Rt. Hon. Gordon Brown,
10 Downing St.
Events beyond your control have dominated the political agenda of your first week in office, likely leaving you little time to think about your website. But it is in moments of crisis that communication is most important.
Your predecessor Tony Blair was an expert communicator in traditional media, but had little facility with new media, and the Number 10 website during his ministry made that painfully obvious. It had a dull header (the great seal and text, all in black-and-white), no visual focal point, and was unable to decide whether it was a current or historical site, everywhere mixing news stories with historical content about the building and former PMs. One might argue that Blair’s communications office was actually doing you a favour by managing the site so ineptly, making it easy for you to give it a new look.
I’ve watched the site closely over the last week, and your communications office has made some significant steps to improve it. News stories about you are getting more attention, dominating the centre of the page. Much of the history has been moved to the right side bar, and material from Tony Blair has been consolidated into an archive. You have made frequent use of the newly-created Downing Street YouTube channel for broadcasts and you are web-casting your first Prime Minister’s question period. Clearly, the website is among your priorities – and it should be.
I would carry these steps further. Put all the historical material – and only the historical material – on the right side bar. Similarly, put your news – and only your news – on the middle of the page. Present your news in a challenge-response format: here’s what we’re doing about terrorism, global warming, and flooding in the north. Use the left sidebar to organize information relevant to different types of visitors such as citizens, the media, business, students, and foreign visitors.
In addition to putting your statements on the Downing Street YouTube channel and web-casting question period, start a v-blog and use it to post short informal statements. This can help you create a friendlier image than the former chancellor as policy-wonk. You need to use the new media to compete with opposition leader David Cameron [link], who is both younger and perceived as more youthful than you.
Finally, the header. I suggest putting the seal, or perhaps simply the number 10 in the middle, centred between “the website of Prime Minister Gordon Brown” on the left and “residence of the Prime Minister for three centuries” on the right. And there are many visuals you could use for background – the building, its rooms, images of Westminster and Whitehall.
The work of modernising (your spelling, sir) Britain includes modernising your website. Good luck.
Your faithful overseas new media observer,