BC tip: Home Depot - Leadership extras

The US retailer’s online leadership biographies have a number of useful related links.

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The Feature

Leadership biographies on Home Depot’s corporate website have several links to related resources: articles in the media and the Home Depot web estate, pull quotes, embedded videos and a choice of downloadable images.

For example, the page for chief executive Craig Menear, has a pull quote, links to a story on the Fox Business website, interviews on CNBC, articles in the Home Depot website newsroom, and a choice of three images. The page for Matt Carey, executive vice president and chief information officer, has an embedded video of a conference interview, ‘3 Minutes with Matt Carey’, in addition to article links and a choice of images.

The Takeaway

The array of supporting materials helps to humanise the leadership team and provides journalists with interesting background for stories and talking points for interviews – eg, more than one member of the senior team has been on Forbes’ annual list of Most Powerful Women. Picture editors will appreciate the range of styles and angles of the downloadable images.

A lack of dates on articles is a weakness, and we could not see why the image galleries in desktop view have arrow icons even when there are no more pictures to scroll through. However, the related links on Home Depot’s biography pages are a good model for other companies whose executives feature elsewhere on the corporate website and the wider media.


BC tip: Wells Fargo - Facing the abuse

An under-fire US bank responds to its critics on Facebook.

The Feature

It has been a troubled few weeks for Wells Fargo. After owning up to some highly questionable sales practices, including setting up fake bank accounts, it agreed to pay a settlement of $190m; fired 5,300 employees implicated in the scandal; and its CEO resigned after a ritual grilling by Congress.

Adopting fresh leadership and a new ‘commitment’ to customers, the company has also launched a reputation-building communications campaign across channels – offline, television and online, including social media.

In September it posted three messages on Facebook announcing the ‘new actions to strengthen culture and rebuild trust’. These posts prompted a string of negative and occasionally abusive comments. Unusually, the company has adopted a policy of responding to many of these directly, with personal messages from named company representatives.

The Takeaway

Although there is a trend towards greater corporate responsiveness on Facebook, it is still relatively rare to see big companies engaging directly with irate followers. The policy of most seems to be to ignore the abuse until it goes away.

In Wells Fargo’s case, a scan of their Facebook page shows they were responding directly to enquiries before the scandal hit, so probably decided that going to ground would not look good, even if it might have been the safer policy.

Scanning the comments, the Wells Fargo responses can at times seem disjointed and overly cool, even if they may be genuinely trying to help. For example, there the comment from Gigi – ‘They pulled that … with me too, that’s why I switched banks a few months ago. They kept robbing me.’ This elicited the response: ‘Hi Gigi. If you have any concerns that you’d like us to review, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us (no account numbers). We’re here to help.’ – Nate’. They also seem to leave the most vitriolic comments alone; probably a good idea.

There may be legal reasons for the cautious approach, and each company will have its own limits on how fully it can respond, or not. The main lesson is that companies with a Facebook presence need a plan of action for when big problems arise, and even if the plan is to do nothing, to have a sound reason behind it.

When drawing up your own Facebook rulebook, it’s a good idea to watch what happens when companies like Wells Fargo come under fire.


BC tip: Anglo American - Making it easy to tweet

A mining giant invites users to tweet the company directly from its corporate website.

The Feature

A ‘Talk to us’ button on Anglo American’s corporate website prompts visitors to tweet the company directly without having to go to the Twitter site. 

There is a panel on the home page with the most recent tweet, prominent buttons to retweet or reply, and a text box already addressed to @AngloAmerican for messages. Clicking on ‘Talk to us’ below the box calls up a pop-up window for tweeting the message. 

The button appears throughout the site. In addition, a panel in the universal footer has the latest tweet and the Retweet and Reply icons.

The Takeaway

We have not seen this kind of attempt by a B2B company, in a contentious industry, to encourage people to tweet from within the corporate website (rather than send people to Twitter to do it).

A quick look at Anglo’s Twitter feed shows a healthy amount of activity. We don’t know whether this is down to the website tweeting feature, but regardless it sends the wider message that ‘we are open to hear from you’.


BC tip: Verizon - Tripling up to crack the navigation challenge

The US telecommunications giant does better than most in making up for the lack of a left menu.

The Feature

Verizon’s corporate information section, which is linked from the customer-facing site, has been relaunched with a new look and feel. As part of this it has adopted a ‘triple decker’ navigation system. There is no left menu, but parallel menus at the top provide routes to the third level of content easily. For example, mousing over Investors in the top menu reveals a menu below it with five links, including Financial Reporting. Mousing over this shows another six, such as Quarterly Earnings and Annual Reports. When one is on a second or third level page, the two top menus are in permanent view, so one can get directly to the other main sections of investors.

The Takeaway

Ever since a desire to create more space for visible content persuaded web builders and managers to dispense with left menus, they have struggled to regain the usability that has inevitably been lost. The particular problem is with moving horizontally deep within a site: we call this the navigation challenge, and have yet to see anyone cracking it fully.  

Verizon does better than most. It gives easy access to the third layer of pages, and has one advantage over its nearest parallel – the dropdown mega-panel – in that the top two levels of menus are in view. No extra click or hovering needed. It would be easier still if the third menu were also in view when at that level, but we’d guess it has been decided that would take up too much space. The answer could be to close the menus up a bit – and to add a breadcrumb trail for extra help. The question about how to handle lower level navigation is left hanging. But in areas where the full width page really does help – such as Careers > Working here – this is best answer to the ‘challenge’ we have seen for a while.


BC tip: Honeywell - Innovation without usability

The US manufacturing conglomerate’s online newsroom shows the perils of prioritising visual and technical innovation while forgetting basic usability.

The Site

Honeywell’s online newsroom has a mega menu of filters organizing content according to four categories – industry, topic, region and ‘media type’ (fact sheets, infographics, photos, etc), and a number of sub-categories.

The responsive newsroom landing page has several image panels promoting stories. Clicking on the filter button opens a mega panel that takes up the entire screen on a standard desktop monitor (and pushes the image panels further down the page). Clicking on a sub-category in the filter menu changes the panels. If there are no stories in a given sub-category, a message says ‘No results found.’

The Takeaway

The visual presentation of the filter is innovative, but journalists – who are notably impatient – will likely be frustrated with basic usability problems. When there are results to show, it is not obvious how to view them (users must scroll down and recall whether the set of panels are the same or not). We had to click the filter twice to make sure a new set of panels was being displayed.

When there are no results – eg, when clicking ‘Media Statement’ – seeing the ‘No results found’ message also requires scrolling. It was also not clear why there are no results for media statements, when there is a separate section on the website populated with statements.

The tool is a near miss – almost splendid, but confusing labelling, poor usability and incomplete tagging let it down.


If you pay your taxes, why not shout about it?

I can't see how the tax spat between Apple and the European Commission is going to leave either side looking especially pretty, but it does show that tax payments are now a big issue. One perhaps that companies that pay up like good boys could exploit? 

The Financial Times carried a story yesterday headed  'Only one in five large large companies in the UK say tax avoidance is acceptable'. Why? Well, some top managers must actually think their employers should pay their taxes; and many more think the risks of avoidance outweigh the benefits. Either way, it's a matter both of reputation management and of its virtuous cousin, social responsibility. Two things for the corporate site, surely.

I started looking around to see what big companies were doing. I began with Apple, and yes, its European home pages link to a compelling letter from Tim Cook explaining why it is Right and the Commission is Wrong. Good reputation management, but there's nothing else I could find on Apple sites about tax. It is not being, to use one my least favourite words, proactive.

I wondered what other companeis were doing, and found a fair bit - but none of it is presented as effectively as it could have been. For example:

  • ExxonMobil, according to Forbes the biggest US payer of tax, has a 'US tax and payments' page under Current Issues. Easy to find from the dropdown menu, but it is very out of date - the headline talks about 2012 payments. Almost embarrassing.
  • Barclays produces an excellent PDF 'Country snapshot', giving a clear breakdown of where and how tax has been paid. You can reach it from this page. But the title gives no clue that it is about tax, and it is well and truly buried in the Reports and Publications bit of the Citizenship section on Barclays.com. It's almost as though the bank doesn't want people to find it; odd. 
  • Shell has a page in its Sustainability report called Tax and transparency. Clearly written, but actually rather light on facts (certainly compared to Barclays), and again well buried - it's in the Working together section. Who'd have guessed to look there?

If all this had been put somewhere more obvious - and in the case of ExxonMobil brought up to date - it would be powerful stuff. 'We are decent' is, we are always being told, one of the most important message to get across to potential employees, shareholders, even customers. So if you are, why not shout about it?

David Bowen

BC tip: Starbucks - An effective blend on Facebook

The well-managed ‘Starbucks Partners’ Facebook page presents the US coffee company as a lively, supportive place to work.

The Site

Starbuck’s Partners, the company’s Facebook page for employees, is prominently signposted from the Careers section on its corporate website. It has more than 342,000 likes and frequent posts, which receive an unusually high number of shares and comments.

For example, the top item from our most recent visit – an image of a coffee scoop with the headline, ‘Do you call this the spoodle or the magic coffee wand?’ – had been posted 10 hours previously. It had already received 372 ‘likes’, ‘hahas’ and ‘loves’, plus 82 comments, most of them positive. Other posts receive similar levels of engagement.

The Takeaway

The Starbucks Partners Facebook page is a good example of how a corporate Facebook presence can become a true online ‘community’. Its followers are unusually engaged, which could be the result of the fact there are nearly 350,000 of them, or incentive programmes, or both.

The result is an effective blend of internal and external communications – a lively online forum that helps motivate existing employees and promotes the company to jobseekers as a good place to work.


BC tip - The Hillary Clinton campaign: Designer subtitles

A US political video gets its message across to viewers who have their sound turned off.


The Site

The creators of a YouTube film of President Barack Obama endorsing fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton have made subtitles an integral part of the design.

As Obama speaks to camera, his words appear in different places on the screen, and in varying font sizes; larger fonts are used for points the Clinton campaign wants to emphasise.

The Takeaway

A problem with video online is that so many people cannot listen to the audio because they are in an office, on a train, etc. On Facebook and Twitter, videos start playing with the audio switched off as the default.

The producers of this slick video of Obama endorsing Clinton for president seem to understand this - and have made ‘mega subtitles’ an key part of the film, rather than a small-text, crude-font bolt-on.

This means that the video gets its messages across whether viewers have their sound off or on, a potential lesson for companies looking to use video effectively on their online channels.


From ‘Bernie’s story’ to ‘Cruz gear’ – rating the presidential contenders online

Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential election campaign broke new ground in online communications.

From an office in Chicago, the Illinois senator’s young team of digital experts and enthusiasts conjured up a raft of powerful new tools and techniques.

Obama billboards were added to video games. On-message quotes and Messianic photos were spread across Facebook and other channels. A location-based app was created that gave campaign volunteers the addresses of target voters – and a script to read to them when they opened their doors.

Do any of the contenders for the Oval Office in 2016 have online campaigns similarly fizzing with ideas? I’ve picked four high-profile candidates – two Democrat and two Republican – to find out.

Let’s start with Hillary Clinton (don’t worry – I’ll get to Donald Trump in a minute).

The former US secretary of state’s official campaign site gets right down to business: an overlay panel urges visitors on arrival to join the campaign by entering their email address and ZIP code – or to ‘just go ahead and donate’.

Smaller text gives visitors the option to bypass these options and reach the home page. Yet here, too, the site doesn’t give up on its two main goals: ‘Join us’ and ‘Donate!’ are the dominant calls to action at both the top and bottom of the page.

This bold, single-minded focus on urging visitors to give up their contact details and cash continues deeper into the site. The ‘Volunteer’ primary menu link leads to a simple form titled, in huge font, ‘Sign up to Volunteer’. Click ‘Events’ and you’re greeted with the big heading ‘Host your own event’, with an accompanying ‘Get Started’ button.

Click on ‘Feed’ and the site takes a different tack – one borrowed heavily from online news site BuzzFeed. A listing of intriguing headlines and eye-catching images mixes serious topics (‘Meet a 9/11 responder whose health benefits are being threatened by Republicans’) with the not-so-serious (‘12 things you can learn from Hillary Clinton's throwback photos’). It’s interesting, fun and draws you in.

Overall, Clinton’s campaign site is bold, focused, unapologetically assertive and clever. Worth a visit for corporate web managers looking to make their site’s online forms clearer – or the news section more appealing to consumers and jobseekers.

Now to one of Clinton’s rivals for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders. The left-wing Vermont senator follows Clinton’s approach of greeting visitors to his official campaign site with a loud demand for their contact details and money. The language is sneakier, though. A headline ‘Nobody who works 40 hours a week should be living in poverty’ is followed by email and ZIP code form fields, and a button ‘I agree’ – which only changes to the more honest ‘Join us’ if you try to click on it without entering your contact details. Similarly, ‘Contribute’ is used rather than the more direct ‘Donate’.

The home page itself is of the long-scrolling variety. Like Clinton’s, it is dominated by further shouty requests to donate money, sign up to the campaign, organize events and so on.

There are a couple of nice extra features, though: ‘Bernie’s story’ is an elegantly executed interactive timeline of Sanders’ life, with some well-chosen archive images and succinct captions. ‘Democracy Daily’ is a lively grid of articles covering Sanders and his big campaign topics on external news sites.

The imagery isn’t as slick as on Clinton’s site – but this may be deliberate. Not being slick is one of Sanders’ political selling points, after all.

Onwards to Ted Cruz for President. No arm-twisting to relinquish ZIP codes or dollars before entering the site here – visitors are taken straight to the home page. Perhaps appropriately, the site is more explicitly capitalist than those of Cruz’s Democrat rivals: ‘Get Cruz Gear’ is a prominent heading on the home page – with links to a well-stocked online shop offering everything from ‘Courageous Conservative in Training’ baby clothes to Cruz-branded iPhone cases and colouring books.

Elsewhere on the site, a short survey asking visitors to rate issues in order of importance is neatly designed – but compared to Sanders’ and Clinton’s sites, pages feel cluttered, colours clash and ‘call to action’ buttons lack clarity and prominence.

If Cruz does cruise to the White House, it won’t be thanks to this website.

Last but not least, let’s visit Donald Trump. Straight to the home page again – no ‘sign up and donate’ overlay panel. Compared to the three sites discussed above, this is, perhaps surprisingly, a rather understated online presence. The inclusion of recent tweets from Trump on the home page is appropriate given the man’s prolific use of the medium. It appears to be a live feed of all of his tweets – even the rantier ones ­– which will keep the lawyers on their toes. 

The ‘In the News’ section, however, is edited with a heavy hand. It’s heavily dull, too – merely a text-only listing of articles narrowly focused on how well Trump is doing in the opinion polls.

Overall, there’s a rather crude, artificial air about the Trump site. Some would say that this was appropriate, too – though I couldn’t possibly comment.

- Scott Payton

Mixing politics and social media - only in America?

Conventional wisdom says that corporate communications and political controversy do not mix. Big corporations have always been political, but usually prefer to work behind the scenes, lobbying politicians, funding campaigns or quietly trying to influence public opinion on issues directly relevant to their business.

Something seems to be changing in the US though, where a number of household corporate names have been staking out public positions on divisive political issues such as gay marriage, immigration reform and whether to display the Confederate flag.

The trend is well summarised and analysed here and here.

This is of particular interest to digital managers because online channels are playing a big role in getting the message out. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple tweeted his support in June for the US Supreme Court’s decision legalising gay marriage. Retail giant Target tweeted from its official account, ‘Here’s to having, holding and marrying who you love’. Macy’s, AT&T, American Airlines and several others followed suit. In June, Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, used Twitter to call on the state of South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from its capitol building. A number of other high-profile CEOs did the same.

I did a quick search on a handful of corporate websites of companies that have been vocal on social media – Apple, Target, Microsoft, Wal-Mart Stores and Boeing. There was little or nothing on these issues on the main sites, and the phenomenon appears to be limited to blogs and microsites. Here is Microsoft’s blog on a gay marriage bill in Washington state in 2012. Target discusses same-sex marriage in several entries on its executive blog, including this. Caterpillar mentions immigration (albeit in a very dry way) here and Verizon (much more entertainly) on net neutrality. Boeing has a section on diversity policies for gay, lesbian and transgender employees but we could not find anything on the politics.

What is behind companies’ newfound willingness to take clear positions in America’s culture wars? Partly it is because the battles (for public opinion at least) have already been won. On gay marriage, the Confederate flag, and immigration reform, there is concentrated and vocal opposition, but broad public support. The definition of ‘stakeholder’ is changing for businesses, and they are particularly conscious of presenting a progressive, forward-thinking image to current and future employees. The freedom and expectations for social media and blogs are also driving the trend. If you are company tweeting, posting and blogging, boring corporate-speak will not do; there is an expectation to be clear and interesting.

There may be a cultural angle at work too – it is more acceptable in the US, as opposed to say, Europe, to wear your politics on your sleeve. Americans routinely drop political opinions into conversations with relative strangers, where in other countries your politics stay between you and the walls of the polling booth.

- Jason Sumner