Questions and Answers with Heather Ratcliff

The Web Editors blog would like to introduce you to some of the incredible talent we have in the LinkedIn Web Editors group. Today we present Heather Ratcliff, Web Communications Specialist, U.S. Holocaust Museum, Washington, D.C.

Thank you for letting us peer into your professional world. You are the Web Communications Specialist for the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington. How long have you been there?

I’ve been at the Museum since June 30, 2008.

Can you tell us a little about what a Web Communications Specialist does?

I am currently a Web Communications Specialist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where I divide my time between managing a variety of web projects that come into our department (Digital Engagement) and strategizing about what web content is needed by looking at the objectives of a project. I also help with many aspects of social media, including anything from writing posts about events to researching strategy and policy. I am currently also working on our website redesign.

How did you enter into the web world? How long have you been a Web Communications Specialist?

My experience in the web world probably dates back to 1999, when, after getting my undergraduate degree, I started an online magazine in Connecticut. That was around the time when everyone was starting their own online venture. I returned to school to get a Master’s in Journalism, with a concentration in new media, where I helped create a couple of websites. After some time reporting in Connecticut and a short stint in Cambodia, I returned to school for another two years.

When I graduated, I worked as an Information Manager at a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. that worked with community-based organizations around the world. I communicated with our partners and fellows in countries around the world to write and edit news releases, as well as provide social media and technical support. I also oversaw a website redesign, developed a plan for online website promotion and helped train our fellows in the field. Then, in July 2008, I began working at the Museum.

Have you ever had a mentor or someone who guided or inspired you in the web field? I’ve had a couple of awesome professors who have helped me.

Did you work in print journalism, communications, public relations or marketing before you became involved in the web? I have experience working as a print and online journalist, as well as working in public relations. Most of my experience can be found at http://www.linkedin.com/in/heatherratcliff.

Which style (AP, Chicago, APA, AMA, etc.) do you use on your organization’s website?

We use the Chicago Manual of Style, but we also have our own style manual for items specific to the Museum.

How many people work on your organization’s website editorially?

We have a small online editorial team that is divided between several departments. We have one editor for the online encyclopedia and web translations sections of the website, and another editor for the rest of the website. We also have a few other editors who serve as backup support for the main site, and work on our three microsites (World Memory Project, Remember Me?, and our 20th Anniversary website).

In your work for the U.S. Holocaust Museum, what special challenges have you encountered?

One of the challenges we’re facing at the Museum is that we’re working on a redesign of our current website. Our current site was built in the 1990s, and has had one significant redesign and one refresh since then. For the past several years, there has been massive content growth, but we have just continued to build on the old structure. We do not use a content management system (CMS). Instead, most of our pages are generated using html, php, and some Javascript and Flash. Now we are moving most of our content into a CMS, and completely redesigning the website. We are hoping to launch this by the middle of 2013. We’re also working on setting up a web governance policy. These two projects alone have been very challenging.

Do you use a content management system? If so, which one?

We are in the process of moving all of our web content into a CMS (Expression Engine; http://ellislab.com/expressionengine) for the first time.

Do you have a workflow (approval process) established for your organization’s website?

We have different processes in place for different areas of the website. For example, I manage a variety of client requests that come into my department from around the Museum. For these projects, I work with our editor, developer, and designer to optimize the content for the website and then I check back with the client to ensure what we’ve created meets his or her objectives as well. Nothing is posted live without final editorial approval.

The Museum’s online encyclopedia and podcasts are produced by our education department, which has its own processes in place. We also have three microsites, as I mentioned previously, and these also have their own separate approval processes.

As the Museum moves to a CMS and new website, we are working on an overall web governance policy.

Is any of your editorial work outsourced? If so, what do you outsource?

We outsource some of our email-campaigns, however, we still work very closely with our vendor in shaping the message.

Which resources do you read regularly to keep up with what’s going on in the Web world? (blogs, e-newsletters, magazines, books, etc.)

Here are a few interesting sites I read (no particular order): http://wearesocial.net/, http://socialchange.is/, http://www.copyblogger.com, http://mashable.com.

For podcasts, I’m also a huge fan of BlogcastFM, a podcast where Srini Rao interviews entrepreneurs about their online business.

For social media and other inspiration, here are some of the people I follow (alphabetical order): Beth Kanter and Claire Diaz Ortiz.

For writing and other inspiration, here are some of the people I follow (alphabetical order): Ash Ambirge, Mars Dorian, Megan Eckman, Ameena Falchetto, Alexandra Franzen, Alexis Grant, Penelope Trunk.

For travel, fabulous projects and other inspiration, here are some of the people I follow (alphabetical order): Scott Dinsmore, Chris Guillebeau, AJ Leon, Nomadic Matt, Sean Ogle.

For communications, marketing and other inspiration, here are some of the people I follow (alphabetical order): Tara Gentile and Seth Godin.

Do you attend seminars or webinars to keep up with your profession? Which one(s) have you found most useful?

In late 2012, I attended the Social Good Summit (http://mashable.com/sgs) in New York. If you search, there are a number of videos online from the event. I also recently attended the launch of Beth Kanter and KD Paine’s book, Measuring the Networked Nonprofit, and a presentation on responsive web design by Clarissa Peterson.

Along the same note, have you taken or are you taking university or other classes that helped you professionally, and what are they?

I have a Master’s in Journalism and a Master’s in International Peace and Conflict Resolution. In addition, I’ve also taken classes in CSS and html so that I can learn tips and techniques that I might not necessarily learn fast enough on my own. I’ve also taken several workshops in web content strategy, and I’m currently taking a course in copywriting.

Do you have any editorial pet peeves?

Of course! I’ve been an editor since I was an undergraduate student (studying psychology and journalism). I appreciate it wherever I work when there is either a style guide in place, or lacking that, if I’m allowed to create one (I’ve created two at previous jobs, and it is quite fun). Once a style guide and best practices are established, I generally follow them unless there is an exceptional reason not to. I understand that style can change over time. For example, AP finally changed Web site to website within the past few years. But generally, I like to follow and stick to one style once it has been established.

What would you advise someone just starting out in the business?

Consume as much as you can — either by reading or listening. I’ve noticed recently that I read and listen to more blogs and podcasts than I ever have before. Network and talk with as many people as you can until you figure out exactly what you want to do. Along those same lines, try and find people in your field who are willing to act as a mentor.

Also, I’ve lately read the following advice from a couple of bloggers, although I can’t quite remember who off the top of my head, but I fully support it. I believe that it is usually best to over deliver, especially if you are a freelancer. No matter what you are submitting, always go beyond what they are asking for.

What do you like to do outside of your profession to relax?

Outside of my full-time job, I work on a number of projects. I volunteer with a growing guiding business in Arusha, Tanzania. I help Diamond Glacier Adventures (www.diamondglacieradventures.com) with its communications strategy and website. I also joined the local chapter of Amnesty International this past year, and have worked on a couple of projects with my local chapter. I read a lot of adventure stories (a great deal on mountain climbing), fiction (like Jasper Fforde, Walter Moers, Deborah Harkness), e-books by some of the entrepreneurs I mentioned earlier, or something more in-depth (like an autobiography by Ingrid Betancourt or a book on genocide by Samantha Power).

What was (one of) your greatest successes (so far) as a Web Communications Specialist?

As part of an independent project at the Museum, I researched how organizations engaged in work similar to the Museum’s genocide prevention efforts are using social media. The goal was to assess which tools these organizations are using, which lessons they’ve learned from using them, and how they are measuring outcomes. You can read about some of my findings here: http://online.ushmm.org/blogs/socialmedia/index.php/site/social_media_tools/.

If you have one lesson learned to share with our readers, what would it be?

Try and consume information or talk to people outside of the current bubble that you live in. Regardless of how much you read online and how many countless emails you respond to, try and find time at least once a week to read or learn something completely new. I try and click on something once a week that, at first glance, I have no interest in. If you do this, I think you will be surprised at how isolated we are online sometimes and at how things that are completely different from us can sometimes relate to us.

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Do you have anything else to add?

Not right now, but feel free to ask me anything else that comes to mind!

Thank you for joining us and letting us walk in your shoes for a little bit, Heather. If anyone has any questions, please add them in the comments below.

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