What to pluck from the Potash site
The takeover vultures have been circling the world’s largest fertiliser company but corporate web managers should be eyeing the rich pickings on its website, David Bowen says.
|PotashCorp – Massing its defence BC Tip 26 August 2010|
|Why it’s still a bear market for investors Commentary, 5 March 2008|
Last month the mining giant BHP Billiton made a hostile bid for PotashCorp of Saskatchewan, Canada. Shareholders started to wonder if this was a good or bad thing for the companies and their wallets; I started to worry about the future of one of my favourite corporate websites.
Not BHP Billiton’s, though it comes a respectable thirty-first in the FT Bowen Craggs Index. But PotashCorp, which isn’t big enough to make it into the Index but has always taken extraordinary care with the web. In a recent BC Tip we analysed its running of a microsite to support its battle against BHP Billiton; that, though, is only a part of the tale.
In March 2008 I wrote a column about the site. The story then was that PotashCorp had determinedly run against the herd. Having moved with the fashion from being an investor to a more broadly-based site, it had spun round and was determinedly focusing on investors again. I rang the company and was told that there was a simple reason: PotashCorp has very few customers and the investor section is the most used part of the site. So that was where the emphasis had to be.
Since then, guess what, it’s changed again. The site is much more conventional, in that it gives almost as much emphasis to sustainability as it does to finance. It also has a strong careers section and even gives detail on its products. I think this is sensible: a website is good at serving multiple audiences and giving multiple messages, so why not let it?
I haven’t rung to ask why the change, but it almost doesn’t matter. The point is that Potash does its web thinking on its own. It may be because it is based in the wide open spaces of western Canada, out of touch with the rest of Corporateworld, or it could be that it has in-house managers or web agency folk with large brains. But for whatever reason, it does a lot of things that are worth recording – mostly little rather than radical, but all the more useful to online managers for that.
High-yield information tools
Let me start with three links at the top right of each page: Library, Calendar and Data Tool. Click any of these and an overlay panel is generated, sitting over the current page; it is closed by hitting an X at top right. This type of page is becoming common, but I would not yet call it conventional, especially as all other navigation disappears. There should be a clearer indication that X marks the closing spot.
But that is my only quibble. Both the Library and the Calendar are notable for their simplicity and ease of use. A left-hand menu provides navigation, a dropdown menu chooses the year and, for the Library, ‘expand’ and ‘collapse’ buttons allow you to choose what detail you see.
Data Tool is a formidable device, again characterised by its ease of use. It has four tabs: Financial, Sustainability, Facilities and Markets. Within each of these is a list with tick boxes to select data and an option to pick ready-set data bundles. With a tick you can bring up a table by year or years, and with another generate a printable chart. What is really interesting is the breadth of coverage. While Data Tool has a good set of financial indicators, you can also find operational numbers (for example, nitrogen sales), data from each facility, market statistics (oil palm use in China) and a range of sustainability indicators (women on the board, injury rate, well-water used). I can see how NGOs, journalists and CSR professionals as well as financial analysts could find this really valuable.
An add-on to Data Tool is MyPOT, reached from a link at the top of the page. This personalisation device lets you save the reports you are interested in, and come back to them when you need.
Enriched media range
Move on to the News section, and you will find another unusual approach. There are no press releases, but a mass of ‘posts’ – which are the same thing but sound less media-specific. Spot here the use of tags to provide a powerful filtering system: 25 tags are listed to the right and each post shows the tags applied to it. Not wildly innovative, but rare on a corporate site, and handy.
The use of language is interesting, too. Potash carries features, some of which are scripted by a skilled writer: “PotashCorp’s… expansion projects could be compared to a game of chess. Making one move requires thinking a number of moves ahead… Meet Clark Bailey, the company’s master chess player.”.
The company makes some well-judged use of social media – signposted in a Stay Connected panel on the home page. Twitter feeds are available for investors and jobs – it is a good channel for alerts. The Facebook page has a distinct bias towards sustainability stories – appropriate give the Facebook-user demographic. There is a busy YouTube channel, too.
More fertile ground
And so on. Here are other features or characteristics worth examining, and perhaps borrowing.
Heavy use of RSS feeds, with four separate feeds for investors, one for customers, one for jobs.
A legal disclaimer running down the left side of the Twitter page – a good way of getting round the legalities (though it does not work on Tweetdeck and other such platforms).
A link from the Twitter feed to the equivalent RSS feed (why not the other way round, too?).
Well-organised FAQs, with a ‘Suggest an FAQ’ feature.
An excellent ‘Why invest?’ feature in Investors, to help potential shareholders understand the industry. The top-level information is simple, but clicking leads to much more, including the Online Overview microsite. It could be better signposted, but the content is impressive – come here to find out about the economics of Chinese paddy rice.
A slickly executed Investor Briefcase. While many companies have devices that allow visitors to gather and download documents together, this is very easy to use, with options to see the relevant page in the Library, download a PDF or order a print version.
The webcasts are outstanding and do not demand a tedious registration process. Look at the 2010 Analyst Meeting multimedia display: video, slides with thumbnails, Q&A session included, MP3 downloads.
As I have hinted, the site is well off being perfect – I can throw in over-emphasis on PDFs as another problem – but as a place to go to get inspiration and ideas, it is hard to beat.
First published on 08 September, 2010