Corporate website trend: From single launch to continuous improvement

Summary: Moving ‘from single launch to continuous improvement’ is the ninth corporate website trend we identified. This post is part of a series of blog posts in which we look at trends for corporate websites.

It used to be the case that corporate websites were launched and then forgotten about for the next five years until the site was dated and another relaunch was necessary. Of course, content changed, but functionality and information architecture were hardly touched in between the relaunches. As developments in the networked world move faster and faster, a single big-bang launch every five years is not a viable strategy anymore. Instead, we will see continuous improvements to corporate websites, more exploring and testing of valuable functionality for stakeholders.

To ensure continuous improvements are possible you will need to make sure that you have an appropriate technology platform. One that can be extended and customised without compromising the performance and stability.  There are hundreds of CMS options out there, both proprietary and open-source, making the right selection a challenge. If you work in the External Communication department make sure you work closely with the IT department to select the right platform. However, you should lead! Previous approaches were often only a tickbox exercise. Some IT departments would tweak the list of functional requirements in a way that the CMS came out first, that would best fit the IT landscape, could be best supported by IT or was in use at the company already. But that CMS might not be useful and usable for content editors that need to use the tool on a daily basis.

It is highly important to avoid making the CMS selection a tickbox exercise only. A hybrid approach works much better. Together with IT draft a list of requirements for security, licenses, compliance etc. From that you can create a shortlist of relevant CMS platforms. In a next step document so-called user scenarios. These are scenarios written in plain English explaining what a certain user needs to accomplish. You create these scenarios based on interviews with stakeholders. Here is one example that I used in a client project:

Henry is part of the <Company X> Corporate Communications team. Today he needs to publish a news item on the corporate website. He has prepared the content in a Word document including text, pictures and a table. Once he has moved the content from the Word document into the CMS he searches the media library for relevant assets, finds a picture and includes it in the article. A widget shows him related content, from which he selects one item. As with all <Company X> related content on the corporate website the article needs to be in German and English. In addition to the version in German, Henry creates an English version. He saves both versions and triggers a workflow (optional) that informs Alice, Henry’s manager, of new content in the CMS. She receives a notification and accesses Henry’s article.

This is a very common user scenario for content editors. When investigating different CMS platforms, ask vendors or your IT department to walk you and your team through such user scenarios using the different systems. That way you will get a much better feel of which system helps you accomplish the tasks best. Too often vendors and IT departments highlight functionality that is not relevant to your workflows and thus makes the use of the systems just more complex and cumbersome. Concentrate on what you need the system to accomplish instead of all the bells and whistles it offers. For my client we decided to go for a CMS framework instead of a complete CMS platform. It is more suitable for the requirements identified, does not incur additional license cost and provides the client with a platform that he can build upon in the coming years.

In this blog post series I looked at a number of trends for corporate websites. Many of them require a substantial mindshift. This shift and its implications will take time. It’s nothing that will be accomplished and implemented over night. If you are tasked with the relaunch or further development of your organisation’s corporate website you may want to consider the  trends discussed and start pushing the envelope. Start with expressing your organisation’s objectives and corporate communication strategy. What is it that you want to achieve? In a next step, research in-depth your target audience and understand how you can attract but also help them. Consider the corporate website trends I talked about in this series and start brainstorming relevant functionality. Some of those ideas might not be applicable right away, simply because your corporate culture or processes are not ready for them yet. Start with the quick wins, but plot all ideas on a timeline. That way you develop a roadmap that can be used for the continuous improvement after your last big-bang launch of your corporate website. Good luck and enjoy the ride!


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: Duane Schoon

Corporate website trend: From company centric design to user centric design

Summary: Moving ‘from company centric design to user centric design’ is the eight corporate website trend we identified. This post is part of a series of blog posts in which we look at trends for corporate websites.

This trend does certainly not only apply to corporate websites. In fact, this applies to any product or service in this world.  To be successful any product or service needs to be useful, usable, delightful and accessible. You may want to add affordable, but in the end people are willing to pay a premium if the aforementioned product or service characteristics are fulfilled.

Useful – is one of the key characteristics to make a product or service successful. In the past, product and service providers often assumed that they would know what their users wanted. Even worse, in some cases providers never even had an interest in why and how users would use their products or services. Look at Enterprise IT. Most systems are completely unuseful and unusable! This is changing. New disciplines like User Experience Design have emerged. It goes way beyond traditional visual design and usability approaches, as it places the user with all his needs and behaviour at the very centre. The same is true for service design, which follows similar customer centric principles.

What does this all mean when you consider relaunching your corporate website? In previous blog posts of this series I mentioned a number of interesting examples from companies and how they have implemented the various corporate website trends. These example may make sense to those companies and their audience, but maybe not for you. Therefore, user research has become a critical component in developing new products and services. There are different methods of user research from surveys and interviews to focus groups or even observing representatives of your target audience.

One of the most common and scalable approaches are anonymous surveys like the one from HP below.

HP_Feedback

HP – Invitation to participate in a survey on the corporate website

Designing surveys is a science in itself. You will need to evaluate the number of questions, the conclusions that can be drawn from the answers, the time people are willing to spare to participate and many other factors. Many survey providers offer packages including for surveying visitors to corporate websites. This should help to get you on the right track and you can build from there.

An anonymous survey is something that scales nicely, is affordable and depending on the design of the survey and overall number of visitors can provide you with supporting data points. It will hardly be the case though that insights gained from the survey will drastically impact your strategy or functionality. It can either be used on an ongoing basis to capture feedback and learn about potential improvements or for the relaunch of the corporate website to gather additional data points to support initial assumptions.

Interviews are another research method that allow you to go deeper on needs and behaviours of your target audience. It may sound strange at first to want to interview journalists, analysts or CSR professionals. Besides, you may refrain from doing so, because everyone is extremely busy. That is true. But most people can spare 10-15 min, especially if you already have a connection with them (e.g. journalists that cover your company often). They feel valued that you ask them for their opinion. And in the end their time might be excellent invested, as the new corporate website should help them in their job. Thus, a win-win situation.

Best to label the interview as a conversation and ideally pick it up when you need to talk to the other person anyway. What is highly important though is that you do not ask ‘What functionality would you like?’. It’s a hit and miss. Better to allow your conversation partner to explain how they work. If it is a journalist, how does he get ideas for stories? How do they decide which story is worthwhile writing? How do they research the story? Of course you can also ask what they like/dislike about your website or what other corporate website they like. Similar for other audiences like analysts and investors, CSR professionals, career seekers, consumers etc. What you really want to understand is their way of working and where you could imagine functionality to improve their way of working and interaction with you and your company (including through the corporate website). From that insight you can derive relevant functionality and design the experience the way it makes sense to the user.


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: Felix Cohen

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

Corporate website trend: From desktop to mobile

Summary: Moving ‘from desktop to mobile’ is the fourth corporate website trend we identified. This post is part of a series of blog posts in which we look at trends for corporate websites.

I believe this trend is already well understood and I don’t have to explain it in greater detail. With the omnipresence of mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) people can access information whenever and wherever. This leads to great opportunities. But there are different ways of moving from desktop to mobile.

1) Mobile site or responsive/adaptive design?

Some time ago mobile sites of corporate websites were quite common. Most of them look like m.companyname.com. BASF and Siemens are still using this approach.

In the past years responsive / adaptive design has climbed the stage and seems to become the default option for organisation currently thinking about relaunching their corporate website. Both responsive and adaptive designs run on one codebase. Responsive web design uses flexible and fluid grids, and adaptive design relays on predefined screen sizes. (this article has more detail on the differences). In both cases though content and navigation are rearranged depending on the screen size of the device used.  Shell was one of the early companies to adopt responsive design.

Desktop version of Shell's corporate website

Desktop version of Shell’s corporate website

 

Responsive version of Shell's corporate website

Responsive version of Shell’s corporate website

Have a look at this article that describes in more detail the differences between a mobile site and one with responsive design.

2) Mobile Apps

It was to be expected that with the availability of mobile apps, companies would jump on the bandwagon and create such apps. Whether this makes sense or not depends on different factors. Mobile apps can provide a richer feature set and have more access to elements of your smartphone. But most corporate websites only serve static content (for now), which raises the question whether a separate mobile app where content will need to be uploaded separately and versions for different operating systems will need to be developed and maintained, makes a lot of sense. Time will tell.

Below is a screenshot of Unilever’s Investor Relations App.

Unilever Investor Centre App

Unilever Investor Centre App

It basically provides all the content that can also be found on the corporate website. Additional value seems to be missing, which I believe is a huge drawback. You could imagine expanding this app to include information about Unilever’s Annual General Meetings especially for participants to receive local content and services when attending on site. Companies should always consider things that are useful for the audience, let it be journalists, investors or others.

Cisco is taking it slightly further with its mobile app.

Cisco mobile app

Cisco mobile app

It offers latest news and promotional offers, videos and podcasts. It also allows users to find events and Cisco partners in their area, local phone number for Cisco support and receive current security alerts, advisories and responses. As you can see, the app provides localised content which might be more useful to users than generic content that can also be found on the corporate website. Thus, the app does not only provide information but also a service. This is another trend for corporate websites that we see and will discuss in a later blog post.

Before I come to the end, I will leave you with the ENI SandArtist mobile app. Users can create their own masterpieces on sand and share it with their networks. Well, here is mine:

My masterpiece using ENI's SandArtis mobile app

My masterpiece using ENI’s SandArtis mobile app

 


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: Lauren Manning

Corporate website trend: From channel to canvas

Summary: Moving ‘from text to active content’ is the third corporate website trend we identified. This post is part of a series of blog posts in which we look at trends for corporate websites.

When companies started to flock to the WWW things were simple. They set up their corporate website, digitialised their content and done. Back then the WWW felt like a channel. Today it has become a canvas. With the proliferation of social media, companies now need to think multi-channel. There is a plethora of services that organisations can use to expand their digital footprint. To make things even more complicated HR, Marketing, Customer Service, External Communication departments and others could all potentially leverage social media channels to address particular business needs creating their own channels. At times this can also lead to confusion for customers and inefficiencies for organisations.

What is clear is that social media channels cannot and must not replace the corporate website. In fact, they complement each other. In the beginning companies were driving their audience towards their social media channels to be able to engage with them in better ways. But soon companies were unnerved by the frequent changes made by behemoth like Facebook or services that came and went like Posterous that was used for content curation. A better way is to leverage the size of existing and successful social media channels and services to reach larger audiences but aggregate the content and to a certain extent activity on the corporate website to drive traffic back to a place that is owned by the company. 

In this series I normally try to highlight good examples of the corporate website trends that we see. In this case I rather start off with a poor example, simply because it’s an easy mistake to make and I have seen it quite often.

Poor integration of social media channels

Poor integration of social media channels on Boeing’s corporate website

Whilst linking to social media is easy, the integration often looks basic at best and irrelevant at worst. Boeing’s corporate website is a particular poor example. On the Media page we see a number of sharing options. It breaks the layout and looks cheap. But the real question is: Does anyone use the sharing functionality?

The ‘Connect with Us’ widget on Boeing’s corporate website is equally challenging. In this particular case the reader is confronted with two FB channels, three Twitter channels. There is no tool tip to understand which channel is what. Luckily, these widgets do not appear on every page of the website!

As mentioned before companies should identify relevant channels to leverage their network and scale. For example, many companies already rely heavily on YouTube to host and distribute content. Procter & Gamble use YouTube primarily for storytelling, Nestle has a separate Investor Relations channel, whilst Deutsche Telekom tries to represent the entire company on YouTube. Another distribution network is Flickr, a photo-sharing website. Deutsche Bank have had a presence on Flickr since 2009 to host its own photos but also link to photos from other Flickr users.  I am yet to find a company that has started hosting all their media assets (e.g. pictures of premises, board members, logos etc.) on Flickr. But maybe it will happen one day. Slideshare is potentially another interesting channel to host for example slides, webcasts of a company’s annual general meetings or other relevant content. BASF has been using Slideshare for the past three years now.

With this proliferation of external channels, the corporate website needs to become a platform to aggregate them. Some companies don’t dare to touch the traditional newsroom and instead create  a separate subsite to aggregate social media content. Here is an example from Lufthansa.

A separate Lufthansa Social Media Newsroom

A separate Lufthansa Social Media Newsroom

But some companies also try to extend the traditional media newsrooms to include the company’s social media channels. Integration efforts vary between simple linking and pulling in content either via API or widgets. SAP uses a hybrid approach and links to social media channels but also displays a Twitter feed. Also, have a look at Microsoft Germany and Pfizer as they try to break down the silo between traditional and social media newsrooms. However, their integrations look cheap and poor breaking the look & feel of the site. Scania Group have done a better job in this case, especially with pulling in photos from Flickr and videos from YouTube.

Incorporating social media channels in a corporate website is a good start to position the corporate website as a platform rather than single channel. But I believe we haven’t seen the most interesting use cases yet. For example, LinkedIn offers a plugin that allows career seekers and other users coming to a company’s website to see who in their LinkedIn network works at that company.

Commonwealth Bank - Using LinkedIn plugin to show who you already know at the bank

Commonwealth Bank – Using LinkedIn plugin to show who you already know at the bank

The Commonwealth Bank is the only organisation I have seen making use of the LinkedIn plugin. Even without checking LinkedIn the plugin already showed me that I have 56 people in my network that could introduce me to employees working at the bank.

Furthermore, I believe that companies should not only look at external social media channels to hook up with their website. Many companies have created communities, enterprise social networks, blogs etc. behind the firewall. Exposing some of that content with as little friction as possible on the corporate website would be a win for transparency for the company and readers.

Given the plethora of social media tools and the value they can potentially add for a company, companies will not get around them easily. If they do extend their digital footprint though, they will need a comprehensive strategy and how to tie them all together. The corporate website can serve as an excellent platform.


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: Sebastiaan ter Burg 

Active Content

Corporate website trend: From text to active content

Summary: Moving ‘from text to active content’ is the second corporate website trend we identified. This post is part of a series of blog posts in which we look at trends for corporate websites.

Most corporate websites do not lack content but often it is just text. In times when attention seems to be in short supply, this is not a great strategy to build transparency and trust among stakeholders. Moreover, users of corporate websites cannot always be put into one bucket. It used to be the case that journalists would go to the Media section, analysts and investors to the Investor Relations section and people related to sustainability to the Sustainability section. But these days investors or careers seekers might well be interested in sustainability issues. It is difficult for them though to digest a 200 page strong sustainability report. This might be useful for a small audience, but not to the majority of visitors.

Therefore, companies should review their content and identify opportunities to provide complex information and data in a more digestible way. Currently, the most common approach involves flat infographics. Below you see an example  from General Electric:

Women’s_Health___GE_Data_Visualization

But make sure to check out all the other visualizations including videos and interactive graphs on GE Blogs. They will give you a feel of how data can be presented in a very different way.

HP is another example of providing potentially difficult to understand information in a more digestible way using very simple graphs and figures.

HP

 

Last but not least I would like to show you an example from BP.

BP

After the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico BP have come under heavy criticism. The disaster did not only destroy parts of the Gulf but also BP’s reputation. It’s interesting to note that the company still has a link in the primary navigation, where readers can get information and updates regarding the recovery work of the company.  But our topic is on active content today, so I would like to draw your attention to BP’s data and mapping tools. Both tools, the HSE charting tool and the Sustainability mapping tool are interesting examples of providing data in a rich format. The HSE charting tool is certainly not meant for the average reader. Explanations are missing to make it meaningful to a wider audience. But the Sustainability mapping tool is easy to use and understand. Now it is up to the reader to deep dive into the content to his heart’s content.

Corporate websites usually don’t lack content. Quite the opposite actually. But too often information is meaningful only to a particular small audience like investors or CSR professionals. Extracting key messages and presenting content in more digestible ways using visualisation or manipulating graphs and data should be on companies’ agenda when considering a relaunch of their corporate websites. The more accessible content is for readers, the more it engages them and might even encourage them to share it with their networks.


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: Lauren Manning

clock

Corporate website trend: From static to real-time information

Summary: Moving ‘from static to real-time information’ is the first corporate website trend we identified. This post is part of a series of blog posts in which we look at trends for corporate websites.

Whilst static content will probably always be the biggest share of content on a corporate website, companies should think about what kind of information and data they could make available in real-time. One example is broadcasting the Annual General Meetings of a company.  There are already a number of companies that do this, for example ThyssenKrupp, Metro and Lloyds Banking Group (see screenshot below).

Lloyds - Real-time information: AGM

Lloyds Banking Group – Link to livecast of AGM

 

But there are more exciting examples of offering real-time data. General Electric (GE) has one of the most progressive corporate websites. One of the little features is seen in the screenshot below:

GE - Providing real-time information: HR data

General Electric – Highlighting career opportunities on the homepage

At the bottom of GE’s homepage they display the current vacancies in the country from which you are currently visiting the website. It is a nice integration into their HR systems, probably some recruitment / job database. It is personalised and helps to raise awareness of other areas that certain stakeholders like journalists, investors, analysts etc. might not usually go to. However, we should not forget that these stakeholders have potentially a large network and can thus also become a qualified multiplier for job referrals.

Although not real-time another interesting idea from GE is the use of figures. See screenshot below:

General Electric: Using figures to ease complexity

General Electric – Using figures to draw attention and highlight important information

Figures are used to capture attention. They are easier to digest than lengthy text. Of course, it would be even more useful to have figures in real-time. Imagine your company has set out on an important CSR initiative. Rather than simply creating beautiful reports on an (in)frequent basis or, worse, long after the campaign has ended, key figures (KPIs) should be immediately available in real-time. Of course, this requires technical prowess, suitable systems to capture and exchange data and also the confidence to publish such information in real-time.  But if companies don’t even trust themselves, why should consumers?

The appetite and need for real-time data is real. Companies should review their content, but also business objectives and audience to identify suitable opportunities to move from static to real-time information.


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: Khairil Zhafri