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Think About It, Think, Think About It

or “spinning around how companies see the Web”

I have found myself saying the same thing a heck of a lot lately, and so I thought I’d blog about it to see who else has been having the same kind of conversations. It’s a bit of a blast from the past as well because these conversations I’m having in South Africa sound like conversations I was having in the UK 3-5 years ago.

It all centres around the way companies use the Web. What is the purpose of their web presence? I’d say that for a lot of companies and organisations, the ‘mission statement’ for their website could be summed up as follows:

The purpose of our website is to tell our message to our existing and potential clients

Sounds noble, doesn’t it? And it is, to a point. Indeed, I’d even go so far as to say that there is a lot of mileage in a website that is designed with such a purpose, if clearly done. However, I think that in today’s Web 2.0 world (buzzword apologies), it falls short. I’d say that in the current web world, a better mission statement would be something like this:

The purpose of our website is to engage our visitors

I’m sure none of you would argue with the general sentiment, but does this seem like just sentiment? Is there any actual meaning behind the words? Well, I think there is, very much so, and lets see how this concept works out into reality.

A Kiss Is Not A Contract

The first difference in the statements is a subtle but important one – that of changing ‘existing and potential clients’ into ‘visitors’. Why is this important? Because you cannot measure the value of a visitor based on whether they themselves will be a client. Traditionally, you measured the success of a site based on ‘conversion ratios’ of visitors to sales, but this is very limited way of seeing things.

By giving a good experience to visitors, they will become ambassadors for you. You do not need to make a sale to increase your brand awareness. And some sites aren’t even about sales at all. They are about growing traffic or visibility for marketing or campaign purposes. A kiss may not be a contract, but it’s very nice. Very, very nice.

The Most Beautiful Girl In The Room

There is a next stage to this a well – recognising that a ‘web presence’ need not even be about a visitor to your website. This is more of a radical stage, but this is about reaching out to where the users are rather than expecting them to come to you. This can be done by creating a Facebook group, maybe a Twitter channel or even a Flickr gallery – or a combination of all of the above. None of these will result in a ‘hit’ on any of your web analytics but all of them can increase brand awareness in a positive way.

This whole concept can be encapsulated by the idea of “don’t wait for them to come to you, go find them where they are.” Even those who have a site which has high traffic shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that’s all there is. They could still be missing the bigger picture. Maybe an even more beautiful girl is in the next room?

Humans Are Dead

The next thing to consider is the old style of ‘telling our message’. In today’s web world, few people type a URL directly into the Address Bar. Even fewer people do that because they are looking for a companies ‘message’. Humans ARE dead to that kind of communication.

The reason people visit sites nowadays is normally because a search has led them there. A search based on keywords that the user themselves entered. At the very least they will have come to the site by clicking a link somewhere else on the web where they have been browsing. A click to your site carries intent. A purpose. The key is to catch what that purpose is.

Don’t push ‘a message’ on people that they are not interested in. Find out what they want and respond to it. Engage them. They are living. Your website should be living too.

Cheer Up Murray

This might paint a picture of a new web that is distant to the old one. One that costs a pile of money and a pile of time to establish a proper web presence in. Not so. The tools are still the same, it’s just the techniques that have changed. Having a proper and full Web 2.0 web presence need be no more expensive or time consuming than the old ways.

In fact, in some ways it’s a lot easier to implement. Think about this – in the old way of doing things you would have executives paining for months over what ‘the message’ was and who ‘clients’ were. Now that doesn’t matter any more. People on the Internet are continuously telling you who they are and, crucially, what they want. People want to be engaged. All you have to do is put the means there to engage them.

Cheer up, things are about to get a whole lot brighter.

Business Time

Lets get down to practicalities. Lets think about how we make all this a reality.

Firstly, who is interested in a site? Find out by trying some of the following:

  • Use Web Analytics to see visitor demographics
  • Put something desirable (preferably of some tangible value too) on the site via a subscribe and see who signs up
  • Create a Twitter feed and see who subscribes
  • Create a Facebook group and see who joins
  • Create a forum on the site (sounds great but this is probably the least effective thing to do initially – forums are amazing but they can be a slow burner)

Also, find out what they are looking for:

  • Use Web Analytics to see what search terms are being used to hit the site (referrers)
  • Create polls on the site
  • Create surveys on the site (to get people to complete a survey it may be necessary to offer them a reward of some kind)

And the golden thing to do is to get out there on the web and start looking for anything to do with the company/organisation or the key related topics. See what’s cooking!

Now we are ready to engage. How do we do this?

  • Multi-lingual content (talk to people in their own language!)
  • Accessible content
  • Keep the content fresh – frequent updates
  • Personalised content based on audience
  • Fun content! Make the site enjoyable to use
  • Make the visitor feel important – ask them what they want to do, what they want to hear, what they want to see
  • Ask the user to contribute
  • By NOT selling to them – the modern web user is cynical and savvy – if you are going to advertise, be subtle – otherwise you are seen as spammers

So these are the techniques. What are the tools?

We have the tools, we have the techniques, If You’re Into It

Brownie points if you can tell me what the theme for this blog post is :)

Binary Solo

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May 18, 2009

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