Politely communicating that your site needs a total makeover
July 22, 2009 1:29 PM   Subscribe

How does a lowly unpaid blog contributor tell his/her bosses that the whole site needs a major redesign?

I've had the privilege of being invited to contribute for my former employer's new blog, and I've been enjoying producing some content on a weekly basis or so as part of a team of 5-6 people. However, their entire content management system is archaic, buggy, and needs a major systematic and aesthetic overhaul. I'm talking no RSS feed, disappearing posts, a comment system that doesn't even allow users to leave their names. Worst of all, I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm the only person involved in this whole project who is tech-savvy enough to be aware of solutions such as Wordpress that could fix this situation (or Drupal, if they wanted to fix their whole site.) And I'm no IT expert myself.

I'm having to balance my distaste (to put it mildly) for the way they're running this new blog with my admiration for the organization in general for allowing me to contribute, as well as my important and delicate professional relationship with them. The main communications/IT person has served as a reference on job applications in the past, and I care very deeply about how these important contacts view me if I end up working in their industry full-time in the future. I just graduated college and lack full-time employment, so I know that having this opportunity is an important privilege and professional and personal relationship I would never want to damage.

I guess this is a question not only as to whether I should or should not say something, but if I should, a question of communication. How can I express that their site, particularly this blog, has such an outdated look and feel that it must be negatively impacting their credibility without sounding like a snooty, ungrateful young upstart? Can I offer to help them redesign their site, or at least get them a Wordpress, without sounding or acting like I know better than they do? Is there a way to avoid the risks and pitfalls of this situation besides shutting up and putting up with this web 0.5 silliness? Similar experiences and suggestions for content management systems or blog hosting sites are also welcome.

throwaway email: helpmefixmyemployersblog@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I am not sure I understand what your relationship to your previous employer is, but if you're providing content for their blog, I assume they are benefiting from essentially free content creation. Unless I'm missing something, you're doing them a favor by contributing, and while you may befit from the exposure, etc. they are the ones who are coming out ahead and should be interested in keeping you happy, especially since you have the company's best interests at heart too. If you're paid, this changes things slightly, but I think your input (combined with a willingness to make it happen) will be appreciated or at worst ignored.

If you're willing to actually do some work for making the upgrade happen, the best thing would be to frame your request as an idea for improvement. Say "I think there's a way to use this cool thing called Wordpress that could really make the blog even better and I'm willing to do the work to make it happen" as opposed to "Your old blog sucks and is ancient; lets upgrade." If you really want to make it happen, create a prototype before you talk to them so you can show it off.

Though consider why you would want to plow lots of unpaid work into an ex-employer. Again, if they're paying you, it's a non-issue, but then you would have to convince them why it's a good use of you time.
posted by bsdfish at 1:40 PM on July 22, 2009

Don't pitch it as credibility; pitch it as audience. I'm a freelance blogger for a large, well-known organization, and they've been incredibly receptive and responsive to my suggestions like "I think our RSS feed should include the whole post, not just the first n characters, so people are more likely to read and then pass the link along" or "I worry about the way you've set up post categories... in my experience, people are more likely to search for X instead of Y, so we might get more hits if we do things differently." I think, especially with things like user comments like you mentioned, you have an easy way to do this -- "It'll be hard to generate discussion among our readers without these features. I know that [NAMEOFBLOGSYSTEM] does this by default, and might also make posting/organization/backup easier. Can we look at moving to this instead?"

I suspect that going to them and saying "You know, this sucks and looks amateur. Why don't you fix it?" would not fly.

Of course, even after you bring them kicking and screaming into the latest and greatest blogging technology, they'll be beholden to SEO "experts" and advertisers who force them into a certain framework, and there's no arguing out of that. *sigh*
posted by olinerd at 1:43 PM on July 22, 2009

Blog it
posted by low affect at 2:12 PM on July 22, 2009

I would come in armed with all the benefits that something like Wordpress offers that their system does not. RSS, simple CMS, nice cheap/free themes... Make it look so good that they can't ignore the disparities. Given your description of their setup, this shouldn't be hard.

Also, lots of companies/older folks believe that "recent college grad" is synonmous with "understands blogs/twitter/facebook." Some of my friends got jobs right out of college because of this assumption. They may be delighted to hear your input.
posted by martens at 2:13 PM on July 22, 2009

In my experience, presenting actual comments from actual users is more effective than stating my own opinions. "I've been hearing from people that..." rather than "I think that..."
posted by booth at 2:43 PM on July 22, 2009

Would they be open to having a poll on their blog to see what the readers think? Maybe a link to SurveyMonkey?
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 2:51 PM on July 22, 2009

If I might offer a differing perspective...

If you are not the only person who has noticed the problem (i.e. if other bloggers complain regularly, or if users remark as well), then you might try to gently create an aggregate "user experience concern" that you can float by a friendly ear on the management team. Otherwise, I say keep your mouth shut. Here's why:

First, you are not an employee of this company, and you have no fiduciary or ethical or other relationship that compels you to speak up about your concerns.

Second of all, nobody asked you. You are proposing creating a hairy business problem for the very person who writes you these references that you value so much. There is also the risk that he/she will take it as a personal criticism; this is a stack that he/she directly owns in the company, remember.

Most importantly: you have stated emphatically to us that you are so honored to even be associated with this outfit ("the privilege of being invited to contribute"... "my admiration for the organization in general"... "my important and delicate professional relationship with them"... "I care very deeply about how these important contacts view me"... "this opportunity is an important privilege and professional and personal relationship I would never want to damage").

Why on earth would you risk such an important relationship for something that isn't even in your (unpaid) job description?

Is it possible that you are fantasizing the mental montage whereby you offer to rescue them, and then they will immediately listen with pens poised to jump on your words of wisdom, running to earmark new funds and human resources for blog re-development in a down economy... and then the new site/CMS will be so wonderful that there will be sonnets of praise written in your honor, and a day of celebration named for you? Or something even slightly less Disney but along those lines?

Rebuilding a company website is almost never as simple as it ought to be. I don't mean that you aren't surely right on target in your assessment that their site sucks, Anon... just that what you are proposing is fraught with peril and doesn't seem worth the risk to your own future career plans.

Maybe you can just keep a keen ear open for rumblings about changes, and be Johnny-on-the-spot to join in. A well-timed "You know, I'm a millenial and we sort of come with this blogging thing built in... I would be pleased to contribute feedback as both a reader and CMS user, when the time eventually comes to revamp our company blog and website" could plant a harmless seed without actually starting a spiral of Bad Stuff.
posted by pineapple at 3:44 PM on July 22, 2009

Maybe you could just show up one day with a completed redesign all ready to go?
posted by Sys Rq at 5:19 PM on July 22, 2009

You could build a business case for overhauling the site. Show the business reasons (use numbers, wherever possible) to indicate the return on investment. And note the fee you would charge for doing the overhaul.

But, that aside, you might benefit from instead going after some blogs and companies that will pay you. Or that will provide mentorship and pay. Try going after small contracts. When I was just barely out of school, I started my consulting company. People paid me. Don't work for free. At least arrange for barter or something.
posted by acoutu at 9:39 PM on July 22, 2009

I run a small team that updates a corporate Intranet. The CMS used is archaic, old, buggy, doesn't adhere to modern standards etc. -- but we're stuck with it for a variety of political, business and technical issues. Plus there's no impetus to change. If I know that, then I imagine most of our contributors know that.

Just because they haven't done anything about it doesn't necessarily mean they haven't thought about it.

Having said all that, if you couch your suggestions in a "Have you thought about improving the blog by ... ", I can't see how anyone could be personally insulted. Have a go.
posted by almostwitty at 9:13 AM on July 23, 2009

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