We’re in the midst of an electronic revolution. Businesses are scrambling to deliver more content to greater audiences and at a faster rate than ever. Futurologist Alvin Toffler says we are entering the Third Wave – one in which we will witness a true global information society. The Internet is at the heart of this revolution and we have yet to realize its potential. In fact, Jean Monty, president and CEO of BCE Inc., has said that “the Internet is still an embryonic medium.”
Despite these early days, companies are forging ahead with bigger and better websites. From the early days of website development, we have witnessed electronic media at its worst and its finest – everything from corporate collateral regurgitation to complex multi-source content integration. We’ve transitioned our websites from first to second generation – and have learned along the way some of the pitfalls to be avoided when developing a website. For instance, it is estimated that at one time companies allocated 15 per cent of their IT budgets to website maintenance. We know now that it not only requires a greater percentage of budget from IT, but that it also demands some allocation from Sales & Marketing, Communications, Public Relations, Investor Relations, as well as Human Resources departments to fully realize the greatest strengths of a website.
DEVELOP A PLAN
Of all the elements that work in tandem to create a website, the most important is The Plan. We’re starting to see more meaningful sites – ones that have been carefully planned and built with the flexibility to grow with the businesses they support. Below are lessons learned from these experiences:
(BOLD) Encourage ownership – A website cannot be maintained by one or even two company departments. Empower individuals within each department with content ownership. Your website will be best served by the knowledge that company employees bring to the table.
(BOLD) Establish hierarchy/Build a masthead – Depending on the size of your company and website, ensure that website workflow is well understood by all those who have a stake in the website. At some point, decisions will have to be taken that will affect the website. Who has the ultimate authority? In many cases, website maintenance is managed by a masthead – similar to magazines and newspapers. The publisher of a masthead has the final decision-making power. However, consideration is given to managing editors, creative directors and marketing personnel.
(BOLD) Build company relationships – Building a website requires a variety of departmental resources. Network administrators, programmers, graphic designers, human resources personnel and communications officers all have a stake in the website. By nature, they all have different methodologies, workflow processes and reasons for wanting the website. Be flexible. Communications officers have as much to teach about corporate messages, as programmers do about project management and process.
(BOLD) Have clear objectives – Don’t overlook the obvious. Ensure that the site’s objectives are clearly stated and understood. If the objectives were clearly developed by all website stakeholders, don’t let temporary corporate changes cloud these objectives.
(BOLD)Treat it is a separate communications vehicle – “…the Internet is where media intersect; increasingly it’s what broadcasting, print and communications have in common,” says Monty. Understand that a website is a communications vehicle. It may have more functionality than traditional vehicles, but it is still a method of communicating with customers or potential customers.
(BOLD) Establish an executive champion – A successful website is managed in real-time. Traditionally, communications works closely with executive so that media, shareholders and customers can be alerted to corporate news of any kind as quickly as possible. The same can be said for a website. Establish a key executive who will be able to provide decisions when needed.
Content is king, and today’s website managers are jesters and servants serving up as much content as quickly as possible. In this competitive environment, it’s critical that company information is current, meaningful and accurate. If it’s not, it could mean lost credibility, even lost sales. The key to successful content management is to make it easy for content providers to deliver the goods. Content management solutions help establish workflow patterns, document retrieval process and approval routing.
Before choosing your content management solution, consider:
How many languages and time zones will you be developing content in?
How will you control versions as your site changes?
How many authors, and how does their physical location affect their use of the content manager?
Do you have internal resources to manage it from a technical standpoint?
How does the content manager interoperate with other company platforms?
Can the content be published to other sites – not just the Internet website?
Is content authorization automated?
Is there a central repository for site images and graphics?
Knowing why your website viewers come to your site and what they actually do is critical to the continued success of the site. Monitor site performance and establish regular checks and balances with your audience. Managed Service Providers (MSPs) can help in this area – not only because they can monitor the performance of your website 24/7, but also because they can assist in identifying back end and front end trouble spots, and suggest ways to address them.
Your website may not be completely outsourced, but chances are that you will need to choose a vendor with skills specific to your website needs. For instance, there are companies that specialize in content management, investor relations, careers and job postings, and webcasting (using the Web to deliver live or delayed versions of sound or video broadcasts). It’s important to choose a partner that is right for your site, and your company. According to “Trends and Directions in IT Outsourcing” by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, only 55% of executives surveyed described their outsourcing relationships as “successful”. The top difficulties they encountered were managing scope, managing vendor operations, obtaining adequate skills and agreeing on standards of excellence.
When choosing and managing a vendor:
(BULLET) plan to develop guidelines for different components of the partnership — RFP development, scope, transition, evaluation.
(BULLET) draft a Service Level Agreement that will include metrics that will measure the vendor’s performance.
(BULLET) identify Key Performance Indicators (KPI) that will assist in understanding what is expected of the vendor.
(BULLET) develop a hierarchy of committees with representation from both the vendor and the company.
(BULLET) to acquire adequate skills, ask for a brief curriculum vitae from each of the key personnel that will work on the account.
(BULLET) measure your vendor’s success across three dimensions — technical performance, quality of service and customer satisfaction.
Most importantly, be flexible when developing your corporate site. There are currently 475 million Internet users on the planet and we know that the Internet’s rate of growth is two-fold compared to the growth that television witnessed. Plan to develop your site from a software perspective as openly as possible. It is estimated that within a few years there will be one billion wireless phones. As we enter the Third Wave, the demand for wireless applications is growing and industry consortiums, such as BlueTooth, are preparing to deliver. Develop your site for the lowest common denominator, but prepare it for infinity.
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Corinne Radake is director of Online Services at Stylus Strategic Communications, a ‘next generation’ communications company with offices in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. www.stylus.ca .
Knowing why your website viewers come to your site and what they actually do is critical to the continued success of the site.
Be flexible when developing your corporate site, advises Corinne Radake, director of Online Services at Stylus Strategic Communications.