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.
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:
- From static to real-time information
- From text to active content
- From channel to canvas
- From desktop to mobile
- From single source of truth to the provider of different opinions
- From destination to platform
- From providing information to providing a service
- From company centric design to user centric design
- 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