At this point in the web’s evolution, externally-facing websites typically belong to marketing, public relations or public affairs departments. But, when it comes to the management of a website strategy, who should be in charge?
On the surface website management in the hands of marketing makes sense since traditionally organizational outward-facing public relations media has always been its responsibility. If news releases or advertising in radio, television or magazines was planned, the marketing-PR department (known as Public Affairs in Gov and DOD), either in-house or contracted, would design the creative and develop the content.
But, websites are no longer just advertising platforms and best practices for them involve much more than the creative design and advertising content development experience marketing typically has.
Full-scope management of a website is much like the full-scope management of newspaper, magazine, television and radio production – a combined effort where ‘advertising’ is just one department; together, all departments make up the structure of the medium.
Newspapers, magazines, radio and television learned to ask, “Is our medium right for our readership/viewership?”
This is an operational question, not a public relations question. While prime-time television hours were ideal for advertising, those hours were chosen based the habits of the viewers – not what best suited television studios or marketing departments.
Marketing/public relations/affairs offices are specifically concerned with promoting the organization through the website and don’t normally have the strategic experience to know how to structure it for optimal operation.
If it were up to public affairs offices (and it currently is), websites would typically be one big promotional platform for the organizations they support.
Here’s a news flash: “Websites are about the visitor’s wants. Websites are not about a particular department’s wants.”
If 60% of your traffic is visiting your ‘Careers’ page, your website should not belong to public affairs. (Nor should it belong to your HR department.) Human nature will cause the governing department to slant the site to suit its agenda, denying the varied benefits your visitors may seek.
If 80% of your site’s traffic is staying less than 30 seconds, only the smartest of public affairs people will know what that indicates and know how to fix it broadly, beyond the boundaries they will see as most applicable to public affairs.
Multiple autonomous departments should weigh in on the management of your website:
Analysis/Web Strategy Team – (arguably the most important of the departments) will weigh-in on the statistical facts of your site: # of visitors, where they go, what they view, which links get clicked the most, etc., and interpret these in context with the organizations desired outcomes.
Content Providers – all others in your organization – to include Marketing/PR/PA; their voices are equally important.
IT Team – will weigh-in on the ‘do-ability’ of a proposed change.
Autonomy must exist between these three, and between the content providers, because if any are subordinate to another they will be coerced to support the supervising department.
Marketing/PR/PA’s offering would definitely include design, branding, message tone, etc. But in terms of the content to be posted, its voice should only be one of many.
The primary reason why a website’s Content Providers (from Marketing to Finance to Ops to the C-Suite to Building Management, whomever they are) should have equal governance to content is: Social Media.
If your organization runs a centralized website and aggregates website content from all its different departments, the content is undoubtedly submitted to a central department, probably your Marketing or Public Affairs office. The content-submitting department, its task of turning in content complete, then surrenders ownership of the content and turns its back.
What happens then if, for example, the submitted content is for an organizational blog? Who answers comments about the content from readers? Not Public Affairs – they are not the subject matter experts for the submitted content. Public Affairs becomes the lackeys that must run back to the content-submitting department and search for an SME to answer the comment. (I can tell you from personal experience this approach is a complete failure – it does not work!)
How are the social media contacts for the content-submitting department being leveraged, or are only the social media platforms established by Public Affairs being pursued? Facebook claims that on average every person represents 130 Facebook friends. In the centralized system, once a department’s content is surrendered to Public Affairs to post, Public Affairs will send the notification to its relatively small group of Facebook friends. In a large organization, say 9000 employees, each of whom are potential content contributors, the distributed Facebook Friend group is on the order of 1,000,000+ friends. I challenge you to go to your organization’s Facebook page (created by someone in your marketing, public relations or public affairs office, no doubt) and view how many ‘fans’ it has. If it exceeds the combined total of all your content contributors times 130, you are a very unique case.
Before prematurely restructuring how content is contributed to your website/blog, here are some questions you can ask to test the breadth (or narrowness) of your website strategy the next time you have your Marketing/Public Relations/Public Affairs department in front of you:
Which page do you(marketing) consider the most important on our site?
How many visitors do we get to that page?
Which page gets the most traffic on our site?
Which departments are submitting content to our organizational blog?(the answer should be ALL of them)
How many followers do we have to our Facebook page?
How are we leveraging the social media contacts of the contributors to our website/blog content?
What are the desired outcomes for any given visitor that are most important to our web strategy?
If you need some objective help with your website strategy, leave a comment below.