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Content designer, director, speaker, facilitator – 2018 in review

Montage of screenshots of work and pictures of a person on various stages – Lisa Riemers

2018 was a very interesting year indeed. Both in the ‘participation in fascinating projects’ sense, and ‘interesting times’ proverbial way.

I have:

  • Worked with some brilliant organisations as a content designer, making web content easier to access
  • Brought my experience training as a teacher to work – I’ve facilitated workshops for central government departments and edited teaching resources on the British Red Cross website to make them easier to access for teachers
  • Worked on video and web content for a big four professional services firm to help recruit the best young people
  • Ghost-written for (amongst other things) charities, big pharma and an org who supports responsible drinking
  • Photographed, sketch-noted and live-tweeted events and written up post-event reports
  • Proofread some interesting documents including the Step Two #IDWawards which showcase great practice in intranets and digital workplaces
  • Presented to an international audience in Sydney about stakeholder engagement at #DEX2018
  • Participated in panel discussions about content design, branding and intranet technology
  • Helped small businesses improve their web presence
  • Written a byline on how much I love headphones which help me get more work done wherever I’m based,  and commented elsewhere in Voice, the IOIC magazine
  • Co-organised and co-hosted Intranet Now – the best independent conference for comms and intranet people with Wedge Black

Oh, and this is the year I went freelance, did my first ever speaking gig and have been finding my way through it all.

This means I have also:

  • Been delighted at the lack of office politics although I can be an awful boss who has had to learn how to set boundaries with my employee.  Setting up a separate space to work, where I can close the door at the end of the day has been brilliant and long-overdue.
  • Missed having the IT support of a large organisation, having to navigate the joys of selecting your own tech, setting up inboxes and remote working processes, with the pitfalls of having to be the first and second-line support when it goes wrong.
  • Not missed picking up every bug my helpful colleagues bring into the office, but missed the sick pay when rendered immobile with a broken foot.
  • Reminded myself about the power of networks.  Most of my work has been directly or indirectly through recommendations, and people I know. I’ve worked with some brilliant people this year, who have helped me get to where I need to. I’ve long been a fan of finding your allies, inside and outside your organisation but when you’re physically on your own (rather than just feeling that way in a large org) it’s more important than ever.
  • Navigated the minefield of switching registers; there have been times this year when I’ve had three clients at once. Each project comes with its own standards, processes, rules of engagement and controls – switching from one to another has caused a little friction at times.
  • Been surprised at my lower incidental spend, with reduced travel costs, random ‘treats’ at the shops while waiting for my train or spending £10 a day on coffee and lunch.
  • Spent a considerable amount of time questioning my judgement, my sanity, and wondering where the next contract might come. It’s not all flat whites and co-working spaces; keeping your mental health, particularly when you’re working from home and seeing people less often means it can be easy to forget to leave the house for days. It’s been particularly challenging at times when I’ve been unable to get out and about, but I’ve also been delighted by catching up with friends and colleagues at home.

Next year I want to:

  • Do more of the good work. My favourite contract this year, working with Methods for Public Health England’s #everymindmatters campaign, involved content I am passionate about, great colleagues to bounce ideas off (hi Rob Finch), a great team that did Agile really well and  a mix of working on-site and at home.
  • Get better at introducing myself. I wear a few hats, and am a few different things to different people.  A portfolio career makes it more important than ever to know how to say “hello” depending on who you are speaking to. I read a great blog from Rachel Miller featuring Janet Murray – both comms professionals who are brilliant at telling their story. I’m improving how I do this in writing, but when it comes to in-person I’m definitely a work in progress!
  • Put myself forward for more speaking opportunities. I’ve had some really interesting experiences this year and it’s something I’ve enjoyed – and I’m looking forward to what next year has in store.

If I sound like someone you’d like to work with, let me know – lisa [@] or get in touch with me on Twitter.

Live is dead. RIP chronology

Live tonight, Tomorrow sees the launch, Today we're delighted, Last night saw, 1 hour to go

How do you write in the now when tomorrow already came?

If someone finds a piece of content through search, is it immediately clear if it is in the past, present or talking about the future?

And with weighted timelines throwing content all over the place (I’m looking at you, non-chron-Instagram and like-driven-Twitter) how can you make sure it still makes sense?

This is particularly relevant if you’re promoting an event or time-specific giveaway.  If you’re really lucky, readers will get it bumped to the top of their timeline three days after the event. Which at least gives you eyeballs, if not action.

Whether it’s social content, web copy or intranet news, it’s becoming less likely that people will see it right away so how do you make sure your copy stands the test of wibbly wobbly time-y wimey?

A tense situation

Have you ever reached a sign-up page to find the event’s already full? Or worse – has already happened?

I first considered the challenges of writing in the right tense when I heard Wedge talking about intranet content. If you write in the present where possible, you’re far less likely to confuse or disappoint your readers.

Suggesting something will happen in the near future is a sure-fire way to put a shelf-life on your copy – unless you’re planning on updating it.

On a news article at least, the content usually has a date stamp, but it’s not always clearly displayed.  As pages get reformatted or archived, historic content becomes less easy to navigate. Getting rid of out-of-date content is probably a subject for another post, but less is usually more.

Show me the way to go home

Do you know how people access your web pages? As Sharon O’Dea puts it far more articulately than I, content without context can be a challenge.

  • Is there a link to find out more information?
  • Is the date really obvious? Including the year?
  • What about links to other relevant info if the date has in fact passed?

If users find a web page from search, social or serendipity, make sure it makes sense on its own.

A timely call to arms

It’s copywriting 101 to give people the information they need, when they need it. If you have a time-specific call-to-action (CTA), it’s even more important to be clear about what you want your reader to do, whatever time it is now.

It might be a personal preference, but I find including the day of the week can help too (whatever your official style guide says).

Listen online from 6pm, Thursday 14 September is clear to understand, albeit slightly longer (whether before, during or after the event) than Available tonight from 6pm.

It should be possible to weave in all of the info you need without making a mess of the copy. If you’re interested in more CTA goodness, there’s some great advice from Paul Boag about writing calls to action which encourage web conversion.

Keeping your pictures on the shelf

With increasingly weird algorithms, you might find that any graphics you do make have a longer shelf-life on social media, or appear fleetingly, but out of sync.

Unless you’re able to code something that counts in real time, or are using a channel with fleeting permanence like Snapchat, don’t waste too much time (and budget) on count-down pictures on social.

Keep tense-specific context to the surrounding post. That way you can also re-use that image in the future. And can help keep the word count on your pictures down, which is particularly useful on Facebook (not to mention from an accessibility point of view).

Well, here we are

I am here, NOW, writing this. But you are reading this in the future.

I’m not having an existential crisis (I don’t think).

But I DO have availability for copywriting, content, web projects and digital strategy. Or at least I did at 4pm on Thursday 14th September.

Lisa Riemers - Freelance Digital Communications Specialist

What about you? If you’ve got a tip to add, bugbear to share or want to meet for a coffee and chat about how I could help your organisation, I’d love to hear from you!

What a lovely bunch of experts at Intranetters

Last week I went along to a meet-up called Intranetters, which is an awesome, predominantly London-based way to speak to other people involved in intranets.

We were welcomed by @RichardHare
A strong start from @RichardHare

It’s the first Intranetters meet I’ve been to and it was really rather good. Led by Richard Hare, it was a great opportunity to see a brilliant case study from Barclays and hear from the chaps at Twine.

Barclays LMS case study

A brief snapshot of *some* of what was covered
A brief snapshot of *some* of what was covered

It’s rare to get the chance to get an in-depth review of someone else’s intranet site. I really enjoyed hearing how Iain Trundle and Simon Thompson worked with a crack-squad to create a great-looking learning management system overlay for Barclays.

Sketchnotes of the presentation from Barclays
I also had the opportunity to try out my sketchnote skills again, although this time the presentation was much more in-depth, so these are probably most useful for my own record.

Three themes I took away from the talk:

  1. Bridge the gap rather than build a barrier
    Add value to, rather than seek to replace existing management systems by providing connections and in-document search – SharePoint can be used to create an attractive interface, whilst using the back-end LMS and other systems for administration.
  2. Hone your craft
    Take the best bits from elsewhere online to make user-friendly, engaging style, and take the time to write micro-copy to be as engaging as possible and add real value for your employees.
  3. Deliver nice things and get more money
    Echoing a theme I took from Shaula‘s award-winning lightning speech at Intranet Now, take opportunities for funding that come your way!

If you are interested in finding out more about this case study, you can view an overview presentation delivered recently by Martin Pope at the Intranet Now Conference .

Twine – making Agile work

I was interested to hear about Twine‘s work with graduate scheme participants to create a useful self-service portal for the NHS.

A captive graduate audience demonstrating exemplary agile work
A captive graduate audience demonstrating exemplary agile work

The case study was a fantastic example of working in a truly agile way, with two weeks on, and two weeks “off” for measurement, with fortnightly workshops to get feedback and plan the next sprint.

In my experience, it can be difficult to get that level of commitment from business stakeholders, who may have time to do that for a fixed period of time – say 3-4 weeks, but are unlikely to be able to commit for a longer period of time.

I am sure that this work on the portal had a positive impact also to the graduates’ experience of their learning scheme. With a defined reason to regroup, the discussion forums then become a natural extension to, and way to solidify and expand on conversations that have happened offline.

I have had similar success stories for much smaller projects or sub-groups; the successful use of a team site to cope through an enormous business change process with the implementation of a new finance system springs to mind.

Having a defined, discrete audience of interested stakeholders looking to solve a similar problem will definitely help drive better adoption. Which sounds entirely like common sense now I’ve written it, but finding a team that actually *wants* your help is one of the best ways I’ve found to generate success stories for my intranet.

It was also good to discuss just how integrated you should aim to be with other systems – depending on how often your data updates, a manual upload/download of data should suffice.


Making a successful ideation scheme
Making a successful ideation scheme

We also looked at an interesting case study of Shell’s Ideation project. With a robust process in place to receive, feed back and develop ideas, it was a great example of how well ideation programmes can work when the appropriate systems (as in business processes, not necessarily IT) are in place.

In the pub

So one of the best parts of these sorts of events took place in the pub next door. I got some great advice from industry experts (and hopefully was able to share some of my learnings too). I’d definitely recommend going along to the next event – find out more @Intranetters!

43-101 things I heard at #IntranetNow

In the week or so that’s followed the wonder that was the 2015 Intranet Now Conference I have been mulling over my notes.

I have enjoyed going back through the presentations, trying not to forget the many things I heard, digesting things to become things I’ve learned and connecting with attendees over on the Twitter and on LinkedIn

I already wrote about 42ish things I heard there – with a morning full of lightning-quick talks and some longer debates, there are obviously MANY more than that – here’s a few more!

43-47ish We, like He-Man, have the POWER

While at times it may feel like our business systems are terrible aren’t up to the standard that we would like them to be, we as digital communicators, intranet managers, enablers of change, webmasters and/or portal wizards play a vital role in the success (or failure) of the projects we are part of.

My take on James Robertson's talk @James_Steptwo
James Robertson on being the conduit for sharing good stuff, well.

48-52 Design adds value

It’s not about making things look “pretty”, but great design can be the difference between users loving, or grudgingly tolerating your site. Worry less about the technology and more about what you’re trying to achieve, make sure it works, and remember: good design saves lives*

*accidentally revealing sensitive user data

James Robertson on adding value through design
I have to be honest, this “Show Pay” CSS button, showing how payroll data can be linked, but then hidden/revealed, was one of my favourite take-aways from the day, and is specifically what prompted me this afternoon to go back through my notes and get the rest of this post written.

53-58 Work together with other stakeholders to make a trustworthy intranet

For me, a common theme of the day was making sure you get the right stakeholders involved at the right time – I think it can be easy to retreat behind a PID/backlog/*insert other projecty term here* without getting out and building your gang.


59 – 64 – Do not build unless they bang on

Possibly the most beautiful story of agile I’ve ever heard, Shaula’s award-winning intranet shows what happens when you prioritise only what is wanted, and delight people by keeping their expectations low but delivering wonders!

My take on @Shaulinaz's presentation
@Shaulinaz on making an intranet to delight, on a shoestring budget

65-70 The further from base, the less they comply

A great talk on the challenges of dealing with hard to reach workers. As well as discussing the ways of building a perfect business case, which hits the needs of employees at all levels of your organisation, Sara discussed an interesting study about compliance. The further away an office is from HQ, the less likely they are to comply with your rules. So make the time to get out there and see the outliers!

Sara Redin’s talk on building the perfect biz case, and compliance

Reasons to be cheerful – Seventy One, Two, Three

Tailor your use-cases for the types of adopter to build your advocates network and drive adoption at all levels throughout your organisation.

Kevin Cody on not falling down the adoption chasm
Kevin Cody on not falling down the adoption chasm

74-78 Be more like Taylor Swift*

There will always be doubters, so getting your advocates on side is vital. There will be a point where you become curators, rather than curators of the majority of content on your site.

Jen Hayward on doubters and reaching the tipping point
Jen Hayward on doubters and reaching the tipping point * Jen did NOT mention Taylor Swift at ANY POINT

79-84 – Fortune favours the bold – turn off legacy sites

Assumptions, like cooked frozen peas, rise to the surface pretty quickly – make sure you identify the real pain points. Tom did a great presentation on the many tools available to help make your intranet a success…. be bold, and turn off old tools to get users on your site!

Tom Gillaman on the tools you need to make you BOLD
Tom Gillaman on the tools you need to make you BOLD

85-89 – Get thee behind me, satan team

It can feel like a pretty lonely job, where you’re constantly writing your own job description, trying to deliver change in the face of adversity. Susan Quain gave some excellent advice about making the project yours, and demonstrating its value and importance to the organisation you are in.

Susan Quain on OWNING your project

90 – Enter the UNconference – it’s ok to ask your peers how they cope

I found Susan’s speech so inspiring that I ventured up on stage to ask an audience comprised of friends, peers and complete strangers about THEIR coping mechanisms, for the unconference break-out sessions.

Check out this and all of the other wonderful photographs on the day on Flickr – don’t forget to ask Wedge if you want to use them.
Seriously though
Woman on the edge
Look. At. The. Fear. Captured beautifully by Antonio Salgado, Capturise, via the Intranet Now Conference.

91-98ish Governance, training, workflows, find your family, wine

There were so many things we covered in the afternoon sessions, though my top takeaways:

  • have a governance policy, but actually a process to follow it up, with people that are empowered to do it.
  • make connections with people in and outside of your organisation and see them often, to remind yourself why you’re doing this
  • try and get someone to have a look at your search logs and make some recommendations
  • steal lovingly from other people – most intranet-types are happy to share what they can to help you
  • one word search doesn’t have to be a problem
  • always make time for wine

99-100 – Have the wisdom to know the difference

Now James Robertson is a pretty inspirational chap, and gave me some great advice in the bar afterwards. I managed to reel off a list of challenges, many of which are completely outside of my control, and he pointed this out and reminded me that there are things I DO have power over, and that we can achieve great things when we focus.

101 – Sketchnotes are a thing

Thanks again to Wedge and Brian for my prize copy of Jane McConnell’s The Organization in the Digital Age, largely for my tweet of Paul Zimmerman‘s talk on the Intranet of Things.

I hadn’t realised, until my first write-up was retweeted by Francis Rowland, that there’s an official term – sketchnotes – for scrawling visual notes.

I’ve seen them around, usually created by skilled illustrators, but didn’t realise they were, in themselves, a medium. So there’s an unexpected takeaway too.

Phew. Thanks for reading this far! I found the day was probably one of the most valuable conference/events I’ve ever been to, albeit packed with so many top-level learnings that I’m still compiling my own internal code of it all.

All of the things are available on the Intranet Now website – I’m going home to make use of #98!

42 things I heard at the #IntranetNow Conference

This week I had the joy of going to an event filled with a very specific kind of geek.  Whether your term of choice is the digital workplace,  intranet, portal, gateway, hub or dumping ground, I got to speak, listen and learn with people inordinately passionate about improving the way people communicate online at the Intranet Now conference.

Now, I’ve been told off in the past that doodling in my notepad doesn’t look all that professional, but I actually find it’s a great way of retaining knowledge.  For example, I can still tell you that Jerome Bruner, that great educational constructivist type (ok, that’s getting a little rusty) wrote at length about scaffolding childrens’ learning, as I once drew his name into a large wall, covered in scaffolding poles.

Anyhoo. I digress. Everyone loves a listicle, so here’s some of what I heard at #IntranetNow, in no particular order…

1-6ish. Don’t hover/bother, do bribe.

Get people involved in your testing, but don’t get too involved – sit on your hands if you have to – you have to see how people will use your systems without intervention.

A round-up of @Cal444's wonderful lightning talk on proper testing.
A round-up of @Cal444‘s wonderful lightning talk on proper testing.


7-13ish: Get others to invest in your wonder.

Be inclusive, make heavyweight allies to help negotiate office politics and gain adoption and acceptance of your site.

Francis Rowland's insights into UX and adoption
@FrancisRowland‘s tips on sewing the seeds of UX and getting people involved


14-19: Strong UX + Bitesize Content = Award-winning LMS

How do you eat an elephant? One bitesize piece of learning and development content,  delivered just in time, at a time.

Martin Pope's ace presentation on delivering useful content
Martin Pope‘s ace presentation on delivering useful content


20-24: Start small, but scaleable to make loveable content

Or why iterative, cloud-based development may in fact be our future.  I also love cranes and lego.
Dan Thomsen at Webtop on making bricks, not building sites


25-30: Remember the ubiquitous laws of the interweb.

In my humble experience of managing online communities, the biggest challenge for a workplace social network can be to get people to participate in the first place; once you DO have that critical mass of people using the site, remembering these four rules will stand you in great stead for building a positive network!


Luke Mepham's rules of the interweb
Luke Mepham‘s rules of the interweb
  •  Don’t draw unnecessarily large levels of attention to things that would otherwise go unnoticed
  • Step in where necessary so debates don’t descend into anarchy
  • Take time to understand your audience – tone doesn’t travel
  • Anonymity transcends all moral decency – make promises not threats to deal with dissidence appropriately.

31-35ish: If you succeed, you’re a statistical anomaly

Apart from following the above rules, transparency is key. Listen to your community, make sure there are clear rules for governance and ownership.

Richard Hare on how many ways can YOU mess up an online community...
Richard Hare on how many ways can YOU mess up an online community…


36-42: Colonel Mustard, in the library, with the RFID-enabled candlestick

There’s a beautiful, connected future at our fingertips. Imagine that you could use YOUR intranet to play a massive, multi-player game of Cluedo, using your building information management system, RFID tags, wifi beacons and smartphones. Invotra, I’m looking at YOU to make. this.happen.


Paul Zimmerman's intranet of things
Paul Zimmerman’s marvellous intranet of things

Or, perhaps you’d find it more useful to know if a meeting room was available, or who turned up to a training session, or where in the building hotdesking Fred is sitting today.

Either way, there are practical ways to connect our online and physical worlds – I’m sure Paul would love to talk to you more about it.

Such learn. So doodles. So wow. Hopefully more to come…

I’ve been wrangling with whether to create a separate “work” and “play” Twitter account, but there’s often so much crossover between the two. If you found this, you may already follow me on the Twitter. Come and join the puns…