Chart of the week

Facebook outpaces LinkedIn as the biggest source of social media traffic to corporate websites, Twitter referrals stall by comparison
 

Occasional feature highlighting useful data for corporate digital communication.

(Click to enlarge)
Source: Bowen Craggs Google Analytics Benchmark 2017*

By 2016 Facebook had overtaken LinkedIn as the most significant source of social media referrals to corporate websites, and both channels have grown to account for more than 1 per cent of all visits; while Twitter growth has stalled. Referrals from YouTube have declined to nearly zero, which is why the channel is not shown on the chart.

  • Looking at the wider picture, in 2014, fewer than one in 100 corporate website visits were referred from social media. That was compared with one in five visits referred from all other recognised sources.
     
  • By 2017, one in 40 visits came from social media (2.5 per cent of all traffic). This is still a very small proportion of overall traffic, but an increase from 1.5 per cent recorded in 2016.
     
  • In 2012, mobile traffic to corporate websites was also low but grew to become a major source of visitors. We think it is unlikely that social referrals will see the same level of growth.
     
  • However, it is useful to think in terms of absolute numbers of visits, which can be more significant than the percentages imply. For example, while the percentages may be low, for one company in our benchmark group, out of a total of 36 million visits, there were 783,000 visits referred from LinkedIn and 236,000 from Facebook.
     
  • The usefulness of different channels depends on the company and there are wide differences between individual companies in the benchmark. We have found, for example, that Facebook is less useful for B2B companies, except in some regions, such as South America, where it can be an important customer channel.

*The 2017 benchmark covers the period between May 2016 and April 2017, collecting Google Analytics data from 24 corporate websites from a variety of sectors, and representing a range of activity. The busiest site had 37 million visits per year; the quietist 530,000, and an average of 7 million.

BC tip: Washington Post – Memorable design features

Design elements from an online special feature could be adapted for corporate stories.

BC tip - WaPo.png

The Feature

‘Tampa Bay’s coming storm’ is a special feature on the Washington Post’s website, published in July, about the disaster that could unfold if a strong hurricane hit the Florida city.

It is full of creative animations, illustrations, embedded videos and professional photography; with interesting arrangements of the elements to increase impact – for example, as readers scroll down the page, a pull quote from a government official appears alone against the backdrop of an animation of a hurricane.

The Takeaway

The Washington Post feature represents the best of online journalism at the moment – great writing combined with unique and eye-catching visuals, all of which make the most of the web as a medium. You continue to scroll because the writing is compelling and the design elements keep surprising.

Companies with the appropriate budgets should consider adapting the ideas in the ‘coming storm’ feature to engage with readers and make their own online stories more memorable.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2017/health/environment/tampa-bay-climate-change/

Should sustainability be a bigger part of your company's online investment case?

There are signs that investors are taking corporate social responsibility reporting more seriously. If this is true, corporate digital teams should consider adding relevant and targeted sustainability material to their investor sections, Jason Sumner says.
 

In the 15 years I’ve been analysing corporate CSR communications – sometimes as a core part of my job and at other times just dipping in and out – the honest answer to the question ‘do investors care about CSR?’ has generally been, ‘not really’.

There were always exceptions, such as in high-impact sectors, but there is evidence that the interest in CSR is widening into the mainstream. It is not that all investors have suddenly joined Greenpeace, but that they are increasingly seeing links between CSR and their traditional concerns about risk, cash flow and hedging; as well as their desire to back innovative new industries and companies:

  • BlackRock, which manages $5.7 trillion in assets, directs all of its analyst teams to take environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors into account when doing research, according to its global macro investment strategist.
  • Tim Koller, a McKinsey partner, says that sustainability concerns are increasingly important to ‘long-term’ investors. ‘When executives sit down with what we call intrinsic investors, the conversation is much deeper and it does focus on what’s material, whether it’s sustainability or other things that are affecting the industry,’ he said in a March 2017 interview.
  • Elisse Walter, the former chair of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, says more mainstream investors are incorporating sustainability factors into their investment decisions. ‘This is no longer a niche activity,’ she writes, and points to a number of statistics to back up her argument, which are here (September issue) if you are interested. 
  • Finally, in our own experience, some US companies who want to attract European investment funds are finding that it is necessary to at least pay lip-service to green issues.

If interest in CSR really is growing among mainstream investors, what does this mean for corporate digital teams and the online channels they manage?

Both Mr Koller and Ms Walter talk about the importance of the ‘story’, moving beyond boilerplate language about sustainability and relating it to investor concerns.

This is the job of IR teams, but it should also be the job of the corporate website, which is, as we often say, the best tool in the world for companies to talk to the outside world. And if your investors really are interested in sustainability, what could corporate websites be doing differently?

Add sustainability to a new or existing ‘investment case’

We advocate creating a section within Investors for the ‘investment case’, on strategy, markets and performance, risk, etc. If you already have one of these, it is a natural fit for CSR factors that might make people more likely to invest. Air Liquide has one of the best of these types of sections.

Apart from being an example of a good website investment case in general, Air Liquide also happens to include sustainability in its pitch to investors. For example, the ‘Key figures’ on the ‘Air Liquide at a glance’ page within Investors include – amongst financial figures – topline data for accident frequency, ‘% of Group sales related to protecting life and preserving the environment’, carbon dioxide emissions, and others.

Air Liquide's online pitch to investors

Air Liquide's online pitch to investors

BASF, another chemical company, has a ‘Sustainable Investments’ sub-section in Investor Relations, where it links sustainability to long-term performance and provides a wealth of evidence backing its claims to be sustainable and why it matters.

The BASF 'Sustainable Investments' sub-section

The BASF 'Sustainable Investments' sub-section

Shell and BP have CSR-focused sub-sections within Investors. Shell’s ‘Environmental, social and governance’ section addresses socially responsible investors (SRI) specifically, and is the only place to read about controversial issues such as its operations in Nigeria.

Shell's ESG sub-section

Shell's ESG sub-section

BP’s SRI sub-section in investors is a rich resource, with presentations, speeches, links to reports.

BP's SRI section

BP's SRI section

Make existing and buried material more prominent

The above companies are in high-impact industries, chemicals and oil, and have a clear and longstanding reasons why they need their websites to prominently tell investors they are also sustainable.

Other companies may be in lower impact industries but still be doing things that investors might care about – supply chain compliance for example. These companies may already be making a link between the investment case and CSR, but in a less overt way than Shell or BP do, perhaps in the CSR report. Consider bringing relevant information currently buried in PDF reports onto the investor section of the website. 

Quick win – put links to the CSR section in the Investor section

Companies often put corporate social responsibility data and stories in silos on their websites – in dedicated sustainability sections that few people visit, or in CSR report PDFs, which probably have even fewer readers.

The conventional wisdom has been that investors and analysts are even less likely to visit these walled gardens than other audience groups because the data tends to be less standardised or relevant to them, and the community stories too fluffy to be of interest.

However, it may not be accurate anymore to assume investors have no interest at all, as separate sections seem to imply. At the very least, consider putting more links to CSR resources investors might find useful – the CSR report, performance data, CSR governance information, etc.

Making the sustainability case for investors opens up a whole new dimension of ‘storytelling’, but one that if targeted and relevant, might just pay for itself many times over the next time BlackRock is looking at your website.

– Jason Sumner

BC tip: Procter & Gamble – Proxy fight microsite

The US consumer goods giant goes online to make its case against an activist investor.

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The Feature

Procter & Gamble (P&G) and activist investor Nelson Peltz have spent, according to the New York Times, at least $60 million in a proxy battle over whether Mr Peltz was to get a seat on the P&G board. (Yesterday the vote went management’s way, but the conflict over P&G’s strategy is expected to continue.)

Part of the company’s war chest went towards a microsite – voteblue.pg.com – which forcefully made the case for management and against Mr Peltz. Leading with the banner ‘A Profoundly Different P&G’, the microsite had facts and figures backing the company’s strategy; supporting quotes from well-known analysts and business professors; and attacks on Mr Peltz’s record. The microsite also had prominent ‘How to vote’ links for shareholders.

Before the vote, the microsite was well signposted from P&G’s main corporate site. After the vote, the microsite was promoting the results.

The Takeaway

It is unusual for a company to set up a microsite to fend off an activist investor, and voteblue.pg.com is possibly unique in using the tactics of a political website – unapologetically taking management’s side; attacking its opponent; and frequent calls to action – ‘how to vote’.

The political nature, and plain language, of the microsite may reflect the fact that P&G had to persuade individual shareholders, who own 40% of the company’s shares. It is an approach that appears to have paid off, at least in the short term.

The lessons for other digital managers may be niche – what to do when your company is in a public tussle with an activist investor; but as activists pursue more and larger corporate targets, it is a situation that could become increasingly common.

https://voteblue.pg.com/

Chart of the week

Accessing corporate websites – the convergence of desktop and mobile

Occasional feature highlighting useful data for corporate digital communication

(Click to Enlarge)
Changes in device usage 2013-2017
Source: Device by year, Bowen Craggs Google Analytics Benchark 2017*

Bowen Craggs has tracked device usage on corporate websites since 2013, through its Google Analytics Benchmark. Desktop access has fallen steadily through that five-year period, from 93 per cent to 71 per cent; while mobile access has grown, from 4 per cent to 25 per cent. During the same period, tablet access has stalled at under 5 per cent.

It will be interesting to see if the convergence of desktop and mobile continues. Corporate sites are easier to use on a big screen, so we think it is unlikely to converge completely. However, if mobile navigation continues to improve, and desktop navigation fails to, all bets could off. The screen size of smartphones is a factor too. Some are as big as a small tablet, and even a standard iPhone screen is so big it is fairly easy to read a non-responsive site on it.

*The 2017 benchmark covers the period between May 2016 and April 2017, collecting Google Analytics data from 24 corporate websites from a variety of sectors, and representing a range of activity. The busiest site had 37 million visits per year; the quietist 530,000, and an average of 7 million.

 

BC tip: BT Group – Summaries in the results archive

Visitors to the telecom giant’s financial archive can easily see summaries of historical financial material for any quarter without leaving the page.

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The Feature

The financial results archive page in BT Group’s corporate website investor section has a series of clickable boxes listed horizontally according to financial year – from 2017/2018 back to 2004/2005.

When clicked, the box is highlighted in purple and a series of click-to-expand menus appears for each of the four quarters and any supplemental reporting or updates.

For example, the menu under 2016/17, ‘Fourth quarter and year to 31 March 2017’, expands to include key developments for the year, a statement from the CEO and links to the press release, webcasts, slides, etc.

Unusually, the ‘Key developments’ and CEO statement text are not links, but provided within the menu.

The Takeaway

Including summary performance information in HTML directly in the click-to-expand menus – rather than providing these as separate linked pages – makes it easier for analysts to do research across years and reporting periods.

It also helps that the set for each quarter is comprehensive and that file formats are clearly signposted with icons.

One drawback is that PDFs open in the same window, forcing visitors to use the back button on their browsers if they want to return to the archive, but this is a weakness across the whole site, not just the investors section. Another weakness is that press releases jump into the media section, which is on an older template, without any obvious way back.

Despite these drawbacks, the summaries on the archive page itself are an efficient and usable resource for investors.

http://www.btplc.com/Sharesandperformance/Quarterlyresults/index.htm

BC tip: Suncor Energy – Social media pop-ups

Social media icons with pop-up menus can help integrate digital channels and send visitors to the right place.

BC tip - Suncor.png

The Feature

The social media icons in the footer of Suncor Energy’s corporate website have pop-up menus with links to different pages on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

For example, on clicking the Facebook icon, links to five of the Canadian oil company’s Facebook pages appear – the main corporate page; careers page; and consumer and campaign sites.

For icons with one channel, such as Flickr, there is an introduction ‘Check out our Flickr photostreams’. YouTube has a longer introduction to its two channels: ‘We maintain several official YouTube channels to share official Suncor videos as well as relevant videos and playlists from our stakeholders.’

The pop-ups also work in smartphone view of the responsive site. Unusually, the set of icons has one for Suncor’s blogs, with a pop-up menu describing three that the company maintains.

The Takeaway

The pop-up menus are a quick way of promoting multiple social media pages from one set of icons, and help visitors find the right channel.

Many companies have a main Facebook page and a Careers page, for example, and these can be brought together without worrying which one is being promoted in the footer at any given time.

There are weaknesses in the way Suncor uses the icons – some of the Facebook channel headings are unclear, for example. The blog menu is promoting two blogs that are no longer maintained.

One company we know used pop-ups, then dropped them.

Used in the right way though, they could be a neat hub for a company’s social media pages, and a good way to integrate the company’s online presence.

www.suncor.com

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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- Scott Payton

 

 

BC tip: PepsiCo - Convenient management images

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?’