How Would You Design a Content Management System?

Rendered Concept of a Digital Content Lifecycle.

By Cathy Hodson

What is a content management system (CMS)? According to Wikipedia, “A Content Management System (CMS) is a computer program that allows publishing, editing and modifying content as well as maintenance from a central interface. Such systems of content management provide procedures to manage workflow in a collaborative environment. These procedures can be manual steps or an automated cascade. CMSs have been available since the late 1990s.”

In other words, a CMS allows multiple content creators (frequently called “authors”), a managed workflow (approval process), and either automated or manual features.

I have experience with two content management systems: Ektron and SharePoint. They both have their advantages and disadvantages. I have also kicked the tires on other CMSs, and they too have the good, the bad and the ugly. Recently I asked the members of the Web Editors group, “If you could design/develop your own content management system, which features would be ‘must haves’?

Must Have Features
The responses were interesting. J.D. desired more project management features, “The CMS should know that nothing goes public until an assignment of copyright agreement has been executed.”

He also recommended staging features, workflow integration (“you should get a view of works in progress”) and annotation, in particular, fact checking and documenting the fact checking.

Barbara wanted “True WYSIWYG. Period.”

Ken wanted to “work on a system that has all the parts that were promised. Twice this week I’ve been told…’Oh, that’s scheduled for the next version.'”

If you were designing your own content management system, which features would you want to include? For me, there are a few, and they have to do with control. Being able to control the style (rules and guidelines used for consistency across a website) within the CMS so authors not well versed in your company’s or your website’s style cannot stray from it. Another feature I’d like would be to have the HTML view of your content be color coded, such as in Dreamweaver. It makes it easier to pick things out when you’re looking for something rather than having everything in black type on a white background. In Dreamweaver, if there’s a problem in the code, the color coding stops where the problem is so you can find where the snarl is a little easier also. (If you’re colorblind, however, that may not be as effective.) It would also be nice to be able to use a global replace in the HTML view.

There are times when it seems that developers of content management systems don’t understand what a content editor or author does. They are not aware of the publishing process that a writer or editor goes through in order to add or maintain content on the website. This disconnect can be a major issue at times. For instance, when my company was going through its most recent redesign, we expressed our desire to the developers that, as all content funneled to me for approval, I needed to be able to see what had changed on each page. I needed a redlined version, in other words. Our company, at the time, had several thousands of web pages. There was no way I could possibly memorize each page and instantly recognized what an author had changed in an existing page when it came to me for approval. Because we have such a high volume of content, I didn’t have time to dig through everything on every page that was submitted to me to try and figure out what the author had changed. Had they deleted any paragraphs? Had they linked to something new? Was there an update to the photos? It would be helpful to see only what had changed so that I could review those changes and then send the page on its way to the website, or back to the author for more work. There was great puzzlement on the developers’ part, not understanding why this was so critical. We finally got across to them why it was so necessary, and were able to implement a customized tool that allowed me to see what an author had done to a page.

Gibberish code
About the time we were discussing this topic, I received an email newsletter, Fierce Content Management, and read the Editor’s Corner: “Content Management Systems drive me nuts!” by Ron Miller. I read with particular interest, “Last week for instance, I tried to drop in some code for the content marketing infographic we published. Typically, it’s like dropping in the code for embedding a YouTube video. You access the source code, paste the embed code, and presto, you have an infographic in your post. But lately our CMS has decided to spontaneously add gibberish to the infographic embed code making it virtually useless and forcing my co-worker, Emily Poe, to have the added work of dropping it in as an image instead.”

That hit home with me, as our CMS also will add gibberish when our authors copy and paste from a Microsoft Word file. Sensing a kindred spirit, I contacted Ron and asked him for his “must have” features. He sent the lists below:

Back End:

  • Make sure it supports multiple writers easily.
  • Make sure it’s easy to update the CMS. (WordPress is drop-dead easy).
  • Make sure you set up a good set of tags ahead of time.
  • Leave a place for the writer to include a one or two sentence excerpt and encourage writers to create this for you.
  • Make sure it’s easy to add alt text to your photos (very important for disabled community).
  • Make sure it’s easy to embed content like video and inforgraphics (easy access to HTML code)
  • Make sure it’s easy to add and edit photos. (visuals are really important in my view).
  • See if you can find a plug in for creating a weekly newsletter and linking it to a mailing list app like MailChimp.

Front End:

  • Accessible contact info.
  • Some sort of comment security like Disquus. Doesn’t prevent morons, but helps.
  • Prominent search box.
  • Resources like white papers and ebooks.
  • Include all your site’s social media info
  • Make it easy to subscribe
  • Make it drop-dead easy to share across all major social networks.
  • Easy to copy and paste text from outside sources and maintain style

None of the CMSs will be perfect. They all have their quirks, and web editors must find work-arounds and solutions we can live with. But it sure would be nice if we could design our own, or at least catch the ear of the developers and have them truly understand what our needs are. Anyone?

Next time: Editor vs. Programmer


Do It Well: Addressing the Mobile Market

By Cathy Hodson

In a recent webinar on Responsive, Adaptive and Progressive website design that I sat in on, Bill Cava, the “chief evangelist” of Ektron, said that the proliferation of mobile devices is disrupting many businesses. He gave the examples of the newspaper business, which has traditionally been a print business but is and has been transitioning toward delivery of online and mobile content; and cameras – why would anyone want a standalone camera any more when you can snap an arguably good photo with your phone? Professional photographers might disagree with that, but Cava went on to say that it is predicted that there will be one BILLION smartphones in the world by 2016. If our heads haven’t already exploded from information overload, that is.

The mobile invasion
If you haven’t begun looking at how to address the mobile device market with your website and communication plans, you need to. According to a recent Pew Research study on smartphones, 56 percent of American adults now own a smartphone of some kind, with Android and iPhone owners accounting for half of the cell phone user population. In another recent Pew study on tablet usage, the researchers found that tablet adoption has almost doubled over the past year. “For the first time, a third (34 percent) of American adults now own a tablet computer, including almost half (49 percent) of those in their later thirties and early forties and a majority (56 percent) of those in higher income households.”

There are still hold outs. Maybe you know some of them. According to Pew, one third (35 percent) have some other kind of cell phone that is not a smartphone, and the remaining nine percent of Americans do not own a cell phone at all. So some people do still have a life.

Pew goes on to say that “ownership is particularly high among younger adults, especially those in their twenties and thirties (although a majority of Americans in their mid-forties through mid-fifties are now smartphone adopters).” Eighteen percent of Americans age 65 and older now own a smartphone, compared with 13 percent in February 2012.

Tablets Skew A Little Older
Tablets, on the other hand, also according to Pew Internet Research, skew a little older than the smartphone market. “Unlike smartphones, which are most popular with younger adults ages 18-34, we see the highest rates of tablet ownership among adults in their late thirties and early forties. In fact, almost half (49 percent) of adults ages 35-44 now own a tablet computer, significantly more than any other age group. Adults ages 65 and older, on the other hand, are less likely to own a tablet (18 percent) than younger age groups.”

How much mobiletraffic?
For my company, a nursing association, mobile traffic now accounts for 20 percent of the traffic that comes to our website. We implemented responsive design across our website in May, and we are looking forward to seeing how this helps our traffic numbers, particularly during our Annual Meeting in August.

Mobile design is a challenge for everyone involved in delivering content. Responsive design is one solution – one website catering to many devices. There are other solutions out there, and it is up to each company to decide what is best for their needs. If your company has not begun to consider addressing the mobile market, I suggest you get moving. The Information Superhighway continues to move at the speed of light. Don’t get left behind.

Your Profession: What Spurs You On, Excites You?

By Cathy Hodson

Unless you are independently wealthy or the most recent PowerBall winner, you probably have to work to pay your bills and to afford a certain standard of living. Most of us working types can fall into a type of complacency – going to work each day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year. After a number of years, we try to remember why we wanted this job, what made us so excited about it when we were first hired, and where that excitement went.

I read an interesting article in the New York Times about a month ago. It’s called, “Saying Goodbye to Titles, and Hello to Responsibility.” It is a Q&A interview with Seth Merrin, founder and chief executive of Liquidnet, the trading network.

In this article, Merrin explains that no one in his company has a title – he didn’t want people to aspire to a higher title, but rather a higher level of responsibility, which in turn would bring more recognition. Merrin said he wants people to be free to come to meetings and speak their minds. He said he found that a junior vice president came to a meeting and would tend to be quiet if a senior vice president were in the room.

While titles are nonexistent at Liquidnet, there is a hierarchy – shapes, guides, drives, creates. These labels are related more to a function rather than a job position. Merrin seems bent on doing away with the superficial or ego-stroking, and getting down to the nitty gritty of the “nose to the grindstone” work process. We’re here to work, let’s do it, and make it the best it can be.

Something else I found interesting in the article was that Merrin wanted his co-workers to challenge everything the company was doing. He preferred that his co-workers and prospective co-workers think everything is wrong with his company – and then he would ask, what are you going to do to help us fix it? Most people like to have a purpose, a mission, a reason to get up in the morning. How many of us jump out of bed with the eagerness of a child on Christmas morning, ready to start our day?

Are you working for a higher title, or are you working for more responsibility? What is it that lights your fire? Are you doing it? Are you making a difference in your current job? Equally important, what about the people around you? Are they up to the task? If you answered yes to those questions, congratulations! You are in the right place. If you answered no to those questions, and the job market can support you looking around, perhaps it’s time to consider a change.

Time Management: Six Steps to Peace of Mind

By Cathy Hodson

In the fast-paced, ever changing world of online journalism, is it possible to still, as author/entrepreneur Guy Kawasaki tweeted recently, “rediscover the magic of doing one thing at a time”?

Twitter post by Guy Kawasaki, April 14, 2013

Twitter post by Guy Kawasaki, April 14, 2013

Managing your time is a must for web editors. News can happen very quickly, and you have to be prepared to have your day turned upside down at any moment. Natural multi-taskers, web editors learn very quickly how to juggle their responsibilities but still make room for the occasional emergency.

One of the most important tools in a web editor’s arsenal is time management. Organization and prioritization are integral partners with time management – you really can’t manage your time if you are not organized or cannot prioritize.

Here are some tips on maintaining time management, organization and prioritization:

1. Handle everything only once. Any assignment, any piece of mail, any notes from a phone call, any verbal order you receive – only handle it once. Take the piece of mail and do something with it – add it to a folder for a project you are working on, pass it on to a colleague, or deposit it in the circular file. Actively do something with it, don’t just set it on your desk to be dealt with later. Deal with it now.

2. Keep information and resources for each project together – whether you use paper folders, electronic ones, or a combination – use some type of organizer to keep everything you need on one topic or project together. The photos for this year’s election candidates should all be kept together in one place so they don’t get mixed up with the candidates from last year. The article your boss just handed you about mobile apps should find its way to the reference folder you have for mobile information. By keeping organized and handling this information just once, everything should be where you know where to find it when you do need it.

3. Try to keep one day of your week clear of meetings and interruptions. Physically block out one day of the week on a recurring basis on your calendar so that no one can schedule a meeting for you that day each week. If you have to relinquish for one meeting, fine. But otherwise, keep one day each week as free of meetings as you possibly can. This will enable you to have some actual “work” time to catch up on projects you need to without interruption.

4. Learn to say no, or at least how to barter. Keep a running list of your current projects. When your boss comes to you and says, “You have to drop everything for this new project,” you can honestly show him or her that your schedule is packed, or at the very least it gives you something to barter with. “I could move this project to the back burner if your new project has a higher priority?” The boss can then see what those other projects are and help you move something if the new project does take priority, or perhaps understand that the new project isn’t really as important as the other things you are working on, and can wait.

5. If you have a “time stealer” person – someone who is in your office frequently – either for business or personal reasons – set up a regular time to meet with them so they can continue to use you as a business resource, but you can contain their interruptions to one dedicated session. If they are in your office for personal reasons – schedule a lunch with them now and then to catch up, but learn how to say, “I’d really love to hear all about this, but I’m on deadline. Let’s do lunch some time and you can fill me in then.” Learn to recognize activities and people who usurp your time, and learn to handle them so they don’t handle you and waste time that could better be used for concentrating on the project at hand.

6. Even the best laid plans, however, can be turned upside down. Hurricane Katrinas happen. Learning to delegate important facets of projects to your staff can make them feel involved, engaged and part of the team. If you do not have staff to delegate to, one of the best practices is to break a project into manageable pieces. That way, when you can’t work on one part of the project because you are waiting on someone else, you can move ahead to another portion of the project and get it underway until the first portion of the project comes back to your bailiwick.

What are your favorite time management techniques? Please share them in the comments.

Responsive Design: Optimizing Web Content to Device Screens

Remember mainframe computers? Desktop computers? How quickly times change. Now people are accessing the Internet via PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and coming up rather quickly now – glasses and watches. Who knows what is on the horizon? In other words, more challenges to presenting our content in a meaningful way will continue to be developed. We are in another tumultuous time for keeping pace with a rapidly evolving environment, and how we respond to this challenging environment can be very tricky.

A new report from Pew Research Center, “Teens and Technology 2013” states that “Smartphone adoption among teens has increased substantially and mobile access to the internet is pervasive. One in four teens are ‘cell-mostly’ internet users, who say they mostly go online using their phone.” Adults aren’t quite there yet, only 15 percent of adults are ‘cell mostly.’

Even with the proliferation of cell phones, and the multitude of other devices with which you can access a website, it’s a wonder most servers haven’t exploded in trying to please each device’s screen (or the screen’s owner). We in the web business tend to be eager-to-please people. We want you to have the best experience you can have on our website, no matter which device you use to view our website, and even if it keeps us awake at night trying to figure out just how to do that.

So how do you serve up your content to adapt to those very different sizes of screens? If you have ever tried to go to a “full” website (PC version) on your smartphone, you know how tiny the text can look, and you have to scroll left and right, or pinch or expand the page to be able to read or click on something. Mobile versions of websites can be equally annoying because they are laid out differently, can lack certain features that are available on traditional websites, and may not feature the full content of the website. Usually they have an escape route that will take you back to the full website, but then you are back to scrolling, pinching and expanding.

You have probably heard of HTML 5. It is also known as “responsive web design” or “responsive design.” It is a website design that enables a server to respond to the particular device you are using to view the website and serve up your content in the most optimal fashion. If you want to try out an example of a website built with HTML 5, check out, home of the Boston Globe newspaper. Depending on which device you access the site with will determine what you see. It responds to the device, the size of your browser (you can minimize or maximize your window) and even the orientation. If you are exploring what to do with advertising locations on your web pages in such an environment, you can see that there also.

Flexible construction, coding and design make for content that can be presented to all types of devices. This makes more sense than creating various websites (and duplicating efforts) for various devices. It is not without its challenges, though.

  • If you still use tables to present and contain data, their rigid structure can be prohibitive to “flexible” page construction. Deconstructing the data and presenting it in a text format can be cumbersome and not as easily digestible, especially in this age of readers who scan pages. Presenting it in a Word document or PDF via a link on the page requires someone to click on a link to get information that is normally presented within the body of the content.
  • Wide images can also challenge a smaller screen’s width. Some solutions include creating smaller images for smaller screens, or to hide the image when a smaller screen accesses it.
  • Advertising, with its premium locations “above the fold” (or viewable in the first screen) can sometimes be sacrificed to a floating position at the bottom of a phone screen, or shoved to the bottom of a tablet’s page – not really an ideal location for someone paying to be seen.

How web content is displayed will continue to evolve. For more reading about Responsive Design, check out the following stories. Feel free to list your favorite resources in the comments.

Redesign: Staging and Mapping Your Way to Success

By Cathy Hodson

You have a huge company website, and you have a matter of weeks to move content from your current site to your new site. How do you get a handle on how to move your content and figure out all the logistics involved? If your website has more than a hundred or so pages, or even thousands of pages, with all the associated documents and images, how do you get organized enough to know where your content is currently and how to get it to where it will be going on the new site?

By staging and mapping your content.

Staging your content
Staging is really prioritizing. What do you absolutely have to have on your new site when it launches? This is your first stage of content to be moved, before the launch, and the highest priority.

The second stage is the next level of content that – yes, it would be nice to have it on the site when you launch, but if it’s not, it will be the first content to go up after the launch.

The third stage is the final stage of content to be moved. Usually this consists of back issues of publications or content that could be considered “filling in” – background information, links to other resources, more of what you already have up, the finer details that fill in and embellish on what is already there.

What is mission-critical content? Mission critical defined: your business will suffer and your staff will have to scramble (in a bad way) to help your customers or members if this content is not on your website when you launch.

The actual timeline for all three stages depends on how quickly you need to have everything out of your current/old website. Usually all three stages should take about nine months to one year. To have all your content moved within six months of launch is a good benchmark.

Mapping your content
Once you have your content prioritized, you need to map it. Where does it reside on your site now? Where will it be moving to – most redesigned sites have also reorganized. So the content that might be listed under “Professional Development” on your current site might be split up among 2 or 3 different sections on your new site – Education, Continuing Education, Meetings. Somehow you have to note this for  someone who might not have detailed knowledge of your site (such as a temporary worker or consultant)  – where they would find the original content and where they need to put it on the new site.

The first website redesign I was a part of, the consultant that was building the website gave me a spreadsheet to use to map this process. It had columns for the new site location, the current site location, the status of the content (“testing,” “intro done”), a place for information about the content (such as “content needed” or “6 files, public side”), comments (“under construction” “is this the same as federal section on public side?”), and any changes (“name of section changed from X to Y”), and even a showing of which page(s) on the site link to each page or document listed. You can and should adjust the structure of your mapping document to whatever makes sense to you and your team. Is it better to list your content by the structure of the new site, or the structure from your current site? Up to you. Ask the people who will be moving the content which would make more sense to them? Or make an executive decision and decide for yourself which makes more sense.

Something else that is helpful for content movers, especially if they are not part of your company’s staff, is to print out the pages on the current site, and mark up the page with notations for each of the links found on that page. Does this link go to a page on the same website (internal) or does it point to another company’s website (external site)? The internal site’s links may change, and that should  be noted – either on the page you printed or in the mapping document. If the page being linked to is from another department or division, and perhaps they have prioritized that page to be added at a different stage than when your page is going up, that should also be noted so the link can be added when the other department’s page goes up.

If it is an external site link – does it still work or does it need to be updated? If it no longer exists (or can’t be found), do you have instructions in place on what the content mover should do? Remove the link entirely, replace it with something else, or just leave it as is?

Once the plans for the staging and mapping have been completed, it gives you and your team parameters and guidelines for moving the content.

Content management systems
If you are keeping the same content management system, there may not be as much to do with mapping, prioritizing or moving content. It may be a matter of simply moving files across your system, adapting your content to a new page layout, or reclassifying the content. If you haven’t been using a content management system, but will be using one with the new website, you may pretty much have to reconstruct your pages – reformatting, linking to where new pages are, updating headline and other codes. You will have to do the same if you are changing content management systems.

Other considerations
Perhaps your URLs will change also. This is something that can be noted in the mapping document. A change of URL can be problematic – internally, for the sites that link to you, and for any links you publish on stationery or in publications – either those you print yourself or publications you submit materials to for articles or ads. Business cards may need to be updated, as well as signatures in email.

Any specialized domain names that point to deeper areas of your site may have to be repointed to the new location. For instance, our foundation has its own domain name, but it forwards to a deeper page within our association’s website. That location changed when we redesigned in 2011, and the DNS (domain name service) had to be updated to forward to the new location.

A successful redesign depends implicitly on how organized your team is, how much forethought and planning goes into the moving and launching processes, and nailing down the details. If you have never been part of a redesign before, choose your consultant carefully. You should hire a company that can walk you through the process and support you from both a development and an editorial standpoint. This is paramount to the success of the redesign. A redesign for a large website can take anywhere from one to three or four years, depending on how big your website is, what has to be done – a major overhaul of systems and the website, a simple reorganization and facelift, or anything in between.

Plan, prioritize and map. Iron out the details and make sure everyone understands what needs to be accomplished, when it needs to be accomplished by, and what the ramifications and consequences are if deadlines and project milestones are not met.

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

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; 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):,,,

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 ( 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 ( 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:

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.