Planning Internal Communication About Your Website Redesign

Keeping internal stakeholders informed and engaged throughout the website redesign process is important to ensure awareness, alignment, and buy-in.

When parents welcome a new baby into the world, they often publish birth announcements — beautifully designed postcards featuring a sleeping baby delicately positioned in a wicker basket. Possibly wearing an ornate headband. Everyone oohs and ahhs and is delighted.

But of course, that postcard is likely not the first time people are hearing about the baby. For the past several months, the parents have probably been managing a wide array of communications — baby shower invitations, trying to prevent Aunt Judy from sending age-inappropriate toys to clutter the house, declining Uncle Bill’s offer to live stream the birth, and so on. 

Let’s say you’re expecting — a new website, that is, not a baby. You’ve finally secured the resources and the political will to redesign your university website. Huzzah! But much like with a baby, there will be a litany of internal communications to manage before that website makes its ultimate debut. 

Planning internal communications about your website redesign project — leading up to and beyond the actual launch — may entail some additional work, but it will be worthwhile to ensure your stakeholders and general community are informed and appropriately engaged throughout. After all, in many ways, a new website brings with it culture change -- whether that is coming through changes in governance, a shift in audience or strategic priorities, or changes to communications roles and process. Change can be scary, so the more engaged and informed people are, the easier it is to manage that change.

Here are some important considerations for creating your website redesign communications plan.

Define Your Communications Plan Goals and Audience

Much like your website has distinct goals and audience priorities, so should the communications plan for your website project. 

What are the goals of an internal communications effort? Be honest with yourself in defining these — yes, the overarching goal is to keep people informed and engaged, but the clearer and more focused you are about why, the more productive and relevant your efforts will be. 

  • Are there major changes happening as part of the website project (for example, a new governance model) that you need to ensure people are aware of and bought into?

  • Are there specific concerns or attitudes about the website you want to address? 

  • Are there specific partnerships across campus you want to forge or strengthen? 

To that end, your audiences may include institutional leadership, faculty, website editors — really, any group that you feel needs to be informed and engaged about this project. A clear sense of your goals will help you refine your communications approach for each audience. 

Since you’ve defined goals and audiences, it’s important to define success. This is not about open rates or blog hits. You may define success as getting a certain group to attend website training, or channelling a group’s historically strong feelings about the website into productive feedback. This type of success is harder to measure, but no less critical to achieve.

Let Your Goals Shape How You Communicate

With those goals and audiences clearly defined, now you can determine the ideal, most helpful communications approach. There are many things you could share over the course of your website redesign project:

  • Project team/roles, updates, schedule, and milestones (but never share a specific launch date sooner or more widely than you need to!)

  • Rationale for the website redesign

  • Sneak peeks / highlights of project deliverables 

  • Noteworthy insights gleaned through research, discovery, and testing

  • General education or training around relevant best practices to support understanding of any changes coming on the new site (this can double as thought leadership opportunities for your team, for both internal and external audiences, to ensure they are seen as experts and owners)

Deciding what you communicate will depend on your target audience(s) and your goals in engaging them. Your institutional culture may also play a role. Ask yourself: what information is necessary to share? What will help achieve our goals? What could potentially backfire, and how?

One example -- you will receive many project artifacts throughout the course of a website design. Sitemap, wireframes, design concepts, you name it. It can be tempting to err on the side of full transparency and share these deliverables in full for review by the community. But this comes with a risk -- without the appropriate context to understand the underlying rationale of those deliverables, you risk sowing more confusion than understanding. Also, wide distribution may be interpreted as wide allowance for feedback -- this could put your core team in an awkward position of managing requests that don't align with the project strategy. A better approach -- share high-level overviews or selections of the work, with context about the underlying strategy and guidance around the next steps and how feedback is being managed (if at all).

Bring Your Partners Into the Loop

As part of your website redesign project, you may have a few partners involved — an outside design agency, a branding firm, internal partners like IT, and so on. You don’t necessarily need their sign-off to embark upon an internal communications campaign for your website redesign, but it is advisable to be sure they are informed so you can bring them into the broader narrative of your project. 

For instance, if last year’s brand research is informing this year’s website redesign, it can be helpful for your internal community to see these efforts as connected and part of a comprehensive effort to refine how the institution markets itself. For a group like IT — with whom you may be partnering on technical aspect of the project — engaging them more closely as a partner in your internal communications effort, and not just a recipient of those communications, may be prudent.

It’s also important to make sure that your executive sponsors have awareness of (and buy-in around) your internal communications plan — they will want to see that there is alignment between the project they are supporting and the narrative you are communicating.

A Holistic Approach to Your Internal Communications Plan

Your website redesign communications plan could go in a hundred different directions, but keep in mind — while this is an important part of your project, you will still have a lot of core project-related work to do. So be realistic about what you can sustainably maintain over the life of the project, and prioritize your efforts.

Bringing a content strategy mindset to this effort can be clarifying. Here are a few key considerations:

  • What content formats will you employ, and how? Some options may be:

    • Email newsletter (how will you publish and distribute it, and at what frequency?)

    • Blog (can you update this regularly? How will you distribute posts?)

    • More static update log on your departmental website

    • Send regular updates to a preexisting internal listserv

    • Twitter (is your audience there?)

    • Campus informational screens 

  • What should our voice and tone be? 

    • Will you be the voice of the institution (more formal and brand-aligned) or the voice of your web team (perhaps more lighthearted and casual)? 

    • Is the tone enthusiastic, supportive, instructive?

  • What roles and workflow are involved in this process? 

    • Who owns and drives the narrative and approach? 

    • Who is creating the content?

    • Who is approving, publishing, and distributing it?

Also, the best communications plans won’t just live online. Whether you see a need for town hall meetings with your vendor partner present to help sell a new idea to your community, or you think that regular office hours with website editors will help more easily transition them to a new CMS, the in-person elements of your internal communications plan are important to think through, as well.

Outreach as a Project Theme

Emails and blogs are not the whole of your website redesign project communications. Your stakeholder discovery, CMS and content editor training, user research, and usability testing can also be considered means of outreach. Throughout those efforts, you are engaging, educating, and inviting feedback, while also doing the actual work of the project. Be sure your internal communications plan is mindful of those project phases as additional touchpoints of outreach.

With all of these efforts combined, by the time you launch, your community should have solid awareness of the project and received multiple opportunities to meaningfully engage or contribute. This gives you a solid leg to stand on as you roll out a new website that inevitably upends some things that people are used to.

There will always be someone who hates that you moved the email link, made the logo bigger (or smaller), or added that new feature to the homepage. If you do your due diligence to get broad buy-in through comprehensive outreach and communications, you can mitigate the impact of the random haters and focus more on taking care of your new, adorable bundle of digital joy.

This article was originally published in 2021.