Bold and beautiful - digital best practice from outside the corporate world

Claire Porteous shares online best practice in retail, education, advocacy and journalism, to inspire corporate digital teams.

Corporate digital teams are innovating all the time when it comes to new tools, techniques and approaches for communicating with their audiences on digital channels. Sometimes it is useful though to look outside the corporate environment for inspiration and fresh ideas. What can we learn from organizations, brands and individuals whose aims, budgets and cultures may have little in common with large companies, but which are doing interesting things online that could be adapted for corporate channels? 

Here are a few of the best examples we’ve seen recently in the wider digital world; simple tactics from non-corporate sites related to advocacy, thought leadership, social engagement and even a songwriter’s life story.

Big Think - share your big ideas (informally)

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Edutainment YouTube channel Big Think invites viewers to ‘Get smarter, faster, with the world’s greatest minds’. The channel delivers easily digestible content from internationally renowned experts and celebrities on a vast array of topics – for example Richard Branson talks advice for entrepreneurs and Neil deGrasse Tyson discusses ‘mind blowing space facts’.

The same kind of innovative thinking is happening in many organizations. Blogs and social media posts from experts and thought leaders are common but can feel too carefully edited and unnecessarily corporate (especially when accompanied by stock photography).

Content on Big Think is of a professional standard but is delivered in a way that feels unstudied and informal. Production values are not low, but nor are they too polished, and videos generally use simple composition, transitions and overlays.

Patagonia – put CSR content where customers can see it

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American apparel company Patagonia’s website is an engaging integration of online store and corporate site. The company’s commitment to environmental activism shines out of almost every page through a mix of clear copy and striking imagery and video – the ‘Activism’ section is also listed next to ‘Shop’ in the main menu.

Many companies hide engaging CSR content in a separate section on the corporate site. This may not be a problem for audiences such as analysts and jobseekers doing dedicated research, but what about visitors who land on customer-focused sites within your estate?

Clearly signposting corporate CSR content on product and brand sites, or better yet, integrating the information into the site’s overall messaging and imagery, helps to promote transparency for customers who increasingly want to know about the sustainability practices behind the products they consume.

Alan Menken – breathe life into biographies

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The portfolio site for American composer and songwriter Alan Menken, best known for his work in Disney films such as The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, is a joy to view in its own right.

Menken’s biography is written as a story which references other key characters in his life such as wife Janis Roswick and playwright Howard Ashman. The tone is engaging and professional – never cheesy.

Aspects of the approach could be adopted for executive biographies and company histories, to add a human dimension and personality for readers.

Also of note are the candid photos and the embedded video and audio. Companies with large historical archives could have some fun with this type of approach.

National Geographic – use original images on social media

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National Geographic’s Instagram account is, as would be expected, striking. The account invites users to ‘Experience the world through the eyes of National Geographic photographers’ who share experiences from their travels. But this account is not just about beautiful images – these individuals are also spreading the thought-provoking messages and newsworthy content behind each photo.

Not every company has National Geographic’s budget or access to the world’s best photographers, but National Geographic’s Instagram feed is a good reminder that building and maintaining engagement on Instagram requires editorial thinking and originality. Sourcing original photos from professionals where budgets allow is one way to build engagement, but employee-sourced photos, is another less expensive way to add an authentic feel, which jobseekers and employees are increasingly expecting.

Greenpeace – advocacy and personality on digital channels

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NGOs such as Greenpeace use online advocacy to influence opinions and create change in behaviours and policy, in a way that corporates can learn from.

Greenpeace, for example, inspires activism by taking unambiguous positions on issues, provides its employees with readily sharable content for social media, gives responsibility to local teams to create material that resonates with communities and connects with its audiences on an emotional level. These are all communications techniques that hold lessons for corporates attempting to connect with general audiences who may be sceptical of their record on environmental and social issues.

Claire Porteous is a consultant with Bowen Craggs

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First published 28 October, 2020
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