Facebook – Dark arts cast a shadow online

Facebook’s corporate online newsroom has shown an unusual willingness to tell the world what the company is doing to fight fake news and Russian trolls. Too bad the messages do not necessarily match the reality, says Jason Sumner.

Spend an hour browsing Facebook’s corporate online newsroom, and even the most ardent Facebook sceptic could experience a wobble.

Here the company has built a formidable resource to convince the world that it is doing all that it can to fight fake accounts, fake news, election interference, privacy breaches and misuse of data:

  • ‘News’ promotes positive features but currently shows Facebook mostly in defence mode, and you can trace the history of recent scandals by some of the links: ‘Response to Six4Three Documents’; ‘Elliot Schrage on Definers’; ‘New York Times Update’ (in and amongst more fluffy titles, ‘A New Way to Share Gift Ideas on Facebook’).

  • ‘Inside Feed’ is Facebook’s attempt to let us peer behind the curtain. ‘With Inside Feed, we aim to shed more light on the people and processes behind our products’. And the section is effective at doing this, with well-made videos showing real employees doing real things to ‘make advertising transparent’, fight child exploitation on the network, hunt false news (‘both those we caught, and some we caught too late’), etc. One video, ‘Facing facts’, is particularly persuasive.

  • ‘Hard Questions’ is a forum for Facebook, and external contributors, to explain the company’s approach and thinking about controversial subjects, such as ‘Who Reviews Objectionable Content on Facebook – And Is the Company Doing Enough to Support Them?’ or ‘How Does Facebook Investigate Cyber Threats and Information Operations?’ The section appears to steer away from specific controversies, leaving that for ‘News’. We praised ‘Hard Questions’ in a BC tip, for allowing and responding to criticism in comments below these pieces.

 Facebook’s ‘Hard Questions’ puts across the company’s case persuasively

Facebook’s ‘Hard Questions’ puts across the company’s case persuasively

The articles and videos are full of facts, to their credit. An article published in November by Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy said the company, in the previous week, had removed ‘36 Facebook accounts, 6 pages and 99 Instagram accounts’. Another article by the vice president of product management said that in ‘Q3 2018, we took action on 15.4m pieces of violent and graphic content… more than 10 times the amount we took action on in Q4 2017’; they also took down 800 million fake accounts in Q2 and 754 million in Q3.

Even if you disagree with some of the above, or all of it, it is hard to come away from the site arguing that Facebook is ignoring its problems. It is unconventional, unusually open and thoughtful, acknowledges criticism and does not try to shift blame. For those reasons, it is a largely successful piece of online digital communications.

The problem is that anyone who has been on the internet or near a newspaper recently will know that what the company is saying in its online newsroom does not necessarily reflect what was happening behind the scenes.

Facebook’s travails show that it doesn’t matter how sophisticated the online communications are, when the message does not reflect reality, companies are going to be caught out.

- 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: Unilever – Helping customers get in touch, worldwide

Unilever makes it easy for customers on its global site to find local brand contact details

 The Domestos brand page on the global Unilever site - with UK contact details displayed

The Domestos brand page on the global Unilever site - with UK contact details displayed

The Feature

Users who visit the ‘Our brands’ section of Unilever’s global website can use a brand selector to find the one they are interested in, for example Domestos.

Clicking on the brand tile brings up a dropdown menu listing all countries where the brand is available. At this stage users can select ‘Global brands’, which takes them to the Unilever.com global brand page, such as the one for Domestos.

These pages contain a prominent field where users can type in the name of their country. Predictive results are offered, and selecting a country brings up local contact details, and a link to the brand page on the relevant Unilever country site.

The Takeaway

The fact that users can find local brand contact details without having to leave the global site will be helpful for many customers. They are likely to be on corporate sites in large numbers – often as the second largest audience behind jobseekers – and almost half of them will have come for customer service or to find out about a specific product.*

Too often corporate sites do not help customers achieve their goals, so providing tools, like Unilever’s, which allow them to quickly find local contact details is advisable.

*Data from Bowen Craggs survey data, which indicates that 48% of customer respondents come to corporate websites for customer service or to find out about a specific product.; and that only 42% achieve their goal.

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.

Is personalisation tailored to a corporate website’s needs?

Personalisation on corporate sites is not new. But it is currently very fashionable, with software vendors pushing their tailoring technology hard. Should web managers believe the hype? Scott Payton offers five points to consider


Remember: you’re not Netflix

It’s no coincidence that the most costly and complex personalisation techniques have been developed by the giants of online selling, entertainment and social media. This is because personalisation holds much greater potential in these areas – ‘Products recommended for you’, ‘TV shows we think you’ll like’, ‘People you may know’ and so on – than on a ‘standard’ corporate website. 

I’m not saying that personalisation has no role on a corporate site. But – despite the software sales patter – it’s likely to have a relatively limited one.

It’s also important to remember that Amazon and Netflix spend millions of dollars developing bespoke personalisation techniques tailored to their business models. For now, off-the-shelf personalisation tools are in practice far cruder in comparison.  

Another big difference with corporate sites is lack of data to work with. The likes of Amazon, Netflix and Facebook can harvest a steady stream of data from their (frequent, account-holding) users. In contrast, as Bowen Craggs’ Web Analytics Benchmark data shows, the majority of a typical corporate website’s users only visit once or twice a year. 

So the first step in sizing up if and how to personalise your site is to find out which audiences (if any) visit regularly, and focus your efforts on those groups. 

Jobseekers are an exception to this ‘data desert’ problem. By inviting these people to log in to your Careers section via their LinkedIn account, it is possible to tailor vacancy and other information – because LinkedIn gives you access to a ready-made pot of personal data. See this BC Tip on BlackRock’s careers site for an example.

Meanwhile, some web managers are working hard to encourage other audiences to visit their site more regularly. KPMG, for example, now entices visitors to create a user account in return for access to a personalised ‘dashboard’ of articles and other material matching their interests. It’s an unusually sophisticated experiment in corporate site personalisation that will be worth watching during the coming months. 

 KPMG is experimenting with personalisation that is unusually sophisticated for a corporate website

KPMG is experimenting with personalisation that is unusually sophisticated for a corporate website

Be transparent

There is an expanding, murky world of ‘hidden’ online marketing personalisation. Indeed, a growing number of companies are personalising marketing banners on their corporate websites – based on the visitor’s cookies or IP address, for example – in ways that are invisible to the user. 

But if you’re going to personalise things like product and article recommendations on your site, it’s best to make it clear to visitors both how you’re personalising information, and the value of this to them. 

This is one aspect of personalisation in which Amazon and co offer relevant lessons for corporate web mangers:

‘Recommended products’ is not nearly as useful a heading as ‘Customers who purchased this item also bought this product’. 

If you tell visitors how and why you’ve personalised information, it gives them the context they need to make the best use of it – as well as conveying an impression of openness and transparency about how and why their personal data is being used. This last point is increasingly important from a reputation management perspective.  


Personalisation is no substitute for good navigation

Logical, comprehensive and intuitive navigation menus can be complemented by personalised links – they can’t be replaced by them. Why? 

First, one-off visitors, and those with private browsing mode switched on, simply won’t get your personalised material. 

Second, Bowen Craggs’ website visitor research shows that people come to websites for a myriad of reasons – and often want to visit multiple sections. On a corporate site (rather than, perhaps, a selling site), it’s vital to give these users the opportunity to go on their esoteric, serendipitous journeys as they see fit, rather than to force them down pre-set routes based on what you think they will want.

One more reason not to make your website too reliant on personalisation functionality: doing so could pose a big problem in future if regulators, web browser makers or others change their approaches to use of personal data.


Beware of filter bubbles

Related to the above point, overzealous personalisation can be downright counter-productive. Just as personalisation in the world of online news can push people into cultural and political echo chambers, personalisation on a corporate site risks making potentially useful messages and information less visible – or even invisible - to some visitors.

At Bowen Craggs, we’re big fans of related links. But that is partly because they’re a mechanism for ‘cross-selling’ to visitors things or information that they not only didn’t know about, but also didn’t think they wanted to know about. That’s very different from the principle of personalised links, which is to try to second-guess what a visitor might also want.

Vigorous personalisation can also make users feel robbed of their sense of free will. I have a colleague who is infuriated with a new BBC app because it insists on showing him only radio programmes that it thinks he would like, rather than allowing him to browse the full range of output on offer. 


Make sure it’s useful – and not broken

The last two decades are littered with failed attempts to personalise corporate websites. 

In some cases, this was because the personalisation simply didn’t work properly. One corporate site’s Careers section once offered me ‘tailored vacancy information’ that focused on US military veteran postings. I am neither an American nor a military veteran. 

Another site once invited investor relations section visitors to ‘tailor your experience to your needs’. Few visitors wanted to make a ‘tailored experience’: they just wanted to get results data as quickly as possible. 

Yet another site recently experimented with tailoring a product-related primary navigation menu link based on the visitor’s browsing history. It was soon abandoned: it was not made clear to visitors when and why the primary menu changed, increasing confusion rather than convenience. 

Indeed, perhaps the biggest lesson in the history of corporate site personalisation is that bad personalisation is far worse than no personalisation at all. 

 - Scott Payton

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: Credit Suisse – Serving jobseekers with a tennis ace

A Swiss financial services giant uses its sponsorship deal with Roger Federer to attract jobseekers.

BC tip - Credit Suisse.png

The feature

The Careers landing page on Credit Suisse’s corporate website features a 5-minute video ‘Credit Suisse Ambassador: Roger Federer giving career advice’.

In a series of short clips with headings such as ‘train hard’, ‘teamwork’, ‘pressure’ and ‘mental focus’, Federer talks about the tools he used to become arguably the best professional tennis player in history. It is part of a series of careers-related videos at the bottom of the landing page.

The takeaway

Credit Suisse pays Mr Federer a lot of money to be its ‘brand ambassador’, so it makes sense for the company to use the ‘content’ produced from the relationship wherever it can.

Some companies try to shoehorn expensive commercials on to the corporate site, with no context or customisation, and the effect on viewers can be jarring.

Credit Suisse adapts its marketing and advertising material much better than most. Although Mr Federer was unlikely to have been giving careers advice specifically (in what appears to be a wide-ranging interview that took place at a live event in front of an audience). However, Credit Suisse has given the interview a clever edit and the short video fits in well with the other videos on the corporate Careers site.

The advice in the video may also be useful, but the underlying message to jobseekers is, ‘you can work at a company that associates with Roger Federer’ – a clear winner for jobseeker comms.

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: Excavating the past to illustrate the present

Duke Energy has found a new way of engaging visitors by looking to the past

Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 18.00.18.png

The feature

Duke Energy’s Illumination blog, promoted on the Our Company landing page, includes a Retro section. Each story has photos on a theme, with ‘Can you ID these old photos?’ at the top. They range from bosses (‘Who is the CEO?’) to Fun and Games (‘We think this photo is from the 1970s taken at a Cincinatti Gas & Electric picnic at Coney Island’). In each case the readers are asked to identify people or places and send memories by email to ‘help us improve our records’.

Several of the posts have a ‘Mysteries solved!’ epilogue, with a past picture published, who it is, and who has identified it.

The takeaway

It is a struggle for companies to get any sort of interaction going on a website, but this is a gentle and effective way of doing it. Although it does help Duke ‘improve its records’, we suspect this is not the main motivation (or at least advantage). Most of the responses are going to come from current or future employees, but what better way of keeping in touch with them? And the general reader will find the photos interesting too: just seeing how we dressed in the Seventies is still a source of amazement.

https://illumination.duke-energy.com/articles/retro

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.





Chart of the week

Our web analytics benchmark research suggests corporate web managers face a growing challenge to engage users

Occasional feature highlighting useful data for corporate digital communication.

 The chart shows the bounce rate, pages per session and average session duration over the years of the Bowen Craggs web analytics benchmark, 2013-2018  Source: Bowen Craggs web analytics benchmark 2018

The chart shows the bounce rate, pages per session and average session duration over the years of the Bowen Craggs web analytics benchmark, 2013-2018

Source: Bowen Craggs web analytics benchmark 2018

We looked for trends over time in some key engagement analytics metrics and found that, across our sample of corporate websites:

  • Bounce rate has varied a little but is around 50%

  • Pages per session dropped by 0.6 pages from 2.9 in 2014 to just under 2.3 in 2018

  • The average session duration has also been dropping from a peak of 148s (2m28) in 2014 to 120 seconds (2m) in 2017 and 2018.

The composition of the benchmark group has varied over the period, so could account for some variation. And these figures are averages. The picture on your site could be more complex, of course: shorter sessions could be the result of more efficient task completion. So you always need to understand user behaviour on the particular site in question.

But even allowing for these caveats, the general pattern is of declining engagement on corporate websites – and a challenge to managers to do more to attract audiences back to their sites.

* The 2018 benchmark covers 12 months between May 2017 to April 2018, including web analytics data from 29 companies, the largest sample ever. It has data on almost 106 million users and over 153 million sessions, and has been collecting data since 2014 with results from 2013 onwards. The research will be presented at a web meeting [https://www.eventbrite.com/e/web-meeting-web-analytics-benchmarking-research-2018-bowen-craggs-club-members-only-registration-45969889176] for Bowen Craggs Club members on Tuesday 20 November.

 

To discuss our measurement services, including how we can help with visitor surveys and analytics, please contact Dan Drury ddrury@bowencraggs.com or see our website.

For more information on the Bowen Craggs Club, visit our website or contact Lisa Hayward, lhayward@bowencraggs.com.

BC Tip: BlackRock – bad and good personalisation on one Careers site

The US investment manager offers vacancy listings personalised in two ways – but only one of them is useful

Screenshot 2018-11-19 at 16.07.41.png

The Feature

BlackRock has a Careers website featuring an ‘Experienced Professionals’ page within an ‘Explore Careers’ sub-section.

If the user arrives on this page after visiting a number of other pages on the site, a panel appears titled ‘Recommendations based on your browsing history’.

This heading is followed by the titles, locations and departments of five job vacancies. Users can click on one of the vacancies to view more details, or press a ‘More jobs’ button at the bottom of the panel to expand the list of recommended vacancies. The number of additional vacancies shown varied between 11 and 13 during our tests.

The Careers site also employs a location sniffer – but during our tests there was no evidence that this affected the personalised vacancy listing: ‘recommended’ vacancies shown covered a wide range of global locations.

Above this panel is the caption ‘Want personalized job recommendations? Sign in with LinkedIn.’ Once activated, this shows another, separate list of vacancies, titled ‘Recommendations based on your LinkedIn profile’.

The Takeaway

Experiments with personalisation on corporate websites are not new– but they are currently very fashionable, and something that a number of software vendors are pushing hard.

BlackRock’s attempts to offer personalised job vacancies based on the visitor’s browsing history are cleanly presented and clearly explained – though some users may mistakenly assume that their entire web browsing history is taken into account, rather than merely their visits within the Careers site.

The feature is also, sensibly, offered alongside a range of other vacancy search options, including the ability to browse vacancies by business area, location, keyword and so on.

But there are a number of problems with the personalise by browsing history feature.

First, Blackrock’s Careers site is extremely thin. This means that there are very few page visits from which the personalisation software can make a judgement about which vacancies to ‘recommend’.

Second, there are no options to refine the personalised listing – by location or department, for example.

In contrast, the option to view personalised vacancies by signing in via LinkedIn is much more convincing – because a LinkedIn profile provides far more information on which to base vacancy recommendations. During our tests, for example, activating this feature offered us a range of corporate communications and ‘digital analyst’ vacancies at BlackRock. Which are right up our street.

https://careers.blackrock.com/experiencedprofessionals

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: Kering – Changing the job search comes at a cost to usability

Kering’s previous job search tool was an example of how to make things easy for jobseekers – but its latest version does not match up

 The updated Kering Job Offers page

The updated Kering Job Offers page

The Feature

Kering, the France-based luxury goods group, has changed its job search and application system, which is linked from a page called ‘Job Offers’ within its Talent section.

A short introduction appears, with a clear ‘Click Here’ button beneath it. This then takes the user to a separate site in a new window, provided by a third party with partial Kering branding. On it jobseekers can search using keywords or by various filters such as job category or location. They can also change the language of the entire job search via a dropdown in the header, although this does not change the language of the jobs returned by the search, which varies.

Previously, the job search and application system appeared to be part of the site (although still provided by a third party), with the job search mechanisms appearing within the Job Offers page. The old system provided more search options and tools than the current one, most notably the ability to filter available jobs by any of Kering’s brands, and posting date.

The language filters also worked differently: changing language not only changed the language of the mechanisms, but also narrowed down the search results to those jobs posted in that language, helping jobseekers to see appropriate positions for their preferred language.

 The previous Job Offers page

The previous Job Offers page

The Takeaway

Kering may have changed its job search and application provider for sound business reasons – such as cost efficiency, integration with other HR systems, or better performance on search engines or other job platforms – but it has harmed the user experience.

The previous version, although also provided by a different third party, was styled to make the user feel that they were still within the Kering site, and provided a more seamless experience. Jobseekers would likely not have felt as if they were being shipped off to an external and more weakly branded site as they are now.

But of course the main practical differences are in the inferior search filters and tools now available. Given that jobseekers are most likely the biggest audience on the site, with over two thirds of those likely to have come just to search for a job, then making their task harder will endanger the company’s brand perception* – and make it more difficult to attract the best talent.

*Data from Bowen Craggs survey data, which indicates that 69% of corporate website jobseekers come specifically to search for a job; and that goal achievement affects brand perception: only 24% of those who failed their task leave with better brand perception.

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.

Chart of the week

Our web analytics benchmark research shows that visitors come to corporate websites less than twice a year on average

Occasional feature highlighting useful data for corporate digital communication.

Click to enlarge. Source: Bowen Craggs web analytics benchmark 2018

The chart shows the number of sessions divided by unique users for the 29 companies in our analytics benchmark. This gives an average number of sessions per user per year for each site.

Corporate websites average just 1.51 sessions per user per year – or put another way, an ‘average’ corporate visitor sees a site 1 ½ times a year.

  • Not all visitors will see the site with this (in)frequency: this chart cannot take into account cookie clearing or use of multiple devices per user

  • The chart shows the average number of sessions per user per year. There are some visitors who do return to a corporate website multiple times per year, and many more who only visit once

  • So any site needs to serve one-off and also return visitors, as both will be present

  • But this average – and the fact that the highest average of sessions per user per year is 2 - has important implications for user experience on corporate sites: expecting users, many of whom will visit once or twice per year, to understand complex content structures or your agency’s favourite new navigation technique is not going to serve your audience well

  • There is an opportunity for corporate sites to do much more to attract users back more often: as we have written before, corporate websites are like Brussels sprouts: you really have to prepare them well to make them remotely appetizing.

 

*The 2018 benchmark covers 12 months between May 2017 to April 2018, including web analytics data from 29 companies, the largest sample ever. It has data on almost 106 million users and over 153 million sessions, and has been collecting data since 2014 with results from 2013 onwards. The research will be presented at a web meeting for Bowen Craggs Club members on Tuesday 20 November.

To discuss our measurement services, including how we can help with visitor surveys and analytics, please contact Dan Drury ddrury@bowencraggs.com or see our website.

For more information on the Bowen Craggs Club, visit our website, or contact Lisa Hayward, lhayward@bowencraggs.com.

BC tip: Salesforce – Serving customers with high-quality videos

Glossy production values combined with a sense of authenticity build credibility

Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 09.05.59.png

The feature

Salesforce, the US-based customer software provider, has a number of ‘Customer Stories’ videos on its main global website, which are television-quality and feature contributions from some of the most well-known brands.

An example of the form is the Adidas story, a 2 ½ minute video featuring clips of interviews with the sports apparel maker’s CEO, head of digital and vice president of customer design, on how Salesforce helped the company ‘transition to a hybrid model’ between online and physical stores.

The takeaway

Salesforce’s website is focused, appropriately, on marketing and sales, to an extent many corporate websites are not. However, customers are an important part of the mix of audiences for many corporate web presences; and the Salesforce videos show what is possible in serving them online.

In addition, the videos are located on magazine-style pages with hiqh-quality graphics and strong editing, a benchmark for all kinds of editorial on websites, not just pages that serve customers.

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: Vale – Whistleblowing made easy

The Brazilian mining giant has an exceptional ‘make an allegation’ section

Screen Shot 2018-10-30 at 17.23.49.png

The feature

Ethics and Conduct Office is a main section in About Vale on the group’s global site (and also its Portuguese language Brazil site), and has a permanent link at the top of every page. ‘Make an allegation’ is one of three sections within it.

This has three tabbed pages: ‘Before making an allegation’, ‘How to make and who can make an allegation’, and ‘How is an allegation investigated?’ Each uses bullet points to lay out the steps needed. ‘How to make …’ links to further pages, including one with a form that includes ‘concern type’ (from sexual harassment to theft), as well as a field where the incident can be described. This and other pages are on a separate secure site, canalconfidencial.com.br, that is run by a specialist third party. This site also has a ‘Follow up on a reported allegation’ page, where the complainant puts in a code to see what is happening.

The takeaway

Vale is clearly keen to distance itself from the corruption allegations that have swept Brazil. The high profile given to the Ethics and Conduct office link is unmatched on any corporate site we know. But the real strength lies in the careful way the allegation pages are laid out - good use of tabs and icons, simple language (with equal prominence to English and Portuguese), and clear instructions on what to do if you want to make a complaint.

Linking to a third party specialist makes sense. It should give potential whistleblowers comfort that their complaints will not be lost in internal bureaucracy, or that it will rebound on them. Usually we suggest that companies should keep everything on one site - this is a logical exception.

http://www.vale.com/EN/aboutvale/ethics-and-conduct-office/make-complaint/Pages/default.aspx

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.









What does digital comms think of chatbots?

Jason Sumner reveals what corporate digital communicators think about this much talked about emerging technology

I don’t have many conversations with chatbots on corporate websites yet, but I’m certainly talking a lot about them at the moment.

Digital corporate communicators, perhaps having just seen a shiny pitch from a software company, are asking us – do they actually work? Is anyone else using them? Should we believe the hype?

Actual chatbots in use on corporate websites are few and far between. They are so unusual, and there is so much interest, that we try to write about them when we see one.

Enel, the Italy-based power company, has a Facebook Messenger news bot on its corporate site, as we noted in this recent piece. It is called ‘Elen’ and helps visitors find news, press releases and stories, and introduces the company’s sustainability activities. The bot shows some promise, but those wanting detailed information are better off sticking with the corporate website.

Tying the bot to Facebook Messenger could be risky too, since not all corporate website users will have it installed. Enel may just be following the path of least resistance, however, by relying on Facebook Messenger, which had 33,000 active chatbots as of January 2018, according to IBM.

We’ve seen other examples, focused on careers: T-Systems, a Deutsche Telekom subsidiary, has a German-language bot called ‘KATY’ on its website careers section. UPS, the US logistics company, has one on its careers site, as does US telecoms giant Verizon. These three are not very helpful and a little cold (the Verizon one keeps answering questions by referring people to the careers website, but at least it does that much); they do not perform nearly as well as a good online FAQ, for example.

That’s what we’ve found, but what are digital communicators saying about them? There are more questions than answers, but our clients see the potential to save money on admin and deflect queries, with the following caveats:

  • Chatbot success depends on the quality of tagging, metadata and taxonomy working in the background. Artificial intelligence should allow systems to ‘learn’ and improve results. Eni’s sophisticated search engine also relies on complex tagging in the background, and indeed, chatbots can be seen as another form of search (It is worth pointing out that sites have had years to get tagging and metadata right for internal search, but it still doesn’t work very well on most sites.)

  • They work best in a limited context, so the possible range of questions and answers are contained; in corporate communications terms, this means interacting with a specific set of stakeholders with easily predicted queries (hence the focus on jobseekers) or telling customers where a petrol station is; rather than an all-purpose ‘ask me anything’ bot.

  • If chatbots become more widespread, the technology will raise new reputation risks. Companies, for example, will need guidelines for appropriate tone of voice, race and gender.

Finally, no one we have spoken to has launched a chatbot, yet. But there are some interesting things happening internally – eg, one has launched chatbots for employees, with a view to rolling them out externally when the technology is proven.

Jason Sumner

The theme of our annual conference on June 18th and 19th 2019 in Berlin will be ‘Online communications, tomorrow and today’. We’ll be doing many more pieces on the future of online communications in the next weeks and months.

BC tip: Lloyds Banking Group – telling CSR stories close to home

An interactive map helps visitors find nearby projects supported by the bank 

Screenshot 2018-10-22 at 12.43.02.png

The Feature

The UK banking group’s corporate website has a ‘Helping Communities’ sub-section of its ‘Our Purpose’ primary section. 

It houses an interactive Google map. Visitors can use a dropdown menu, or click on icons  on the map, to find case studies on how the bank is ‘helping people, businesses and communities across the UK’. 

The case studies include pull-quotes from beneficiaries of the project; large photographs of the people involved; and summary facts and figures relating to Lloyds’ total contributions to similar projects across the UK. 

The Takeaway

Lloyds’ interactive tool is designed to enable visitors to read about projects close to where they live. This is likely to make the bank’s CSR communications more ‘relatable’ to many visitors.Moreover, the map within the tool indicates each CSR project in the form of an icon. This provides even fleeting visitors with a striking visual summary of the breadth of Lloyd’s CSR projects around the UK. 

The execution of this tool has room for improvement. For example, the interactive map is overly obscured by a boxy page layout. But the concept is sound – and could be usefully adapted for use on other corporate sites. 

https://www.lloydsbankinggroup.com/our-purpose/helping-communities/

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: Royal Bank of Scotland – Explaining your company's recent past

A page promoting the UK bank’s ‘turnaround story’ since the 2008 financial crisis is notable but could go much further

 ‘The bank we’re becoming’ page on RBS’s corporate website

‘The bank we’re becoming’ page on RBS’s corporate website

The feature

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), the UK bank bailed out by the government in October 2008, has marked the 10-year anniversary of the financial crisis with a page on its corporate website, ‘The bank we’re becoming’.

Prominently signposted on the home page banner and in the dropdown menu under ‘About us’, the page contains: a link to a speech by its Chairman, a brief introduction, video, infographic timeline and table of then-and-now financial figures. Visitors must scroll to see most of the material, but there are jump links at the top for the introduction, the timeline and the data table.

The takeaway

The 10-year anniversary of the government bailout of RBS – in 2008 it was the world’s largest bank – has received a lot of attention in the UK media, so it would have been hard for the company to ignore the issue completely on its website.

Hard to ignore, but not impossible, since other companies facing similar levels of controversy regularly remain silent on corporate digital channels. So it is still notable that RBS decided to create a page dedicated to explaining how it has learned its lesson.

It is also notable as part of a growing trend for big companies to promote and defend their reputations online.

The effectiveness of the page itself is mixed, with some strengths but falling short of emerging best practice in this area. On the plus side, it strikes an appropriately sober tone; and the video and data table do a good job of bringing in data to support the bank’s claim that it has ‘achieved the biggest corporate turnaround in history, becoming a simpler, safer UK focussed bank doing the right thing for customers’.

However, the infographic timeline scrolls a long way down the page and the data table is full of jargon, which will be inexplicable to general readers. With so much comment swirling around the 10-year anniversary, including a few outside voices supporting RBS’s case (assuming some exist) would make the page more persuasive.

The next Explain Yourself Index will be published in January 2019. See our site for the previous one.

The next global Bowen Craggs Index of Online Excellence will be out in May 2019.

Time to explain yourself again

Bowen Craggs will be publishing a new Explain Yourself Index in the New Year. David Bowen says it will mirror a shift in high profile companies’ approach to reputation management.

 Facebook’s online Newsroom is directly addressing criticism of the company

Facebook’s online Newsroom is directly addressing criticism of the company

Here are alternative approaches to company information on websites. Facebook, which has put up a 10-minute film explaining how it is trying to get to grips with fake news, with employees pondering questions such as ‘what is truth’. Or General Electric, which has recently deleted its About Us and Sustainability sections.

Which one is the future? Well, look at the share prices and read the papers. GE always found it difficult to explain itself, because it is so complicated; now it seems to have given up trying. Facebook is doing more and more to face up to criticism, increasingly using its website and (of course) its social media channels.

Amazon, now a trillion dollar company, is also using the web to explain itself. It didn’t used to at all. There was no ‘About’ section to speak of, and it let its share price do the talking. But, as Ashley Brown, its head of digital comms, told us, ‘these days you need a corporate website to have a social licence to operate: you can’t be a successful company and not talk about the environment and things’. Its ‘About Amazon’ site and ‘Day One’ blogs are busy busy places.

Twenty years ago ExxonMobil defied a growing consensus with vigorous scepticism about climate change, and reportedly did its best to undermine the Kyoto protocol. Now, the corporate home page is headed by a banner saying ‘ExxonMobil joins the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative’. The site is packed with features on its initiatives and views, all saying ‘we are now on the side of the angels’.

Moves by some of the world’s most high-profile companies to explain themselves and come across as the good guys are really significant to communications managers, and so to the channels they use. For several reasons:

  •  Companies are increasingly realizing that they cannot simply sit back and say ‘watch our share price’, which is what they tended to do in the past. Their behaviour, and the reputation that follows it, will sooner or later lead through to sales, and so to the share price.

  • It is of course significant that the companies that are under most attack are also those that are getting most firmly to grips with this message. In Europe, where corporate websites are more developed, much-criticised Nestlé has its well-established Ask Nestlé section to tackle issues as they come up. But it is not just hate magnets that think like this. Unilever puts huge emphasis on its sustainability messaging because it is convinced that good reputation feeds through to good sales.

  • In the US, there is a particular need to communicate with politicians. For example Amazon used its blog to accuse Senator Bernie Sanders of making ‘inaccurate and misleading accusations’, though it also responded more substantively by raising its minimum wage. Sanders used his Twitter feed to praise and then query this move. So much of this happened online: a sign of the times.

  • Handling these messages is the job of corporate comms folk, rather than marketing; and when it is online (as it always is), the digital team will be in charge. They are no longer pushing out marginal ‘aren’t we nice’ messages that do nothing for the bottom line; they are pushing out critical ‘this is what we’re doing’ messages that could make a huge difference in the medium or long term. We have previously suggested that corporate communications could be renamed ‘enterprise level marketing’ (or in non-US terminology ‘group level marketing’). Now surely is the time to push that idea, and get it into the heads of the folk on the top floor.

What of poor old General Electric? Well, we have a concept call ‘web phrenology’. Phrenology was a pseudo-science that claimed you could tell people’s characters by examining the shape of their heads. Web phrenology is much more credible – you really can tell a lot about a company by looking at its website. GE’s website is appallingly incoherent and, as we have said, lacking a basic sense of identity. The company, I fear, may be similar.

I have used the word ‘explain’ a lot, because this column is by way of an introduction to our second Explain Yourself Index.

This Explain Yourself Index (to be published in January 2019) will have an expanded methodology, and will focus on the US - though it will also include non-US companies that are well-known in the States. The aim is to find the companies that explain themselves in four ways: first, defending their reputation; second, saying what they do; third, judging how well they report their ESG (or CSR) data; and finally, how well they explain their political contributions and involvement. The last two are new for this year.

Explain Yourself is a sibling of our flagship Index of Online Excellence, which remains global, and will go out in May 2019.

You could say that the current moves by Facebook and the like are kickstarting ‘Reputation 2.0’. Reputation 1.0 was carried out largely offline, with discreet consultants briefing chairmen on how to talk to the press. Reputation 2.0 is out in the open. Companies need to talk directly to customers, potential employees and the general public. ‘Are we explaining ourselves properly?’ should be a question for every boardroom and C-suite. From that, the step to ‘Are we explaining ourselves properly online?’ is a short and natural one.

The next Explain Yourself Index will be published in January 2019. See our site for the previous one. The next global Bowen Craggs Index of Online Excellence will be out in May 2019.

BC Tip: The Ryder Cup - Keeping up the momentum

The Ryder Cup’s social media accounts kept interest in the golf event alive long after the final putt was sunk

 Ryder Cup - Team Europe’s Instagram

Ryder Cup - Team Europe’s Instagram

The Feature

Golf’s Ryder Cup, the biennial team contest between Europe and the US, concluded recently in France.

There are accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for both the USA and Europe teams. In the week following Europe’s victory, various celebratory posts appeared on the team’s channels. There were Twitter and Facebook votes about successful players, while collages, videos, graphics and cleverly filtered images, including some informal behind-the-scenes posts, filled the Instagram page.

Two posts used across the social channels stood out: a video produced to inspire the European team, which they watched before the event, shared and liked by thousands and viewed over 1.5m times. And a humorous vignette of two of the team’s most successful players, in bed with the Ryder Cup trophy.

Meanwhile the defeated USA team’s accounts, such as Instagram, struck a more muted tone, and looked forward to the next event in two years’ time.

The Takeaway

The mix of material posted to social channels helps to maintain engagement beyond the Ryder Cup competition itself – something that corporate digital managers can replicate in the wake of a significant company announcement, event or milestone.

Internal content can be used to give an insight into the way a company works, while bespoke material, tailored for individual channels, can attract significant audiences on social media.

This can simply be used to keep an organization in the public eye, or to give people a reason to return to the corporate website. Social referrals to corporate websites are often low, as we found in our last Google Analytics benchmark, so this is an area in which companies are frequently missing an opportunity to attract users to their sites.

It is key to keep the tone of posts appropriate though, as the differences between the approaches of the Europe and USA teams demonstrates.

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 – Social media channels serve employees and jobseekers

The US retailing giant’s careers-related social media channels blend material for internal and external audiences

BC tip - Walmart.png

The Feature

The Twitter, Facebook and Instagram presences that Walmart promotes on its careers microsite are labelled ‘Walmart Today’, rather than ‘Walmart Careers’.

Walmart Today, the company’s blog, is intended not only for jobseekers, but also employees, suppliers and other stakeholders.

The social media presences (and the blog) put the focus on stories about Walmart employees, innovation, quirky interviews and inspirational quotes from the company’s founder, Sam Walton. The Instagram channel, whose stated purpose is ‘Sharing big stories and small moments at the world’s largest retailer’ shares images and stories of a wide range of employees, from truck drivers to an investigator in the legal department.

The Takeaway

‘Walmart Today’ is a high-profile example of the current trend for blending retention and recruitment communications; and more widely, for thinking about how ‘internal’ content can and should be used beyond the corporate firewall.

Positive stories about employees helps build morale and engagement, while making the company seem an attractive place to work. Social media has the power to bring jobseekers into the existing ‘community’ of employees. Labelling the channels Walmart Today, rather than ‘Careers’, also makes it less likely that jobseekers will unfollow when they join the company.

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: Total – an investment case with a human face

Illustrated private investor profiles bring the advantages of share ownership to life

Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 12.11.48.png

The Feature

French energy group Total has an ‘Individual Shareholders’ area in the Investors section of its corporate website. This includes a page titled ‘Individual shareholders explain why they invested in Total’.

The page includes four testimonials from private investors, each accompanied by an illustrated portrait of the investor, plus their abbreviated name – eg ‘Jacques C’. 

The testimonials emphasise the length of each investor’s shareholding, as well as the advantages of Total as an investment.  

The bottom of the page features an illustrated portrait of Total’s chief financial officer, and a quote from him on the ‘great importance’ of the company’s relationships with both individual and institutional investors. 

The Takeaway

Profiles are widely used in Careers sections of corporate websites to ‘sell’ a company to jobseekers. They’re rarer in investor relations sections.

Total’s investor profiles have two benefits. First, they bring to life the company’s investment case to potential individual shareholders. Second, they send the message to existing shareholders that they are important to Total – and part of a broad and longstanding community.

As we pointed out in a previous BC Tip during 2014, other companies, such as L’Oréal, have produced investor profiles in video format. Total’s magazine-style approach shows how such profiles can be also effective without the need to invest in sophisticated audiovisuals.    

https://www.total.com/en/investors/individual-shareholders/news/individual-shareholders-explain-why-they-invested-total

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: Enel - Facebook Messenger news bot

Enel offers a news bot through Facebook Messenger which shows some promise for corporate communications

 elen, Enel’s Facebook Messenger bot, introduces itself

elen, Enel’s Facebook Messenger bot, introduces itself

The Feature

Enel, the Italy-based power company, offers a Facebook Messenger news bot which it has named ‘elen’.

 The bot is accessed via a Facebook Messenger icon in Enel.com’s navigation, positioned prominently next to the hamburger menu icon on the right hand side of the header. It can also be reached via the group’s Facebook page.

The bot begins by introducing itself as a news bot and informing the user that they can tell it what topics they are interested in, or use a menu presented in the bot, which is a series of links to areas on the corporate site such as news, press releases, and stories.

It also offers an introduction to the company and its sustainability activities. Users can ask elen questions or type in topics, and the bot automatically produces basic answers or links to the corporate site.

If it gets stuck, as it did on a question about the company’s position on global warming, elen allows the user to request an answer from a human – which we received promptly.

The Takeaway

Elen will be useful to audiences who want basic, general information and news, and the informal tone helps to humanise the company. It also sends a signal about the company’s innovative approach, but those wanting more detailed information are still better off sticking with the corporate website.

Ultimately, the bot works best as a way of funnelling Facebook and mobile users back to the corporate website, and presumably deflecting contact about basic company information (but still needs humans for more complex answers).

It is something of a risk to tie the bot to a particular platform, in this case Facebook Messenger. Not all corporate website users will have installed Facebook Messenger, and may be unwilling to do so or to log in on desktop.

Promotion of elen is weak too: although the Facebook Messenger icon is located in the header, some users may not be aware of what it is. It is not clear, before clicking on it, what exactly the user will get in return.

T-Systems Germany, by contrast, has a careers chat bot offered directly from its website which does not require any third party platform installation, as we wrote earlier this year, and which states clearly what it can be used for.

https://www.messenger.com/t/EnelGroup

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.

Thin and anti-social: the state of world leaders' websites

Disappearing social channels, shrinking background information, crumbling navigation and an unhealthy focus on press releases... Scott Payton finds evidence of decline on five G7 leaders' websites.
 

Back in March 2015 we toured the official websites of each of the G7 leaders in search of ideas for corporate digital managers. We found much variety and some useful lessons

There’s been a change at the political top in five G7 countries since then. Has this brought fresh approaches to their online communications? We revisited to find out – and spotted four trends:

  • A marked drop in social media activity on most country leaders’ official websites. Use of social channels by political leaders might have become more prevalent – and has certainly become more contentious – in the last few years. But this has become much less visible on their web presences.

  • A deterioration in navigation: it’s generally harder to find key information and easier to get lost on all five of the sites we revisited.

  • A paring back of ‘About us’ information: students and others researching the roles of political leaders and their offices are more poorly served by these sites today than three years ago. The White House site has the richest policy and process material of the five sites we looked at – with the UK prime minister’s office providing the thinnest. [European readers are invited to insert their own Brexit joke here.]

  • A tightened focus on news: all five of the G7 leaders’ sites we revisited are more fixated than ever on bypassing the traditional media to convey the latest speeches and press releases to the general public. Expanding this role of the site has, however, come at a cost to others.

For corporate web managers, the sites discussed below are worth visiting to gather ideas on conveying news to generalist audiences. But in many respects, the best corporate websites now dramatically outclass these public sector counterparts. 

The White House

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 14.23.30.png

During the Obama administration, the White House website was awash with tools and materials designed to get citizens ‘involved’ – from signing petitions to sharing videos and infographics carefully designed to ‘go viral’. We wrote approvingly about all this in January 2013.

Revisiting in September 2018, it’s a very different site. Attempts to encourage citizens to engage have been substantially scaled back. There is no longer a ‘Social Hub’, ‘Engage’ page or ‘Participate’ main menu link.

There is a link labelled ‘Get Involved’, hidden behind a hamburger menu (poor practice in desktop mode of a site), and in the footer. This leads to a page offering just three options to engage – sign up to email updates, write to the President or apply for an internship or fellowship.

Social media integration is limited to a panel showing a recent @whitehouse tweet on the home page, links to the President’s and other officials’ Twitter feeds on biography pages, plus standard footer icons linking to the official White House Facebook page, Twitter feed and Instagram account. 

The primary navigation menu consists of five policy topics – Economy, National Security, Budget, Immigration and The Opioid Crisis. On click, each leads to brief introductory material on the topic, followed by a list of links to related statements, fact sheets and other information. It is a simple approach – but clear, intuitive and far more informative (if uncompromisingly partisan) than equivalent material on the four other sites we revisited. 

Information about the White House itself has been stripped back, too: an elaborate multimedia tour has been removed, for example. 

Site layout is clean and clear, and users who take the time to dig into the site will find some useful information on various executive offices and the people who run them.

Navigation and orientation provisions are very poor, however: it is hard to work out what each section contains, and to keep track of where you are within them. 

Office of the Canadian prime minister

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 14.23.51.png

Justin Trudeau may share little common political ground with Donald Trump, but his official website is also less ‘social’ than his predecessor’s. 

There is no longer any signs of ‘24 Seven’, an ‘online magazine that publishes shareable content’, which used to be a key part of the Canadian prime minister’s site. 

Like the Trump-era White House site, the official Trudeau web presence has been simplified and decluttered – though an embedded @CanadianPM Twitter feed features prominently in all key sections.

While policy topics dominate the White House site’s primary navigation menu, there are few signs of them at all on Justin Trudeau’s site. The focus, instead, is on news and photos. Visitors looking for information about the role of the Canadian prime minister and his offices will be disappointed, too: there is good biography information but little else. 

The Élysée Palace

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 14.24.15.png

The online home of the French Presidency is far more ‘social’ than its US and Canadian counterparts. Indeed, before users can reach the site’s home page they are urged to ‘Like’ the official Facebook page. 

The home page itself is dominated by a grid of videos, images and other materials designed to be shared on Twitter and Facebook. ‘Social Networks’ is a primary menu link. ‘Share’ icons are festooned across the News landing page and elsewhere. 

Policy topics get far less prominence than on the White House site. And although the home page was full of fresh material during our September 2018 visits, there were signs elsewhere of serious neglect: the ‘Social Networks’ landing page contained just four tweets – all from May last year.  

And like the White House site, navigation is weak. For example, a substantial but poorly presented section providing information on the role of the French Presidency appears to sit entirely outside the primary section structure of the site. 

Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 14.24.31.png

As in our previous visits three and a half years ago, the UK Prime Minister’s office does not have its own website. Instead, it occupies a tertiary-level section of Gov.uk, the UK government’s comprehensively consolidated website. 

This remains a serious drawback. Gov.uk is designed to make it easy to find and fill out government forms, pay bills and complete other linear tasks. It does this very well. But the site is not designed to house editorially or visually rich information, or to make it easy for users to jump between different categories of material deeper in the site. Moreover, some parts of the Prime Minister’s office section are astonishingly thin: the ‘About us’ area consists of just one paragraph, for example.

Office of the President of the Council of Ministers of the Italian Republic

Screen Shot 2018-09-10 at 14.24.44.png

The online presence of the Italian presidency has improved since early 2015 – though problems remain. An extremely dated site has been replaced with a modern offering that takes its visual cues from online magazines. 

Like the other sites discussed above, it suffers, however, from confusing navigation: key links are buried behind a hamburger menu even in desktop mode, and the news-focused home page is full of baffling icons that are anything but self-explanatory.

And like most of the other G7 leaders’ sites, social media integration is minimal. The priority, once again, seems to be to broadcast news directly to citizens, without journalists or social media users getting in the way. 

- Scott Payton

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.