Three Ways to Upgrade Your Corporate Web Presence and How to Not Screw Them Up

The landscape of the web has changed so that a static website just doesn’t cut it for a company’s web presence. This makes me happy, because it’s wonderful to see the intriguing and interesting ways businesses engage their customers on the web. Here are three relatively simple but effective strategies businesses can employ to that end:

  1. Spread the word by increasing online traffic
  2. Leverage social networking and blogging to promote a brand
  3. Make sales easier via online purchasing

These are great things to do, but like all things, even the greatest ideas are ruined by poor execution. What often happens is that a web designer will go to town and whip out an awesome solution that fits the agreed specifications, but the organization isn’t set up the right way to handle it. Things go wrong, projected goals are not achieved, and the designer often gets the blame.

  • Designers: Perform a thorough requirements analysis at the beginning of every project and tailor your promises and project goals accordingly.
  • Managers: Realize that a designer can build you a great tool and tell you how to use it, but it’s up to you and your organization to use it right.

1: Increasing Online Traffic

Very simple: you’ve got a website, and you want more people to look at it. It takes more than a redesigned website to really attract more eyeballs (though standards-compliance and SEO do help).

How It Goes Wrong

No relationship to offline marketing

I’ve talked to lots of managers who think that “if you build it, they will come.” Not so! Traditional print and media (TV, radio) marketing can get the word out that you have a great website, especially if you specify that it’s new. You could even offer web-only coupons and post a sign at your points-of-sale about their availability. The point is to make your part of the internet relate to customers’ real-life experience of your business.

Ignoring mobile

People have internet-connected devices in their pockets, why aren’t more businesses using this to their advantage? Ways to leverage this could be as simple as putting your website’s web address in a 2D barcode on flyers or as extensive as building your own location-activated mobile app.

Pushing business goals over user experience

This happens way too often, because businesses often don’t realize they’re doing it. Business goals dictate that customers should be shown certain bits of information when visiting the website (ads, company information, information about that new product), but users may have other goals for their visit. The trick to balancing these goals is showing users only as much of “your” content as they are willing to look at to get to “their” content. Think of it in terms of TV: watchers will only sit through a certain amount of commercials to watch a given show. The more interesting the TV show (the content on your website they want to see), the more commercials (content you want them to see)  they’ll sit through to see it. If you push too much of “your” content on them, they’ll not come back to your website.

2: Get Social and Engage Customers

Lots of managers hear about other companies using sites like Twitter or Facebook (in Germany WKW, the Netherlands Hyves) to engage customers, and they want to do it, too. It’s a relatively new thing, so most people have the wrong ideas about it, plus it’s so complex that it’s become its own field of marketing. Building a compelling presence in social media takes resources and a clear corporate image: don’t do it unless you’re ready.

How It Goes Wrong

Fire and Forget

Social media and (micro-)blogs are great for engaging people in a conversation. What gets forgotten (or many just don’t realize) is that it’s not just about setting up a profile somewhere and leaving it alone. Like any conversation, it’s only interesting when both sides are active, meaning that to engage customers in a conversation, a company must be and stay engaged, too.

There needs to be someone in your organization who is responsible for continually adding content and making sure your social media presence does not get static or boring. If your content doesn’t change for while, people will forget you.

Censoring Customer Input

Another thing that kills a conversation is when only one side is talking and blocks what the other side wants to say. When writing a corporate blog, for example, it is tempting to delete or not approve negative comments. Deleting frank comments on your Facebook fan page’s wall is another example if this.

Instead of putting the muzzle on sources of feedback (easy but bad), try conversing with them and coming to the root of why they write negative things about you (hard but very good). You’re not catering to this one person but to everyone who notices your open conversation happening and is inspired by the fact that you stand by your products and services so much that you are willing to take the time to discuss them online. You read me right: inspired. This works best if your organization is clear and open about its goals and values.

3: Let People Buy Your Stuff Online

What could be better than making it so that your customers can buy your products from in bed? Online stores are great, and they make it easy for people to spend their money on your stuff. Like social media though, it’s not a stand-alone sales booster; work and resources have to be in place to use an online shop properly, and your business must be ready for it. An effective online shop requires a stable and working supply chain: don’t do it unless you’re ready.

How it Goes Wrong

Overcomplicated Pricing Models

Most online stores deal with manufactured goods that are easy to price, e.g. this item costs that much, period. However, some companies deal in intangible or highly-customizable goods and services like caterers, ISP’s, or consultants. The first thing potential customers want to do is find out a general figure of how much “something like that” might cost. It goes wrong when 1) prices are omitted completely, making your e-shop a wish-list generator (annoying) or 2) prices given in your e-shop are incomplete or wrong (bad). While some (especially salespeople) may disagree with me on point #2, I see false pricing as having a worse impact on customer experience than not giving them a price at all (ethics notwithstanding).

If customers understand your pricing model, and they can order online, they are much more likely to buy something than if they have to guess or wait for a quote. This is true even if the known price of the immediate buy is higher than the unknown or ambiguous price of the delayed buy.

There are plenty of ways to do this right. Caterers could charge a base price for each basic product and a fixed fee for each addition or customization. ISP’s often take the McDonald’s approach and have packages from which customers can choose. Consultants’ pricing is hard to simplify without screwing clients, consultants, or both; an e-shop isn’t for everyone!

Unprepared Organization

Like using social media, an e-shop is its own entity, something that must me attended, maintained, and monitored with enough resources to sustain it. If all customer orders are going to one person’s inbox who also works as a manager on the factory floor, many will fall through the cracks. This creates a situation where your website promises something your organization can’t deliver.

Similarly, if your production is already maxed out by current demand (or if your consultants are maxed out with the current workload), it’s disastrous to make it easier for customers to buy more stuff. This also creates a situation where your website promises something your organization can’t deliver.

When you promise things and don’t deliver, people stop liking you. Make sure that the organization is ready for any additional resources an e-shop may require and your production can keep up with increased demand. This will allow you to promise big and deliver big, hopefully letting you earn big.

In Summary

Designers: Don’t see design in a vacuum! Learn about business and organization, at least enough to view your work in context and alert clients to the potential pitfalls of misusing your creation. Oh, and while you’re at it, practice your “Dammit, Jim, I’m a designer, not a miracle worker!” speech.

Managers: Don’t see design in a vacuum! Try to understand the business ramifications of what you commission to have made for you and/or listen to designers when they try to explain them. Oh, and stop blaming your website for things that are your organization’s fault!

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