A new Free Word website: my role as the content strategist and project manager

My often time contractors, Exploded View were asked during the first half of 2011 to propose for the redesign of Free Word’s website (launched in December 2011). I worked with Exploded View in writing the initial project proposal, and once the project was won, as the Project Manager, Content Strategist, and on various other bits.

The brief

Free Word are a free speech organisation based in London and were looking for a team to help them upgrade their website from a static and low-content site to something significantly more news- and content-heavy. They wanted a website which would present their global free speech work, the work of their residents and associates, and which would allow for, and to an extent encourage, ticket booking for their events. Because we were building for a mobile-loving audience of city slickers, campaigners, and activists, and because we wanted to deliver something which would see Free Word into the future, we developed a [tooltip title=”A website that is designed and built to automatically and appropriately adjust to the screen size it’s being viewed on whether mobile, tablet, TV, or desktop.”]responsive width design[/tooltip] website.

An overview of the content strategy work I did

  1. I researched and produced a project R&D document, including project management notes such as stakeholders, roles, audience profiles, competitor analysis, a content audit and a whole lot more.
  2. I developed an initial set of (what I call primordial soup) wireframes, which were further developed by the team.
  3. I produced a Content Production Schedule, hosted in GDocs, to outline what needed to be produced, by whom, and when.
  4. A full set of Page Templates – documents to guide content producers in the nitty-gritty requirements for each content piece.*
  5. Last, but not least, I produced an extensive Content Creation Guidelines document (essentially an expanded Tone of Voice and Style Guide) for long-term content guidance. More than just laying down guidelines for content tone and style, the document also addressed various unique content challenges such as:

*As a side note: Page Templates are essential in planning how content should be broken up to suit the content breakpoints of a responsive width design. They’re also essential in planning how content should be broken up so that parts or chunks of it can picked out within the CMS and used in different instances across the site. If done with this ‘content chunking’ in mind , Page Templates are very useful in informing the architecture of the website content management system (CMS) and, in this instance, were used for just that.

Varied tones and contexts

"From curated to original and from hard-hitting to light, Free Word’s website can feature a wide variety of content on a single pagespread. The content strategy therefore needed to address how content should be written and prepared to work (from a structural, consistency, and tonal point of view) in a variety of contexts, whether viewed as a single item or in the ‘mixing bowl’ environment of a content listing (such as a tagged-content listing or on the homepage). Finding this balance centered on developing a tone of voice which would suit all planned-for contexts; which wasn’t (in trying to please all situations) too dry; and which could, without creating inconsistency, be tempered to suit the subject matter of a specific content piece.

Added to this, Free Word’s website features several different content types: core website content, curated content, commissioned content, original content, sales content (event descriptions), and social media content. Whilst, as noted above, it was agreed that the tone of voice should remain by and large the same across most content types (social could be a little more colloquial), the aims, treatment, editorial workflow, and various quirks of each content type differed and needed to be addressed. For instance, we were using the Eventbrite widget within the event descriptions pages and needed to detail what information should be detailed within the website CMS and what should be detailed within the Eventbrite pull-in so that the content would fit seamlessly together. It sounds a small thing, and it is once documented, but it’s interesting to see how inconsistent and untidy the content and the user experience can become if too many of these small things are not formally considered, decided upon, and written down. As it’s said: the devil is in the detail.

Thoughts around curated content

Developing a site that would largely run on curated content brought up a slew of thoughts too: how should tone alter, if at all, to suit the tone of the content being curated? We decided it shouldn’t, particularly as the tone had been formulated to suit a variety of content instances. I also addressed topics around attribution, copyright, contextualisation, and the ethics of curated content editing. These are essentially all the things a newspaper would consider on a day to day basis but which, for an events and campaigning organisation, would be a new practice.

Images and multimedia are content too

The Content Creation Guidelines also offered guidance in the use of imagery, such as whether images of children could be used or not and tips on choosing images that would represent and ideally enhance the story with which they were attached. Although there were not many notes specifically regarding audio and visual formats within the Guide, many decisions were made during the website development process, which offered built-in guidelines for multimedia content publication.

And from a project management point of view…

"Project communications were funnelled through the ever-trusty Basecamp system. We did have hitches (among them changes in brief and a change in organisation leadership) but all-in-all it was an especially pleasant project to work on and, with some excellent team work and sharp-minded effort, launched on schedule, on budget, and to applause.

Space for improvement

This project did go very well and, though I don’t feel I would make any major changes were I to repeat the process, there’s always space for improvement.

I am now experimenting with creating less weighty Content Creation Guidelines (Free Word’s came in at 52 pages, including title pages, images, and tables). I’m also exploring how fundamental content creation guidelines can be represented as an infographic for easier and more regular referencing by content producers. I would also like the Content Creation Guidelines to be accessible from within the CMS; and key guidelines presented as inline notes within the CMS content fields. Lastly, the content producers found that working with the Content Production Schedule in GDocs and Page Templates in another format felt disjointed and confusing so this is something I’m streamlining too.

From Free Word’s project team

“Kate was a pleasure to work with – efficient, creative, clear and always sympathetic to the needs of our organisation. As well as providing a reliable and informed contact point for the project management of our website, she was especially effective in helping us develop a new content strategy, both from a long-term point of view and in assisting and advising on issues of style, presentation and content management.

Her eye for detail and commitment to producing high quality outcomes are second to none. I would recommend Kate highly, and hope to have the opportunity to work with her again in the future.”

Tom Chivers, Free Word’s then Digital Content Editor

‘Kate is a top-notch project manager: really efficient, lovely to deal with and able to spot scope creep at a hundred paces. Our web redesign project grew and mutated – as many do – but Kate stayed on top of all the changes, helping us spot potential pitfalls and head them off. During the project she was very organised, thorough and an excellent communicator, and I’d happily work with her again.’

Sarah Bourn, Free Word’s project manager, hired specifically for the project


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