BC tip: Channel 4 News - Effectively short video

A UK news channel provides inspiration for spicing up corporate videos.

The Feature

Channel 4 News in the UK recently published a video on Twitter, ‘If America were 100 people’. A minute and a half long, it presents demographic statistics as if one percentage point represented a single person – eg, '13 are black, six are Asian, one is Native American, five are millionaires, 37 are obese, 12 are setting up or running a new business’, etc.

The Takeaway

At the same time as video is proliferating online, many corporate videos have got a little stale – too much of the same clichéd opening music, fast-moving images of cityscapes/traffic, uninspiring scripts and boring talking heads.

The Channel 4 video was created for a general audience, not a business one, but some of the ideas employed could be borrowed by digital communicators who are also trying to be informative and hold people’s interest.

A clear editorial voice, creative use of music, finding ways to humanise dull statistics – these techniques could all be applied in corporate contexts (explaining what the business does, sector challenges, CSR issues, etc) to move past the clichés and engage the audience.

https://twitter.com/Channel4News/status/789153329850953728/video/1

 

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.

www.facebook.com/wellsfargo

BC tip: Yara - Impressive timeline

A history timeline has a strong narrative style and makes effective use of archive material.

The Feature

‘The History of Yara’, a feature on the Norwegian fertiliser’s corporate website, has a concise overview and 14 sections, which include ‘Our History at a glance’ and summaries of different eras, eg 1900-1905, 1920-1939.

The sections are laid out so visitors can browse for an overview, or read more deeply as required. For example, ‘1900-1905’ has a paragraph introduction, then summary boxes with links to six longer articles, with more detail on the era. The summary boxes and stories are illustrated with archive images.

The Takeaway

The feature stands out for its narrative style, which tells the story almost like a novel. For example, the article, ‘A little bit of Norway – and more’, starts with: ‘The country was hungry not only for renewal and impulses, but also for symbols of new and better times ahead.’

Interesting details and techniques also bring the company’s history to life. For example, the fact that Nitrogen fertilizer is ‘Norgessalpeter’ in Norwegian. Or the use of dialogue in ‘Our History at a glance’: ‘In the course of the dinner [between the company founders] Eyde said: “What I want is the most powerful electrical discharge on earth…” to which Birkeland replied: “This I can get for you!”

Later articles have links to other material on the website, such as the new CEO’s biography. It is a rich resource, telling Yara’s story with literary panache; and is effective without using elaborate technology.

http://yara.com/about/history/

Thinking about building an online following

‘Thought leadership’ is remarkably resilient for a concept that has such a bad reputation. Like the fashion for ‘stories’, thought leadership is too often exactly the opposite of what the name implies.

Apart from not always being terribly well thought out, a lot of supposed thought leadership – rather than lead anywhere new – simply follows the latest trends, herd-like, over a cliff of irrelevancy; ‘big data’, ‘digital transformation’ and ‘emerging markets’, yes, we are looking at you.

Another problem is that the label is inherently smug. This was neatly summed up by marketing expert Allister Frost, who said, at our annual conference last month: ‘Who put you in charge of thoughts?’

Why, then, are we still talking about it?

One of the biggest reasons is because, when done right, it can be incredibly effective as a marketing and communication tool. From a marketing perspective, there is the white paper that starts a conversation that leads to a multi-million dollar contract. For corporate communicators, a steady stream of well-focused and high-quality editorial can be an important part of ‘selling’ the group to its stakeholders and boosting it reputation with customers.

It has been many years since ‘thought leadership’ was a cutting edge buzz phrase, but corporate digital teams are still being asked how best to position their organization’s thinking on websites and social medial channels. We have picked out a few examples of best practice across the corporate web that we think are worth emulating.

Don’t call it thought leadership

Thought leadership can be effective, but as I’ve mentioned, the name is outdated, smug, dull and usually misleading. That is why, even if it is handy shorthand internally for what your organization is trying to do, it should not be used as a label on the website.

Goldman Sachs, for example, prefers ‘Our thinking’ as a primary menu label on its corporate website (Bowen Craggs also uses this as a signpost to our thoughts about the corporate web). KPMG, the big-four accountancy firm, goes for ‘Insights’; as does its competitor EY.

Linklaters, the UK-based multinational law firm, uses ‘Insights’ as a primary menu item, but ‘thought leadership’ crops up in the secondary menu, along with the categories of ‘publications’ and ‘seminars’. This brings up another labelling no-no – referring to categories of content rather than themes. ‘Publications’ and ‘seminars’ make the website sound like a filing cabinet rather than a destination to learn something new.

Insurance company Axa’s new website does a good job of naming the themes and headlines for its thinking from the perspective of target audiences’ likely interests – such as ‘future of insurance’ and ‘a new way to work’. Axa does not always get it right – ‘environmental challenges’ and ‘protecting people’ are on the vague side – but the intent is clear (and it’s all far better than ‘seminars’ or ‘publications’).

Exploit the home page

KPMG’s global home page is effective at showing off the company’s thinking on current business issues, offering multiple points of entry for existing and potential customers to browse the Big Four auditing firm’s views on Brexit and renewable energy, as well as promoting its in-house research, a CEO survey.

Be creative with design and try different formats

Axa, as well as choosing good headlines to draw people in, uses a modern design – large, clear fonts, original imagery, and clever use of pull quotes and captions to draw people into in. In its ‘Spotlight’ section, thought leadership often blends seamlessly with storytelling, as in the case of ‘Axa Lab Asia: commerce goes mobile in China’. 

Goldman Sachs’ corporate website is carefully designed and curated to position it as a font of knowledge and expertise about socioeconomic and financial trends.

Its ‘Exchanges’ podcasts are housed on its corporate website in the ‘Our Thinking’ section. The series started in 2014, and is updated two or three times a month.

Each episode features Goldman Sachs experts analysing global financial, social and technology trend. They are regularly updated with an interesting mix of editorially engaging topics; draw people in with sharp headlines; employ an easy-to-use menu on the site; and allow people to subscribe on iTunes.

Goldman Sachs is taking advantage of the rising popularity of podcasts in the wider digital world, and adapting the form well for its own online needs.

Consider a blog

EMC, the US technology company about to be merged with Dell, uses blogs written by senior leaders and topic specialists to help build up a meaningful portrait of what the group cares about, and what it knows about.

Becoming a ‘destination’ with an editorial approach

An organization’s experts may not always have the time or editorial skills to finish a piece that is web-ready, or to come up with the right ideas in the first place. It takes a dedicated editorial team to source a steady stream of fresh content that highlights relevant themes; and to shape contributed draft copy into punchy prose.

The mix can include human-interest features from around the business, and issue-based pieces on topics of direct relevance to customers’ business problems.

At our conference, brewing giant SABMiller highlighted the importance of having an editorial board with deep networks in the business, in order to encourage everyone to contribute. You may already be lucky enough to have someone blogging somewhere in the far corners of the organization, and their efforts can be brought into a larger ‘content’ strategy for thought leadership material.

A central editorial team can also help to avoid some of the hallmarks of bad thought leadership – thin arguments, dull headlines or a failure to see how multimedia elements such as video, infographics or interactive features could bring the content to life.  

Following some of the above examples – good labelling, strong signposts, creative design, a clear editorial voice and focus – can help to turn the corporate site into a ‘destination’ on important industry themes, and a nonstop idea factory that creates and maintains sales leads; and boosts your reputation among important stakeholders such as journalists and jobseekers. 

- Jason Sumner


BC tip: Nintendo - Pokémania pitfalls

A Japanese video game maker’s careers page fails to take advantage of American enthusiasm for Pokémon Go.

The Site

Pokémon Go – an ‘augmented reality’ game in which players try to collect virtual characters in real-world locations on their smartphones – was the most downloaded app in the US last week, and has added £5.4bn to Nintendo’s share price since its game debuted on July 6th.

The Pokémon craze, aside from inspiring increasingly bizarre stories in the media, is likely to have got many more Americans interested in working for Nintendo. Searching ‘nintendo jobs’ on Google leads visitors to the ‘Career Opportunities’ page, which can also be reached via links in the footer of Nintendo.com.

Here they will find a notably rudimentary and old-fashioned site, with links to the history, jobs, FAQs, etc; and a left menu including ‘Manuals’ and ‘Health & Safety Precautions’.

The Takeaway

Japanese companies traditionally do not prioritise corporate communications, but this is the most extreme example we have come across of a missed opportunity to impress a core audience online. The opportunity cost is multiplied in this case because of the spike in publicity for Nintendo, and the ease with which Pokémon hunters can switch from the game to the jobs page on their smartphones.

Searching for jobs on a corporate website can probably never compare in excitement with collecting virtual creatures in the real world. However, Nintendo’s careers page, which could have been designed in the 1990s, does nothing at all to enthuse career-minded Americans.

https://www.nintendo.com/corp/jobs.jsp


 

BC tip: Virgin Group - Taking a view

A UK CEO’s blog post on Brexit offers lessons for other companies wanting to cut through online noise.

 

The Site

Richard Branson, co-founder of the Virgin Group, the UK investment conglomerate, has a blog on the company’s website, called ‘Richard’.

After the UK voted last week to leave the European Union, he wrote a post, ‘Calling for Parliament to take a second look at the EU referendum’. He criticised the UK’s Leave campaign for misleading the public, said that the vote was based on ‘false promises’, and urged people to sign a petition calling on Parliament to re-run the vote.

The Takeaway

Branson’s post takes a clear position on a controversial political issue, something many companies will be hesitant about. Branson’s forays into social media are not always so interesting, as we have noted here.

However, several companies we know are grappling with the question of how to gain traction for their online content amid all the noise. Addressing issues with a defined ‘point of view’ is one of the ways to do this, and ‘not being boring’ is another, both of which Branson accomplishes with his Brexit piece.

Organizations struggle to take clear-cut opinions for cultural reasons (reticence to stick heads above parapets) and practical reasons (no time to blog, worried about backlash). Your CEO does not have to go as far as having a public view on Brexit to be interesting – a clear-cut and compellingly argued take on, for example, an industry issue can be just as valuable for getting attention online.

https://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/calling-parliament-take-second-look-eu-referendum


Brexit: the online communications challenge

The web is awash with comment, analysis and downright hysteria about UK voters' decision to leave the European Union. But how, I wondered, are companies at the potentially sharp end of Brexit using their corporate websites to explain the implications and calm customers' and investors' nerves? I had a trawl to find out...

Barclays:

This UK-based bank takes an unflashy but clear and effective approach - devoting the top half of its global home page to Brexit (see the screenshot below). The headline is clear, while a crisp standfirst includes a quote from Jes Stanley, the group CEO, designed to assure clients that Barclays is unruffled.

A clear call to action button - ‘Read more from Jes Stanley’ – leads to a cleanly laid out extended statement from Stanley, plus a short FAQ covering Barclays’ Brexit planning and its potential impact. Good - though the images on both this page and the home page are rather pedestrian.

Goldman Sachs:

Like Barclays, this investment banking giant also puts Brexit centre stage on its home page. But rather than promoting an article about it, Goldman Sachs invites visitors to listen to the latest edition of its regular podcasts, in which the firm’s chief European economist is interviewed in depth about the implications of the UK referendum.

While Barclays’ communications priority is reassuring customers and investors about Brexit, Goldman Sachs’ goal is to show off its knowledge and expertise on the implications for the global socioeconomic environment. The audio interview format works well here.

HSBC: 

Thanks to an embedded Twitter feed, visitors to this banking behemoth's global home page (and News and Insight section landing page) are presented with quotes from chairman Douglas Flint on HSBC’s willingness and ability to steer itself and its customers through the post-Brexit world. But during our visits on June 29th, there was little other prominently signposted material on the topic.

RBS:

Visitors to this UK-based bank’s home page looking for reassurance about Brexit will be disappointed: there is nothing at all about the issue. Users must visit the site’s News and Opinion section to find relevant material. But even here all they’ll initially find – buried below the scroll line on a standard desktop monitor – is a comment piece on the impact on the economy at large: nothing on RBS’s response, or the implications for customers. Scrolling down even further is a two-sentence June 24th press release assuring customers that daily banking won’t be affected. But as of June 29th, no more detail than that. Poor.

Lloyds Banking Group

This bank takes silence on the EU referendum a step further than RBS – there is nothing at all on the home page, or in the Media & Resource Centre.

As it has among politicians, it appears that last week's referendum result caught some online communications teams unawares. 

- Scott Payton


BC tip - AXA: Spotlight on editorial quality

A French insurance group’s online stories make excellent use of different editorial techniques to engage readers.

The Site

‘Spotlight’ is Axa’s online magazine, linked via the primary navigation on the French insurance group’s corporate website. Described as ‘a journal of ideas, experiences, and the people that make them’, Spotlight covers themes especially relevant to its customers, employees and jobseekers – protecting the environment, customer stories, the future of insurance and the future of work.

Within each section, image panels with teasers promote individual stories, with the invitation to ‘Read more’ or Discover more’, linking through to the full-page articles.

The Takeaway

Insurance companies are usually trying to dispel the idea that they are boring and old-fashioned. Axa’s Spotlight storytelling section helps counter this image by making excellent use of editorial techniques, including documentary photography, pulled quotes, embedded videos, data visualisations and subheadings that break up the text.

This makes the company's stories easy and enjoyable to read on screen. The responsive section provides an equally good experience on desktop or mobile. It also helps that AXA frames its stories within categories that are inherently interesting and relevant to its stakeholders, such as 'Future of Insurance' and 'A New Way to Work'.

https://www.axa.com/en/spotlight


If we ignore ‘digital transformation’ will it go away?

If Bowen Craggs did a ranking of irritating business clichés, ‘digital transformation’ would be a strong contender for the top spot. When I first came across the term (probably in a McKinsey article but I can’t remember) I thought I’d better read it because we are in the digital communications business, and they must be related, right?

 Several articles later, I’m none the wiser about what digital transformation actually means. I could come up with my own definition, but I’m not sure it would be the same as anyone else’s. That is why it’s frustrating – to transform digitally can mean what you want it to mean – sometimes it seems to be about redefining internal processes, or maybe mobile sales channels or marketing 3.0, 4.0, etc. And rarely have I read anything about where digital communications or corporate websites fit in.

Then I started to wonder (whisper it): do they need to have anything to do with each other at all? It was comforting to have my doubts confirmed in a recent talk by a digital comms manager from a large multinational. Chatham House rules applied so no names will be used or dirty laundry aired, but the lessons this manager learned are worth sharing more widely. It was especially helpful to have a concrete example, given how vacuous digital transformation can be.

At this particular company, the ‘transformation’ meant (and I’m paraphrasing but hopefully not over-generalising): a transition to more digital marketing and the digital ‘user experience’ for customers transacting with the company online; and on the internal side, utilising the data and analytics (yes, it’s that other cliché, ‘big data’) on customer activity for business development.

So, in simple terms, very customer-focused. The initiative had its own implementation committee, chaired by marketing and not involving comms. Our digital comms manager spent months thinking about what the digital comms team should be doing about all of this.

The answer, it turned out, was to do nothing. Or at least do nothing new. Instead, digital comms would double-down on what it did already and try to do it better: focus on communicating with core corporate audiences – media, jobseekers, investors; focus on improving content, including a shift to video; and a website relaunch to reinforce comms role as the company’s reputation and brand guardian. It was also important to define what they would not do. For example, they would not involve themselves in local customer websites or customer apps (apart from branding). Two things the team did work on augmented the brand and traditional comms role: a company-wide digital style guide and a centralised careers website.

The above approach has the advantage of being clear, but it is company-specific. Other digital comms teams going through a similar process (ordeal?) might find carving out a similar ‘safe space’ for comms won’t work politically. Certainly other companies we’ve seen facing the same issues have decided to get on the transformation bandwagon, for example, by ‘transforming’ the corporate site into a sales channel; but, we think, at a risk of ignoring the ‘group-level marketing’ role that comms has always had – selling the company as a place to work, to invest in, to write positive things about.

- Jason Sumner


BC tip: Lego - Making its products work

The toymaker brings a bit of fun to the dull bits of its corporate site

    

 

 

The site

The corporate information areas on Lego.com use the group’s own services to provide visual clues. For example the Contact Us page has Useful Links to the right that include a model truck to point to the Order Status page and a Lego postman to provide a signpost to the Subscription Center. Little Lego heads are used to bring attention to headlines such as ‘How can we help?’

The takeaway

Few companies have products that lend themselves so handily to web page decoration. But there must be opportunities for organizations to look at what they do, or sell, and how they can be used: confectioners could use chocolate bars, oil companies little oil rigs, motor manufacturers tiny cars …

Will this make a serious company look frivolous? Not really, if done with style it will show that it has a sense of humour – just the sort of place young people should be seeking to spend their working lives, for example. The key of course is ‘with style’ – unless you can do it well, don’t do it at all.

https://wwwsecure.us.lego.com/en-us/service?ignorereferer=true


Noises off – the making of corporate content

‘Mitt’ is a documentary on Netflix that takes viewers behind the scenes of Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful attempts to win the US presidency in 2008 and 2012. Romney, whose stiff and patrician demeanour was one of the reasons voters never warmed to him, is filmed doing things you never normally get to see during the years-long slog of an American presidential campaign: in prayer with his family (he always tried to publicly downplay his Mormon roots); swaggering backstage about a good debate performance; and flagellating himself after a bad one. We even witness the moment on election night when he knows he’s lost and has to put on a brave face for his family and staff.

It’s compelling, as well told ‘fly on the wall’ style stories always are. It turns out Mitt is not so stiff after all – surprise, he is a human being. His reputation rose after the documentary was released.

Going ‘behind the scenes’ can be just as compelling in a corporate context, as more (brave?) digital managers appear to recognize. The slick veneer of corporate-speak is ripe for puncturing, and readers (eg, jobseekers) will thank you for it; but share too much reality or the wrong kind and your company’s reputation (and your career) might never recover. There is a reason Romney was happy to let the cameras roll, but (likely) only agreed to release the film long after he thought his political career was over.

The best corporate ‘behind the scenes’ features we’ve seen subvert the low expectations of corporate content – that it will be dull, ‘on-message’, false – and provide a more true-to-life view, while stopping short of letting Michael Moore follow the CEO around with a film camera.

French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH, for example, has a number of ‘in situ’ videos on its corporate website, inviting visitors to ‘take a glimpse at the daily lives of our employees’ - grape harvesting, a press team meeting, a morning briefing in a department store cosmetics department.   

Highly professional and unique (the absence of narration is one striking feature) they give candidates a good feel for the exciting parts of the job (filming a promotion) and the mundane (addressing envelopes for posting).

Blackstone, the US private equity and investment banking firm, has a link to ‘Mondays at Blackstone’, on its home page. The video is more conventional than the in situ features at LVMH. There is narration in text form and an abundance of talking heads, but the concept is based on a behind the scenes look at the company’s Monday morning meetings, where bankers come together to set the agenda and challenge each other about deals and investments.

The meeting could be seen as inspiring (or frightening) depending on your point of view, but as a candidate, you can watch and decide whether you can see yourself sitting around the giant boardroom table in New York on a Monday.

It is effective, but the idea could have been pushed further – jobseekers might have benefitted from letting more of the meeting footage play out. This is the interesting bit, the bankers talking to camera less so.

Maersk, the Danish logistics giant, gives us a fly-on-the-wall view of a disaster-preparedness training seminar for employees. Like at Blackstone, talking heads dominate, but the film – using documentary editing techniques – shows some tense moments and the kind of arguments that happen under crisis pressure (and employees when they are less guarded).

Not all ‘behind the scenes’ content is video. My colleague Mali Perdeaux recently wrote here about a blog on the Victoria and Albert Museum website, which gives a backstage perspective on life running a museum.

‘Making of’ features are a variation on the theme. Private investors get the VIP treatment from Air Liquide on its website, with a highlights video from a photo shoot for ‘Portraits of shareholders’.

Total, the French oil company, set up a microsite to describe how its global advertising campaign was conceived, designed and launched.

So far I have not seen many of these done badly. Maybe that is because they are unique enough to have fairly big budgets (meaning the best people will work on them), and close scrutiny – no matter how ‘real’ a film seems, there has been meticulous editing to make it seem that way. As they become more widespread, perhaps standards will slip (and that is when the reputational risk will rise).

Most companies are a lot more interesting than their corporate websites let on. The less time people have to spend reading between the lines, the more they might warm to you. Just ask Mitt.

- Jason Sumner

Lessons in content strategy, from your fund manager

Instead of asking a fund manager about the Chinese economy, stock market tremors or emerging market risk, maybe you should be asking for advice on your online content strategy.

This article from the FT (may be behind a paywall) shows that some of the top fund management firms have embraced digital communications and social media, and the way they have done it holds lessons for any company establishing (or refining) its online content strategy:

Have a clear reason for doing social media in the first place. Woodford Investment Management, which launched in 2014, went on social media as part of a ‘conscious decision not to pay for advertising’. Other more established fund management firms started to see an opportunity cost in not talking to customers on channels that they were using already. The ‘market insight’-type material that most fund managers have long produced in print and online, are a natural fit to broadcast via Twitter, for example.

Don’t treat every channel in the same way. We think ‘social media’ should not be thought of as one entity, but as individual channels with different audiences. So, apparently, does James Cardew, global head of marketing at Schroders:

‘It is important to engage with clients and customers on the platform they use, rather than attempting to dragoon them all into one channel, Mr Cardew says… “We started out thinking we would use LinkedIn for business, Twitter for journalists and Facebook for graduate recruitment,” he says. In the event, Twitter was the most popular platform for engagement, so that is where Schroders has focused its efforts.’

‘Communications’ can be good marketing. We have been saying that the lines between marketing and communications in organizations are blurring, and that corporate communications can be seen as ‘group-level marketing’ – with customers as one set of stakeholders for company messages and information. Here is Woodford IM’s head of corporate comms: ‘We wanted to use social media to educate and inform, but also to communicate and engage. You can’t get the message across in an ad.’ I take this to mean that fund management clients are not the type to respond well to inauthenticity – they want useful information, about a company they might do business with, about subjects they are have an interest in, etc. Increasingly not unlike the rest of us, I would argue.

Apart from the FT article, a quick trawl of some fund managers’ websites shows that the sector’s reputation for being Luddites may be undeserved. Amundi’s Research Center makes good use of Twitter to promote its thinking. AXA Investment Management has prominent signposts to its social media channels. Many fund managers have YouTube videos of their experts embedded on their websites. And the industry has taken up blogging in a big way to stay in touch with customers – a point raised in the article as well. See for example Fidelity UK and Blackrock.

- Jason Sumner

The joys of Apple's crunchy prose

Not going to dive into the rights or wrongs of the Apple versus Government argument about encryption, but the company has done two things that are undoubtedly right.

First, Tim Cook (or someone on his behalf) has written a 'message to our customers' in crisp, unambiguous English. In a world where most bosses flee clarity as vampires flee garlic, his sharp arguments and short sentences are mercifully easy to absorb. Apple may be all modern, but it understands the importance of that old-fashioned skill, literacy.

Second, the company's home page is promoting the message as one of its main panels - in view without scrolling on most screens. Apple may be rubbish at communicating with non-customers (like journalists), but it knows how to get to customers and Apple.com is one of its big channels. So putting a signpost here makes perfect sense.

 

There's something else here for other companies (and indeed for Apple at other times). This message has obvious relevance to customers, but so do lots of others things on a corporate site that do not get the same high profile treatment. That the company keep a close eye on its suppliers' labour conditions, that it is amazingly inventive, that its products are made in ways that destroy only a few of the earth's resources, that it is really quite nice to its employees; and so on.

We know that 'serving customers' is at the front of many web people's minds at the moment. It's important to remember that this does not just mean selling them stuff. It means anything, anything, that might make them think more favourably about a company. A lot of that is already on corporate websites. It just needs to be blasted more clearly across home pages.   

David Bowen

 

 

 

 

A new channel for corporate stories

I’ve spent some time this week playing with the new Apple News mobile and tablet app, which arrived in the UK (via an operating system update) at the end of October.

It’s a news aggregation service like Google News and Flipboard – allowing users to create a personalised feed of articles from a wide range of newspapers, magazines and blogs.

Like Google News, it can be a bit overwhelming at first. But it’s certainly prettier than Google’s offering, as well as good old RSS feeds, and is easy to personalise.

Importantly, publishers and readers alike will also be pleased with the fact that each publication’s fonts and layouts are preserved via the Apple News app, rather than merely poured into a crude ‘feed’ template.

I mention this app because it got me thinking about the fashion for corporate ‘stories’ –using journalistic and other ‘traditional’ narrative techniques to convey an organisation’s messages in more engaging ways.

If traditional publishers are increasingly using third-party services to widen the reach of their output, shouldn’t corporate web managers be thinking more about this route too?

Some companies have already been experimenting with this. The former head of Coca-Cola’s corporate site worked hard to get his team’s material syndicated by the likes of The Huffington Post.

Unilever has a media partnership with UK newspaper The Guardian to spread the word about its sustainability agenda.

Professional services firm EY has a “content marketing” tie-up with Forbes’ site.

But many companies’ efforts to produce more engaging online editorial material remains confined to their own channels.

For sure, there is a good reason for using your corporate website as the hub of your company’s editorial output: it’s the one channel over which your company has complete control.

But third-party news outlets may have a powerful future role to play – alongside a company's own Twitter feed and other channels – in ensuring that more people find your company's stories in the first place. Something to muse over, perhaps, if and when you get the chance to play with Apple’s latest app.

- Jason Sumner

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