Helpful

5 quick tips for better crisis comms

1) Be prepared

Now is the time to prepare. Start by mapping out the greatest risks that your organisation faces. Which ones could be the most damaging? Do you have pre-prepared messages for those risks? Do you have pre-prepared graphics stored in an accessible location? Perhaps most importantly: could you respond at 11pm on a Friday in mid-August?

2) Be timely

Online crises move quickly and so should you. It is important that you assert yourself as the point of authority. However don’t hurry into publishing a statement without verifying information. Not sure that you know your misinformation from your disinformation? Have a look at our handy guide to spotting different types of fake news.

3) Be consistent

Your response should be consistent and in line with your values. If your tone of voice can’t get away with a response like KFC’s then don’t do it. Your audience engage with you because of who you are – a crisis is not the time to abandon that. Similarly, don’t abandon any audiences and channels. Don’t post a statement on your website but provide nothing for your Facebook audience.

4) Be audience-focused

Crisis communications is like any other form of communication. Know your stakeholders and where they engage with your organisation. Don’t fall into the same trap as Boeing – you might normally be a B2B company but you still need to know how to communicate with potential customers. Don’t use complicated corporate speak but use the same language as your audience. Their questions and language should be informing your statement.

5) Be reflective

When the dust has settled you should try and recover and learn from a crisis. It is mentally and physically exhausting to be at the frontline. Take the time to recuperate and then adapt your crisis plan in line with what went right and what went wrong.

Find out more about our crisis and customer care training and simulations.

 

Helping Croydon Council build a digital strategy in a digital way

What you need to know about the September 2019 accessibility requirements

From 23rd September 2019 public sector websites will be required to meet new accessibility guidelines. Here is what that actually means.

What is accessibility?

Accessibility (or ‘a11y’) doesn’t just refer to people with disabilities but is about ensuring everyone is able to use every site on the web. Accessibility can affect anyone; users could be in a loud place, have had eye surgery or have a broken arm which affects how they browse.  

These are the most common needs for accessibility that will need to be addressed within the new requirements:

Screen readers

A screen reader is software that enables users with visual impairments to use a computer. The screen reader reads out the content of the page and users can carry out tasks using keyboard commands.

Screen reader users are able to navigate web pages by heading structure and links. Here’s how a screen reader reads links and the importance of keeping them accessible:

Video: screen-reading software reading out link text as user tabs from link to link

Colour contrast

Colour contrast between text and the background can severely affect users ability to read content on a page. For text to be readable, it needs to have sufficient contrast with the background.

Colour contrast example From the gov.uk accessibility blog

Alternative ways to view media

Using alt text on all your images ensures screen readers can provide a text equivalent. Videos should have options for subtitles and audio description for those who can’t view them.

Causing distress to users

Could your content cause anguish to users? Although it may look nice, continuous movement or autoplay audio can be very distressing. They could even cause seizures or other physical reactions.

Documents

If you haven’t actively made your PDF accessible, chances are it isn’t. Wherever possible documents should be published as HTML, like the online version of a UK Statistics Authority strategy document.

Do these regulations apply to me?

Every new public sector website and app will need to meet the new guidelines.

There are also different deadlines depending on when your website launched:

What’s covered

Deadline to comply with the regulations

New public sector websites (published after 22 September 2018)22 September 2019
All other public sector websites22 September 2020
Public sector mobile applications22 June 2021

Deadline table from GDS accessibility blog

Read about exceptions to the new regulations on the Gov.uk blog.

What do I have to do?

From September 2019 your website must:

The Government Digital Service (GDS) has a handy sample accessibility statement you can use.

Thankfully, if you don’t have the resources available you may be able to show that you’re taking steps towards meeting the requirements rather than have everything completed for September.

What next?

We can help get your website ready for the new accessibility requirements. Get in touch to find out more about the services we offer:

  • manual and automated accessibility testing
  • user experience testing
  • writing for the web training, including how to write accessible content
  • content design and editing
  • creating accessible PDFs
  • accessible PDF training
  • HTML templates for online documents
  • help writing accessibility statements

IndieWebCamp Berlin 2019

Top tips for job applicants

Recently we went through the process of hiring new staff and, excitingly, we’re due to do some more soon. I did not want to have to fork out huge amounts of money to a recruitment agency, which we have used in the past. So after lots of research on the best (and most cost-effective) ways of recruiting, I decided to go it alone using free or cheap online tools.

We received huge numbers of applications, which was fantastic, but there were a few recurring issues. Here we share some top tips for applying for jobs which can hopefully be applied to most industries:

Send a personalised cover letter

While reading through the huge numbers of job applications I was very surprised to only receive cover letters in about 5% of applications; and <5 addressing Helpful personally. Personalising a cover letter shows that you care about the job, have done a little research about the company (even if it is just including the name) and that you’ve properly read the advert when they have requested one.

Don’t include irrelevant information on your CV

This is partly about ensuring your cover letter is customised for the job you are applying for but also simply not including information that isn’t of importance. Although you can be keen to show that you started working at 18 (I definitely used to be guilty of this), if it isn’t relevant then don’t put it in.

Don’t send Word docs – PDFs only

Maybe this is just a pet-peeve of mine, but Word docs are slow, show spelling mistakes in huge red marker, have poor formatting and just don’t look pretty. PDFs look far more professional and are nicer to read (especially on a phone) and share. Also, not everyone has Microsoft Word and you may be excluding your potential next employer!

Read the advert and send what they ask for

This drove me barmy. In big, bold writing we’d ask to send a cover letter and CV but I think we had around 30% of responses include a cover letter. Those who didn’t were immediately discounted in my mind for not reading the advert properly before responding. A colleague did point out that some people use their CV introduction as a cover letter instead, which is fair, but if the recruiter has asked for something specifically it’s best to just spend the 5 minutes tweaking it before you send it.

Don’t call yourself an expert when you’re not – just be honest

I think there’s a desire to call yourself ‘experienced’ or ‘an expert’ or you think you will be ignored. I’ve certainly done that in the past. Instead, people referring to themselves in this way was a red flag for me. Your experience should speak for itself and if you don’t have any, just be honest and instead focus on what you can offer.

Turn up on time

Turning up late is a huge bugbear for me (just ask the rest of the Helpful team) and would be very hard to come back from. However, turning up early is sometimes just as bad. If we had back-to-back interviews, or an adjacent meeting, it is frustrating when people turn up early and someone in the team has to welcome them. Find a cafe and wait. I’d personally recommend turning up no earlier or later than 5 minutes away from your interview time. As someone who tries to turn up everywhere early, this has been a big lesson learned for me!

What I’d do differently next time as a recruiter

  • Time is valuable, especially with job seekers. As soon as we reduced the job description down to the key facts we received a much higher calibre of application
  • Speak to as many people as possible on the phone. I had some serious surprises over the phone and you can tell a lot in a couple of minutes. I’d speak to more people but keep it concise – around 10/15 minutes – so it doesn’t take up too much time
  • I’m not sure I’d use generic free services like Indeed again. I spent a lot of time going through huge numbers applications which weren’t relevant. Our hires came through LinkedIn or Twitter and I’d like to try more dev focussed channels, like Github

Keeping safe online for #SaferInternetDay

We’ve been really pleased to see the huge reaction on Twitter to #SaferInternetDay 2019. In its 16th year, it’s all about working together for a better internet with advice and tools for keeping us safe online.

Here we’ve rounded up some of the best advice and tools from the day in to a handy list.

Twelve ways to spot a bot

A bot is simply an account run by a piece of software. Bots can be used to make a hashtag trend, but also to harass other users. Bots may be talking to you so they can send you private messages with spam or phishing attempts. While not always malicious, bots can be hard to spot. This post from Medium contains 12 top tips on how to avoid fake social media accounts.

Botometer bot checker

Botometer (formerly BotOrNot) checks the activity of a Twitter account and gives it a score based on how likely the account is to be a bot. The higher the score, the more likely the profile is a bot. The tool can also predict how many followers of a profile has are likely to be bots so you can make a more informed decision on whether the people you are talking to are real.

How to set up 2 factor authentication 

Cyber attacks are becoming commonplace but there are simple steps you can take to keep your personal information more safe. We recommend using two factor authentication (2FA) wherever possible, and ensuring your children are too. A simple example of 2FA is sending a one-time security code by text to a phone number associated with the account as an extra step of security before you can log in. Two Factor Auth (2FA) has a list of common websites with guidance on setting up 2FA.

How to turn on parental controls

The NSPCC has lots of great guidance on staying safe online. This article explains how to turn on parental controls on phones, computers, gaming consoles and more. Parental controls are there to help stop children and teens from viewing adult material or downloading inappropriate content (such as apps they are too young for). You can even set what time of day your child can go online and how long for.

Making your social media accounts as private as possible

When your social media accounts are locked-down people can’t see your pictures or posts without your permission. This is extra important for children and teens. Gizmodo has advice on how to put your social accounts in to private mode, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Guidance from popular social media channels

Reporting abuse on Facebook

Instagram’s advice for parents

Twitter’s safety and security advice

Snapchat’s guidance for parents

Whatsapp safety tips

YouTube safety tools

More social media safety guides from UK Safer Internet Centre.

Publishing readable blog posts

Accessibility is becoming hugely important on the internet (as it should be!) and attention spans are shrinking. So being able to write easy-to-read content is essential. This post isn’t about what you should write but instead has easy-to-follow tips on publishing a blog that everyone can read.

Magnifying glass on computer

1. Use headings

Readers have extremely short attention spans so keeping your content in easy to digest chunks is key. Headings are also important for accessibility as screen reader users are able to navigate web pages by heading structure.

When you use headings, they need to be in the correct order on the page. The most important heading has <h1>, the least important heading goes down to <h6>. You should not skip header rankings (so <h1> should always be followed by <h2> and so on).

<h1>Main page heading</h1>

<h2>Sub heading </h2>

<h3>Sub-sub heading</h3>

A common mistake is using styles (e.g bold) to create fake headings, instead of using heading styles in content so screen readers are able to read content in the correct order and users can jump between sections easily.

2. Use plain English

Unless your writing a technical blog for a specific audience, keep your content simple. If a phrase or word has a simpler alternative, use it! There’s a great free content tool called Hemingway that highlights how you can improve your content.

3. Keep paragraphs short

Blog posts should be easy to skim read and shouldn’t be structured like a book. Keep your paragraphs short and break up content with headings. The Government Digital Service (GDS) recommends sentences remain under 25 words.

4. Use meaningful link text

For readability and accessibility, you must ensure links can be easily understood out of context. For example, reading a ‘click here’ or ‘read more’ link out of context will mean nothing to the user. Ensure link text isn’t ambiguous by describing where the link takes you; e.g: ‘Bob’s study on the advantages of having an office dog’.

Ask yourself: ‘does this link text make sense on its own?’

5. Round it up

When you’ve finished your blog, ensure you have a conclusion. You could add a quick round up of what you’ve learned, some useful links to external resources or related content or even a call to action such as a contact form.

And in taking my own advice, here are some useful links with more advice on writing for the web and accessibility if you’d like to learn more.

Did you know we offer in-person writing for the web training? Get in touch for more details. 

Accessibility for WordPress publishers

Accessibility (or ‘a11y’) doesn’t just refer to people with disabilities but is about ensuring everyone is able to use every site on the web. We work to meet Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 in all our sites as standard. However, we recently had the pleasure of working with one of our clients who is willing to commit to accessibility habits and pay for third-party testing.

An independent third-party specialist consultancy used both automated accessibility checking software and a manual review using assistive technology/devices to check real-world use and reported back how we could improve the site. It was fantastic to learn new things that we will be taking forward to all our future builds and ensuring we share with our clients.

The benefits to the user of making your site accessible are huge, however it can be a pretty daunting task, especially when you already have a well established website. Here we outline some of the key accessibility rules to follow:

Alt text

One of the biggest issues but extremely simple to fix; using alt text on all your images ensures screen readers [software that enables people with severe visual impairments to use a computer] can provide a text equivalent to images. WordPress helpfully includes a field for users to easily add alt text when uploading images. Alternatively, you can apply alt text directly in the HTML:

<img src =”image-location” alt=”image description”>

Meaningful link text

If a screen reader user displays a ‘links list’ then some links that are easily understood within the context of a paragraph can become harder to understand. For example, reading a ‘click here’ or ‘read more’ link out of context will mean nothing to the user. Ensure link text isn’t ambiguous and can be understood out of context by describing where the link takes you; e.g: ‘Bob’s study on the advantages of having an office dog’.

Colour contrast

Colour contrast between text and the background can severely affect users ability to read information on a page. For text to be readable, it needs to have sufficient contrast with the background. There’s a handy free tool called HTML Code Sniffer to check colour contrast and other a11y issues on your site and WCAG has recommended minimum levels for colour contrast as a baseline guide.

Heading structure

Screen reader users are able to navigate web pages by heading structure. To do this, headings need to be in the correct order on the page; the most important heading has <h1>, the least important heading goes down to <h6>. You should not skip header rankings (so <h1> should always be followed by <h2> and so on). A common mistake is using styles (e.g bold) to create fake headings, instead of using heading styles in content so screen readers are able to read content in the correct order and users can jump between sections easily.

<h1>Main page heading</h1>

<h2>Sub heading </h2>

<h3>Sub-sub heading</h3>

Often, as on this blog post, the title of the page is set to <h1> so editors should not be using <h1> in content as this causes duplicates on the page.

Autoplay media

This is a big sticking point for me and something we often have to discourage clients from using. Although you may be tempted to use auto play media, including carousels, gifs and videos, to add a bit of excitement, it can be extremely detrimental and will often cause users to leave your site. Here’s a few reasons why:

  1. for users with poor vision, autoplaying videos of gifs can be extremely distracting and frustrating when trying to focus on content
  2. for some autistic people, continuous movement can be distressing and if you are unable to stop the movement, you’re likely to leave the site altogether
  3. if there is sound autoplaying, those using screen readers will be unable to use the web page altogether
  4. aside from a11y issues, user research has found that moving media is often mistaken for ads and ignored altogether

Accessible forms

First up, only ask users to enter what is required; if irrelevant or excessive data is requested, users are more likely to give up.

Secondly, make sure all form fields have labels. According to WCAG; “all non-text content that is presented to the user must have a text alternative that serves the equivalent purpose”. Providing descriptive form field labels will make sure users to know what information to enter. You can also use screen-reader only labels that are hidden from sighted users, which we had done for the UK Statistics Authority listing filters.

Accessible tables

When using tables to convey data, it is important to mark-up the tables correctly so screen readers are able to interpret the data: Tables must have column or row heading markup where appropriate. Table headers should be marked with <th> and table data with <td>.  This gives the necessary context to allow screen readers to understand the table. Table contents can be numbers, text, images, and a combination of these but it is important to only use tables for tabular data.

For more information on structuring tables, take a look at the W3 guidance on table concepts.

Many of these are back-end issues but it’s important that content issues like header structure and ambiguous links are instilled in to anyone adding content to the site. With new GDS regulations coming in to affect this year, a11y is more important than ever and should be at the forefront of any website build.

Breaking the fear of blogging

Blogging, or its video equivalent, vlogging, have an important role to play in sharing ideas, encouraging feedback and explaining work that might be too detailed for 140 characters.

Blogging tends to be overlooked, because it doesn’t offer the immediate gratification and ease of a social network. On something like Twitter you can publish within seconds and see responses almost immediately.

However, blogging gives you the chance to provide more context and personality. This is really important, in order to show your readers that you exist and hopefully build their interest in your work.

People are put off blogging because they believe it is time-consuming or they don’t think they have enough to say. The truth is, there are no rules to how much time you invest in blogging.

I can’t get motivated

Blogging needn’t be demanding. Do you ever feel strongly about something, hold an opinion, or learn something and feel you want to share the experience? Then you can blog about it, when you feel like it.

Draft the idea first. It might just be a few lines.

Come back to it a few days later.

Let the thoughts percolate.

Flesh it out some more, then edit.

Contrary to what you might hear, there isn’t a rule to how frequently you must publish a blog post. It helps to keep people’s attention if blogs are updated weekly or monthly, but in practice many bloggers cannot manage that.

Paul’s blog proves the old adage of quality over, er, frequency.

I haven’t got enough to make a blog post

Some of the blogs I enjoy most are simply a paragraph of two with a tip or idea. In fact the more simple you keep your blog post, the better.

You can always write a follow-up, or expand upon the original post, at a later date.

One of my favourite bloggers proves you don’t need to write hundreds of words.

No one will read it

People are unlikely to subscribe to your blog or visit it routinely in the hope that you have published something new. Once you have blogged, it’s down to you promote your blog post on other social media channels.

Choose the channels that are most appropriate for the people you’d like to read your blog. Remember, this might be via email, or a community or a forum outside of Twitter or Facebook.

LinkedIn is a great blogging platform, available to anyone with a LinkedIn profile. One of the best features is that your post will be automatically promoted to other people on LinkedIn who are interested in the topic you are writing about – and not people necessarily already in your network.

I don’t subscribe to this blog, despite it being one of my favourites.  I wait to be reminded through social media or my inbox.

Overcoming the fear

  1. Think about what you want to blog about now – don’t worry about what you might blog in the future
  2. Think about something you’ve learned, a tip or process, and share it
  3. Or if you’ve had an idea or opinion at the back of your mind, share that
  4. Only use the number of words you need. There’s no target wordcount
  5. Write as if it is you. Don’t be tempted to adopt a corporate tone, or as if you are producing a report
  6. Once you’ve published, promote your post on social media, and ask for feedback

 

Five tips for better corporate blogs

Corporate blogs are a strange place. Often a neat aggregation of the different things an organisation does, rarely personal and hard work to maintain and promote.

T shirt says I'm totally blogging this

Generally, these days, I encourage organisations to avoid launching corporate blogs. Far more interesting and credible are proper blogs, written first-hand, by staff on their own channels. Staff who want to blog, not because they think they should.

However, many of you will have inherited a corporate blog, or be expected to contribute to one, because that’s the way it is.

Some are awful and not really blogs. Others are interesting for a mooch around.

Here’s a few ideas to make your corporate blogging a bit different:

  1. First off, re-post your blog in a couple of different places, including your LinkedIn profile. Not a link back to the corporate blog, but a dedicated post using LinkedIn Pulse. All the teams we work with are say that staff posting their own blogs to Pulse are enjoying a much greater number of views and comments. That’s my experience too.
  2. For more technical or academic posts it would be worth re-posting these on The Conversation.
  3. Move away from report-style posts and congratulation pieces, to more specific, personal angles. What’s the author learned or experienced lately? Do they have a favourite source of inspiration or a tip to share?
  4. Is there a quirky angle or piece of trivia related to your story that will hook a reader’s interest? The history of names, buildings, or a behind the scenes perspective is what drives popular daily reads like Mental Floss.
  5. Ask yourself – is the contributor cut out for writing? If not perhaps they should say what they need to say in a short film? Blog posts don’t have to be text (but don’t forget to include some captions or a summary of the film).

 

Image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/contentious/ under licence CC BY 2.0