What to consider for a relaunch of your corporate website

There comes a time when every company needs to think about its corporate website. ‘STOP’, I hear you say. ‘Isn’t this 2014 we live in? Corporate websites are so 90s!’ I agree. Looking at corporate websites of many large companies you could easily get the feeling that we are still living in the 90s. They are brochure-like, static pages providing content with an authoritative but not authentic voice. Of course, many pages have changed in design and added new functionalities over time. But in many cases that is not enough to address the sea of change that we have seen through the advent of social media.

And thus, there were always rumours about the death of the corporate website in the past, but Coca-Cola made it official last year:

Like any winning campaign, we let the data guide us and inform our content decisions. Replacing a transactional corporate website with a digital magazine upended how we work. With KPIs focused on engagement, the new newsroom meant publishing content based on what readers want to read. […]

[…] Today’s anniversary and home page re-launch marks a final break with the corporate website. You read it here first: for consumers, the corporate website is dead and “press release PR” is on its way out.

Ashley Brown is Group Director of Digital Communications and Social Media at The Coca-Cola Company

Thing is though, Coca-Cola is not your average company. It is a marketing machine. It can and needs to employ an armada of internal and external copy writers to make its content marketing strategy successful.  But for many other large organisations this digital magazine style approach is not an option, because it either doesn’t fit the budget, the purpose, the audience or all of the above. Arik Hanson has also some good points on why the Coca-Cola strategy should be critically questioned.

In the last year thinknext helped a successful, DAX listed company with over 40.000 employees completely rethink its corporate website strategy. At the beginning of the project we conducted an extensive analysis including internal/external user research, desk research and technical research. As part of our desk research we looked at a large number of existing corporate websites and also delved into a variety of reports to understand trends in corporate websites. None of them were satisfying, as identified trends were more closely related to web design, usability and information architecture. Many also suggested to combine social media channels with the corporate website. This is all good and well, but we couldn’t find a comprehensive answer to our most daring question: WHY?

From traditional to social

WHY do companies need a corporate website? The most important reason is certainly that publicly listed companies need to publish results and other relevant information. But why should a company spend tens of thousands of EUR on a website just to publish results? Of course, the corporate website is usually also used to provide information about the company. But what good is it if readers don’t trust it? Today people get their information from other sources including social media. And so it happens that once loosely connected people can all of a sudden turn against a company – the so-called social media shitstorm. At that point it doesn’t even matter whether the company is right or wrong or what it publishes on its corporate website. People simply trust each other more than the company!

This begs the following question: If once loosely connected people can turn against a company, could these people also become advocates of the company?  Thus, in our project we expanded the traditional purpose of the corporate website to also help building a network of advocates.

HOW do you build such network without paying people? It all starts with trust. Trust is the ultimate currency in the networked world we live in today. Relationships are built on trust. The below diagram details the elements of trust.

Enablers of Trust

These elements helped us articulate the trends that we think are crucial and should be considered by every company when thinking about relaunching its corporate website. As we are moving from a traditional to a social (networked) business world, corporate websites are moving:

  1. From static to real-time information
  2. From text to active content
  3. From channel to canvas
  4. From desktop to mobile
  5. From single source of truth to the provider of different opinions
  6. From destination to platform
  7. From providing information to providing a service
  8. From company centric design to user centric design
  9. From single launch to continuous improvement

After we had addressed the WHY and HOW, we were able to think about the WHAT. Functionality should always come at the very end. It is important to note that each trend depicts a continuum. Few companies will move from one extreme to the other within a short timeframe. As we brainstormed functionality together with the client and implementing agency we were able to come up with a concept and functionality to address some of the trends, but also plot a path towards the more progressive end of the continuum.

I firmly believe that the corporate website is not obsolete in a networked world. But its purpose and therefore content and functionality needs to change according to the trends outlined above.

In future blog posts I will expand on each trend and highlight some of the best practice from other companies that I have found during the research. 


© Picture Credit: Christoph Schmaltz

The evolution of business

[ I originally published this post on the Dachis Group blog in 2012. ]

The social business movement appears to be in full swing. Over the past weeks, I have read time and time again that 2012 will be the year of social business (Business Computing WorldSXSWWe are social). In terms of awareness, I totally agree; in terms of achieving our goals, perhaps that is too ambitious in such a short time period.

I believe that the notion of 2012 being the year of social business is rooted in a misunderstanding of what social business actually means. I do not intend to go down the slippery road of trying to create a definition.. Instead, some time ago I presented four concepts that highlighted the differences between traditional businesses using social media and social businesses. Judging by the comments it received it did a decent job at explaining what a social business is. Now, almost a year later though, I realise that it failed to show the evolutionary process required to move from a traditional business into a social business.

Graph-0.3

Picture credit goes to my colleague Giulio Martinelli

In my view, pure disconnected and social businesses represent the extremes of a continuum. To date they only exist in theory. In between you can plot any business on this planet. As the continuum suggests there is no such thing as ‘THE’ social business. It is not black and white but offers shades of grey. As time goes by we will see more organisations moving closer towards adopting characteristics of a social business and thus changing the way business is done in a connected world.

Traditional businesses with a traditional business mindset

In the past years organisations started to experiment with social tools inside and/or outside their firewall. Many of them created corporate presences on social networks adding these channels to their more traditional communication channels without changing their business attitude. Success? None! The failure was / is devastating and a true shock to the system. Nonetheless, most organisations can still be found in this category – traditional businesses with a traditional business mindset. No matter which channels and tools these organisations use, let them be social or not, these companies haven’t freed themselves from 20th century thinking yet.

Traditional businesses with a social business mindset

Forward-thinking and agile organisations have learned that in a connected world, business-as-usual is no more. They understand they need to listen to, engage and connect with the marketplace. That is why we now see HR departments connecting with potential talent on Facebook, Customer Service departments helping clients on Twitter or Business Development departments putting out thought-leadership pieces on the company blog. I call these organisations traditional businesses with a social business mindset. These are not social businesses.

I assume and would hope that this comes as surprise to many. Let there be no doubt: arriving at this level is for most organisations a huge challenge and already an amazing achievement. The way to here is long and thorny, but the rewards are plenty. However, compared to what could be these rewards might be rather small. The main problem is that at this level corporate functions still own the connections. This simply does not scale.

social_spectrum_4Picture credit goes to my colleague James Bray

Social Business

A social business is a truly connected business. It connects its employees with each other and them with the marketplace. Corporate functions are now part of the networks rather than owning and controlling the relationships. In my view, a social business creates intimacy at scale by democratising roles and responsibilities and encouraging employees to build their own brand (no, this is not a definition).

Intimacy at scale
How many connections can a HR department have with graduates, experienced hires or alumni? Do you think the HR department can ever have as many or more close relationships with their network than employees have with theirs? How well do social business efforts of a HR department scale compared to the company’s employees?

What can be said for the HR department is also true for other corporate functions like Marketing or Business Development and even R&D. Using your employees’ networks rather than relying on just your corporate functions will have a much greater impact on your business. This has fundamental impact on organisations’ social business strategy and programme!

Democratising role & responsibilities
To achieve intimacy at scale, corporate functions need to forego some of their control. (Did someone say ‘trust is cheaper than control’?) It is inevitable. We have already seen it in some pockets of organisations. For example, some companies have implemented new collaboration and communication tools. Users do not have to go through IT anymore to set up a group or community: they simply create a group and invite others. Open innovation approaches have been adopted by some companies saving the central R&D department considerable amounts of money. Some managers have adopted an open leadership style openly discussing decisions and gathering feedback from employees. Experience shows that this does not end in anarchy. IT, R&D, Management and so on provide the boundaries within employees and others can engage. However, corporate functions that have traditionally been outward-facing have shied away from the idea of democratising their role and responsibilities. In a social business, this will change.

Encouraging employees to build their own brand
This may be true only for certain industries such as professional services. In this industry especially, people are the most significant asset: the industry is about people, their knowledge and relationships. If you want your employees to participate in social media, do not make it about the company, make it about them. People are selfish. Help them understand how they can use social media to build their own brand under the company’s umbrella. If they have the means to build their own networks and enjoy working for you, they will help to show the human face of your company, will be willing to amplify corporate messages and even give it a relevant spin for their connections and networks. After all, your employees should be your greatest advocates. As companies evolve, we are beginning to see organisations not only encouraging their employees to engage on social networks, but expecting them to do so. (see Grant Thornton UK Social Media Policy Video [Disclaimer: Grant Thornton UK is a Dachis Group client. The video was created by Grant Thornton UK, not Dachis Group]).

When we look at the characteristics of a social business, we will need to answer new questions. Do companies need to incentivise or even reward employees for engaging in social channels? If every employee is expected to become a customer service agent, how do companies organise for this scenario? Do job descriptions for roles in a social business need to be altered? Can employees with large networks ask for a higher salary? Do employees indeed identify with their company and are they true brand advocates? These and many other questions will need to be answered, as organisations move to become true social businesses.

Starting to adopt a social business mindset and engaging with the marketplace is a first step in the right direction. However, it’s not the end of the journey! As businesses evolve, we will see true transformation supported by organisational design, change management and process reengineering expertise. If you are heading up a company or corporate function and are seeking to create (social) business strategies, ask yourself or your consultancy, whether they scale. If they don’t, you may be missing a trick.


© Picture Credit: Christoph Schmaltz

From traditional business to social business

When businesses ask for a social media strategy, what they are often really asking for is: Get me a presence on Facebook, Twitter and the like. The mantra of cultural and organisational change that is required in the social web seems to ring hollow. To be fair, it is not their fault. With a traditional business mindset it is hard to see why a presence on Twitter or Facebook is different from the corporate website. After all, these tools can seem to be just another communication channel.

When I talk to clients about the social web and its impact on businesses, I often use four key concepts. These concepts seem to help to explain the broader implications of social tools and why a mere presence on the social web will have a very limited business impact.

From Transaction to Interaction

Traditional Business - TransactionIn the good old days traditional businesses produced a product or service and the customer bought it. End of transaction. Over the years, they have distanced themselves from their customers. Traditional businesses live in their ivory tower from which they look down on their customers. They introduced call centres to shield themselves from customer complaints. Every so often, they introduce a new product and market it heavily using print and digital channels. Nowadays, they can also be found on Facebook and Twitter talking about their new product. They produce it, the customer buys it. End of transaction.

Social Business - InteractionA social business however, is all about interaction. It sees itself on an equal footing with their customers. Of course, it still wants their money. After all it is a business and not a charity. But a social business listens to what its customers have to say. It is eager to get feedback, both positive and negative. Negative feedback is acknowledged and addressed in an honest and transparent way. It sees it as an opportunity to co-create new products with the help of its customers. A social business operates in public and not from the heights of an ivory tower. A social business does not simply sell products, it sells customer experience.

Example
A customer of Zappos once tweeted that she had ordered shoes for her birthday. A customer representative got in touch with her asking about her order number just to make sure that the shoes would arrive on time for her birthday. You think that is difficult? Not for a social business. It is where its customers are and listens to what they have to say. It is all about interaction and customer experience.

From B2B / B2C to P2P

Traditional Business - B2B:B2CA traditional business has successfully created a wall between its customers and itself. Only particular departments are allowed to interact with the outside world, for example Marketing, HR, Customer Service. The rest of the business is shielded away from any external distraction to ensure employees are productive. Humans work in a traditional business. They have a face, but they can only show the company’s face. Sorry, company policy. Nowadays, traditional businesses have developed their own recruiting platforms. They also have a presence on Facebook, where HR advertise for new vacancies and post recruiting tips. They are really proud of this achievement. The traditional business can connect with potential recruits on Facebook. But actually, when they join they will see that Facebook is blocked. Sorry, company policy.

Social Business - P2PA social business understands that people want to connect with people and not with businesses. If customers are looking for help, they want to talk to a real person, not a company. A social business acknowledges and is proud to employ many smart people not just in HR, Marketing or Customer Service. It employs them, because it trusts them. It wants the world to know about them and enables them to connect to the outside world. That is why social networks are open for everyone and people are still productive. A social business manages by objectives, not by presence.

Example
Mary from the HR department posts new tips on Facebook, and not the HR department. A small but subtle difference. A highly talented engineering graduate asks on Facebook what life is like on an oil rig in the North Sea. Mary has never been on an oil rig, but she knows engineers who have. One engineer answers the question on Facebook, visible for everyone. It is John, not the company. People connect with people, not with companies.

From Gatekeeper to Platform Provider

Traditional Business - GatekeeperA traditional business clenches on to its old powers. It believes it still owns all the connections between customers and partners. If a partner would like to talk to another partner, he needs to go through the company. It manages in order to survive. According to a traditional business, shared knowledge is only worth half as much. Better to control the gates.

Social Business - Platform

A social businessunderstands that today’s technology enables anyone to connect with anyone, whether the business likes it or not. The gates are open. A social business knows if it simply keeps managing connections, it will survive, but if it facilitates connections it will thrive. Hence, it provides a platform for customers and / or partners. It is comfortable letting people discuss the business, its products or completely different matters. It facilitates and does not manage.

Example
Dell, a computer manufacturer runs a Facebook Page about Social Media for Business. Yes, Dell is not in the business of providing social media services. But it uses the group as a platform to stay connected with existing customers and potential customers. Dell provides more value than it can capture (in the beginning). That way, Dell stays in people’s minds. Dell may not always be the best choice, but I bet, the next time a member of the FB page is asked for computer advice by a friend, he will also mention Dell.

From Hierarchy to Network

Traditional Business - HierarchyA traditional business has a rigid top-down communication structure. News from the top is passed down through the ranks of the organisation. The middle management is powerful as it acts as gatekeeper (see above). Open and transparent dialogue between the top and the bottom of the traditional business is difficult if not non-existent. Furthermore, technology provision in traditional businesses have manifested in department silos. Few employees know what other departments or teams are working on. Cross-departmental connections are made in the cafeteria, at the water-cooler or in the smoker’s corner.

Social Business - NetworkContrary to popular belief hierarchy still exists in a social businessbut it is heavily supported by an underlying network. Communication flows are bi-directional and cross-departmental. The middle management has lost its power as gatekeeper and is now functioning as platform provider. It provides a platform for the management and employees to communicate and connect. Employees can see what other teams and departments are working on. Increased visibility leads to better decision-making, improved customer service, superior products and ultimately higher sales. At the same time a social business also acknowledges that people connect with people not just because of work but also interests. Therefore, it encourages employees to form communities of interest or purely social groups. This creates stronger bonds between employees which leads to lower turn-over rates. If an employee does leave, they are more likely to stay in touch with colleagues, not the business. Remember, people connect with people, not with companies. (see P2P concept).

Example
By now, many organisations have or are in the process of implementing a social business platform which enables employees to communicate with the senior management and also across teams and departments. Some of the most advanced and innovative organisations that have adopted this approach can be found in the Social Business Council.

No doubt, more concepts exists. However, I believe many of them are part of the ones I have outlined above, i.e. From Control to Trust (B2B/B2C to P2P; From Transaction to Interaction), From Management to Open Leadership (From B2B/B2C to P2P; From Gatekeeper to Platform), From Employee to Brand Ambassador (From B2B/B2C to P2P; From Transaction to Interaction).

If your social media strategy is all about setting up a social media presence, jump right in. It only takes a couple of minutes to set up accounts. There are gazillions of tips out there telling you how to increase your follower or “Like” counts. However, if your social media strategy is about business impact, you need to go back to basics. Understanding the key concepts and the broad impact of social tools on businesses, will help to deliver value. In the end, that is what business is all about, delivering value!


© Picture Credit: Christoph Schmaltz