Goodbye Corporate Website – Hello Web Presence Management Framework?

The following article was written by my colleague Julie Hunt, after we had quite a few conversations about the ongoing CMS / WEM evaluation project I’ve mentioned here previously. I really enjoyed the opportunity to exchange ideas with her, particularly given her vast understanding of the global B2B software market as a whole. this post is well worth sharing.

Prior to my syndication of the content here on Return On Now, it has appeared on Highly Competitive and CMS Wire, and it was received very well in both places. Please take some time to consider Julie’s thoughts.

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Recently a colleague was exploring options for improving the web marketing capabilities of the company that he works for. He started his efforts by looking at “traditional” Web Content Management (WCM) software, with an eye to Web Experience (Engagement) Management platforms. But since his company is itself a mid-market-sized company, he was very uncomfortable with the options – and not just because of cost and time to implement. As conversations with his company management evolved, my colleague realized that he was not satisfied with a WCM / WEM solution because it didn’t seem to be the right platform for their web marketing strategy and business goals.

These days, companies of all sizes have tired of the expense and complexity of many WCM / WEM solutions, and would dearly love agile alternatives. And, yes, there are lesser expensive options. But what may be the most important factor for a lot of companies, is a strong emphasis on the customer-focused web presence for the company. And this may mean that company web presence will show up on other websites, instead of on the corporate website — which leads to the notion of whether or not the “corporate website” is becoming obsolete for many types of companies.

Web marketing and customer relationship strategies are changing (and improving) – companies need new solutions and practices to manage the new world. More companies have come to understand that first they must build the web marketing / presence strategy that will accomplish their goals. Then they have to figure out how to achieve the goals of the marketing strategy, which will involve preferred practices and processes, as well as technology.  With web presence evolution, marketing strategies should include orchestration of web presence via other sites, and how to integrate with conversations and content from those external sites.

B2C or B2B – Which Organization Needs A Corporate Website?

Whether or not a company should have a corporate website can depend on many factors. For both B2C and B2B companies, content still matters and has to be located somewhere. The B2B company has the greater need for a corporate website, but must now evolve the corporate website to a social / customer hub. B2C sales and marketing goals might be less about content per se and much more about customer conversations and brand awareness that take place anywhere on the web. Jeremiah Owyang points out that the corporate website is less and less the most likely place to connect with customers.

B2C – Time to Get Rid of the Monolithic Corporate Website?

Is the corporate website obsolete? Most corporate websites do not work well for customers. The sites are designed from the corporate POV, with too much useless content that is hard to find anyway. Frequently corporate websites become money pits, requiring too many resources over time compared to the benefits received.

Particularly for B2C businesses, new thinking is that the corporate website might be completely unnecessary for customer interactions and brand promotion.  Going where the customers are, i.e. social sites, seems to be an effective way to better connect. Monitoring web presence and participating in conversations on other sites help companies reach out to current and new customers in ways that matter to these customers and can bring effective results to companies.

Current thinking is that social sites are taking sales endeavors to a new place since customers can now participate in spreading the word to potential customers through forums, communities, ratings, reviews. On the flip side, corporations have the responsibility of finding and responding to concerns, complaints, feedback, and requests posted on social sites, hopefully to resolve problems, to engage and attract customers through answers, and to learn from customer POVs.

B2B Companies Still Benefit from Corporate Websites, With Social Improvements

One approach to introducing more web presence into corporate websites is to add improved social capabilities that interact well with customers and potential buyers. This approach appeals to companies that want a measure of control over customer “conversations” and also makes sense if the company is using social capabilities as part of a customer relationship and support strategy. Content still matters for B2B websites – B2B are customers still looking for a lot of different kinds of content that they want to easily find on the corporate website.  However, many potential B2B customers are also influenced by interactions and content on external social sites – the savvy B2B company had better understand the importance of such sites.  Integration with and monitoring of social sites are key.

Hubspot – inbound marketing and social media advisors:

Your website may very well be the most powerful tool in your marketing kit. Not only is it the place prospects and clients go to learn more about you and your services, but it has a huge impact on their ultimate purchase decision.

The Hubspot post goes on to discuss a survey conducted by RainToday.com that looked at buyers of professional services and the amount of influence that corporate websites exerted on the purchase decision:

According to the survey, 74% of buyers report the service provider’s website holds at least “some influence” over their ultimate decision to buy services from the provider. This is 23 percentage points higher than in 2005 and represents a significant increase in the importance of websites.

B2B corporate websites need web management solutions not only for creating and maintaining more social and interactive experiences for customers visiting the site, but to monitor and participate in the conversations that take place on other sites. Other sorts of off-site social-related analytics need to take place, such as sentiment analysis. The results of monitoring and analytics must be used to fine-tune product and marketing strategies, and to help corporations better serve customers.

Jeremiah Owyang on the Future of Corporate Web Presence

Owyang throws out some compelling assertions: In the not-so-distant future, he states that there will be no “old school” corporate sites. There will only be sites assembled on the fly based on social data, a sort of dynamic personalization mashup of content and social engagement.

Today, I’m pleased to see that the thinking –and technology, has emerged, where we’re finding a variety of companies that are integrating social technologies right into the corporate website, bringing the trusted discussions closer to the corporate site.

Although the highest state of nirvana (seamless integration) doesn’t yet exist, we should expect there to be very little difference between social technologies and corporate websites as content will assemble on the fly.  I predict URLs won’t matter, as content will be dynamically assembled around the buyer and their context in a variety of devices.  Sure, that’s far out thinking now, but that’s why we have several other stage gates that companies must first go through.

Owyang continues on the new social web presence:

  1. Although it’s a new and experimental medium, brands should plan a roadmap.
  2. The future of web experiences will be based around people – not products.
  3. Take inventory of all corporate web assets and identify where they are in the framework.
  4. Next, identify the desired state, and then build a plan against it. Start small and slow, and be sure to have a strategy.
  5. Don’t arbitrarily jump into the social marketing space without measurable KPIs. Be deliberate in your actions.

Owyang’s thinking is important especially for vendors of WCM / WEM software solutions since he may be pointing the way to future web presence solutions (a future that is not that distant).

Should WCM / WEM Software be The Hub — or one of the components?

Some vendors of “traditional” web content management solutions have been transitioning their offerings to WEM platforms where managing and enhancing the web experience or engagement of the customer is the central purpose. The current WEM platforms focus mainly on customer and social capabilities existing in the corporate website, and are in very early stages of supporting integrations with external social sites.

Those supporting the notion that WCM/WEM Platforms should manage web presence and continuation of corporate websites include:

Brice Dunwoodie of CMSWire is What is Web Engagement Management:
It’s how you create and manage content, including primary web content, multi-device content, blogs, forums and wikis. Your WCM platform is also the hub of your social media integrations and increasingly the dashboard by which you view your brand’s conversational world.

Further expansion on the WEM platform from Barb Mosher, CMSWire: The 5 Pillars of Web Engagement Management

  1. Content Optimization: analytics, content and experience personalization, multi-variate testing, optimization and SEO.
  2. Multi-channel Management: delivering same message/experience to customers across devices and channels both online and offline – new mobile web
  3. Conversational Engagement:  corporate website-based communities, UGC, commenting, trackbacks, micro-blogging, social media integration, analytics, social media monitoring and sentiment analysis.
  4. Demand Generation: customer engagement/experience through targeted marketing – increasing the number and quality of relationships, through need recognition, relevancy enhancements and engagement triggers.
  5. Sales Automation: two-way CRM integration, social CRM; e-mail or other campaign integration with the content platform.

As described by CMSWire, WEM platforms would provide capabilities and monitoring of brand and customer conversations on corporate websites, as well as bi-directional communication extensions to external social sites.

On the other hand:

If the customer experience of a particular brand is taking place on external social sites, then there is now a distributed model for managing a brand’s web presence; the web experience/engagement for the customer is now remote from the corporate website.  So there is even more need for tools/solutions to monitor, listen, act, engage…for customer-focused purposes, as well as for corporate business goals (which should lean heavily towards the customer).

A WCM/WEM platform may not be the hub for the overall solution, but instead one of the components of a new management framework for all web presence (management of web content is still important but may not be tied to a specific website anymore).  But content is also integral to a lot of web marketing plans and strategies, and content is the meat of most social sites, whether it is a conversation thread, a video, a blog post, and so on. So look for WCM/WEM solutions themselves to continue to evolve as the means of managing and delivering any kind of content for sites anywhere on the web, through any channel.

Future Web Presence Management Solutions – What Could They Look Like?

A Web Presence Management Framework may be the best approach for monitoring and supporting a distributed web presence. With an emphasis on Management: the orchestration of all pertinent activities on social sites external to a corporate site. And the management of: marketing to / connecting with customers, monitoring and listening, responding, acting, analyzing, more acting. The Management Framework would be agile, timely, dynamic, flexible, open.

A starter list (high level) of potential capabilities and attributes for a Distributed Web Presence Management Framework:

  • Sophisticated, agile management / orchestration capabilities
  • Web presence “mashups”: dynamically creating personalized sites for each customer
  • An evolved WCM/WEM component: delivery to external sites, advanced support of corporate site if still in play, handling of relevant content/conversations published on external sites
  • Support / interoperability for content curation as well as content management
  • Management of all types of “conversations”: Auditing – Listening – Capturing – Integrating
  • Multiple kinds of analytics, including convergence with “traditional” data analytics
  • Dashboards for different internal roles
  • Agile, context-sensitive Search / recommendations-like technology to contextually filter content/search
  • Integration is big (lots of API support)
  • Orchestration and Integration with multiple kinds of “external solutions” that are in play for distributed web presence
  • Usability for business as well as tech teams
  • Workflow and automated processes for WCM, CRM, SCRM practices, other corporate systems
  • Company roles will also evolve:  we’ll see new marketing technology roles, product marketing and product management roles for “caretakers” of company web presence on external social sites, among the possibilities
  • Segmented customer advisory groups will also play much more interactive roles with management of distributed web presence
  • Eventual alignment with semantic web, link management – for reach throughout the web. Here is a current view of opening up content to anywhere on the web:

Forget the fancy names of “semantic web” or “linked data.” Associating structured data with your content assets lets you take advantage of Open Graph, Google RichSnippets, Yahoo Search Monkey, and a new generation of agents such as Siri. Disseminating your content with metadata through APIs enables developers to spread the seeds of your brand in a variety of mash-ups and apps. Sharing your data sets in collaborative venues such as Factual and Infochimps helps build relationships with the world of analytic power users, improve your data quality, and turn those dusty data silos into tools for advocating ideas and brands. (from Chief Marketing Technologist blog)

OK, WCM / WEM vendors of all sizes: should your current plans for your solution for corporate websites go forward unchanged, or should you start now to create a Management Framework for distributed web presence?

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Related Posts on Highly Competitive:

SMB / Mid-Market B2B Software vendors – Findability + web presence + social: attracting the “customer as buyer”

B2B Social CRM for Software Vendors and the Lifecycle of Customer Experience

Moving beyond WCM – Web Experience Management software solutions and markets

About the author: Julie Hunt is an accomplished market intelligence analyst, providing strategic market and competitive insights for the software industry. Her 20+ years as a software professional range from the very technical side  to customer-centric work in solutions consulting, sales and marketing.  Julie shares her takes on the software industry via her blog Highly Competitive and on Twitter: @juliebhunt For more information: Julie Hunt Consulting – Market & Competitive Intelligence Services