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Mobile first websites

mobileNacro’s new corporate website is mobile first. I commissioned it this way as it’s the predominant method by which key audiences search for information.

Pre-development research showed that the people Nacro helps, many of whom are socially excluded, often only get online while in Nacro’s services and so are also likely to access its information through a tablet.

The format lends itself to tabs and icons, which also proved easy to use for all audiences during user consultation. There is a lot of work involved in honing the icons correctly.

These also prove very social media friendly as part of a multimedia approach to content sharing.


The launch of a new corporate strategy is the best time to bring in a fresh look to a brand. This was happening while I was mid-way through Nacro’s corporate website redevelopment earlier this year. The website specification called for a bold approach to the visual look of the new website, to set it apart from the competition. The UX designer in the agency I had hired, Moove, proposed a series of large images or photos on the home page and each main section that could ‘tell the story’ of a complex organisation simply.

This tied in very well with the strategic requirements, and our small in-house team developed a photoshoot that would encapsulate each area of work through a series of scenarios. To cut costs and involve the wider organisation more closely in the brand work, staff were coordinated to play the roles of various people that Nacro helps, and the staff who help them.

It was clear to the in-house designer and me that we would require an exceptional photographer to carry out the staging and get the best from the non-professional models. Due to our development of a precise vision for the look and feel through a series of storyboards and design mockups, we were able to interest a top photographer from the advertising world. By means of incredibly coordinated administration from within the organisation, the filming was compressed into a tight timescale.

The result was two great photoshoots in one: a series of side-on images that set the tone for the new website and overhead shots for printed strategy material. The team effort involved so many people that it helped sell in the new look to the organisation as a whole.


I’ve commissioned a corporate website redevelopment for Nacro, which will be mobile-first.

I’m running the development process along Agile principles. I’m an Agile project management practitioner and I find the process is appropriate to this project as it is geared towards prototyping and early testing, which I think will be vital in building a website that meets the diverse needs of its audiences. The strategic approach looks likely to be decided in-house, through workshops, rather than by involving an external agency. This is partly because, during the consultation phase, especially when talking to the senior team, it became clear that there was consensus on a particular approach to the structure so I felt it would be useful to build prototypes very early in the project to see how this could work in practice.

Audience research suggests that mobile and tablet formats will soon predominate, even for target groups who have no regular access to a computer because when they do go online, it is likely to be via tablets at one of the organisation’s centres. Funders and other key professional audiences will be on devices too, maybe multi-screening. Therefore prototyping and agreeing on a simple, mobile version is a priority. Prototyping came in again when I tested the website architecture with user groups.

The project has been defined with the chosen web development company who are bringing further innovation and great ideas from other sectors.

I’m part of the team that has just helped Nacro’s education services gain a “Good” rating (2) from Ofsted, up from 4 within a year (May 2013-14). This is a rare achievement, in fact, unprecedented within its category. This was due to an intensive programme of change leading to a raft of improvements in planning, teaching and monitoring alongside new technology for students and refurbished premises.

I was responsible for conceptualisation and rollout of a digital communications plan incorporating:

  • the planning and introduction of a new social media policy for staff, students and volunteers, which included convening a working group, rolling out guidelines and coaching new users
  • commercial objectives for winning new business from local and national employers
  • rebrand and targeted digital marketing activity
  • a content strategy focusing on shareable content such as video. Here’s one of the videos that I commissioned.




A partnership programme of government departments required a new focus on digital and social media to communicate its activities at local level. As part of one of the supporting agencies, my task has been to advise and lead on the development of its interim digital marketing and communications on behalf of my organisation. We commissioned, prototyped and created a neutral brand. This allowed government departments and agencies to raise brand awareness and increase signups in advance of its incorporation into NHS England. It’s a specialist service, the Liaison and Diversion Programme. The interim brand, website, mobile website and Twitter account were developed in consultation with the programme committee and signed off within a month: a quick turnaround, given the number of stakeholders. It will in due course be complemented by a LinkedIn presence to capture more of its intended audience of practitioners.


Engaging video and audio, and a multimedia approach to content, is essential to a digital content strategy. I commission and direct digital content, ensuring it’s suitable for the intended audience. Usually, videos are more appropriate when they’re short and to the point and this is part of my planning for a recent series of videos in which people relate their experiences of different aspects of work.

RNY-screenRecovery Near You is an ambitious new concept that aims to tackle an endemic social problem by involving an entire city as part of the proposed solution. The problem is substance misuse and the difficulty lies in tackling it effectively in communities that are struggling to deal with multiple interrelated social issues.

A new programme has been adopted in Wolverhampton which sets out to give businesses and educational establishments a stake in improving their community by helping people who are moving on after recovering from drug and alcohol addictions. In partnership with local and national organisations, it offers placements, work and training, while offering their staff a chance to volunteer at the services. The programme is a partnership of organisations, replacing all existing services and covering the entire city. I commissioned and implemented the digital communications and the digital brand. Following a consultation process with local people, services and organisations, a “responsive” website was created as the focus of digital communications. It presents the service to commissioners, employers and people, particularly referrers, wanting to access the service. This is done by means of a website with a mobile and tablet version.

The content strategy is focused on video and personal experience where possible. The videos vary in length, depending on their relevance to the subject, and consist of case studies and testimonials. YouTube is its main social media platform. There is also a separate young people’s brand, Wolverhampton 360. This section of the website sets out to tackle the issues vital to young people seeking help: confidentiality and easy access to trustworthy information.  360-mobile

e-newsletterI am working with department in Nacro to improve the quality of their targeted audience communications, which is intended to make an ongoing improvement to its existing CRM. Newsletters are a well-established mechanism to reach audiences but they are only really effective in their own right if they contain unique, consistently high quality content.

Therefore, I recommended that an editorial board should be established within each department. This will provide that content, in conjunction with a communications lead who can help them to target their messages and ensure the audiences’ external viewpoint is incorporated.

Early issues of the newsletter pictured have twice the average e-newsletter “open rates”. This is mainly due to effective maintenance and targeting of contacts by a regional network of administrators that I established as part of the planning process – and this will continue to be a vital task.

The newsletter is developed in a mass email marketing system, to a corporate template, in which its reach and effectiveness can be analysed instantaneously. Each link in the newsletter is a call to action to the website so it is developed alongside a reorganisation of the web structure to accommodate this regular, new content.

From the outset of any new digital media development, SEO should be built into the content plan. I redeveloped the Nacro website from scratch, and subsequently many other new websites, mobile versions and social media. The planning for each one included some element of qualitative and quantitative research with end users or stakeholders to enable us to build effective SEO phrases, terms and structures to be included in the websites and their content plans.

I see the job of the web manager or team as managing and creating unique and relevant content that will enable each website and its social media to retain and improve its ranking.

SEO capability is a key element in the specification of a new website from a technical development perspective, and this is part of the reason why I commission very user-friendly content management platforms such as WordPress and Drupal, which have great SEO capabilities. It also enables accessibility, which means that a wide audience has a greater potential to discover content across a wider variety of formats and digital platforms.

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Successful, engaging policy-focused social media must incorporate input from a knowledgeable policy specialist or two to give the channel depth and authority. A communications manager will usually manage the channel to ensure that there is a balance between policy information and dialogue, and corporate messaging. This helps to ensure consistency, interaction and organisational ‘tone of voice’.

Here’s one that is run directly by a policy person: @baotcot

But most are run by social media managers. Working on social media for the King’s Fund, a health policy think tank and Independent Age, an older people’s charity, has given me a foundation for more recent social media policy work for Nacro. One example has been the Nacro programme Beyond Youth Custody, which has recently been set up to develop best practice and discussion on the resettlement of young people, primarily by means of a blog and a Twitter account.

With little resource, I do the general management and divide the work between an ad hoc team spanning media and policy. This enables me to cover effectively the main issues of media awareness, engagement, sharing, horizon scanning, event blogging, policy debate and activity updates.