Decentralized Authoring

There’s a great post at Webiscope about decentralized authoring – allowing many individuals within the hospital to create and edit content for your Web site – and some of the challenges it brings.

Since we’ve done this for many clients, I’ve pulled together a few of the things that we’ve found work best.

Aaron lists three main area of concern:

uncooperative service lines, no one wanting the added responsibility of taking on web content on top of their normal roles

Certainly this is the case in some areas, but we’ve often found great cooperation from those that value marketing. When we need more cooperation, we’ve employed a number of tools:

  • The importance of the web needs to be conveyed to service line managers by senior management. If it is viewed as a project valued only by the Webmaster, it won’t become a priority, ever.
  • Some of our clients have appended the task to their job descriptions. This gives the management team the means to formally convey the importance to them.
  • Provide them with a framework of small steps to start from. If you give them a blank slate, you’re unlikely to get much back. Help them by setting up common “buckets” for content, and then prioritize the content you need. For example, for a new site, perhaps you start with requesting their help with editing a single page that describes the uniqueness of your service line’s capabilities. Next month, add another page about the new facility you’re building, and then follow with a page about the amazing staff you’ve assembled. If you guide them, you’re giving them a place to start that’s small and manageable, and building credibility with them as you guide them through the process.
  • There’s a bit of this on the Web team’s shoulders too – the Web team must convey the importance and value of this information back to these stakeholders. One way to do this is by aggregating data about the current site’s activity on their behalf. For example, if you can tell your Heart service line manager that:
    • 10,000 people a month are visiting the Heart Center page on your Web site
    • 204 people per month request appointments, on average, every month, for heart services via your Web site
    • 180 heart screenings were scheduled last month online

… you’re much more likely to get their cooperation.

The second item Aaron mentions is:

Inconsistent styles of writing/authoring – I think this can be somewhat controlled in the sense of only allowing certain styles to be used, but the writing style could definitely prove to be a huge problem

Before you look into this, it is worth asking how strictly you want to enforce this. There are many degrees of control you can apply, and in my opinion, sometimes the voice that your clinicians speak with may be preferable for the content they are responsible for. There are ways to turn this problem into an advantage: Use these subject matter experts, in their own voice, in areas such as an Ask the Expert section, allowing your all-star bariatric physician to answer questions that have been submitted. In our research with hospitals across the country, this is something that site visitors consistently ask for: How can I ask a basic question and get an answer? Often the words that a clinician may use in response are the same ones a patient might use, and therefore can better communicate some topics. It can also help with search engine rankings, too, since the words are more likely to match.

But some content is explicitly marketing in nature, and there are many who simply lack the skills (or energy) to write well. When you need to enforce writing style, start with workflow tools in a Content Management System, such as Geonetric’s VitalSite software, which will route content from authors to your editor for approval before being published on the site. Our clients utilize this feature regularly.

In addition to workflow tools, you can train some of the users on best practices for writing on the Web (and in an appropriate use of voice). We actually do this for our clients as part of their implementation, and we also have a Webinar on this very topic called Writing for the Web: Creating compelling copy that converts visitors to consumers. (You’ll have to have a free geonetric.com account to see the Webinar from April 2006).

Finally, Aaron mentions his third problem:

Clinicians aren’t marketers, they’re clinicians – I think the biggest fear I have is that while for example, I can get my way through any technical spot, I’m not the strongest writer – why would a clinician be any different? How can I expect someone like that to be able to write good, solid content?

For our clients, we’ve found that you have to take this on a case-by-case basis. Some writers, as your subject matter experts, simply must be involved in the process, even if they’re not the final editor. The Web isn’t different in that regard than any other writing that requires expertise in addition to clear writing.

But keep in mind that these clinicians are the folks that are actually talking to our patients now, offline. They are our business. Surely they can get the important subject matter content across, even if they don’t use perfect marketing language. With a little bit of training or minor editing, you can provide compelling content that showcases your experts and is well written for consumers and patients.

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Eric Engelmann

About Eric Engelmann

Eric gets people excited. About healthcare. About technology. About Geonetric. It only takes a few moments of being in his presence to feel his passion and see his vision. A healthcare reform junkie, Eric can usually be found uncovering new ways to show healthcare executives how to leverage technology investments and develop patient portals that will improve care delivery. After earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Iowa, he began his career in technology, founding Geonetric and never looking back. Through his leadership, Geonetric continuously receives honors and recognitions, including being named a Best Place to Work by Modern Healthcare, Software Company of the Year by the Technology Association of Iowa, and an Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Company for five years running. When he’s not sharing his vision for the future of healthcare or accepting awards on behalf of his company, he can be found having lunch with his daughter at a local elementary school or donning lederhosen and entertaining his team at the Annual Engelmann Oktoberfest.

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