience – fresh.