It’s tempting to structure websites and other substantive communications based on your organization’s internal categories. You get a head start on the project groundwork. You don’t have to create content to suit a new approach. You don’t have to worry about stirring up internal political struggles.
It just makes sense—to you. But to an external audience, maybe not so much. Internal categories that are useful to insiders are often opaque and frustrating to outsiders. Using them can lead you to promote your work from a process perspective, when your audience cares about results and benefits. And internally framed communications may send the message that you’re insular and bureaucratic.
If you want results (and who doesn’t?), don’t take the easy way out: ask yourself the following questions.
How does this structure shape my content? Make sure your structure lets you present information in a way that’s both logical to your audience and appropriate to the type of communication. Organizing content by your program or service areas sometimes makes sense on a website or in a brochure, but it’s rarely a good idea for newsletters or reports, which should focus on results and actions.
Whose interests am I serving? Sometimes organizations structure their communications to cover every program, service, or department because it satisfies internal needs for recognition. But readers want to hear about what’s important to them—how you can help them solve a problem, say, or how you’re advancing the cause.
Of course your colleagues should have a say in what’s important, but if their concerns are irrelevant to your audience—or to your communications goals—they don’t belong in your external communications.
What does my audience know? If your programs or services are highly technical or unfamiliar to most people, you might want to avoid using them as an organizing framework even in cases where it would normally make sense. If you’re working on a website, for example, it can be useful to pull together a model user group (four or five people will often do) and ask where they’d expect to find various types of information, what they expect to see under the categories you’re using, and what they most want to know about what you’re doing. It may make the most sense to organize pages by benefits or needs.
There’s no avoiding a certain insularity in the way you think about things within your organization; just don’t let that perspective guide your communications strategy. If you do, you may find that you and your colleagues are only talking to each other. First published in the March 2008 issue of Words That Work.