Corporate website trend: From single source of truth to the provider of different opinions

Summary: Moving ‘from single source of truth to provider of different opinions’ is the fifth corporate website trend we identified. This post is part of a series of blog posts in which we look at trends for corporate websites.

One of the biggest problems with corporate websites is that they are seen as yet another company’s broadcasting channel. No matter the information it will always have the company’s positive spin on it. It was a comfortable position for companies back when corporate websites were the main destination to find information. But these days your audience can get information about your company from a variety of (online) sources. You say you are the best employer in the world? Well, people on Glassdoor say the opposite. You say your CSR campaign is an incredible hit? Well, people in forums and communities beg to differ. No matter what, people will probably trust your content on your website less than other sources. And these days it’s easy to find these sources, so it’s not advisable to bury your head in the sand.

To earn the trust of your audience the corporate website will need to move from single source of truth to the provider of different opinions. Corporate websites are starting to provide corporate and non-corporate content, i.e. 3rd party or user-generated content. This is a tall order for most companies, as it can potentially mean losing control of your message if done wrong. Thus, we probably won’t see radical shifts in this trend but slow developments, starting on social media channels, microsites, then brand sites and ultimately corporate websites.

One of the simpler and most cost-effective way of providing different opinions is content curation. Thus, the corporate website team curates relevant, external content that was not produced by them but 3rd parties. The adidas Group have started doing this with their recent relaunch of their corporate website.

In 2013 Siemens teamed up with Zooppa to crowdsource videos through a contest. Participants were asked to create original footage about  inventions that can help us lead a sustainable life in the cities. 

Siemens - Crowdsourcing video messages

Siemens – Crowdsourcing video messages

The requirements of the contest stipulated explicitly that the video must not be Siemens branded. Some of these videos can now be found on the Siemens homepage. They are part of the /answers campaign, which uses storytelling to build an emotional connection between the audience and the company.  Siemens understood quite well, that if the content is good, it will speak for itself and spread across the social web. Nice touch, that Siemens could indirectly be associated with the innovation initiative.

One interesting way of providing opinions and views from different people is using employees’ tweets. In the end, people connect to people, not companies. Below you see a screenshot from the General Electric homepage from 2012. It displays tweets from GE employees as well as their picture. 

GE employee tweets on the corporate homepage

GE employee tweets on the corporate homepage

Now, I assume that GE has some tools in place to pick the right tweets and to avoid any embarrassing tweets showing up.

For writing this blog post I revisited the GE website. GE have now moved employee and non-GE-employee tweets to the Story section. In a sense that is a shame, as those tweets are not front and center anymore. On the other hand, tweets are now embedded into the right context (Link to a GE Story).

GE employee tweets are displayed at the end of GE Stories

GE employee tweets are displayed at the end of GE Stories

What is important to understand in a networked world is that we are not dealing with B2B or B2C anymore. It’s all P2P – People to People. People trust people, at least more than they trust companies. Thus, in a sense you don’t want your audience to connect to your company but to the people who run your company including any employee. But organisations can also think beyond their own employees. They could include tweets or other content from analysts, journalists, CSR professionals, partners, sports stars (if for example the brand is in the sports business) etc.

A more elaborate and time and cost intensive way of providing different opinions is corporate blogging. Corporate blogs offer an opportunity to provide more informal insights into the company and conversational content if done right. Ideally, employees and managers of the company write interesting blog posts about their work, opinions, insights. If done right, corporate blogs can definitely support marketing and recruitment efforts in an informal and indirect manner. However, companies should consider their audience and effort it takes to make it work! Personally, I like the adidas Group Corporate Blog. It is written by employees and touches on a large variety of topics that are interesting and relevant to me.

adidas Group blog

adidas Group blog

 

Opening up the corporate website to non corporate and third-party content is a huge change. But there are a few simple steps that can be taken towards it.


This blog post is part of a series of posts in which we delve into the trends for corporate website that we have identified. The series:

  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

© Picture Credit: Paul Gallo

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

Is the concept of blogging scalable?

[ I originally published this post on the Headshift blog in 2009. ]

This blog post was originally published by me on the Headshift blog in 2009.

It seems that there are only two topics people talk about these days . One is the economic turmoil and the other is the microblogging service Twitter. While there is unanimous consent that we are facing one of the worst economic situations after WWII, there is a heated debate going on about the usefulness of Twitter. Some simply love it while others can’t make sense of it viewing it as time-wasting and geeks’ new toy.

Despite the sarcasm of its numerous critics Twitter showed an impressive growth rate of 900% in the last year, and that’s only the usage of twitter.com. Double that traffic comes through the APIs, thus 3rd party applications. Some even suggested that Twitter could go mainstream soon, without actually defining what numbers needed to be reached to justify that statement.

Fact is, microblogging is not simply a super cool form of communication (a la SMS speak of teenagers but for 18+ (average Tweeter is 31!)). It fills a real need for almost realtime communication. If you want to know what people are paying attention to at the moment, you use the Twitter search instead of Google. Next time a plane touches down on the Hudson River make sure you are watching your Twitter stream instead of waiting for images to appear on CNN. So, microblogging will not go away. Twitter could potentially disappear, but at the moment that seems rather unlikely, especially since Pownce (talent) was recently aquired by Six Apart and Google couldn’t figure out how to make Jaiku work and in the end giving the code base to the community.

Let’s assume for a minute that Twitter will continue to grow at a phenomenal rate. You can only speculate on the number of current users, since the founders do not disclose the exact number. Jeremiah Owyang suggested something between 4 – 6 million users, up from 0.5 million in January 08. This would mean at the end of the year we could potentially see a whopping 45 million users on Twitter. (I will hold it like Winston Churchill and advise you that you shouldn’t trust any statistic that you didn’t forge yourself. So, please don’t quote me on this number!)

What I am trying to understand is if microblogging as it stands at the moment is actually scalable, not in terms of technology but behavior and usage. The biggest question mark I have is around the @ messages. Twitter was called superior to Email because you would only receive updates from people you choose to follow. Well, yes and no. This is certainly true for your overall friends update stream and Direct Messages. However, if you haven’t activated the setting ‘show me only @ messages from people I follow’, anyone can send you an @ message. There are people on Twitter that have thousands of followers and I assume they receive hundreds of @ messages. I have no clue how they cope with it, but I believe only few of us would put up with such flurry of messages. And how long will it take until someone creates a bot that listens to specific keywords and sends out @ messages to the people that used those keywords? Imagine you send out three tweets and receive nine spam @ messages. That may not seem severe but I think you get the idea. So, is the @ message functionality doomed once Twitter grows even more popular?

Furthermore, Twitter applications will need to become much smarter to be still practical once it does hit mainstream. For example, I am thinking of the dozens of RTs, which go unfiltered at the moment. Threaded replies (yes, I do have the Greasemonkey script installed, but I am mostly using Tweetdeck) would make life much easier, especially if someone responds to a tweet a day later and you have forgotten about the original tweet. If you have a conversation with two people it would be great to simply reply to the thread and it goes automatically to both recipients. Or would that open the door to spamming and we would see a CC functionality in disguise?

Abuse could become a significant issue for Twitter. We have seen that already happening, when Twitter accounts of high-profile people were hacked and sent out spam messages. Jeremiah Owyang fell vicitm to another spam spoof a couple of days ago, in which supposingly a bot created various Twitter accounts just changing one letter of his account and following thousands of people. Twitter is already plagued with spam followers, which is nothing serious but simply annoying. In the future another nuisance could be that spam twitter accounts are created en masse sending out messages to each other using specific keywords or hashtags. The more there are the more likely it is that the Twitter Search will be polluted with those messages.

Openness can be a blessing and a curse at the same time. I am very curious to see how our behavior and usage will evolve with the growing popularity of microblogging and how technology will cater for those sorts of changes. Maybe I am just overly concerned and microblogging does scale. That’s for you to decide. I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts.

Oh, and I am @christoph by the way.