Content playfulness at work at CIPD

In my last post I talked about content playfulness

Content re-imagination, divisible content, digital first – all of these approaches really boil down to a sort of content playfulness – a more imaginative and more expansive approach to what might otherwise be dry, complex, academic content. Like the monks with their mischievous mythical beasts in the Book of Kells, we need to use the 21st century techniques to augment the text and illuminate the main messages.

As you’ll know, if you’ve been following these last few posts, CIPD has been well and truly stuck in a print-based paradigm. CIPD invests a lot of money in its research and policy content, but when we analysed the web traffic we discovered something shocking: not only does this content has no longevity, it also doesn’t have any real impact upon first publication. No one is reading the damn stuff.

But when we looked to how print news media, as well as how content marketing, has responded to the digital revolution we found inspiration and practical strategies to help CIPD to increase the reach and the impact of our thought leadership content. We realised that we could apply a combination of these complimentary approaches to our research and be more playful with our content.

We could assemble the ‘cutting room floor artefacts the researcher collects whilst building the research report – interviews, case studies, data sets, etc. And we could also create ‘divisible content’ – spin offs from the final report – videos, podcasts, animations, infographics – and further spin offs from them: ‘info-bites’ from the infographics and ‘shareables’ from the animations.

And we could use social media to engage existing and new audiences and ultimately drive traffic to web hubs rich with a diverse range of interesting multi media content alongside the PDF report.

So we proposed a second stream to our original Create Once Publish Everywhere project. Not only would we pilot a CCMS and DITA workflow for the authoring, editing and publishing of research reports. We would also investigate whether through:

  • assembling & creating various multi media assets to accompany the report
  • and a dedicated social media campaign

we could make a difference to the impact & the reach of our research content.

We designed a project to help CIPD envision what is possible If we married content efficiency with content playfulness, and chose reports that both represented typical output but were also in production during the project’s timeline.

(You’ll find an account of how we got on with the content efficiency side of things in my next two posts: Structured content and content efficiency and Agile content strategy: flexing to changing business reality).

So what did we produce?

Growing the Health and Wellbeing Agenda

We were somewhat constrained by the current web CMS (we’re currently building a new responsive site) – but this is what the first report on Health and Wellbeing looks like.

web page for health and wellbeing

The web hub page includes

  • a motion graphic animation
  • the report in PDF plus ebook files (both EPUB and Kindle format)
  • for those too busy to read the full report there’s an executive summary
  • a video case study
  • links to related content and the researchers’ blog posts on our new communities platform
  • and links to CIPD’s various social media channels

Labour Market Outlook

Appropriate to the type of report, we were a little more conservative with the digital assets produced for the Labour Market Outlook survey. Alongside the PDF the report is available in ebook formats as well as an animation.

The Future of Talent in Singapore 2030

We had more room to play with the web page with this one – particularly in terms of design – as it sits on a responsive microsite built specifically for CIPD Asia.

web page for Future of Talent report

The page includes:

  • the motion graphic animation
  • graphics
  • the report in PDF and ebook formats
  • and accordion sections with an in depth summary of each of the chapters. This teaser text also provides more content to help the search engines actually find the report.

The creative process

The creative process starts with a conversation between the designer and the author, to understand the report’s key messages. Salvatore (Turi) Scandurra (our multi-media designer) sketches out his interpretation of those themes for stakeholder review and further iteration. The approved illustrations are used to create the animation and multiple spin off assets – creating a unified visual brand for the report that also fits within CIPD’s corporate brand guidelines.

LMO assets

The three animations sit on the CIPD website, but here’s a ‘mash up’ that Turi created of all three, that gives a taste of what was produced.

We built three rich website experiences, with many ways for readers to engage with each of the reports. But of course we’re still publishing in a vacuum if we don’t tell anyone about them. So let’s look at the social media strategies.

The social media strategies

All three campaigns trailed the report across Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook before publication and on launch day.

We ran imaginative campaigns that included Tweet chats and big-name endorsements and made good use of the multi media assets and spin offs – the animations, shareables and infographics.

A successful campaign initiates and convenes a community debate that continues beyond launch date. From that perspective the wellbeing hashtag was the strongest, still active four months after the report’s publication, continuing to drive traffic back to the report.

You can take a look at all three campaigns at #wellbeing2016 (Growing the Heath and Wellbeing Agenda), #sgtalent2030 (Future of Talent in Singapore 2030) and #cipdLMO16 (Labour Market Outlook).

So what was the impact of these strategies on the traffic to the CIPD website and those all-important PDF download numbers?

The impact on web traffic and download numbers

We compared the data to all three reports with thematically equivalent comparison reports, analysing traffic over a 16- day period after publication.

Here’s the detail (skip this if you’re not a detail-person!)

Wellbeing was the most successful

  • Organic traffic – that is traffic from search engines – increased by 158%
  • Traffic from social media increased by over 300%
  • And we had a staggering 6,069 unique page views in 16 days – that’s close to our best annual numbers!
  • Report download numbers are up by 117%
  • And 86% of visitors to the page downloaded the PDF (our average is around 38%).

The numbers for Labour Market Outlook were also up.

  • Organic traffic increased by 45%
  • Traffic from social networks increased by 98%
  • Referral traffic is up by 58%
  • Total traffic was just shy of 3,000 unique page views (up by 22%)
  • Report download numbers were up by 58%
  • And 60% of visitors downloaded the PDF.

And the numbers for the final report in our project – Future of Talent in Singapore are also a big improvement.

  • Organic traffic is up by 493%!
  • There was a healthy amount of traffic from social media
  • Referral traffic was up by 500%
  • Total traffic was just over 2000 unique page views – not bad when you think what a niche audience this report has.
  • But only 37.5% of visitors to the page downloaded the PDF. I’ve wondered why that number is so low (38% is our average), and think it might be because the web page itself includes a précis of the text; with so much content on the site there’s maybe less need or desire to read the report itself.

In conclusion, unsurprisingly, we discovered that a dedicated social media campaign makes a significant impact to web traffic to a report’s landing page and to engagement with the PDF report itself.

Observations and recommendations


Effecting change is never easy, and during the project we put a few noses out of joint and stepped on a few toes. But with careful stakeholder management, and by embedding the agile development principle of reflection and incremental improvement we managed the negative politics that often swirl around change initiatives.

At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.

(Agile Manifesto principle no. 12)

That feedback loop, as well as the sheer quality of the outputs, won over the naysayers in the end.

And the people who most mattered in our project, the researchers – who’s hard work previously published into a void – well they were hugely engaged with the project and delighted with the results. We interviewed the researchers to record their reactions.


At the end of our project we made three recommendations to the business that would help to embed content playfulness into the research publication programme:

  • multi-media
  • social media
  • digital first research


We recommended that all priority reports include some flavour of engaging multi media assets. Both those ‘cutting room floor’ artefacts that the researcher collects as they develop their report, as well as the spin off digital assets the multi-media designer can produce.

These assets augment and they explain the main report, they draw out the most interesting findings and data, they enrich the web experience and they can be used across social media to increase reach and impact.

Social media

All research reports should include a dedicated social media campaign, making full use of those multi media assets – with the effort involved commensurate with the report’s strategic value.

And we recommended extending the campaign beyond the report’s publication date to give it greater impact and to continue the debate.

Digital first research

And finally we recommended that the role of the researcher is extended to become more like that of the digital first journalist (see my post Digital First and Content Playfulness).

diagram representing the expanded role of the researcher

As well as authoring the report the researcher

  • gathers those ‘cutting room floor’ multi-media assets
  • actively engages with the social media campaign
  • blogs and participates on CIPD’s Community platform
  • and appears in the news media as required

In conclusion

With this more playful approach to CIPD’s research content we’ve demonstrated that we can drive more traffic, reach and engage with bigger audiences.

CIPD has this amazing purpose – Championing Better Work and Working Lives – content playfulness helps us to amplify that message.


Digital first and content playfulness

In 2011 the Guardian announced the adoption of their digital first strategy to reverse long-term declining print and advertising revenues and address competition from new entrants – hybrids of original news and aggregated content like BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post.

The Guardian first coined the term ‘digital first’, but other news organisations have also publicly set out their ‘digital first’ agendas, as they struggle with the same pressures and dilemmas.

There are a number of facets to digital first – but the strongest common themes are around multi-media and social media. Basically how do you help your audience to find, engage with and share your news content to give it as wide a reach and impact as possible?

Social media opportunities

The web signals a threat but also an opportunity – particularly the opportunity to distribute content and reach a wider audience through multiple social media channels. As the editor of the FT, Lionel Barber put it in an email to staff announcing their digital first strategy:

…we must recognise that the internet offers new avenues and platforms for the richer delivery and sharing of information. We are moving from a news business to a networked business.

Multi media is at the heart

Multi media content is at the heart of digital first news. As Mu Lin writes in his journalism blog, digital first represents

…an all-inclusive approach [to] content production. When planning a reporting project, we need to consider all forms of content: video, audio, article, photo, interactive features (data/map), etc. Get all these contents equally well produced, then push them through appropriate platforms.

Rethinking news

In writing about the announcement, journalism professor and Guardian contributor Jeff Jarvis states:

[Think of]…news as a collection of pieces of Lego that can be stacked into many shapes… [making] better use of the “cutting-room floor of journalism” strewn with facts, interviews, anecdotes, and insights that don’t make it into an article, all “missed opportunities to engage readers”.

Rethinking the role of the digital journalist

Digital first journalism expands the journalist’s role. The editor of the FT again:

…we need to become content editors rather than page editors. We must rethink how we publish our content, when and in what form, whether conventional news, blogs, video or social media.

Divisible content

Digital first journalism sounds a lot like content marketing’s ‘divisible content’ or ‘content leverage’ approach:

divisible content diagram

Divisible Content 101 © Column Five

Identify your message – Create your piece of content – Break it out into numerous micro assets  – Publish it out across various social media platforms.

Content re-imagination

Which for those of you who’ve read Handley and Chapman’s Content Rules also sounds a lot like their concept of content re-imagination.

reimagine content

Good content is intentionally reimagined at its inception for various platforms and formats.

Content playfulness

Content re-imagination, divisible content, digital first – all of these approaches really boil down to a sort of content playfulness – a more imaginative and more expansive approach to what often might otherwise be dry, complex or academic content. Like the monks with their mischievous mythical beasts in the Book of Kells, we need to use 21st century techniques to augment the text and illuminate the main messages.

In my next post I’ll explore how we’ve piloted a ‘content playfulness’ approach to our research and policy content at CIPD.




Stuck in a print paradigm: analysing the problem of CIPD’s Thought Leadership content

The logical place to start with a COPE approach to content management at CIPD is with our research and policy content. It has a relatively straightforward structure, so it’s easy content to model. It’s content that is re-used across the business in other products and publications. But particularly because our research content potentially has the highest brand value. It’s our thought leadership content; it gives CIPD its authority and gravitas.

Two crucial questions

When we put the business case for a pilot for COPE and structured content to CIPD’s Executive Team last year we were asked two crucial questions:

Firstly, what’s the longevity of this content? Why should we make this huge investment – in technology and in organisational change, if the content itself has no shelf life?

And secondly: what other organisations are managing their content in this way? How are other knowledge businesses COPE-ing?

What is the longevity of our research content?

So what is the longevity of our research content? Given that we spend around £2.5m a year on our research and policy activities, and around £40,000 per report, it’s a very good question.

When we analysed the traffic to the reports’ landing pages we discovered something shocking. This content has no longevity. In the three years after they were published, only the top eight of the 58 reports published in 2011 (14% of the total output) had approximately 1000 unique page views (UPVs) per annum. 

But what was also shocking was that we discovered that the research reports also have virtually no impact in the first year after publication. The top 25% of reports published 2015 had an average of 7,000 annual UPVs. The remaining three quarters are lucky if they get an average 1,000 views in that first 12 months.

With a ready-made audience of 140,000 CIPD members, and – if we extend our potential audience to anyone with people management responsibilities that number swells to 8 million people in the UK alone – those numbers really are teeny tiny.

Andthose numbers are even worse when you consider that on average only 38% of visitors to a research report landing page actually download the PDF.

We’re stuck in a print-based paradigm

CIPD’s numbers might be shocking, but they’re really not that surprising. That’s because we’re stuck in a print-based mindset. We’ve simply transferred a print paradigm to the web.

print paradigm

(Makes your eyes bleed, dunnit?)

We’re publishing our most brand-valuable thought leadership content in PDF format on a hard-to-navigate-to landing page, on a non responsive site.

But the digital revolution is here

Whilst the CIPD is stuck in a print paradigm, its audience is experiencing a digital revolution. We all lead such busy lives, and we publishers, the content providers, we fight to make ourselves heard in the ‘attention economy’.

woman on mobile phone

  • The rise of micro content – bite sized chunks of content designed to intrigue and drive traffic back to the source…
  • The rise of video content – a potent and increasingly important way of connecting with distributed audiences…
  • And the rise of social media – sharing interesting content amongst a community of peers…

have all had a profound impact on the way that people interact with content.

This new digital age means that people are less and less likely to find, and less inclined to want to engage with a 60-odd page academic research paper only published as a PDF.

We need to think differently about how we publish our content

OK, so our research content has no longevity, nor does it have any real impact upon publication. But that’s not to say that the content has no value – we just needed to think differently about how we publish it. And that’s where the second question we were asked: what other organisations are managing their content this way, is where we found our answers to how to think differently.

Initially we went to talk to peers at other organisations who are managing their content in DITA XML. (Thanks to Mark Green at the AQA Qualifications board, Ant Davey of the Rail Safety Standards Board, Stephen Calderwood at Human Kinetics and the content team at the Institute of Engineering & Technology.) All were setting up similar projects, looking to introduce process efficiencies, to re-use/reassemble existing content into new products and greater flexibility for multi platform publishing.

companies using DITA



We reported back. But these insights just didn’t resonate with our Exec Team. The organisations we’d talked to were seen as being a bit too scientific, too technical… not really like CIPD. And … (sorry guys!) … they just weren’t seen as being very glamourous.

What about the Guardian?

‘What about the Guardian?’ we were asked – How are they managing their content? How are they COPE-ing to reach new audiences? And that’s where we found our answers to how to improve the reach and the impact of CIPD’s thought leadership content.

And that’s where I’ll leave it for now. In my next post I’ll explore what we found when we looked for case studies from news media organisations who are also moving from a print paradigm to a digital first world.


Sarah in front of a huge bookshelf

Content Playfulness and the Book of Kells

I was asked a little while ago what was the why of me? (for those of you who know the work of Simon Sinek – what was at the heart of my ‘golden circle’?). However disparate our careers, if we’re lucky there’s a common thread – an essential purpose or meaning to the work that we do.

What’s the why of me?

So what’s the why of me? After a while of reviewing my career, identifying that common thread, what I’m both good at and enjoy, I realised that this is the why of me: I’m passionate about improving the communication of valuable ideas.

When I’m not at work, busy improving the communication of valuable ideas I’m either writing, reading, painting, drawing or taking photos. Basically I love stories – telling stories in images and in words: the communication of ideas.

A visit to the Book of Kells

I’ve been asked to speak at LavaCon content strategy conference next week. For the first time it’s being held in Europe, at Trinity College Dublin. Something I’ve always wanted to do is see the Book of Kells, and whilst I’m at Trinity I’m determined to take a couple of hours out and visit the library there to take a look.

The Book of Kells was written 1200 years ago, it’s now thought a collective effort (early globalisation?) of monks in Scotland, Ireland and the North of England. With such an ancient and fragile object few people get to turn the pages and enjoy the full 340 folios. Fortunately the book is available to view in its entirety online in Trinity College’s digital archive.

Content playfulness at work

The Book of Kells includes an unprecedented number of illustrations: stories, words, pictures. Fantastical beasts and cheeky human-like figures pop up unexpectedly, winding themselves around the latin text.

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 11.06.43

As I meandered through the book I could imagine those monks enlivening the dull hours conjuring these mischievous and mythical creatures.

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 11.06.41

There’s a content playfulness at work here. The monks used celtic symbols and patterns exotic colours and decoration to augment the text and literally illuminate the main messages.

In writing out the gospels, in turning the word of God into a tangible and beautiful object those monks were improving the communication of valuable ideas – what in the medieval Christian world was the ultimate valuable idea – God’s love and eternal salvation. What was the why, the purpose of the Book of Kells? To create a tribute to God’s glory.

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 11.06.47

But also content inefficiency

But of course it was a hugely inefficient process, medieval illuminated manuscripts took years and years of back breaking labour. Occasionally bored comments and complaints found their way into the margins of medieval texts!


Not only is the Book of Kells available to view online, it is also of course on public display. Thousands of physical visitors and who knows how many thousands more digital visitors. Which is ironic, because the book originally had a sacramental rather than an educational purpose. It wasn’t designed to be read and certainly not by more than a select group of priests. There was no audience for this work.

Meanings and connections

It struck me, whilst I’ve been researching the history of the Book of Kells, that there’s a lot of parallels between that ancient text and my work at CIPD.

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.

EM Forster, Howard’s End

For me, work has to have meaning, and it certainly helps if the organisation I’m working for has a positive impact on society. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has this incredible purpose: to Champion Better Work and Working Lives. So like the Book of Kells there’s a valuable message and ideas worth communicating. But – and perhaps not quite as extreme as those monks in Ireland 1200 years ago – CIPD also suffers from a hugely inefficient content production process and it’s message doesn’t really have much of an audience.

Since I started at CIPD back in summer 2013 I’ve been working to improve the communication of our valuable ideas, primarily through improving content efficiency and more recently (and additionally) through the introduction of a content playfulness: finding 21st century techniques to illuminate our message and spread the good word (rather than the Good Word!)

Over the next few blog posts I’ll be exploring just how we’ve done that and reflecting on the successes, outcomes and observations from that work.