By Jon Fisher (@jmfisher)
If you build it, will they come?
Increasingly for companies hoping to tap into the power of the Web, the answer is: Not without some serious thought and hard work. But what does that serious thought and hard work mean for a corporate Web presence in 2011? Paradoxes abound:
Although more tools than ever, such as WordPress.com, Google Sites and others, allow you to quickly put up a reasonably professional site, the expectations are higher as well. Hand off your website (or even a small expansion on your current site) to eager-but-untrained staffers, and you could end up with something like the worst of Geocities.
Similarly, although there are more channels than ever to communicate with vendors, prospects, customers and far-flung team members, a site that throws every option at a visitor is likely a site that loses traffic as people become confused or just worn out by the plethora of choices presented.
Navigating these and other challenges is the difference between having an HTML brochure on the Web and a site that can reliably drive visits, interactions and revenue. To get there, you need to develop and document your companys Web culture.
Your corporate Web culture can be thought of as a distillation of your brand (“How do we want to be perceived?), your marketing strategy (“Who are our customers, what are their needs and how can we best serve them via this channel?) and a steely-eyed assessment of your capacity and technical expertise (“Do we know what were doing online? Can we accommodate all that comes with additional exposure and reach?).
Put them together and it neednt be a 50-page document; in fact, it could be a single-page overview and you have the lens through which your departments and teams should view any Web project.
A consistent Web culture is or should be, properly implemented and more than just another committee project. It can deliver:
A consistent, high-level screen for new Web projects – In many organizations, Web projects start at the department level and get a substantial (and sometimes costly) life of their own before any strategic review takes place. Documenting your Web culture provides an initial screen to help weed out questionable efforts.
A way to engrain non-Web-savvy managers into the online process – A fleshed-out Web culture allows non-technical managers and staff members to meaningfully participate in online initiatives, because it focuses on what the brand and the customer seek, rather than, for example, what coding resources are available in-house.
Less time spent on more results – Defining your Web culture means that a lot of the navel-gazing conversations about online presence Do we blog or not? Do we Tweet or not? Whos going to “own the site internally? become less problematic. These discussions dont go away, but you can think of them as constrained by four walls: Your brand, your customers needs, your resources and your capacity. Within that sandbox, things tend to get figured out quicker.
Quick test: Could you define your companys Web culture in a two-minute walk to the water cooler? If not, then its probably time to document it.