How To Fix (and Evolve) Your Corporate Website

Kristina Halvorson

Nearly two years ago, Jeremiah Owyang, Forrester Senior Analyst (Social Computing), wrote a fairly disruptive blog post called The Irrelevant Corporate Website. It's still getting comments today.

In a nutshell, here's what Jeremiah has to say:

"The corporate website (of today) is an unbelievable collection of hyperbole, artificial branding, and pro-corporate content. As a result, trusted decisions are being made on other locations on the internet.

"The corporate website of the future will be a credible source of opinion and fact, authored by both the corporation and community. The result? A true first-stop community resource where information flows for better products and services."

This vision of the future scares the hell out of most businesses. Why? Because they're still struggling with how to manage web content in a 1.0 business environment.

Unless you're a publisher by trade, it's not likely you have the necessary infrastructure to effectively plan, create, publish, and oversee web content.

You're not alone. Even after 15 years, most companies don't have it figured out. But it's not for lack of trying. (Typically, it's mostly an issue of web content ownership, or a lack thereof.)

Without that infrastructure, how can you even hope to begin moving towards that future state, a website that's "a credible source of opinion and fact, authored by both the corporation and community"?

First, you have to want it.

If you're a company that thinks it's smarter than your customers, just stop reading right now. Keep doing what you're doing. And good luck with that.

If you're a company that's cool with talking less and listening more, a company that's brave enough to hear the good and the bad, a company that wants to actively engage in conversation with both friends and enemies of your brand, then you want to evolve. Keep reading.

Then, you have to plan for it.

Don't even THINK about opening up opportunities for user-generated content on your corporate website until you:

  1. Get your current web content under control. Brain Traffic can help, here. Create a web content strategy, develop effective content workflows, assign centralized ownership, and get cracking.
  2. Know how you're going to engage users and respond to their content. If you open up a forum for conversation, you are immediately creating an expectation that you're going to DO something in response to what users are telling you. If you don't, you're ten times worse off than you were before.

Next, you have to fund it.

I recently had a client tell me that their company had just spent ten months and two million dollars developing a new brand platform. The outcome was a new style guide, an internally-facing video, and a new corporate identity system.

This same client then told me she had three months and less than 1/10 of that amount to update the entire corporate website (which was several hundred pages and in dire need of both structural and stylistic help).

How strategic can she be, here? Sounds like a hatchet job in the works if ever I've seen one.

Give your team the time and money to get your website right. Don't cut corners, especially not on the content. Pay to develop a smart web content strategy that will support your brand, meet business objectives, and embrace your customers. It's not just how you say it. It's what you say, and where, and when, and why.

Finally, you have to stick with it.

This is all very exciting! I bet you can't wait for everything to launch so you can move on to other efforts.

Just kidding.

Publishing web content isn't a one-time project. It's an ongoing commitment to quality, accuracy, timeliness, relevancy, and customer response. It requires your attention. It demands dedicated resources.

And, of course, publishing web content turns you into a publisher. This requires a publishing infrastructure that will allow content owners to maintain a daily focus on what's happening with your (and your users') content.

And now, go forth and be brave.

Here's Jeremiah again:

"Visualize: We’ll start to see customers help write the corporate newsletter, feeds pulling in industry blogs, media (audio and video), customers rating and ranking and voting for what features they want improved, product teams working directly with customers in real-time, and customers self-supporting each other."

You can do it! But whatever you do, please. Start slow. Be smart. Get your house cleaned up before you invite people in. Because if they don't like what they see, they're certainly not going to stick around for a conversation.