The tribulations of worldwide websites

Most large organizations need to serve local audiences online – but they also need to save money, says David Bowen. How can the two be reconciled?
 

I have been reading a PhD proposal headed The Phenomenology of Subjection. I don’t understand many of the words, let alone the sentences. But at least the headline warned me that my brain was about to be stretched. Less dangerous perhaps than something that sounds simple, but is far from it. This, for example: ‘What should large organizations do about country websites?’

It is a question bosses find easy to ask, perhaps followed by ‘Do we really need them?’ Corporate websites are bad enough on their own – they do not generate money, and it’s hard to measure what benefits there are. Country websites have the same problem, multiplied many times. Unless of course they are mainly there to serve customers, in which case there is a different question: Why bother putting anything corporate on them – it just gets in the way? There, an extra complication before I have even started.

But the boss is asking a good question – a useful starting point for almost anything is ‘Do we really need it?’, because it forces us to think hard. And there will be some who, having considered all the options, will be able to say, ‘No, we don’t need any country websites. Let’s go to the pub.’ But they will be a minority. For most the options are far more nuanced.

The ‘no needers’ are those that do not operate internationally – most US retailers, for example, as well as many Chinese groups. They may well need to talk to investors around the world, but they can do that in English on their corporate site.

At the other extreme are companies that sell to consumers around the world, so it is not a question of 'if' but 'how'. IBM has sites for Aruba and Burkina Faso; but they are selling sites, so they pay for themselves.

Most are somewhere in between. One group that might be thought likely to go the pub: business-to-business operations dealing with customers happy to work in English. But looking at examples, you will find they have all decided to offer localised material. Rio Tinto offers Japanese and Chinese sites, because English is not widely spoken there; Goldman Sachs used to do that but now even covers countries where English should not be a problem, like Germany; BAE Systems has an Arabic site to serve its biggest customer, Saudi Arabia.

It’s interesting that Goldman has moved from translating only where it is strictly needed to a broader approach. But even a German fund manager who works mostly in English will be a little more comfortable, and so receptive, if a bank does him the favour of speaking to him in his own language.

The pressure against this is of course resources. One multinational declared several years ago that it was going to cut its languages back to six. It still has many more than that, simply because it realized it would have risked losing business and goodwill by cutting out the ‘small’ languages. If you add the Hungarians, Czechs, Poles etc together, you will get a lot of people.

And of course it’s not just about language. To revive a cliché from the past – think global, act local – you are doing yourself no favours by coming across as an arrogant multinational.

Which is why most of the clever thinking now is about how to provide a local feel all round your markets at the lowest possible cost. Here are some of the options:

  • Country sites that share as much as possible. Look at Unilever.com. Now look at Unilever Argentina and Unilever Pakistan. They are all built on the same platform, and share words (translated where necessary) and pictures where they can. Unilever serves some smaller countries with a single site (such as central America and the Middle East), but there are still more than 60 different sites. This requires very strong governance, and relentless training, but it works well. It can be tricky to get the balance between localisation and efficiency right. For example Shell's otherwise impressive estate has a China careers page without a single Asian face on it, while Nigeria, where it is a big employer, has only one African on the same page.
  • Building country pages into the main site. Philip Morris International covers many countries in their own languages, using short web pages and downloadable documents (including a universal one on the dangers of smoking). Other languages are often available by clicking the selector at the top of the page: see Slovakia and Senegal for examples. Statoil also has extensive country information, though the great majority is in English only, which seems unwise.
  • Tailoring the approach to the country. Companies with country sites can group them into bands, and expect and support different levels of cover depending on how important they are. This may mean providing only contact details for some countries. BP is subtler, with an interesting hybrid approach. Its global page lists a large number of countries. Some, such as the UK and Trinidad and Tobago, lead to full sites. India looks like a full site, but has relatively few pages of its own. Other country links lead to a summary page with links to local websites, which might well belong to the subsidiary Castrol, to relevant career pages, or even – for Vietnam – to a local Facebook page. These are mostly in English but some, such as the Czech Republic, are bilingual. 

Which way works best for your organization will depend on many things – but these points strike me:

  • For Unilever, the key to success appears to be training. If you have people on the ground you can trust, and who understand your CMS, it all becomes so much easier.
  • BP's pragmatic approach will work best where you trust people to say what they cannot as well as what they can do. Why can Trinidad and Tobago run a full site when India cannot? I'd guess it's to do with the commitment of local senior management. So we can add 'education' (of bosses) to 'training' (of the people who will do the work).
  • You will also have to rely on local managers to work out what does and does not need to be translated – though your own budget may have the last word. In general, assume it will be difficult to cut languages; and it may well be a false economy anyway.
  • It's really all about governance. As ever.

- David Bowen

 

BC tip: Total – Corporate history wiki

A French energy company uses a wiki to personalise its corporate history.

BC tip - Total.png

The Feature

‘WikiTotal: Your Stories, Our History’ is a wiki page for employees, former employees and anyone who has had dealings with the company in its nine-decade history to share memories.

Promoted on the corporate site’s home page and within the history section, the wiki already has several contributions, called ‘testimonials’, including images and short narratives in English and French. There are six categories – Countries, Activities, Brands, People, Products and Periods.

The wiki is billed as part of the company’s ‘One Total’ initiative (‘expanding to include our history’).

The Takeaway

History is always more accessible when it focuses on people, and the Total history wiki is an interesting attempt to inject personality in an area of the website that can end up as a dry recitation of mergers and acquisitions.

With the focus on employees, the wiki combines internal and external communications – employees and jobseekers are likely to find it interesting. It is also a chance for the company to reinforce its values through personal stories.

It will be interesting to see how Total develops the idea and integrates it into the main corporate site. The strength of a wiki is the expansive and spontaneous feel, but content can quickly become unwieldy and vary in quality. If the digital team manages to incorporate the most interesting contributions into the website’s history section, perhaps leaving the wiki as a feature for browsing, it could be a useful example to follow.

http://wiki.total/en/home

BC tip: The Draft House – Retweeting from across the group

A UK-based pubs company’s approach to local Twitter feeds could be adapted by corporates.

BC tip - Draft House.png

The Feature

The Draft House has a group Twitter feed – @DraftHouseUK. Each of the pubs in the group has its own Twitter handle, based on its location eg, DH Tower Bridge, DraftHouse WB, DraftHouse MK, etc.

All of the group's Twitter accounts bear the group logo as an identifier but in a different colour to help to easily differentiate at a glance.

The group account regularly retweets each pub’s tweets on the group-level account.

The Takeaway

The Draft House approach is a simple way to ensure that a group-level Twitter account is always busy, interesting and reflective of the whole group.

In a corporate context, this approach could be applied to country, regional, division or individual Twitter accounts.

https://twitter.com/DraftHouseUK

Sites that turn heads

Too many corporate websites look eerily similar, says Scott Payton. But there are notable exceptions. 

I spotted a teenager in London on Saturday with this slogan on their T-shirt: ‘The Same is Lame’.

This got me thinking, mildly tragic though it may sound, about corporate websites.

I’m talking about how many of the latest sites look here, rather than things like menu structures. As we’ve often said, when it comes to site navigation, ‘the same’ is not at all ‘lame’: a conventional set of primary and in-section menus is a huge asset in helping visitors to quickly find things without getting lost.

But the opposite is true for visual design. Having a corporate site that looks much like many others undermines attempts to convey a distinctive impression of a business and entice visitors in.

Yet so many major corporates sites launched in the last few years look spookily similar.

Why? A few likely factors:

First, the grid-like structure of sites that employ responsive design – especially the earlier ones – has encouraged a visual sameyness between them.  

Second, it’s probably cheaper and easier for web design agencies to build sites that look homogenous – drawing on their existing repositories of templates and other design elements – than to ensure that each client’s website is visually unique.

Third, it’s perhaps easier for corporate web teams to win bosses’ and other department heads’ sign-off for a site that looks modern, but in a rather ‘vanilla’ way, than for something more aesthetically radical.

Whatever the reasons, there are exceptions that highlight the benefits of a visually distinctive corporate site. Here are five:

Maersk – unfussy fonts and useful graphics

Clean, eye-catching diagrams, an appropriately no-nonsense font (Zetta) and a maritime colour scheme combine to give this Danish transport group’s site a fresh look that effectively conveys an impression of a modern and unique global business.

The diagrams are not just window-dressing; they do an important jobs of explaining the various things that Maersk does. See this Company Structure page for an example.

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 08.57.48.png

 

AXA – reportage-style photography

Finding interesting imagery to illustrate corporate governance may sound difficult – perhaps impossible. Yet this French insurance group has done it.

On the Stakeholder Advisory Panel page, the company not only talks about the panel – including minutes from its first meeting and a rundown of its members – but also shows the panel in action, through high quality, journalistic photography. This humanises the topic in a way that no amount of description could do.

Meanwhile, the corporate ‘stories’ on AXA's website have the feel of a contemporary online cultural journal, thanks in no small part to the use of photography. There are enough high-quality pictures on most AXA stories to count as a pictorial diary – but they are spread out throughout the piece instead of bunched together in a single carousel. This not only adds visual interest, it also gives visitors an incentive to scroll all the way down the page.

Even visitors who scan the page without really reading it may take away a strong impression of the company (as an employer, especially); concise and intriguing captions help to ensure this.

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 08.55.02.png

Disney – ensuring that absolutely everything is visually ‘on-brand’

This US entertainment giant is renowned for its attention to visual detail. On its corporate site, this includes the look of its share price chart – which employs fonts and colours that are distinctly Disney. The rest of the site is similarly soaked in the company’s iconic imagery – though, as David Bowen explains here, the slick visuals are not matched by slick usability.

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 08.50.39.png

Facebook – making its corporate site look like its core service

While Disney festoons its site with its brand colours and characters, Facebook has ensured that key parts of its corporate web presence – such as its Careers pages and news archive – echo the appearance of its millions of customers’ Facebook pages. The result is a site that looks unique, in a way that powerfully reinforces the company's brand. 

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 08.46.59.png

 

AstraZeneca – abstract imagery that makes a tangible impression

The Anglo-Swedish pharmaceuticals group makes assured use of original illustrations and semi-abstract photography to make its corporate site stand out while also communicating something very on-message about the highly-specialized nature of the company's work. The artwork references the strange beauty of things the company might see under the microscope in its labs – complemented by bright, distinctive photography.

It's another useful reminder that when it comes to design and visual impact, looking just to the side of conventions and norms can yield memorable – and certainly not lame – results.

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 09.02.37.png

- Scott Payton

 

 

BC tip: PepsiCo - Convenient management images

A drinks giant has an unflashy but useful one-stop-shop for management biographies and images.

BC tip - PepsiCo.png

The Feature

The ‘Our Leadership’ page on PepsiCo’s corporate website has a conventional set of headshots for its global executive team.

On click, a biography opens, with the option to download the biography in PDF and a JPEG headshot. The feature is not available in smartphone view.

The Takeaway

PepsiCo’s download feature is simple and not flashy, but will be a useful tool for journalists and/or picture editors.

It means visitors can read a biography and download an image without leaving the main management page.

http://www.pepsico.com/Company/Leadership

BC tip: The New York Times – a graphic story

The US newspaper uses interactive graphics and other multimedia to explain the effects of Hurricane Harvey.

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 14.25.05.png

The Feature

On 27th August 2017, The New York Times published an online article about the effects on Houston, Texas of Hurricane Harvey.

The article includes an animated interactive map that shows cumulative rainfall across an area of Texas over time. The map appears to use a live feed of data from the US National Weather Service: the data itself remained up to date two days after the original publication of the article.

If users hover their mouse over a point on the map, a bar chart appears showing rainfall per hour in that particular area.

The article also includes a range of static maps illustrating various aspects of the hurricane’s effects – plus a video, based on satellite images, showing the hurricane’s path.

The Takeaway

Although photographs, interviews and other ‘traditional’ journalistic techniques have proven to be powerful tools for explaining the impact of Hurricane Harvey, this article from The New York Times shows how interactive graphics can be used to explain complex events in new ways.

Moreover, by using constantly-updated sources of information to ‘feed’ such graphics, they can be kept fresh without being manually edited.

Approaches such as this could prove useful to web managers who want to explain various aspects of their business in engaging ways – while minimising the burden of future maintenance. 

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/08/24/us/hurricane-harvey-texas.html 

Taking a stand online

There was an unprecedented reaction from American CEOs after the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia. Jason Sumner also found a surprising number of companies willing to address the controversy on their corporate websites and social media. Does this signal a new approach to managing corporate reputations online?
 

We often look at corporate websites after a crisis hits to see if companies are doing anything to put their side of the story across online.

Usually we find little or nothing, not even a press statement in the News area. We put this down to risk averse lawyers and conventional PR wisdom – don’t mention it too much and hope the media moves on, which it usually does. This has probably been sound advice.

I expected to find the typical online silence when I started looking at the websites of companies whose CEOs had resigned en masse from Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council following the president’s controversial comments about events in Charlottesville, Virginia– which eventually drove the US leader to disband the panel.

There was the usual reticence on the part of some, but a surprising number of CEOs and companies spoke out on their official digital channels about what led to their decision to quit.

Merck’s CEO, Kenneth C Frazier, was the first to go. There was an announcement on the pharmaceutical company’s Twitter account on August 14th, but we could not find any reference to the resignation on Merck.com.

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 09.54.19.png

Intel also had nothing on its main website, but announced its CEO’s resignation from the panel on a policy blog. (We wrote a recent BC tip about it here.)

On August 14th, the same day that Mr Frazier resigned, clothing company Under Armour tweeted a statement from its CEO, Kevin Plank. ‘We are saddened by Charlottesville. There is no place for racism or discrimination in this world. We choose love & unity.’

The next day the company issued a statement in its website’s media section saying Mr Plank had resigned, and the statement still remains at the top of the press releases list on the site. The statement was also tweeted on the corporate Twitter handle.

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 08.59.07.png

The Campbell Soup Company also released a statement on August 16th from its CEO, Denise Morrison, on its corporate home page and Twitter. It was still the top feature on the home page nearly a week after Ms Morrison resigned. ‘Racism and murder are unequivocally reprehensible and are not morally equivalent to anything else that happened in Charlottesville,’ the statement said. ‘I believe the President should have been - and still needs to be - unambiguous on that point.’

Unusually, Campbell’s opened the statement to comments from readers. There were 145 comments when we checked the site – many in support, but some promising to boycott the company’s products.

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 15.05.12.png

Several companies took the usual route of saying nothing on official channels, including investment management company Blackrock. Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi tweeted from her personal account – ‘Hatred and intolerance are a betrayal of what we stand for as Americans.’ - but we couldn’t find any statements on the website or corporate social media

Walmart’s CEO made his announcement in an internal note to employees – we did not find anything on official public channels.

Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schulz got a lot of attention in the media for his statements on the violence in Charlottesville, although he was not part of the president’s manufacturing council. This did not stop the digital team from promoting his stance heavily on the website. A town-hall style meeting he had with employees on August 15th was being promoted heavily in the company’s corporate newsroom, with a feature story titled ‘Hate has no home here’, photographs and short video.

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 15.21.19.png

The mix of approaches to presenting the controversy online reflects a wider uncertainty about how best to manage corporate controversies when the combination of social and traditional media can create an ongoing storm of bad publicity that does not 'just go away’ but takes on a life of its own. Unprecedented times could mean more unprecedented communications tactics from corporates - at least in the US.

Indeed, for the moment, this has been a very US-centric debate. An interesting question is whether European or Asian companies will eventually find themselves under similar levels of scrutiny and feel the need to speak out in this way.

Another interesting question arises too. This controversy was external – something the US president said, rather than a home grown scandal, such as the Volkswagen emissions fraud, or Wells Fargo’s fake loans. Will CEOs of larger corporates continue to make the calculation that online silence is the best approach to these kinds of controversies or will the old rules apply?

- Jason Sumner

BC tip: Merck - Rise of the footer

A US pharmaceutical company’s home page footer expands upwards when the mouse hovers over it.

BC tip - Merck.png

The Feature

The Merck.com home page has a narrow footer panel with three headings in a row – ‘Latest News’; ‘Social @ Merck’ and ‘Other Merck Sites’.

When visitors hover the mouse over any part of the panel, it rises up the page to reveal more details under each of the categories – summaries and links to press releases; the latest tweets and social media follow icons; and links to other parts of the web estate. Moving the mouse off the panel causes it to collapse back down the page.

On a smartphone screen, the three elements of the panel are stacked vertically. The expandable footer appears to be limited to the home page; it is not on any of the section landing pages, for example, or anywhere else that we clicked.

The Takeaway

Merck’s expanding panel tries to do for footers what the mega dropdown menu has done for primary navigation. On the Merck home page, the feature is a space-saving way to let visitors see options that are not in the main menus at the top; and helps to keep the home page from scrolling. It could be a useful design in some circumstances – if footers can expand downwards, why not have the option to go up too?

It is not clear this works completely – for example, the way Merck have implemented it means they cannot have a longer home page, even if they wanted one. There are some other disadvantages in the way it is executed – on smaller laptop screens the panel obscures some of the text in the carousel.

If in doubt, a useful guideline to follow is, don’t try to innovate with navigation.

www.merck.com

 

BC tip: Intel - Breaking news on a blog

The computer chip manufacturer shows another potential role for a resurgent online channel.

The Feature

Intel’s CEO, Brian Krzanich, announced on Monday via a company blog, policy@intel, that he was quitting President Trump’s American Manufacturing Council. This followed the resignation of Merck CEO Kenneth C. Frazier, a higher-profile event in part because the US president attacked him personally on Twitter.

We could not find any reference to the resignation anywhere on Intel's corporate website, or even a link to the policy blog (including using the internal search engine). This goes for the online newsroom too, and we could not find an official press release.

The New York Times linked to the blog post directly in one of its stories about the resignation. 

The Takeaway

Intel using a blog to break news, rather than an online press release, makes sense – a blog is direct, easy for journalists to link to, and (usually) more readable for the general public than press releases.

In this case Intel had a ‘go to’ channel - it maintains a blog on public policy and so it was a natural fit.

The fact that we could not find the blog post or a link to it on the website is interesting, but it is not unusual for corporate sites to be silent about controversies. A big reason is often legal caution (although the Intel policy blog is run by Intel’s lawyers). 

We have noted how blogs have been making a comeback, although in some corners of the IT world they are well established. Google has long-favoured using blog posts over traditional press releases to disseminate company news. But not in every corner – Apple recently launched its first-ever blog, for technical discussions about artificial intelligence).

The point for other digital comms teams is that breaking controversial news is one more potential role for this ‘old is new again’ online channel. 

http://blogs.intel.com/policy/2017/08/14/intel-ceo-leaves-manufacturing-council/

 

BC tip: ING Group - Inviting Facebook comments

The Dutch financial services group uses a Facebook plugin that allows the social network’s users to comment on articles on the corporate website.

BC tip - ING - FB comments.png

The Feature

ING is using the Facebook comments plugin on feature stories in its ‘Newsroom’ section. If users are logged in to Facebook, they can post a comment at the end of articles.

The Takeaway

We have not seen the Facebook plugin used on a corporate website before. It is an interesting experiment at a time when many companies are looking at how best to interact with Facebook and other social networks.

So far, the results are mixed from what we can see. Many recent articles do not have comments. Some articles from earlier this year have four or five – see for example ‘ING is inside of me’ from May 15th. The comments we checked were a mix of employee remarks and random queries unrelated to the topic. We did not see any that were hostile though, which is probably the biggest risk to opening up corporate articles to Facebook.

We have noted ING’s willingness in the past to try new things online. This is another example; and one worth watching to see how it develops.

https://www.ing.com/Newsroom/All-news/ING-is-inside-of-me-a-final-interview-with-Patrick-Flynn-1.htm

Seven deadly sins of corporate website usability

At our recent annual conference, in partnership with the Bunnyfoot user experience (UX) agency, we conducted some user testing on some of our delegates’ websites. Although the sessions were designed just to give an indication of how this type of testing can help web managers, they provided some real food for thought, says Andrew Rigby.


This is the latest in our series of posts about the conference, following on from our summary of six key takeaways. A guest blog from one of our speakers will follow in the coming weeks.

The sessions we ran with Bunnyfoot involved giving users exercises to complete on a corporate website that they did not know. We asked each tester to put themselves in the shoes of a corporate website user wanting to complete a relevant, two-stage task. For example, a jobseeker looking for information on a particular company’s sustainability policies before searching for a specific job.

With the help of some clever eye-tracking technology, we – and the web managers of the sites being tested – could see how the users went about trying to find the right information.

We should point out that the sessions were only indicative: we used delegates as our guinea pigs and gave each one just ten minutes to complete the tasks. Real user experience design (UX) testing would involve asking a number of users, who are actually investors or jobseekers or the like, to complete a series of tasks over a longer a period. 

In other words, our tests were not truly scientific. We just wanted to show that UX testing is relatively easy to conduct with the right equipment and the help of experts like Bunnyfoot; and to give an idea of the type insights it can reveal. 

But even allowing for the lack of rigour, seven deadly sins of corporate website UX emerged:

1. Unhelpful search

Users frequently started their tasks on external search engines, or often used the sites’ internal search mechanisms. So not only do corporate sites need to perform well on the likes of Google, but their own searches need to help users find what they want. All too often, internal searches failed to deal with misspellings or synonyms by suggesting alternatives, to search PDFs, or to present results in well-ordered lists.

2. Neglected navigation

Poor navigation meant that many users resorted to the internal search or simply failed to complete their tasks. Sometimes this was due to difficulties in using dropdown menus – some were simply too big to be used on a laptop screen. In other cases, users could not see the sub-sections or sub-pages at lower levels, and so were forced to take leaps of faith by clicking on section headings they hoped would reveal what they wanted. It was noticeable that left-hand menus – something we have championed for a while – were generally more successful and users were quick to use them; but there were poorly implemented examples of these too. 

Aside from the main menu styles, it was rare to find effective cross-linking to relevant content. It meant that if users found a page which was not quite what they were looking for, but perhaps was on the same topic, they were seldom offered on-page links to their destination. This was also true for predictable journeys which took in pages in different sections.

It left an impression that user needs should dictate information architecture and cross-linking more than they sometimes do.

3. ‘Look at me’, not ‘use me’, labelling

There were many examples of users finding what they wanted thanks to clear labelling in menus, or on-page links. Yet there were also instances of users being confused by vague section or page titles, either because several pages or themes were nested under them, or because ‘neat’ company-specific jargon or terms were being used. The absence of format icons or indicators for downloads also created uncertainty. 

Tasks were more likely to be completed on sites where web managers had anticipated the words or phrases which users would be looking for and had labelled pages and sections accordingly, or surfaced important pages higher in the website structure, rather than hiding them under catch-all section titles which did not resonate with users. Users responded well to headings labelled with their audience type, such as Investors or Media.

4. Imperfect page layouts

How a page is presented matters: there were various instances of users finding the correct page, but still missing the right information on it. Big blocks of text - especially ones in capital letters – or crucial information contained a long way down a page or only in a PDF, especially hampered usability. 

Pages with short paragraphs – getting shorter as the page continues – and with signposts to key information on them, such as anchor links or headings, performed well. Users tend to scan long pages rather than read them in detail.

5. Inconsistent images

Given that users often scan pages rather than read every word, images can provide a quick visual cue as to whether users are on the right page. A poorly chosen image occasionally undermined user confidence, to the extent that some left the page that best served their needs. Images which supported page content by reflecting the idea or region being talked about were more helpful. 

6. Painful processes

Whether it was a badly designed search mechanism, or a job application system which required login details too be entered twice, users were quick to abandon journeys – or at least voice their displeasure – if barriers were put in their way. Getting users to the right place is not enough, as they expect a painless process once there.

7. Cookie monsters

Quite a few sites were dominated by very large cookie consent mechanisms when users hit the first page. Many users either failed to dismiss these until several pages into their journey, or became confused by their presence. Of course, these notices need to be presented, but doing so in an appropriate way is important, as they can form an initial impression of a site from the very outset. Another example of something which can easily be overlooked, but can actually be a big factor in a good user experience. 

User testing can be seen as a luxury by corporate web managers, and one which is often omitted from projects in the face of small teams, tight budgets and pressing deadlines. But if time and money can be found, seeing how real users interact with a website can be very helpful – so that the UX can be tailored to their needs.

- Andrew Rigby

Guide to online corporate audiences: Contact Dan Drury (ddrury@bowencraggs.com) for a copy of the visitor profiles Bowen Craggs uses when evaluating websites and social channels for our Index of Online Excellence. Eligible recipients only – usually senior digital communications professionals working for large corporate or public sector/non-governmental organizations.

BC tip: TimeWarner - Linking out to LinkedIn

Replacing website biographies with LinkedIn profiles is a good idea taken too far.

The Feature

TimeWarner Investments is the venture capital arm of the US media giant, and has its own section on the corporate website.

The section has a biography page – ‘Time Warner Investments Team’ – which has the names and job titles of four team members – the group managing director, managing director, and two associates. There is no other information on the page, aside from two right links (one of which is a link to the current page). The hyperlinks each open new windows (without warning) to the team members’ LinkedIn profiles.

The Takeaway

Several company websites have links to LinkedIn profiles alongside more conventional biographical information. If the company leadership has a presence on the channel, it makes sense to promote these pages as part of a package of resources.

It is a useful idea that TimeWarner Investments takes too far. Completely replacing conventional biographies with LinkedIn hyperlinks may save time for the company, but it adds more time-consuming clicks for users.

We could not find any other executive biographies on the site that use LinkedIn in the same way, so maybe it is unique to the investments team, which is probably keen to make connections with entrepreneurs with good ideas.

Given that visitors to the Investments Team page most likely want the company’s money, they will probably jump through the extra hoops. In most other corporate contexts, that degree of loyalty is doubtful.

http://www.timewarner.com/company/management/executives-by-business/time-warner-investments

The power of persuasion: Six lessons from the 2017 Web Effectiveness Conference

There was a rich mix of presentations at our annual conference in Barcelona two weeks ago, covering a diverse range of issues facing corporate digital managers. Here, Jason Sumner and Scott Payton share six quick takeaways from the event.
 

In the coming weeks, we’ll be publishing more posts about the event – including insights from usability clinics that delegates participated in and a guest blog from one of our speakers, Tim Clark of SAP.

1. Make sure your boss trusts you (and does not know much about the internet)

Simon Saville, head of Shell’s digital communications from 2000 to 2016, had 11 bosses during his tenure running Shell’s online presence. They were senior, powerful people in the organization who could influence the executive management. Crucially, they knew little about the internet, but trusted Simon. ‘That was a huge benefit to me,’ Simon said. ‘If you could be trusted in your field by your boss, then you could get things done.’

2. Choose your words carefully

A number of this year’s speakers emphasised the power of sharp headlines and punchy prose in online communications. SAP’s ‘brand journalism’ is an example of the trend, helped along by former journalists writing stories for companies. ‘Content is front and centre again,’ said Tim Clark of SAP, who sources articles from the technology company’s nearly 90,000 employees.

‘The sheer power of words is really important,’ said David Bowen, in his review of what has got better on websites in the last year. ‘The quality of editorial is being given a lot more emphasis.’ The best headlines, for example, aim for the unexpected – see tobacco giant PMI’s home page headline, ‘Designing a smoke-free future: How long will the world’s leading cigarette company be in the cigarette business.’

3. Persuading writers takes fewer sticks and more carrots

If ‘content’ is front and centre again, then digital managers will need to recruit writers. A few employees are keen to help, but some of the most interesting stories are in the heads of employees that are a) not professional writers; and b) are too busy with their day jobs to worry about what goes on the website.

Tim from SAP explained how he finds and nurtures gifted writers inside his organization for the production of articles on the company’s presence on Forbes.com, as well as on its own online channels. Tim also urged delegates to focus on publishing articles that are genuinely interesting – even if their relevance to company activities are tangential - rather than falling back on marketing puff pieces, which never fail to fail on Forbes.com.

Scott Roane of Aegon takes an informal, personal approach, contacting potential authors directly, offering encouragement and constructive feedback. With a streamlined approval process, he can sometimes get stories on the web in a matter of hours, which helps motivate contributors.

4. Connect with hearts and minds

Persuasion is an art, according to Lee Warren, a magician and motivational speaker, who closed out the first day. His formula for persuading people, ‘HAM PIE’ (‘Hearts and Minds; Picture. Interest. Enthusiasm’, prioritises emotional connections over cold facts. ‘Data on its own is rarely persuasive.’

5. Use pictures to bring data to life

Proving Lee’s point, Miles Tomlinson from GSK revealed how his team is using data visualisation techniques – charts, diagrams and infographics - to make statistics about the performance of his firm’s online communications easier to digest and more relevant to the goals of people across the business.

6. Keep an eye on the ‘internet of things’

The ‘internet of things’ (IoT), promises to connect everyday objects and machines, such as cars, dishwashers and jet engines, to the internet, allowing them to talk to each other, predict behaviour and collect useful data. While this emerging area is yet to be realised fully at the business-to-consumer level, Michael Schmidtke of Bosch believes it will create ‘new touch points and bring digital communications to the physical world’. As the industry develops, it is worth thinking about how these new ‘smart things’, such as connected cars, could change corporate digital communications. Or, as Michael asked, ‘When things become smart, will our websites stay dumb?’

BC tip: Morgan Stanley - Promoting podcasts on the home page

A US financial services firm uses its corporate home page to showcase a rising digital channel.

The Feature

Morgan Stanley’s new ‘Ideas’ podcast is a series of weekly episodes on business, finance and technology that started in June. People can subscribe via iTunes or listen individually directly from the corporate website.

To promote the series launch, the Morgan Stanley corporate website home page has a call-to-action – ‘Ideas Worth Listening To’ and a link to subscribe on iTunes.

The Takeaway

Morgan Stanley is unusual in producing a weekly series of podcasts, and in promoting them so prominently on a corporate website home page.

Although podcasts have been around for a long time, they are rising in popularity, so it makes sense to use this growing channel for thought leadership. Morgan Stanley is also using its website well to support the initiative, both to promote the new series and serve as a ‘hub’ for individual episodes – listeners can subscribe via iTunes, but they can also listen to individual podcasts in the website’s ‘Ideas’ section.

www.morganstanley.com

BC tip: Google – a feed that adds intrigue

An animated grid of live search terms brings the technology giant’s otherwise-uninspiring new corporate home page to life

The Feature

Google provides a panel on its recently-revamped corporate home page that shows ‘what the world is searching for now’. The panel consists of a grid of cells, each in one of Google’s brand colours. The cells constantly expand and contract to reveal search terms that the company claims are currently being keyed into its search engine. The search terms appear on letter at a time, as if they are being manually typed in.

The Takeaway

Most of Google’s new corporate home page is more conventional, and less distinctive, than ever before. The panel links promoting ‘Our values in action’ are an example of this. But the animated grid of search terms is visually striking; editorially interesting; immediately conveys an impression of innovation; and vividly illustrates the company’s core service in action.

https://www.google.com/about/

Investor relations dos and don'ts

Scott Payton answers IR managers' questions about their online communications.

My colleague Dan Drury went to Florida last month to give a presentation at the National Investor Relations Institute’s annual conference. The topic was best practice in online investor communications.

Delegates – IR managers from across the Americas and beyond – asked Dan a lot of good questions, so we thought it would be useful to repeat some here, along with our answers:

‘When it comes to building an IR section, is it wise to hire a vendor offering fancy website services, or are you better off doing it in house?’

Whether you decide to build your IR section in house or via an agency, what’s most important is to keep the management of it tightly under your control. This includes making all the big decisions on how the section is structured; how it looks; and what information and tools it should contain.

Moreover, many investors and analysts are likely to want to venture beyond the IR section to other parts of your corporate site – the About Us and News sections, for example. So it’s important that your IR section is built and managed as a coherent and integral part of your entire online corporate presence – not on its own.

Though it may be hard to avoid if your budget is small, outsourcing your entire online IR presence to a third party without tightly tailoring it to be consistent with the rest of your corporate web estate risks causing problems and frustrations for your IR team, and for the investors and analysts who use it.

‘I’m told that HTML annual reports are very popular among private investors. Is this true?’

Our surveys and interviews strongly suggest that most private investors prefer PDF annual reports to HTML versions. Many private investors tend to read these PDFs on screen rather than printing them out, so adding hyperlinks in the contents page and elsewhere can make PDF reports quicker and easier to use.

HTML reports can make sense if they provide information and tools above and beyond what’s possible to provide in a PDF. This could include video interviews with the CEO, or interactive charting tools. But many companies have concluded that the costs involved in producing this kind of whizzy HTML annual report outweigh the benefits. Indeed, interactive charting tools and video interviews are likely to have a longer shelf life, and reach a wider audience, if they’re put in the IR section itself rather than in an online annual report.

‘Is it a good idea to include financial results call transcripts on the website?’

Yes. Analysts have told us that they appreciate it when companies’ results archives include transcripts of results presentations or calls – because they can quickly scan through them to find what they need without the bother of listening to or watching the webcast.

‘What do you think about offering interactive historical financial data on the website? Is it necessary when this information can be obtained elsewhere?’

Providing interactive data tables and tools in your corporate website’s IR section is indeed likely to be appreciated by sophisticated private investors, who have the expertise to interrogate and interpret such information but lack the access to professional data sources (such as Bloomberg) used by professional investment analysts. Most private investors are unlikely to have the know-how to benefit from such tools, however. So they’re a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘must have’ feature.

 ‘We’re planning to redesign our IR website. The main company site will not change – but it looks dated. How critical is consistency of look and feel between our new IR site and the existing company site if content is consistent?’

First, having a separate IR website rather than an integrated IR section in the main corporate site is not a good idea. It makes journeys between IR material and other types of corporate information in which investors and analysts may be interested intrinsically more fragmented than they could be. Indeed, Bowen Craggs’ extensive website visitor survey data shows that 26% of investors and analysts visiting a corporate site do so to find out about the company, rather than to get financial information (see more on these survey findings in the report mentioned at the end of this article). In light of this, consistency of look, feel and, crucially, navigation as well as content between IR pages and the rest of the corporate web presence is indeed very important.

That said, some companies have built separate IR sites for internal political reasons that are not easily overcome. In these cases, it is particularly important to maintain prominent cross links between the IR site and investor-relevant information on the main site (such as executive biographies and non-financial performance data), so investors and analysts can find and reach everything they need as easily as possible.

‘What is the benefit of embedding investor presentations in SlideShare format compared to merely uploading the slides to the website?’

SlideShare does for slide decks what YouTube does for video. Embedding SlideShare versions of your presentations in your IR section allows investors and analysts to flick through the slide deck directly on the web page, rather than having to download a PDF first. Convenient.

‘Is it worth creating a mobile and tablet investor relations app?’

No. Many companies that have tried this soon discovered that the cost and time involved in maintaining the app far outweighed the benefits the app brings to investors and analysts – especially in cases where the IR section of the website is mobile-friendly anyway.

‘How long do you expect an IR section to last before it needs to be rebuilt?’

The fundamental ingredients of an effective IR section have changed little over the past decade – an aggregated table of results materials; well-signposted IR contact information; jargon-free information for private investors; rich background material for researching analysts; and so on.

But companies have felt the need to rebuild their sites for other, legitimate reasons. For example, the desire to make IR pages, and the rest of a corporate site, mobile friendly has been a big driver for site rebuilds in recent years (much to the delight of web design agencies). Wanting to make a site look visually contemporary, and able to handle embedded video and other multimedia material, has been another motivator.

With all this in mind, an IR section will last for as long as it continues to do a good job of meeting the needs of the fund managers, analysts and private investors you want to communicate with, on the devices they want to use – and continues to allow you transmit the messages about your company that you want to convey to these audiences.

Perhaps the most important thing of all is not how often you rebuild your IR section, but how carefully you maintain what you’ve already got.

Click here to visit the download page for our freshly revised and updated report, ‘Best practice in online investor relations: Lessons from the top companies in the world’.

 - Scott Payton

 

 

BC tip: McKinsey - Expandable sidebar

A creative variation on the ‘click-to-expand’ menu could be useful for corporate website articles.

BC tip-McKinsey.png

The Feature

An article on crisis management on McKinsey.com, the website of the US-based management consultancy, has a ‘click-to-expand’ sidebar.

On a desktop screen, the sidebar appears as a box in the left column – ‘Sidebar: Are you prepared for the worst? Twenty-five questions executives should ask themselves now’. (On a mobile screen, the box is centred across the screen.) Clicking on the ‘plus’ sign in the box expands the full story on both smartphone and desktop screens.

The Takeaway

The expandable sidebar is a neat design feature that could be adapted to improve the way corporate articles are presented online; as an alternative to pop-ups, tabs or more conventional ‘click-to-expand’ menus.

A few caveats, however – the sidebar is well down the page, meaning visitors may miss it. The heading, ‘Sidebar’ does little to draw visitors in (and may not be understood by all readers). It is also worth considering whether the ‘plus’ sign is familiar enough to indicate to readers that clicking on it will reveal more information.

http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/risk/our-insights/are-you-prepared-for-a-corporate-crisis

BC tip: Siemens - Deutsche marks

German-style quotation marks add an element of quirkiness but will English-speaking readers understand?

The Feature

A marketing feature on Siemens’s English-language main global website describes the German engineering giant’s ‘Railigent’ service, a digital monitoring system that aggregates and analyses railway data.

The feature, ‘Intelligent transformation of rail data’, which is signposted from the home page, has a quotation from a customer, signposted by one set of large quotation marks. The quote marks are back-to-front, in the German style.

The Takeaway

The Siemens feature is well-designed for the web, with interesting images, readable fonts, embedded video and other welcoming elements to help customers engage with the material; and it looks good on both desktop and mobile.

The site has otherwise grammatically correct English, but the reverse quote marks are a conspicuous exception. Are they a quirky design element? A deliberate introduction of a slight German ‘accent’ to take advantage of the country’s reputation for engineering precision? Possibly, but English-speaking readers may be more likely to see them simply as an error.

https://www.siemens.com/global/en/home/products/mobility/rail-solutions/services/digital-services/railigent.html

Measuring the hot air

US corporate leaders rose up in dissent against President Trump's withdrawal from the climate change agreement. David Bowen thought it would be interesting to see how well their companies reported their own greenhouse gas emissions. 
 

Many US corporate bosses were swift to dissociate themselves from President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement on climate change, tweeting their discontent. 

But what are they doing about greenhouse gases and - most interesting to me - are they bothering to tell us? Measuring and reporting environmental data has become a big thing in the last 20 years. They are the same 20 years that the web has become a big thing, and they match each other perfectly: the data tends to be complex, and the web is good at handling complexity. 

But non-financial reporting has been much bigger in Europe than the US. As far as I can see (from staring at websites), it is only now having any significant impact in America.

Until very recently US sustainability reporting tended to be anecdotal rather than data-driven. You are still more likely to find stories about the good things employees have been doing than hard numbers on CO2 emissions. That is changing. In our current Bowen Craggs Index, two of the top performers in this area are Ford and Dell EMC. Ford’s sustainability report has as much detailed analysis as we have seen anywhere - here is its CO2 emissions page

But I thought it would be interesting to see how much self-analysis the companies that came out against the president in Paris were publishing about themselves. 

The results are mixed, and tend to say as much about the somewhat haphazard nature of US corporate sites as about the reporting itself. 

The first company I looked at was Tesla - Elon Musk resigned from the President's Council in protest. The ultimate green company does not publish any CO2 figures I could find. Someone queried this on a forum and got this reply from a sort of fansite, TeslaTap.com: ‘Tesla is so busy creating sustainable transportation, they likely haven't had time for expensive reports that few bother reading. Not trying to be smug, but it seems more of a corporate PR game for huge corporations, more than actually doing something useful.’ An interesting argument, but a weak one. It is fine being good, but if you can't prove it, why, someone might not believe you.

Then to General Electric, whose chairman Jeff Immelt tweeted that 'industry must now lead and not depend on government'. There is data, but it's frustratingly hard to find. GE is getting ever better at hiding information on its corporate site – maybe this is one of its KPIs? There is no sustainability link on the home page, not even an ‘about’ link any more – just a search box and a scrolling list of pages 'popular right now'. After much clicking I did find greenhouse gas emissions for the past three years, with a 2011 ‘baseline’ number. The bare minimum we should expect from an industrial giant; and incomprehensibly buried.

The other high-profile corporate protesters run companies that are less in the environmental frontline but should still be reporting. And on the whole they are doing a better job at it. 

Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs sent his first ever tweet in protest against the withdrawal. He should be proud if he checks out his company's reporting effort. The Environmental, Social and Governance Report, found from the Citizenship link, has very detailed greenhouse gas data, with little arrows showing the trend in the past year. 

Like Mr Musk, Disney's Robert Iger resigned from the President's Council. The Disney site has plenty on its intentions to go carbon neutral but, as fas a I can see, no hard data - there's a brochure, but it's all about targets not results. Pretty site though

Apple (whose CEO Tim Cook said the decision was 'wrong for our planet') has very good reporting, though only in PDF form - you can get it from the environment reports page. Similar for Google (Sundar Pichai said he was 'disappointed'). 

Brad Smith of Microsoft was also disappointed with President Trump's decision. Microsoft is proud of having been carbon neutral since 2012, as it says on its environment site. I found a fact sheet with some good numbers on greenhouse gas emissions. But as with GE, it was pretty well hidden - Microsoft's network of sites is a big muddle, and Google only got me to a carbon emission page with a few facts, prettily presented, and little else. I'm not quite sure how I came across the fact sheet. As with GE, the problem here is not one of publishing good data, it's of letting people find it. 

Mark Zuckerberg posted on Facebook (unsurprisingly), saying the Paris withdrawal 'puts our children's future at risk'. Its sustainability site has a good deal of detailed information well illustrated, though all on a long scrolly page. Nice to look at, but sometimes pretty gets in the way of useful. With serious reporting like this, that would seem to be a mistake.

BC tip: Airbus Group - Interactivity takes flight

A clever online feature showcases an aerospace company’s impressive portfolio of aircraft and satellites.

The Feature

‘The Sky’s Not the Limit’ interactive feature on the Airbus Group corporate website begins on a runway with a cityscape in the background: ‘Join us on a special flight from ground level to the depths of outer space,’ says the introduction.

Visitors scroll up to see vehicles at different levels of the atmosphere and outer space – helicopters, transport and passenger planes, jet fighters and satellites, finishing with the ‘ExoMars Rover’.

For example, at the first level is the ‘E-Fan’, a quiet, electrically powered ‘trainer aircraft’. There are clickable buttons which call up pop-up menus with information about the plane – ‘Get to know it’, ‘Climbing record’ etc. Each of these have succinct and interesting factoids about the plane, and sometimes embedded videos. A right column says where visitors are in the sky – eg, troposphere, stratosphere, outer space.

The Takeaway

The Airbus Group feature stands out for being more interesting and engaging than most corporate website features. It also has a clear editorial purpose – to help visitors get to know Airbus Group.

Even those who know the company makes planes and satellites are likely to be impressed by the breadth of products and impressive science on display in the feature; and it is well worth looking at for new ways to present ‘about’ information on a corporate website.

http://www.airbusgroup.com/theskyisnotthelimit/