The phrase ‘communications is everyone’s job’ is true. But how many organisations really upskill their staff to be competent at communications? Here’s one organisation which really has by creating a digital academy.
by Eva Duffy
I work in a hospital. My colleagues are the people who deliver babies, who perform life-saving surgery, who provide a rapid response when somebody suffers a cardiac arrest.
I’m acutely aware the person behind me in the canteen queue might have broken sad news to a family that morning. Multi-disciplinary meetings take place to the accompanying background sound of bleepers and pagers - nods of acknowledgment to the person leaving the room, their skills and experience needed elsewhere immediately.
Is it any wonder then that I have the occasional crisis of confidence? What’s my role in comparison to these everyday heroes?
Remember the scene in Bridget Jones’s Diary when incorrigible bad-boy Daniel Cleaver sums up Bridget’s job as fannying around with press releases? Doesn’t that single sentence strike at the heart of what corporate communicators fear most – that we’re not seen as proper professionals? We’ve heard it before - we mess about on Facebook all day and get paid to read newspapers.
Well, I’ve discovered the antidote. And funnily enough, I discovered it when I realised those very lifesaving, baby-delivering colleagues don’t share my skillset and they’re very receptive to learning.
Three years ago, I was asked by colleagues in a clinical skills training team to deliver a workshop on social media. They wanted to use Twitter but felt intimidated by it and were wary of social media pitfalls. So, one workshop later, I thought about the wider organisational need and set up our first-ever social media conference for employees. It was well-attended and the feedback was positive.
It became apparent there was a genuine appetite for the subject. More and more of our workforce were identifying as our employees on social media. They recognised it as a force for good, for sharing best practice and rallying the troops. The tone of their interactions was, and remains, really positive and they are the best brand ambassadors you could ask for.
But we started to see mistakes: well-intentioned, but mistakes nevertheless. The odd error of judgement or lack of awareness about copyright requirements.
At the same time, we began to think about our website and intranet content. We have a system of devolved content ownership with individual directorates and departments having control of their own web presence. We could see from the content posted that not everyone was working to our standards. Mindful of the implications of the forthcoming EU web accessibility directive, I felt we had a real need to support our employees more formally.
That led to the creation of our in-house Digital Academy earlier this year. It’s made up of a suite of six workshops delivered on a rotational basis, with the team blocking out one day a month to deliver them.
The aim of the academy is to equip our colleagues with the knowledge and skills they need to:
use social media safely and legally
meet our required standards for creating and displaying digital content
Those taking part leave with a greater understanding of copyright, how to avoid infringements and how to deal with requests to reproduce an image they’ve created.
They know how to make sure content is optimised for social media platforms and learn about using analytics and data to measure their success.
We use eye-scanning results to show how people read online and what that means for the way we write and display content. We ask participants to work out the reading age of an existing piece of content on our website and show them how they can reduce it by using shorter sentences and common words.
We look at digital accessibility and ask them to think about visual, hearing, motor and cognitive impairments and how we might make our content as accessible as possible.
With experts predicting voice search will account for half of all online searches by 2020, we explore the impact of voice search on our search engine optimisation and findability. We ask them to think about how we might adapt our metadata to answer the question: Hey Google, what will chemotherapy do to my body? compared to the more typical typed search term: chemotherapy side effects.
Three members of the communications team deliver two sessions each. I wanted to ensure we could all deliver any session so all content has been produced collaboratively and we delivered several test sessions to critical friends before we went live.
Alongside the delivery of the Digital Academy, we’ve introduced a corporate social media policy. It provides greater clarity for those who use social media accounts for work purposes and introduces an approval system for new work accounts.
And the proof of the pudding? We surveyed participants after their workshops. Ninety per cent of those responding told us their knowledge of the subject matter had increased as a result of the workshops and that they found the new knowledge beneficial to their work. There’s great satisfaction reading through the comments where the common theme is how knowledgeable the presenters were about the subject matter.
That’s when it hits home. The fannying-about-with-press-releases contingent might not appreciate the value of our work. But if by sharing our knowledge, we’ve helped a colleague understand more about copyright infringement or improved our website experience for a visually-impaired patient, our professionalism is evident.
Eva Duffy is Senior Communications Officer at Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust and you can connect with her at @EvaDuffy
image via the Library Company of Philadelphia