One-hit wonders and frequent flyers – the two kinds of visitors you need to be serving effectively on your corporate website

Google analytics data shows that most visitors to corporate websites stay only a short time and are unlikely to return. A smaller but more engaged audience spends more time and visits more pages. Your web presence needs to be serving both types of visitors – but how?


Bowen Craggs has been analysing Google Analytics data from our corporate website benchmark group since 2014. Members of the group, which is made up mainly of large multinational companies and includes many household names, share their data with us, which in 2019 covered 63 million users and 95 million sessions. The average number of annual visits for the group was 5 million. The largest number of visits in our group was 28 million visits, the smallest, 200,000.

What the data tells us about your visitors

Looking at the data this year, we noted an interesting division between between what we call ‘one-hit wonders’ and ‘frequent flyers’.

One-hit wonders are best represented by the following chart, which shows the ‘Average sessions per user’ across 12 months from May 2018 to April 2019. The average (the vertical line in the middle) is 1.5 sessions per user per year.

Average sessions per user per year. May 2018-April 2019. Source: Bowen Craggs Google Analytics Benchmark

Average sessions per user per year. May 2018-April 2019.
Source: Bowen Craggs Google Analytics Benchmark

That means that across the year, the typical website visitor likely comes to your corporate website only once, and does not return. There are some caveats – the data does not count visitors who clear their cookies, for example. And there is a fairly wide variation in the data across individual companies.

Those factors aside, there is no getting around the fact that many, many visitors to corporate websites seem to want to visit as infrequently as possible; a sobering thought for those of us who spend our days trying to make digital corporate communications more effective and engaging.

On the other hand, some visitors do return. The data shows these ‘frequent flyers’ to be a smaller group, but a more engaged one. They are best illustrated by the following chart, which shows the percentages of visitors who make one visits, two visits, three visits, etc, per year.

Sessions per user. Percentage of visitors who make one or multiple visits in 12 months, May 2018-April 2019. Source: Bowen Craggs Google Analytics Benchmark.

Sessions per user. Percentage of visitors who make one or multiple visits in 12 months, May 2018-April 2019.
Source: Bowen Craggs Google Analytics Benchmark.

Beyond the 66 per cent of ‘one-hit wonders’ who make one visit, there is a long tail of frequent flyers – for example 10 per cent visited more than nine times in the year. One per cent are very engaged – they visit more than 200 times per year (we suspect this hyper-engaged group may be employees, or perhaps Bowen Craggs, if we happen to be analysing your website!). Another possibility is bots, which is something to investigate, if your site is showing similar numbers. Other data shows that the frequent flyers visit more pages and spends more time on them, on average, than one-hit wonders.

We’ve seen how this division plays out in the data. Now let’s look at how you should think about serving the needs of these two groups.

Serving one-hit wonders

Just because they seem to be ‘not that into you’, does not mean you should not and cannot serve one-hit wonders well on your corporate website.

One-hit wonders may well be the most important people in your bosses’ eyes – customers. They might just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In our experience, one-hit wonders could be banking customers looking for log-in details or ‘brand’ customers looking for product sites or local sites. They may want to get in touch to make a complaint or get support.

Other audiences can be one-hit wonders too, though – such as a journalist who arrives on a corporate news article from a search engine, for example.

There are four key points to remember when serving one-hit wonders:

1. Primarily, you want to ensure that this group can achieve the task they came to complete. This means that your set of ‘signposts’ – navigation elements – on the home page and across the site should be prominent and immediately self-explanatory, so you are re-directing them to the right location on your entire web estate.

This means not just the menus, but also related links, promotional panels and other signposting on landing pages; as well as devices like breadcrumb trails to help users understand where they are in a site – especially necessary if they have arrived deep in a site from a search engine or other external link. It also means having a good search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy, organic and possibly paid, to ensure that users arrive in the right place to start with.

2. Ensure that the site is an effective ‘billboard’ for your corporate messages. Even if visitors stay for just a few seconds (like passing an advertisement hoarding on a motorway) they may form an important impression of your company.

3. Try to get this type of visitor to stay longer during their initial visit to get a better understanding of your company – and if you can, convert them to frequent flyers! Do this by using engaging images, messages, articles and other editorially engaging devices that encourage them to explore, and through frequent posting of fresh material in relevant areas so they have an expectation that returning is worthwhile and will reward them with something new. This is what we call the ‘magazine’ element of a corporate website.

Evidence from our website visitor surveys tells us that users who consume magazine content on your corporate site are more likely to have a better perception of your company’s brand, and there is analytics evidence to suggest that those who read blogs or other narrative material will consume other content around the site too. But don’t let any of this get in the way of users who have come to your site to perform a simple, single task.

4. Finally, be wary of personalisation – when so much of your audience is likely to be one-hit wonders, it may simply be irrelevant.

Serving frequent flyers

In our experience, frequent flyers are likely to represent a portion of all of your audience groups, including some customers. They could be employees regularly checking in about company news, for example; or jobseekers repeatedly checking for new roles or company news; analysts returning for quarterly for results material; or trade journalists who frequently cover you.

Here are five key points to remember when serving frequent flyers.

1. Build their needs into your content strategy. This may affect, for example, how frequently you update certain sections of your site, and the topics that you most regularly cover. You might want to set expectations around frequency of updates so they know when to return, too.

2. Ensure that you cater for the different needs of different frequent flyers. For example, some may visit regularly to complete quick tasks or for quick news updates, while others may want more in-depth services or information.

3. If users are returning to get specific information or tools that they want, such as job listings or quarterly results, promote links in these locations to material that you want them to see – such as reputation-building messaging.

4. Personalisation and customisation have more relevance for frequent flyers than for one-hit wonders. This could, for example, take the form of suggesting relevant thought leadership articles to a customer that returns frequently, based on what they looked at during previous visits. However, personalisation is no substitute for good navigation on a corporate website.

5. Even more important than personalisation is manual editorial control and management of your pages to appeal to frequent flyers, based on your knowledge of them; this is something an algorithm will struggle with.

Finally, it is worth remembering that no corporate website (or website visitor) is truly ‘typical’. Further investigation is key. Find out more about your own site’s one-hit wonders and frequent flyers by looking at the data; talking to your internal stakeholders; and by using your insight to think about who they are, where they are going, what they are doing and how you can serve them more effectively.

The following people from Bowen Craggs collaborated on this article: Andy McNair, Andrew Rigby, Dan Drury and Jason Sumner.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.













BC tip: T-Mobile US – a useful route-finder for prospective employees

The US mobile network operator provides a simple but useful tool to help jobseekers check their journey to work.

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The feature

Job vacancy description pages on T-Mobile US’s Careers website include a panel titled ‘Check your commute’.

The panel consists of a Google map showing the location of the job vacancy in question.

If jobseekers then click on a ‘View larger map’ link, they are taken to the Google Maps website, with the same location shown. From here, users can type in their home address to look up journey times via various modes of transport.

The takeaway

The provision of a ‘check your commute’ feature on job vacancy description pages is a simple idea, but one that jobseekers will likely appreciate.

Moreover, by offering this helpful tool, T-Mobile amplifies the message that it is a considerate employer. Indeed, this is a message that the company works hard to transmit elsewhere on its job vacancy description pages; another panel is titled ‘We’ll take care of you’, and highlights employee benefits at the firm (see screenshot above).

But the ‘check your commute’ feature could be improved. For example, some jobseekers would likely prefer to be able to look up their commute options directly on the page, without the need to link through to the Google Maps site.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

BC tip: Google – A powerful cross-channel community campaign

A recent online campaign supporting recovery from addiction skilfully cuts across channels and audiences.

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The feature

Google marked ‘National Recovery Month’ in September in the US with a ‘Recovery Together’ online campaign.

Resources included:

  • A microsite with video profiles, a locator map to help people find help near them, and a blueprint for how to get involved and other resources.

  • A post on the corporate blog announcing the campaign and a post linking it to Google’s public policy support for fighting opioid addiction in the US.

  • Twitter posts linking to the site and YouTube video profiles of people recovering from addiction, including a Google employee.

The takeaway

The Google campaign is well worth looking at for ideas about how to create a corporate social responsibility (CSR) campaign that integrates digital channels and targets multiple audiences; and links them all in an intelligent way.

The editorial approach – factual but highly engaging – is the key to the its effectiveness. There is nothing promotional, which is appropriate to the seriousness of the issue. Eight video stories are powerful and well produced. The microsite is interactive and has several ‘calls to action’ to get visitors involved.

The campaign is also cleverly positioned to target several of Google’s audiences – the general public, the media, jobseekers, employees and public policy professionals.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.



BC tip: H&M – Sustainability comes into fashion

A handful of the Swedish fashion retailer’s consumer websites have prominent ‘Sustainability’ sections for customers.

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The feature

H&M’s consumer websites in the UK, Norway and Sweden have primary ‘Sustainability’ sections, located directly on the retail sites. In addition, the product mega menus for ‘Ladies’, ‘Men’, ‘Kids’ and ‘H&M Home’ include links under ‘Sustainability at H&M’.

In the ‘Sustainability’ section there is a clear tie-in with a product line, ‘Conscious Shop’, with several product links in the left menu. Two other sections – ‘What are we doing?’ and ‘What can you do?’ have links to what is conventionally thought of as ‘corporate’ material – including the sustainability strategy, sustainability report and ‘Modern Slavery Statement’.

The ‘Sustainability’ section roll-out appears limited – we could not find it on the other consumer sites we checked, including the US, Canada, France, Germany or India, for example.

The takeaway

H&M has a ‘Conscious’ product line so it makes sense that the company would put its sustainability credentials front and centre to persuade potentially sceptical customers.

More widely, the fashion industry has been under fire for its environmental and social impacts, including textile waste, plastic microfibres and labour practices in factories. All the more reason to explain the actions H&M is taking in response, if it genuinely has a positive story to tell.

Some of our clients in other sectors say that ‘people aren’t interested in our sustainability report’. H&M is clearly setting out to change that.

If even only some of your customers care about sustainability – and our visitor research shows that a meaningful number of customers do care - why not put it in the areas they are sure to visit, rather than making them search for it?

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.



BC Tip: BNY Mellon's baffling contact mechanism

The investment bank’s site features a contact service that is simultaneously sophisticated and crude

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The feature

The BNY Mellon site has a contact link in the top menu of each page . This leads to a page with two dropdown menus under the question ‘Which topic would you like to discuss?’ The left menu includes broad areas - most are for customers, such as Asset Servicing or Foreign Exchange, but they also include Careers and Investor Relations. The other menu gives sub-categories that vary; Foreign Exchange has six, while Investor Relations has four. There is always an ‘other’ option.

Further down the page - out of sight with scrolling - are headquarters details, a link to global locations, and links to corporate contacts including investor relations and media.

Having made a selection in the menus and clicked to the next page, a field appears into which a question can be typed. Below this is a set of FAQs. These have headlines that change according to the choice made, eg ‘BNY Mellon Trust Services FAQs’. However the FAQs are always the same: five are aimed at retail shareholders (eg ‘What is the Dividend Payment Schedule?'), while one is for jobseekers.

Having filled in a question, visitors are told ‘If you want Sales to contact you, please enter your phone number’. This appears regardless of the category chosen (jobseekers and shareholders get the message, as well as customers).

The takeaway

BNY Mellon is not the first company to leave common sense at home when building a piece of functionality, applying a boilerplate approach where it is clearly inappropriate.

What is baffling is that the mechanism here is almost certainly underpinned by a sophisticated routing system - a question will likely go to one of many departments, so has a good chance of getting a useful reply. Yet at the same time the site provides dumbly inappropriate responses, and fails to point clearly to the useful numbers on the first page. What is going on, in a site that is otherwise often great (try Legacy)? Humans, it seems, are letting computers do too much of the work . Knowing when to let them free, and when to keep them in control, is surely part of any sensible management system.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.  


BC Tip: Apple – A thoughtful recap of key points

A summary at the bottom of a long product information page helps users to digest complex information.

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The feature

Technology giant Apple published an information page for the latest model of its iPad tablet when the product was launched in September 2019.

The page is long-scrolling on both a desktop and mobile screen. It contains 11 visually rich panels, each explaining one of the iPad’s key features.

Towards the bottom of the page, a headline reads ‘Did you catch all that? Let’s recap.’ This is followed by concise summaries of the features covered – each illustrated by an intuitive icon. 


The takeaway

By providing a concise, well presented summary at the end of a long-scrolling and complicated product page, Apple makes it significantly easier for potential customers to digest the key elements of the complex information covered. 

Though this approach is clearly well suited to pages explaining sophisticated product features, it could be adopted in a range of areas of a corporate site; anywhere, in fact, in which the goal is to ensure that visitors leave the page with a sound understanding of a complicated subject.

However, the success of Apple’s approach depends on visitors bothering to scroll down a page at all. Many loyal customers may well do so to find out about an exciting new product. But in some less-thrilling areas of a corporate site, it would be wiser to put summary information at the top as well as bottom of long pages. 

 

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.  

How should you communicate your company’s sustainability performance online?

The purpose of companies in society is increasingly being questioned, and corporate behaviour is under scrutiny as never before. In response, companies are opening up about their activities – promoting the good and defending the bad. The shift towards transparency is leaving many corporate digital managers wondering how best to prioritise and present sustainability material on their digital channels, says Jason Sumner.

Big companies are getting a lot of attention right now, most of it unwanted, some of it sought after. Starting with the unwanted kind – the 24-hour media seizes on every new scandal and social media amplifies it around the world. Facebook experienced what sustained, negative coverage can do to its reputation when it tumbled down the list of ‘most-loved’ brands, from 2nd to 80th.

On the other hand, the CEOs of some still-loved brands, such as Apple, tweet support for political causes, attracting praise in some quarters but at the same time inviting scepticism about so-called ‘woke’ corporations.

We’ve tracked these trends as part of the research for our Explain Yourself Index, which looks at how well companies are ‘explaining’ who they are on digital channels – their values, history and contribution to society. We also evaluate these issues in granular detail as part of our ‘serving society’ metrics in the Index of Online Excellence. What we have noticed is that the growing outside pressure on companies is raising some very practical questions for corporate digital managers about how to design their ‘sustainability’ sections.

Two audience groups – the ‘professional’ and ‘everyone else’

Any questions about online sustainability material – what to produce, where to post it, subjects to cover, formats to use, tone to adopt, and so on – start with an understanding of your audiences and their needs. What do they want from you and what do you want to say to them?

It is useful to put audiences for sustainability, or corporate social responsibility (CSR), into two broad buckets – the ‘CSR professional’ and ‘everyone else’. CSR professionals are a highly specific group – representatives of NGOs, charities, governments – the kinds of people who are paid to visit your website and check out your CSR credentials. They are looking for data, targets and evidence that you have systems in place to make sure CSR is integrated throughout the company.

Our trove of corporate website visitor survey data, collected since 2011 and consisting of more than half a million respondents, shows that CSR professionals account for about 1 per cent of visitors to a corporate website. This is a small, but potentially influential, group.

‘Everyone else’ is the share of all of your other main corporate audiences – investors, media, jobseekers, customers – that are interested in sustainability issues as primary or secondary reasons for visiting your site. They may be looking for specific information like CSR professionals, but their needs differ. As a group, they are more likely to be doing research on your company as a whole, and are likely to be more open to your messages via longer articles and stories, as opposed to hard data.

Our survey data shows that on average, between 1 per cent and 7 per cent of these other stakeholder audiences visit a website to find out about sustainability. Again, these are small numbers in percentage terms but in absolute numbers can represent hundreds or thousands of visitors on some websites. Also, all websites are different. Some of the companies in our survey benchmark group, usually if they tend to attract controversy, see up to double these percentages.

You can and should break these audiences down further in terms of priorities and needs, but the top-level division is a good start.

Best practice sustainability sections

How do the leaders in our Index of Online Excellence tackle their sustainability sections?

In terms of structure, they make a distinction between sustainability material for CSR professionals and material that would appeal to more general audiences. BAT, the tobacco company, makes the clearest delineation. Its ‘Sustainability’ section is aimed at serving professionals, and is signposted alongside primary navigation links aimed at other specific audience groups – Investors, Media and Careers – and houses data and governance information.

More general sustainability information is included in every other section of the site – ‘About us’, ‘Our products’, ‘How we work’ and ‘Our industry’.

BAT’s strict model works for its sector and situation. Others may wish to follow GSK or Shell, for example, which keep sustainability in one place but use ‘reporting’ signposts to direct professionals to the right area of the section.

In terms of data and governance for professionals, there are several high-scorers in our Index, including Ford, Merck, Nestlé and BP. Look to 3M for example, for a neatly designed and well-laid out data summary. BASF has comprehensive information about CSR governance.

Sustainability material for ‘everyone else’ can be creative, engaging and persuasive, as our the top performers in this area – Goldman Sachs, Nestlé and Unilever – show. Goldman Sachs covers community initiatives in its ‘Stories of Progress’ section, for example, with engaging and credible videos. Unilever, in addition to other strengths, uses social media adeptly to get its responsibility messages across.

Moreover, our data show that sustainability sections are not heavily visited compared to other sections, so sustainability links in other sections are important to get traction among the portions of your audiences who ‘don’t know’ they are interested in sustainability until you put it in front of them.

Conclusion – two interesting trends

Digital corporate communications teams usually cannot do much about the CSR data their company produces, but it is worth being aware that investors used to comparable financial numbers are beginning to complain about lack of relevance and uniformity of non-financial reporting. This is yet more evidence that a growing portion of investors – and not just traditional ‘socially responsible investment’ funds, are starting to be interested in sustainability. So it is worth thinking about whether you need more links from ‘Investors’ to ‘Sustainability’.

Finally, do you think sustainability should be a secret? A surprising number of companies are bucking the trend for openness by ‘going green’ but keeping quiet about it, for fear of a backlash or accusations of green-washing. ‘Secret sustainability’ could be yet another challenge for digital communicators, who already find it hard enough sourcing CSR stories and bringing their company’s good works to light.

- Jason Sumner

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

Who is using Instagram well for jobseekers?

Instagram has long been important for small, independent brands, and has even spawned a new industry of ‘influencers’. It has taken more time for corporates to find their niche on the photo-sharing platform, but there is a growing trend to use it to engage with jobseekers. Here, Mali Perdeaux shares the companies making the most of Instagram for recruiting.

This corporate expansion onto Instagram reflects the evolution of the platform itself – usage doubled between June 2016 and 2018, with 80 per cent of users apparently following at least one brand account, according to Brandwatch research. Many of the corporate careers accounts we’ve seen focus primarily on early career candidates (also according to Brandwatch, 90 per cent of Instagram users are under 35 ) but increasingly they also address a wider audience of professionals.

Instagram provides a range of opportunities to engage with jobseekers, from ‘quick win’ staff profiles (video content is particularly popular) and graduate ‘takeovers’, to using Stories for tips for applicants, site tours, polls and more.

A bonus for stretched digital teams is that less slick, more authentic posts are often more popular than very polished agency-style material. The inherent informality of the platform provides an ideal opportunity for organizations to present their human side and show off the engaging individuals behind the corporate brand.

Here, we take a look at some of key trends to see who is serving jobseekers well on the channel.

Verizon, Vodafone and BP: Giving brands, and policies, a human face

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US telecoms giant Verizon was one of the first notable corporate careers Instagram feeds we found, blending corporate images with a series showcasing members of staff talking briefly about something important to them outside work. Collated under the hashtag #ThisIsMeVZ, examples include an employee who finds the energy for a busy work and family life through a new-found passion for exercise, which saw him competing on the American Ninja Warrior show. As well as being in keeping with the early spirit of the platform, this is a low-cost and effective way to bring a human face to the company – most of the pictures were personal snapshots rather than corporate shots – while making staff feel involved, supported and seen.

More recently, the company uses the feed to combine personal stories with responsibility and recruitment messages - for instance a new father kissing his baby and talking about the positive impact of his paternity leave allowance, or employees taking part in community projects under the hashtag #PowerToGoBeyond.

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Vodafone has an ‘Early careers’ channel, @VodafoneGlobalGrads, which makes excellent use of its feed to inform and engage with potential candidates. The main grid is primarily – though, crucially, not exclusively – slick 'official' photography. The channel comes into its own in the Stories, which feature Q&As with current grads, 'Wednesday wisdom' tips from recruiters, 'Intern life' offering a glimpse into the intern routine, interviews with #WomenInEngineering and more. This approach provides a relatively quick and inexpensive way to provide material that offers real value to candidates, helping to build a realistic picture of whether a career at Vodafone would be a good fit for them.

BP launched @life.at.bp on Instagram just over a year ago to 'Celebrat[e] our culture, colleagues and careers around the globe'. The posts mix professional event photography with candid snaps to provide a compelling insight into life at the company. The variety on the feed reflects – and powerfully demonstrates – the reach of the organization, for instance a collection of ‘Office views’ that ranges from La Defence in Paris to sunsets from a rig off Trinidad and Tobago. Perhaps most powerfully, Stories allow staff to give an informal, and often convincingly enthusiastic, view of their working day in pictures.

Maersk and Unilever: A win-win – boosting engagement with reposting

Some canny digital teams also use Instagram to boost staff engagement, while providing ‘quick win’ updates for the main feed, by reposting (with appropriate permission and credits) pictures shared on employees’ personal accounts.

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Maersk regularly re-posts pictures or films posted by staff on their own feeds. This provides candid content for minimal digital team overhead; makes staff feel valued (and boosts the potential audience for their personal account); and sends a subtle but powerful message to jobseekers that existing staff are enthused about their work.

Similarly, the Unilever Instagram feed includes pictures taken by Unilever employees (whose Instagram profiles are linked from the post), presenting the company as a fulfilling and creative place to work. Many of these are also used to reinforce responsibility messages which are likely to be appealing to jobseekers.

Facebook: Sidestepping the silo trap

One potential pitfall we have noticed is a growing number of companies producing compelling material on social media platforms but failing to make use of it on the relevant pages on their main Careers section. One organization that does bridge this gap – perhaps unsurprisingly – is Facebook.

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Many of the pages in the Facebook Life area of its Careers section include a panel of links to Instagram posts of employees discussing an aspect of their career or working life. By providing links to posts that are relevant to a specific page, rather than a general Instagram feed, Facebook is extending the ‘life’ of the profile posts and making sure they are visible to the target audience.

Mali Perdeaux

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

 If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

Netflix: Selling the company culture internationally

A well-executed video on LinkedIn features Europe-based employees discussing whether the US headquarters makes all the decisions.

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The feature

Netflix posted a video one week ago to its 2.8m followers on LinkedIn, titled ‘Netflix Culture Explained: Does All Decision-Making Sit Within the U.S.?’

The three-minute embedded YouTube video features clips from interviews conducted with employees based in Amsterdam, Paris, London and Madrid.

The employees give their views and discuss the question among themselves in a relaxed setting.

It is part of a series of ‘culture explained’ videos featured on the company’s careers microsite and careers-focused social media channels.

The takeaway

Netflix has been expanding rapidly outside the US, and several of its 500 available jobs at the moment are based abroad.

With the LinkedIn video, Netflix is addressing in public what is likely to be a key question from candidates outside the US – how much influence will we really have?

A strength of the video is its openness. It appears to be genuinely unscripted and interviewees give nuanced answers. Most agree that generally decision-making is allowed to happen locally, but they do not appear to be taking a pre-packaged company line. One interviewee says, ‘There is a long way for us to go to really become a global company.’

This may be a simple acknowledgement of reality, but such transparency goes beyond what many companies permit. Current and future employees of Netflix will likely appreciate the honesty.

Other companies can learn from the Netflix approach: Use digital channels to address the questions that your audiences are already asking, in plain language; then have real people answer the questions as openly as possible.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.



Technology and the future of digital corporate communications: What platforms are your peers using?

The Bowen Craggs Club regularly conducts surveys and quick polls of its members on a range of topics relevant to corporate digital communicators. Here, Lisa Hayward and Jason Sumner share results from recent research on technology being used now, give an insight into digital communicators’ plans for the future and show how the Club helped a member manage the expectations of a senior manager.

Current technology tools and platforms


A recent Bowen Craggs Club survey asked which tools members were currently using for content management, analytics and digital quality management.

Which content management system (CMS) do you use?

Sitecore and Adobe Experience Manager are the most popular large brands among Bowen Craggs Club members, and have grown in popularity over the last 12 months; but more of our members are also using smaller, more bespoke CMS applications.

Sitecore and Adobe Experience Manager are the most popular large brands among Bowen Craggs Club members, and have grown in popularity over the last 12 months; but more of our members are also using smaller, more bespoke CMS applications.

Which analytics platform do you use?

The most popular analytics platform is the free version of Google Analytics, with 37 respondents using it. The use of both the free and paid versions of Google Analytics is growing amongst Bowen Craggs Club members, whilst there has been less growth over the last year in the numbers using Adobe Analytics.

The most popular analytics platform is the free version of Google Analytics, with 37 respondents using it. The use of both the free and paid versions of Google Analytics is growing amongst Bowen Craggs Club members, whilst there has been less growth over the last year in the numbers using Adobe Analytics.

Which digital quality management (DQM) tool do you use?

Almost half of our respondents are not using a DQM tool, citing lack of budget or lack of resources to manage it. The two most popular tools are Crownpeak and Sitemorse.

Almost half of our respondents are not using a DQM tool, citing lack of budget or lack of resources to manage it. The two most popular tools are Crownpeak and Sitemorse.

Future technology tools


Bowen Craggs recently conducted a short survey of Club members asking about emerging technology tools – whether they are in use now, or if there are plans to implement. We received 32 responses:

  • Personalisation: Five implemented, 20 with plans

  • Bots: Three implemented, 15 with plans

  • Artificial intelligence: Two implemented, 12 with plans

  • Messaging: Two implemented, 10 with plans

  • Voice: One implemented, eight with plans

  • Augmented reality: Three implemented, four with plans

  • Virtual reality: None implemented, five with plans


Quick poll – how long does it take to do a corporate website redesign?

One of our members was being asked by senior managers to set a six-month time-frame for a corporate website redesign (a global site with at least three levels of navigation and hundreds of pages). We asked Bowen Craggs Club members about how much time their most recent corporate website redesign took.

The results of our quick poll showed that no one in the Bowen Craggs Club said the process would take less than six months. Only 11 per cent said it would take between six and nine months. Forty-three per cent said it take 12 to 18 months and nearly 20 per cent said it took longer than 18 months.

The results of our quick poll showed that no one in the Bowen Craggs Club said the process would take less than six months. Only 11 per cent said it would take between six and nine months. Forty-three per cent said it take 12 to 18 months and nearly 20 per cent said it took longer than 18 months.

- Lisa Hayward and Jason Sumner

The Bowen Craggs Club is an invitation-only network for leaders in digital corporate communications at the world’s biggest organizations. For more information visit our website or contact Lisa Hayward (lhayward@bowencraggs.com).

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

BC tip: Coca-Cola – Virtual agent falls flat

Interactive Q&A feature shows the dangers of a poorly executed chatbot

coca_cola_chatbot.png

The feature

Coca-Cola invites users on its Contact page to ask the company a question, via a simple ‘Ask Coca-Cola’ panel.

It is in effect a basic chatbot, introducing itself as ‘your virtual agent’. There is a 110 character-limited field for the user to type in their query, with a ‘Send’ button to submit it.

Answers are logged above in a transcript of the chat, and the agent lets users know that it is ready for more questions if required.

Results were mixed when we tested it again, as they have been when we have reviewed the site for our Index. Requests for information on the Annual report and jobs elicited helpful links, but queries on the company’s position on water consumption or the share price produced nonsensical answers.

The takeaway

Through its unreliable performance, the virtual agent could well lead to an increase in the very enquiries we suspect the company is trying to reduce. The fact that the bot does not seem to be ‘learning’ over time suggests this technology has not had the post-launch attention it needs to develop into a truly helpful feature.

The agent also distracts the user from some of the more useful material in the ‘Contact us’ area, including comprehensive FAQs and pages dedicated to confronting rumours about the company and its products.

The Deutsche Telekom chatbot we wrote about recently is a much more successful example of chatbot deployment, primarily because backup options to contact humans are better integrated. It also does not present itself as ‘human-like’; Coca-Cola’s choice to call its bot a virtual agent, and have it respond like a person, might set up higher expectations from users which it fails to meet, as a recent study suggests.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

BC Tip: Walmart's careful home page tweaks

Few companies are thinking as hard as Walmart about what a home page is for - and how to make it work on both computers and mobile phones.

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The Feature

The Walmart corporate home page has a carousel of three picture stories at the top. At the time of our review the default story was headed ‘Time, Together: One Family’s Experience with Parental Leave’. The piece is bylined, and the first few words of the introduction are included: ‘Bringing home a new baby is a time filled with adorable snuggles, sweet moments and quite …’.

Below this is a teaser for the next frame of the carousel: ‘NEXT: We have a goal of 10% of Home Office Associates to Commute to Work on Bicycles by 2023. Let’s ride!’

The rest of the page repeats these stories, among many others. They include several soft stories, but also harder ones, for example on Walmart’s payment of a fine to the Department of Justice.

The Takeaway

The Walmart corporate site has much strong ‘magazine’ material. So it makes sense to think of its home page as its front cover, and to do as much possible to persuade visitors to click and begin reading. In the past 18 months it has been tweaked twice. Starting with a ‘standard’ carousel with an image and arrows pointing left and right, it moved first to a single image with a teaser for the next story, and then to the current version, which has much more editorial in view. Small moves, but with real benefits.

First, when the page is viewed on a laptop or desktop screen, there is much to engage without making visitors scroll: an attractive image, a headline designed to appeal to parents, and the start of a story that ends with three dots - all are designed to make you read on. There is evidence that links below the fold - out of view without scrolling - are much less likely to be clicked.

Second, it also works on a mobile phone. ‘Below the fold’ means nothing to phone users, because they will naturally scroll. So Walmart has provided a range of stories right down the page. It does not matter if few desktop users ever see these, the steadily growing percentage of mobile visitors will.

Third, the carousel does not rely on visitors clicking an arrow, or waiting for a new story to rotate into view. Why should they do either? Instead strong teasers are used to get them click backwards or forward, with each click increasing the chance they will find something that engages them.

The main weakness lies in the headlines: Walmart needs to get a journalist or copywriter to make them much more engaging. Perhaps that will come with the next tweak? Meanwhile, others wondering what to do with their home page should look and ponder. The home page is still the most visited page on most corporate sites, and possibly even - as people used to say - ‘the most valuable square foot of real estate a company owns’.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.


BC tip: Takeda – A CEO's biography buries the news

Media stories help to humanise the CEO of a Japan-based pharmaceutical company, but they are not linked from his biography on the corporate website.

BC tip - Takeda.png

The feature

The ‘In the news’ section of the Takeda corporate website has links to a series of media interviews with Christophe Weber, the CEO. Since 2017, the Japan-based publication Asabi Shimbun Globe has done five interviews with Mr Weber, in Q&A format, covering his background, his management style, talent development and the company’s M&A strategy. The first published article, ‘Tragedies changed my life’, delves into Mr Weber’s personal life and how the deaths of his father and brother have shaped his personality and approach to life. ‘My father died in a mountain accident in an avalanche and I was with him when that happened. I was only 15. After that, I started to take more responsibilities in order to support my family, and did less mountain climbing,’ Mr Weber tells the interviewer.

Mr Weber’s biography, in the ‘Executive Leadership’ section of the website takes a conventional, but dull approach – eg, ‘Mr Weber has introduced key transformations within the global organization which focus on the underlying principles of patient- and customer-centricity, accountability and being as agile as possible for a global company.’ The biography does not link to the ‘In the news’ section.

The takeaway

The person that comes across in the media interviews is a thoughtful human being who has overcome challenges in his life. They give real insight into the person currently running one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

Whoever is running Takeda’s online ‘Newsroom’ thought it was worth linking to these external stories, but no one thought to link them from Mr Weber’s biography page in the ‘Company Information’ section.

Linking from the biography page would be the minimum. Going further, Takeda – and other corporates – should consider introducing some of the humanising details that emerge in media profiles, and use them to liven up boring, by-the-numbers executive biographies.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

The Index of Online Excellence: Who’s top for construction, message and contact provisions?

Scott Payton looks deeper into our annual ranking of the world’s best companies for digital corporate communications to highlight the best online estates for navigation, visual impact and other areas. 

Earlier this month, we looked at the world’s best companies at serving investors, journalists, jobseekers and other key audience groups via their online channels. All this was drawn from our 2019 Index of Online Excellence, which was published in June.

Here are the companies that were the top performers in some of the other key areas that we evaluate in the Index:

Best for navigation and user orientation

Top-scoring company: Bayer (27 points out of a maximum of 32)

Runners up: Unilever, GSK, Eni, BAT, NXP (26/32)

The Bayer web estate has undergone a refresh recently – and, unusually among redesigned corporate sites, has managed to retain highly effective usability with the updated look and feel. The keys to this are a well-implemented drop-down menu, left menus within sections, a common utility menu across its wide federation of separate sites, and vigorous use of right links to connect the estate.

The Bayer web estate has undergone a refresh recently – and, unusually among redesigned corporate sites, has managed to retain highly effective usability with the updated look and feel. The keys to this are a well-implemented drop-down menu, left menus within sections, a common utility menu across its wide federation of separate sites, and vigorous use of right links to connect the estate.

Best for online estate integration

Top-scoring company: GSK (15 points out of a maximum of 16)

Runners up: Unilever, Nestlé, Sanofi (14/16)

GSK's compact, multi-level country-sites menu works well as a hub for the company's country-based web estate. Social media signposts are conventionally handled, and the company has made some useful improvements in relation to country-based social signposts.

GSK's compact, multi-level country-sites menu works well as a hub for the company's country-based web estate. Social media signposts are conventionally handled, and the company has made some useful improvements in relation to country-based social signposts.

Strongest home page and visual design

 Top-scoring company: AXA (22 points out of a maximum of 24)

Runners up: Nestlé, Unilever, Verizon, (21/24)

The new AXA group website is an exceptionally good example of corporate website design. The copious use of dramatic, documentary-style imagery is particularly well done. But subtler effects are also impactful, lending a polished sheen to the total visual experience.

The new AXA group website is an exceptionally good example of corporate website design. The copious use of dramatic, documentary-style imagery is particularly well done. But subtler effects are also impactful, lending a polished sheen to the total visual experience.

Best for company information and internationalism

Top-scoring company: Nestlé (22 points out of a maximum of 24)

Runners up: BP, Roche (21 points out of a maximum of 24)

Nestlé offers a great deal of good information on nestle.com about the company - what it does, how it is managed, its purpose and so on. History is very well covered (including several innovative features, such as a customisable timeline, ‘Your life in food’), and the main history timeline is now more engaging after a redesign. Nestlé also acts convincingly like a company with an international mindset, interested in engaging with a genuinely global stakeholder base. The main corporate site is in English only, but with much key information translated into relevant other languages. There is clear evidence of communication between the corporate centre and country site editors; indeed, content sharing between these sites appears to be stronger than ever after the estate-wide redesign.

Nestlé offers a great deal of good information on nestle.com about the company - what it does, how it is managed, its purpose and so on. History is very well covered (including several innovative features, such as a customisable timeline, ‘Your life in food’), and the main history timeline is now more engaging after a redesign. Nestlé also acts convincingly like a company with an international mindset, interested in engaging with a genuinely global stakeholder base. The main corporate site is in English only, but with much key information translated into relevant other languages. There is clear evidence of communication between the corporate centre and country site editors; indeed, content sharing between these sites appears to be stronger than ever after the estate-wide redesign.

Best for contact provisions

Top-scoring companies: GSK and Eni (11 points out of a maximum of 12)

Runners up: Nestlé, ING, HSBC, Novo Nordisk, AXA, Vinci, Merck, Pfizer, Proctor & Gamble, General Electric (10/12)

GSK's global ‘Contact us’ page is a model approach. It features clear language and comprehensive signposts, including simple but significant links to Facebook and Twitter.

GSK's global ‘Contact us’ page is a model approach. It features clear language and comprehensive signposts, including simple but significant links to Facebook and Twitter.

Eni's contact page is welcoming and transparent, with clearly signposted direct contact options for a variety of stakeholders.

Eni's contact page is welcoming and transparent, with clearly signposted direct contact options for a variety of stakeholders.

For full results and analysis and a free Index publication, visit our website.

The Bowen Craggs Database is the engine that drives the Index of Online Excellence, with detailed scoring and analysis for more than 100 global companies and best practice from the top performers.

BC Tip: BP shows the best and worst of graphics

BP manages to get its formats right and wrong in the same story.

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The feature

BP Magazine is held within the News and Insights section of BP.com, but is linked from the left menu on every page. It has a variety of stories on a wide range of subjects, and is keen to illustrate them as vividly as possible.

Earlier this year it carried a story headed ‘The tech revolution producing greener power’. This fills a long page and has several photos. The first image, however, is a colourful and elaborate infographic showing how different activities and businesses link up: about 30 squares or hexagons are used to show the connections, with text in each of them. The text is readable on a large screen, but on a normal laptop it is tricky and on a mobile phone, impossible.

Further down the page is a bar chart showing how demand for different types of fuel have grown and will grow over the decades. It uses colour-coding and, by mousing over each column, it is possible to see the figures behind the chart. It is readable on screens of all sizes. The numbers are drawn from BP’s own Statistical Review of World Energy, which is linked.

The takeaway

This page shows how careful even the most experienced web team needs to be with images and formats. Infographics were originally designed to be used as posters to stick on walls. They can be brilliant for that, but rarely work well on a screen. Sometimes the shape is the problem: long and thin posters do not work on a short and wide screen. That is not the issue here - it is simply that the text is too small. As mobile usage continues to grow, it is ever more important to make sure that your information is readable by everyone; this image fails that test. A shame because it contains much excellent material, which could surely be neatly presented on an interactive graphic?

The chart, by contrast, is just dandy. It fits neatly on any screen, is not too busy, and uses simple interactivity to add detail. It also draws on BP’s own data, and is used to publicise its statistical tool. All perfect. Why the contrast?

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.


The Index of Online Excellence: Who serves which audiences the best online?

Jason Sumner looks beyond the overall top-scorers in our annual ranking to see which companies are best at serving individual audience groups with their digital communications.


Last month we published the 2019 Index of Online Excellence, a ranking of the world’s 30 best companies at digital corporate communications. (See also a Forbes magazine article on the Index results).

Making it into the Index is an achievement in itself, because we take the 30 best from a pool of the largest 200 companies in the world by market capitalization. We spend thousands of hours analysing the effectiveness of their online communications in eight broad categories (and a total of 26 metrics in total).

Corporate digital communication is complex because companies have to satisfy audiences that have varying goals and information needs. The Index measures how well companies are managing this complexity through our five so-called ‘serving’ metrics, in which we take a granular look at how well specific audiences are being catered for – jobseekers, investors, media, customers and ‘society’ (including corporate social responsibility professionals and general audiences who are interested in a company’s record on ethics and sustainability).

Here are the companies that came top in each of these five metrics. (We will look at the best in the other three categories – construction, message and contact information – in a future column.)

Best for ‘serving jobseekers’

Top-scoring company: Verizon (29 points out of a maximum of 32)

Runners up: BNP Paribas (28/32) and GSK (26/32)

Note: BNP Paribas (and some companies below) do not appear in the overall top 30 list, but were identified as category leaders when we evaluated the largest 200 companies in the world by market capitalization.

Verizon does an excellent job of ‘selling’ the company as an employer. The excellent new podcast for employees, ‘Up to Speed’ is available to anyone on the website.

Verizon does an excellent job of ‘selling’ the company as an employer. The excellent new podcast for employees, ‘Up to Speed’ is available to anyone on the website.

Best for ‘serving investors’

Top-scoring company: Shell (29 points out of a maximum of 32)

Runners up: BP (27/32) and Zurich (27/32)

Shell is a long-time high-performer in this category. Information in the global site’s Investors section remains as rich as ever. The ‘Shell and our strategy’ sub-section is complemented by the impressive Investors Handbook and Annual report, both available online and in PDF.

Shell is a long-time high-performer in this category. Information in the global site’s Investors section remains as rich as ever. The ‘Shell and our strategy’ sub-section is complemented by the impressive Investors Handbook and Annual report, both available online and in PDF.

Best for ‘serving the media’

Top-scoring companies: Nestlé and Bayer (both scored 26 points out of a maximum of 32)

Runners up: BASF, Daimler, Vinci (all on 24/32)

Nestlé’s press release archive is easily found, neatly presented and displays well on a mobile.

Nestlé’s press release archive is easily found, neatly presented and displays well on a mobile.

Bayer.com is a rich resource for journalists seeking background material.

Bayer.com is a rich resource for journalists seeking background material.

Best for ‘serving customers’

Top-scoring company: Microsoft (28 points out of a maximum of 32)

Runners up: Texas Instruments and Maersk (both scored 27 out of a maximum 32)

The strength of Microsoft’s provision for customers through its online channels lies in doing a lot of things very well. Customer journeys are smooth and integrated, while good information is provided throughout to help customers make decisions.

The strength of Microsoft’s provision for customers through its online channels lies in doing a lot of things very well. Customer journeys are smooth and integrated, while good information is provided throughout to help customers make decisions.

Best for ‘serving society’

Top-scoring company: Nestlé (29 points out of a maximum of 32)

Runners up: Eni (28/32); and BP, Bayer and BAT (27/32)

Nestlé’s relaunched CSR section, ‘Our Impact’, does an exceptionally good job of presenting progress against a large number of goals that is both accessible and detailed. Corporate governance information is well-written, neatly presented and highly transparent. Its Creating Shared Value reporting also serves CSR professional audiences well.

Nestlé’s relaunched CSR section, ‘Our Impact’, does an exceptionally good job of presenting progress against a large number of goals that is both accessible and detailed. Corporate governance information is well-written, neatly presented and highly transparent. Its Creating Shared Value reporting also serves CSR professional audiences well.

- Jason Sumner

For full results and analysis and a free Index publication, visit our website.

The Bowen Craggs Database is the engine that drives the Index of Online Excellence, with detailed scoring and analysis for more than 100 global companies and best practice from the top performers.

BC tip: Bosch – Expert profiles

Skilfully written and presented profiles effectively introduce the scientists and engineers at the German engineering company.

BC tip - Bosch.png

The feature

Bosch’s global corporate website has 35 profiles of its research experts in a ‘Get to know our researchers’ section, which is housed in a primary ‘Research’ section.

The landing page displays each profile in a click-to-expand panel with a photograph of the subject at work. Opening the panel reveals another image and short summary, written in first-person (eg, for Dr Raphaëlle Satet, ‘I am a materials scientist by training and joined Bosch in 2005 to work first on ceramics design.’).

Clicking the ‘More about me’ tab leads to an expanded profile page, with a pull quote, presumably by a famous figure who has inspired the subject – eg, for Dr Satet, ‘As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it. Antoine d Saint-Exupéry.’ Each profile page is organized similarly – with highlights of the subject’s CV, ‘Selected Publications’, a Q&A, and an email address to ‘Get in touch with me.’

The takeaway

Bosch’s ‘Get to know our researchers’ are well executed at every level. Navigation is simple and consistent, allowing readers to browse three levels, drilling down to get to more detail.

The presentation is modern and attractive, with creative photography (no sign of stock imagery or clichés here). The writing is pitched at general readers and describes complex scientific topics in simple, but not dumbed down, language. Linking to articles in professional journals reinforces the subjects’ expertise. Asking readers to ‘get in touch’ promotes open-ness and may be genuinely helpful for recruitment, for example.

Many companies talk about ‘innovation’ online – Bosch shows how effective it can be to open up about the people whose job it is to make the innovation happen.

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

BC Tip: Deutsche Telekom – chatbot-style answers to common questions

An automated FAQs generator effectively saves a company money and its website users time

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The Feature

Pages throughout Deutsche Telekom’s corporate website have an ‘FAQ’ icon that ‘sticks’ to the right edge of the screen as the user scrolls. 

Clicking the icon opens a panel titled ‘Frequently asked questions’.

The panel contains the following explanatory text:

 Simply enter your question, results on the topic will be displayed underneath the box.

‘No matching results? Click the “send” button and we will reply as soon as possible.

For information on tariffs, services or products please contact our service team.

‘Services team’ links through to a customer services contact page.

Users can type their question into a text box.

A list of answers to relevant questions then appears in the bottom of the box, each in a click-to-expand panel. 

If users click ‘Send request’, they are presented with name and email address fields, which if completed can be used to email their question to Deutsche Telekom to be manually answered. 

The Takeaway

Deutsche Telekom’s tool is an effective hybrid of a chatbot, an email contact service and a traditional FAQs section. 

It successfully encourages users to find answers to common questions without the need for the company to answer such questions manually, in a way that does not force the user to scan an extensive FAQs section to find an answer. This should save the company money and the user time. 

A drawback of many similar services – especially chatbots – is that they are too often unable to answer many questions that users ask, due to the limitations of the still relatively nascent technology underpinning them.

The fact that Deutsche Telekom provides users of this tool with a prominently signposted ‘backup’ in the form of an email contact form means that this drawback is effectively overcome.  

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.

The end of 'storytelling'?

When companies stop pretending that everything they publish online is a ‘story’, they clear the way for genuinely engaging narratives to shine, David Bowen says.

A few years ago, ‘storytelling’ was about as fashionable as it could be in corporate digital communications. It was almost compulsory to say you communicated by ‘stories’, as if they were the key to all effectiveness.

That was nonsense then, and it still is now. Communicating effectively online as a company means using many different editorial formats, only one of which – although an important one – is the ‘story’.

When used properly, stories are indeed a powerful way of putting across corporate messages, but to be fully effective at it, companies need to avoid two mistakes. One is an issue of labelling and the second is a failure to work around the risk-averse tendencies of big organizations.

First, a story is not a story simply because it is labelled as such. A story is a narrative, with a beginning, middle and an end. It is the most powerful form of editorial because it is the most natural structure, and answers our natural curiosity to find out ‘what next?’ There is a reason almost every novel is a narrative: it by far the best way of getting people to the end. That is not to say ‘non-narratives’ cannot be engaging; but it is harder work to make them thus.

PepsiCo used to have a ‘stories’ section that consisted mainly of press releases. Indeed the current pepsico.com has ‘stories’ over its home page – most of them are pretty much news releases. Danaher, the US conglomerate, has ‘feature stories’ in its news section; a similar problem. Coca-Cola took the idea even further by trying to convert its whole corporate site into a magazine. By launching the ‘Coca-Cola Journey’ site, it aimed to become a ‘media company’ taking on – and bypassing – traditional media by going directly to customers it wanted to woo. The site today still has much impressive and engaging editorial, but I doubt if ‘old media’ publications feel too threatened by it.

The second mistake is a failure to recognise that corporate risk aversion is a barrier to good storytelling. As my colleague Jason Sumner pointed out last year ‘large companies rarely want to publicise the elements that make for good drama – such as conflict, complications, or a “hero” trying to accomplish something difficult’.

It is very likely (pretty much certain) that there will indeed have been drama – hurdles, arguments, maybe even violence – in the course of every corporate achievement. But I have yet to see such stories told by companies themselves. Look to independent storytellers – such as Steve Coll with his gripping Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power. But do not look to ExxonMobil. Mr Coll’s book is not all dirt by any means; but it is the gritty bits that give credibility to the rest. To resurrect another over-used word from the past, corporations find it very difficult to be ‘authentic’ – and so will struggle to match the credibility of independent sources.

However, the ‘authentic’ problem is not insuperable and corporate storytellers should not give up. Coca-Cola has been monitoring which pieces are most popular on its Journey site, and discovered that the best ones are those about itself. Special bottles for Star Wars, a Coca-Cola cake recipe (honest), a history of Coca-Cola advertising slogans (they should definitely revive ‘The Great National Temperance Beverage’). You get the idea. There may not be any drama or violence, but at least a company is likely to get the facts about itself right, and presumably has better access to insiders than anyone else.

Two more elements help. First, where you can, write about individuals. They might be employees, customers, people in a local community, but humans are generally more interesting than companies, products or trends. Second – and most important – stories can only work if they are well written. Use experienced feature writers or copy editors; they will have a feel for language that it is hard for others to match.

Here are some other examples – not all have all elements, but they cover my points.

I come back to PepsiCo. Among the non-stories on the home page, there is one that really is one. ‘New home, new hope’ leads to a video in which a Colombian woman tells how she brought her children from a violence-wracked region and found a job in a Pepsi-owned plant. It feels real, and probably is.

Siemens’ careers section has ‘Our Stories’ – some are, some aren’t – but ‘Taking on the seven biggest mountains in the world’ has a beginning and a middle, and promises to have an end. It is about an employee who decided to become the first Kuwaiti woman to do the climbs, and tells us what she has done so far.

Pharmaceutical companies often tell patient stories, but Novartis also uses narrative well to bring its scientific investigation to life. ‘Investigating the myopia mystery’ lays out the tale of a scientist couple investigating the spread of short-sightedness.

Novartis also understands the power of a good headline – on a magazine front cover, it makes you turn to the piece; on a website, it makes you click. How about ‘Giraffes have high blood pressure. Why don’t they drop dead?’ Or indeed ‘How I built a mini-gut with next to no biology training’ – how can you not read on? These headlines may seem simple, but a lot of thought has gone into them.

AbbVie, another pharma company, has at least one powerful writer on its books. Here is a story about a doctor helping after the Puerto Rico hurricane. The writing is simple but strong.

None of these, sadly, has any violence or even arguments in them. But given the reality of bosses being bosses, they are doing as good a job as we can hope for. Don’t give up on storytelling; just do it well.

- David Bowen

The Bowen Craggs Index of Online Excellence 2019 was published last week. Visit our website to see the ranking of the 30 best corporate digital estates in the world and download a free PDF publication.

Reading the signals in the noise: Five takeaways from the Bowen Craggs Conference Berlin

Our theme at our annual conference last week was ‘Where will communications go and what route will they take?’ Jason Sumner shares five quick highlights from the event.

1. Scrutiny of corporate behaviour means old-fashioned honesty will matter more than ever

Futurologist Ian Pearson opened the conference with a look far beyond the future of digital corporate communications, forecasting a world where self-driving vehicles are commonplace, people can link dreams and download themselves into the cloud. New technology will continually challenge public trust because people will depend on it more, but understand it less.

How should corporations respond, Ian was asked, when surveillance over business practices will increase and bad behaviour becomes increasingly difficult to hide. His answer, ‘Be honest’.

2. Technology will change, but the fundamentals of good online communication will not

Scott Payton of Bowen Craggs returned us closer to the present, exploring technology being implemented by companies now, which shows ‘glimpses of corporate communications tomorrow’. Scott looked at real-world examples of new tech in action on the corporate web – virtual reality, augmented reality, personalisation, chatbots and voice.

However, no matter how much technology changes, the tried and tested rules of online comms still apply. ‘Corporate communications needs to be easy to find, clear, engaging, relevant to the audience and effective at communicating your company’s key messages,’ Scott said.

3. Can we measure hopes and fears?

Most digital communicators know they need to move beyond measuring ‘clicks’ and ‘likes’ into more sophisticated metrics of ‘engagement’. This was reflected in a quick poll of delegates who said their top measurement concerns were – ‘Measuring the impact of digital communication on company reputation’ and ‘Linking data sources together’. Siemens is moving ahead quickly in both of these areas, and provided a possible glimpse of the future of engagement metrics, with its new algorithms that emphasise the emotional aspects of social media.

The company’s content strategy for engaging on social media is changing too; adapting to a world in which an unexpected tweet by the CEO derails a carefully thought-out comms plan. One to watch.

4. Channels old and channels new

David Bowen of Bowen Craggs explored the trends emerging from this year’s Index of Online Excellence, our ranking of the best 30 companies in the world at corporate online communications. Old channels such as podcasts and blogs have been reinvigorated by the likes of Daimler, Shell and Verizon, proving that no idea ever really disappears on the internet.

A newer ‘must have’ channel is Instagram, David said, with careers-specific feeds booming. For the moment, it is also less likely to receive hostile comments than Facebook.

5. Digital communications in 2030

A panel discussion on future tools ended with a crystal-ball question – will we have corporate websites in 2030? A quick poll of delegates indicated yes, with 76 per cent of the audience thinking they would still exist in 11 years. On stage, panellists from Eni, Norsk Hydro and Siemens believed it would likely exist in some form, but ‘trust’ is the issue that will need to be addressed, no matter what the specific channels will look like.

Digital corporate communications, in whatever format, will need to be the place for ‘truth’, and a channel for jobseekers to check up on corporate values. In the future, corporate communicators need to have more ‘ongoing conversations’, not just jump in when a reputation crisis blows up.

- Jason Sumner

For more commentaries, tips and downloads for online corporate communications professionals, visit our website.

If you have a query or for more information about Bowen Craggs, please contact Dan Drury: ddrury@bowencraggs.com.