Thursday, 5 December 2013

62. Seven tips for writing your digital democratic content


Working in a democratic rather than a service context means that you have to write your digital content a little differently.  As a scrutiny team we have been thinking about how we can produce content on our website that councillors will want to share and engage the public with.  Here are the seven points we have come up with - some apply to all digital content, some have a democratic twist.

1.  Focus on a single point of public interest


Each post should be about one thing so that it translates easily through social media.  You can add detail at the end but don’t muddy the waters by having more that one up-front aim.

The point of public interest is something I've written about before. Successful content will be about something that people actually care about.  Think carefully about which 'public' and direct the post to them.  Is your post for all residents, for social workers, for parents, for carers?  What will motivate them to share, read or engage? What do you hope to achieve?

2.  Carefully craft the title


Turns out that most people will not read beyond the title of any content but that doesn’t mean that they won’t share it.  Using ‘you’ or the name of a group (e.g. parents, teachers) works well.   So do lists such as ‘ten ways to…’  Oh and adverbs and verbs work much better than adjectives and nouns.  A well crafted title will help with sharing through twitter and facebook.

3.  Summarise with a neat and tidy snippet


If people get beyond the title then they may not get beyond the first paragraph – what we call the snippet.  It needs to be short and it needs to deliver the main point of the post.  Have a look at these eyetracking heat maps to see why this matters so much.  This snippet might also be what people see when they come across your post through a google search.

4.  Use an engaging style


We can’t write for digital the same way as we write reports and council minutes.  The style has to be punchy, friendly and engaging.  We like the suggestions in this great post about digital style.  Check out the localgovdigital standards for other really useful tips on writing content.

Update:  Some extra things to consider from the world of press releases on making your content more engaging if you are stuck.  You don't have to do all of them!

  • Highlight what is different as a result of whatever it is you are talking about
  • Why is it relevant and why does it matter?
  • What are the risks / consequences of not doing something?
  • What is the human interest? How will it affect 'real' people
  • Are there striking facts and figures that you can include? They must be relevant of course!
  • Can you include a quote from someone involved?

5.  Include a picture that tells the story


A great image can add a lot to your post but a stock corporate photo can make it seem, well, a bit lame.  If you want to get your post shared on facebook then carefully consider the image. You might be able to find something good on flickr (under a creative commons license of course – and properly credited) but if you can provide your own picture of the actual thing that happened then even better.

6.  Place the content where it will be seen


If you want councillors to share content then you have to put it where they will see it.  A little time searching on google will tell you where your councillors are – we found that about half of our scrutiny councillors had social media accounts with facebook, LinkedIn and twitter being the most popular.

7.  Do the promotional work


To give your post the best chance of being shared you should probably also do a little nudging.  Facebook and twitter give you the option to target individual councillors and simply asking people to share or retweet can also make a difference.  Use email to encourage sharing and hey, if you are meeting with councillors in person why not just ask people face to face.



We have produced this checklist as part of our scrutiny bytes project - part of the rewiring local democracy strand of localgovdigital.  

Photo credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/sdasmarchives/5019111466/

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