1. Who is the audience
The very first question I ask when anyone proposes any kind of content: who is the audience?
Too often the response is along the lines of “people”, perhaps with the rising inflection of a question. And when I push it a little further, I have the pleasure of hearing them spin out a tale about how they’ve spent months working on the history of the department, complete with many photos of mostly unremarkable dead people. And I repeat my question: “who is the audience?”
It is absolutely critical that you, the web professional, know who your website is supposed to reach. All too often, it’s “anyone who is interested,” a set that includes your mom.
Whether you acknowledge it or not, you build websites for specific audiences. In colleges and universities, the two most important audiences are “prospectives” and “currents”. Prospectives are the people who aren’t yet associated with your institution that you want. Currents are everyone who’s already on campus.
In my job, we have identified and prioritized our audiences. The top, and most important audiences, are “prospectives”:
- Prospective undergraduate students
- Prospective master’s students
- Prospective certificate-seeking students
- Prospective MD students
- Prospective PhD students
- Prospective post-docs
- Prospective residents
- Prospective fellows
- Prospective faculty
- Prospective research collaborators
Our list does not contain:
- Your mom
2. What’s in this for your audiences?
There may be something in the pet project that is actually meaningful to one or more of your audiences. To quote Oingo Boingo, “why should I care?”
It’s not fun telling someone that their pet project, the department history and timeline including everyone who ever looked sideways at the department chair(s), is not compelling content for any audience except themselves. All too often, I’m reminded of the tedium of home movies and vacation slideshows.
But hear them out. Granted, my gut reaction to the epic department timeline is “If this is so important, why didn’t it make it into the book,” there may be a nugget of useful information (or even two!) in the morass of the pet project.
3. What is the call to action?
Pet projects tend not to have a call to action. They are mostly about “sharing information”.
Every bit of content, every page on your website must support a call to action.While there might not be a direct call to action in this content, what larger call to action it supports? Ask the person advancing the pet project what action they expect a reader to take based on this content.
4. Is it appropriate to your audiences?
I call this “the olds test”: is the content written for and germane to your audience demographic? With a few exceptions, I’m willing to bet that most prospective undergraduates don’t watch Turner Classic Movies. Well, maybe some watch TCM Underground or Essentials Jr, but TCM largely has a well-deserved reputation as a channel for “the olds”.
Many of the films on TCM have extremely common plots, plots that have been recycled many times over in more modern films. More than a few have been remade. Unfortunately, the original films, as brilliant as they are in their original form, are not germane to prospective undergraduates. The pacing is glacial, the language archaic, the dilemmas foreign, the dress wildly outdated, and the acting… well, it’s not what today’s prospective graduate would call acting. And the films are in black and white.
Pictures of the University’s president from the 19th century? Definitely for “the olds”.
PS: Yes, crap without an audience still makes it on the web
As in every arena, there are clients and there are clients. The former may be open to persuasion, receptive, to expertise or simply not have any authority. The latter are habitual non-listeners who are well accustomed to getting their way. And they have authority. It’s usually the latter who are responsible for crap on the web.