I Heart Widgets

Digital display with binary code. 3d generated imageI heart widgets – I think they are one of the most lightweight and powerful tools out there for communicating real-time information to your allies.

What’s surprising though is, that with a few notable exceptions, most organization’s PR shops are stuck in the old school style of getting the word out about their activities. You know the drill: write the press release, send it to the main stream media, follow-up with a call and pitch your story.


Imagine a world where your audience found out about your activities with an on-demand tool, not on your website, but on their own blog or a website they frequent. That is the glory of widgets…

All it takes to get one launched is an RSS Newsfeed ready page. If you don’t have one, open a delicious social bookmarking account and put the content under a tag you like and use the RSS on that tag page. That’s how I generate my feed – every buzz article gets bookmarked intohttp://delicious.com/KMcShea/buzz. Notice the RSS icon at the bottom of that page? Automatic feed!

Have more than one feed? Then you need something like the old Yahoo Pipes to mash-up your RSS feeds and tie multiple RSS Newsfeeds together.

One of the easiest Widgets out there in 2009 was Spring Widgets (now defunct). Simply drop the RSS feed link in where they ask for it, customize the colors of the skin if you want, and – voila! — you had your widget ready to go.

The Politico Web site has one of the best Widget accessible sites I’ve seen. If you look on the footer navigation of any page they have an RSS/Widget directory a click away. At their campus page they even headline it “add Politico to your site” with a clear call to action explaining what the widget does for you.

(updated) This was inspiration for me to create a one-stop-shop subscribe page at DHS.gov for a redesign project I managed back in 2012.

And while you are reading their blogs and other online content, each author helpfully provides a widget for that topic area near their stories.

Blogger Ben Smith’s page is typical of the type of outreach that appears all across Politico. Publishers on Politico actively push you to take action to “get widget.” When you clicked, you got sent to the WidgetBox site (now defunct) where you can find the java script to inject into your site, comment and even customize the widget to match your site by adjusting the size and colors.


If the user wants to use any of these widgets on their site or blog, all they need to do is hit the “embed” feature at the bottom of the widget and they’ll find the code necessary to drop it into their page and perhaps even customize the size or colors of the box. It’s that easy.

If you want to target the web outlets who use your Widget a little elbow grease is required. Pick up the phone to get your fellow Webmasters to use the widget, but here’s your digital pitch: set it and forget it. Up to the minute content on topics their audience cares about. For most website managers that is music to their ears – their maintenance effort just went down, while the value of their page to their users just went up. And the payoff for you is big. When you publish your content is appears in real-time in all the sites using your widget.


A few real-life examples of widgets in action are found in the government space. During the last hurricane season, the DHS created a hurricane widget to thread together real-time updates for jurisdictions affected by the emergency.

More recently, CDC found itself in the midst of the salmonella peanut scare with over 2000 products being affected and frequent list updates needed. Their solution to the communications challenge: a directory of Widgets on their site to keep the stream of information flowing in real-time to as many online outlets as possible.

The CDC social media page is all about internal communications – corralling the power of consumers and partners alike to get the word out about the CDC issues.


The tactic of using widgets by-passes the main stream media altogether, much in the way the heralded town hall meetings of the Clinton years went over the heads of credentialed scribes to talk directly to the American people.  This new social media evolution will continue to grow because it is effective – use as many channels as you can — new and old — to drive the message out the door.

I’ve added a widget to two to this website.  My favorites are the embed features from Slideshare, Scribd and YouTube. I also have my Twitter Feed and Facebook pages inserted on all my blog pages. I am a fan of this functionality for websites and I recommend my clients jump on the bandwagon and try it out.  Plus, cross linking your social media embeds with your site can improve your page search performance and help people find you.

For more PR shops to take advantage of this tool, they need to staff and resource getting it done. It may mean letting go of some of the old ways of doing business as they try new things. Or maybe they can do both activities. The trend seems to get it that this kind of outreach is a necessary element for success and perhaps that’s why community manager is one of the hottest hires out there these days.


Web publication platforms that showcase external content with a java script injection of an embed feature is an amazing development. Are you ready to take advantage of it?