Forget ‘news’; reference pages is where it’s at

Every department or project desperately wants front page headlines on the intranet to drum up interest. But news is ephemeral; it’s the permanent reference pages that will inform and educate the audience the most.

Hopefully you’ve forgiven me for my grammar in the headline. Now, what am I talking about?

As a communications person, you might think that I consider news articles, on intranets and customer facing websites, to be of paramount importance. You’re not wrong. As an intranet and web manager, I care a great deal about the messages we pump out to our people and our customers. ‘Pump’ being an all-too accurate word, sadly.

Anyway, I am a news writer, editor and shaper it’s true, but when it comes to intranet (or website) navigation, usability and findability, reference pages rule.

When we’re browsing or surfing a site, inside or outside the firewall, it’s unlikely that we’re asking ourselves ‘I wonder what they’ve recently released as news?’ – no, it’s more likely we have a specific need we want the site to meet. We want to do something or we want to know something.

The intranet can be a handbook; the manual for how your company works.

News is ephemeral, reference pages on the other hand should be frequently updated and polished. Reference materials should quickly meet the needs of your audience, and show up at the top of in-site search results pages.

Yes, front page news articles really help raise awareness about the something, but it’s the reference page that should explain the something, and be genuinely useful regardless of the month or year the page is read. News pages date so quickly.

Yet departments within an organisation are obsessed with news. “Where does our news go?” they ask and ask.

The answer is that they don’t really have any news. If they really had news it would go on the front page of the intranet, and that pithy news article would link to their reference page about the subject.

Oh OK, some departments have news. Department directors need to communicate to everyone et cetera et cetera. Fine; let’s have a think.

If something within a department has been launched, or something has changed, then all relevant intranet pages should and must be updated to reflect the new or improved thing. That’s it really. Job done. Anyone wondering about the ordering process will view the ‘order process‘ page and get the very latest information, guaranteed to be accurate and up-to-date because the person who owns the process wrote and updated the intranet page.

Yes yes – to raise awareness a news page might be needed – alright, quit nagging me.

So, a front page news story is scheduled for sometime after the ‘order process‘ page has been updated. The front page news story may not be necessary if the ordering process doesn’t affect everyone. But assuming it’s a company-wide change, big enough to do a fanfare, then a news page should be published to explain the why and the what, and draw attention to the ‘order process‘ page. I said ‘draw attention‘, I did not say ‘repeat the contents of‘.

In conclusion, I’m saying that reference pages are the bread and butter of your intranet or website, and that news articles are great for drawing attention to such pages. We must not launch a brand new process / programme as a news article only; it will soon be lost in the archive, where good people fear to tread.

When something changes (which is always), update your permanent reference pages, and talk to your communications person about the best way to raise awareness about the change and gain more attention for your reference pages.


Photo credit: Muffet

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