How to channel your content to the right place at the right time

Creating an effective plan to manage corporate online content has never been trickier, and never more important, Jason Sumner says.


Every year before our annual conference (taking place this week in Brussels) we ask our network of corporate digital managers what they most want to hear about, and this year ‘content strategy’ topped the list. We were a little surprised, because ‘content strategy’ is a term that has only recently got traction in corporate web circles, and suddenly it was leading the agenda.

The rise of ‘content strategy’ happened so fast that we are not even sure content is the best term to describe ‘what goes on websites’ (eg, words, sounds and images). This is a point my colleague David Bowen made in our last commentary when he suggested ‘editorial’ might be the more appropriate term.

We have seen clients show similar ambivalence about labels – one digital manager we know changed the title of an internal presentation on online ‘editorial strategy’ to ‘content strategy’ so it would be better understood by colleagues. And despite our own reservations, we chose to call our new report being published this week, ‘Creating, implementing and measuring your online content strategy’, in a shameless bid to stay in step with the zeitgeist.

Whatever you or we think of the label though, the fact remains that deciding ‘what goes on websites’ – or more accurately where it goes has got a lot more complicated recently. Why?

Fifty-seven channels and nothing on?

We make the point in our report that the interest in online content strategy is being driven partly by new web formats – interactive graphics, video, animation, etc. They are becoming cheaper to produce and more people can see them as broadband spreads.

The most important reason though, we think, is fragmentation. The number of channels on which and for which to produce content has exploded – across social media, new devices and new geographies (eg, emerging markets that demand sophisticated, localised content).

A good example is what has happened to careers information across Procter & Gamble’s sprawling online estate. Material is spread across its global site, country sites, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc, with none of it very joined up. This makes it very confusing for the jobseeker, obviously. But from the company perspective the messages it wants to convey are being diluted on so many different channels. Not only that, P&G is wasting time and money by duplicating content across multiple channels. This is not just a P&G problem – it is typical of a lot of large online estates.

Keeping the customer satisfied

For our content strategy report, we did an online survey of digital managers. One of the questions asked which audiences for online corporate content they expected to ‘grow in importance’ during the next 12 months. Customers ranked the highest, with sixty per cent of respondents said this audience would grow in importance over the next 12 months. This was higher than jobseekers, business partners, the media or CSR professionals.

We think this reflects, to some extent, pressures within organizations to ‘prove the value of the corporate website’. Other data in the survey reinforces the point – two-thirds of respondents agreed that ‘the lines between corporate online communication and marketing are becoming increasingly blurred’.

This should not mean that corporate websites are seen internally as otherwise worthless only if used as an e-commerce tool to close sales; or as an outlet for aggressive marketing. The solution is more nuanced than that. We think it makes sense, from an internal point of view, to stress that the website is part of ‘group-level marketing’, not ‘just’ corporate communications. ‘Customers’ should be seen to include all the audiences that can help a company’s reputation and brand, whether they buy its products and services or not.

Companies getting this right tend to do exactly what is appropriate for their company and sector. There tends to be a strong customer focus on accountancy firm and management consultancy websites, for example, without the hard sell that would put off their clientele. (and others in the sector) pitch issue-based ‘thought leadership’ relentlessly on their home pages. ‘Advisory’ pages describing services are deeper in the site. In the industrial sector, Siemens has great signposts and shortcuts to product information on its website. Behind the scenes, it maps user journeys to better direct customers and has metrics associating numbers of visitors with leads and sales. This is the corporate website ‘proving its worth’ as a marketing & sales devices, without losing sight of its wider ‘comms’ job.

Governing the whole estate

We think the corporate website and corporate-level social media channels should be governed together because they are all part of the same communications effort. The respondents in our survey agree with our view – 42 per cent said they already have a strategy in place to integrate content for the website and social media channels, and 39 per cent said their strategies are currently separate but they plan to integrate them in the next 12 months.

Our respondents are probably ahead of the curve – anecdotally we see a lot more examples of disjointed management. As we highlight in the report, BBVA, a Spanish bank, has 34 Facebook pages and comparable numbers of pages on Twitter and LinkedIn across its multiple business lines and geographies. And even in our survey there is some evidence of confusion about execution – about half of respondents admitted they do not yet understand ‘how different social media platforms complement the corporate website’.

We go into more detail in the report, but we think channel proliferation makes the corporate website more important than ever. It is highly likely that for any large corporate’s online content strategy, the website sits at the centre of the online ‘universe’ with social media channels sitting alongside.

An important first step in addressing channel proliferation is to stop looking at ‘social media’ as one entity, but to delineate the exact purposes of each channel. For example, some social media channels, such as YouTube, are actually publishing platforms; some, like Twitter, are distribution channels. Facebook is arguably both. The process of creating a content strategy should be a chance to think about your organization’s content in a coherent way, across all channels, from all departments, at the same time.

An editor – artist or scientist?

If the website and social media are all part of the same publishing effort, then we think it is essential that the whole estate has an editor – someone who is responsible for deciding what goes where, in addition to overseeing quality control. The editor should be a manager too – ensuring that the overall content (or if you prefer, ‘editorial’) plan is being executed appropriately. This person also ensures that the ‘content strategy’ is used as it should be – as an evolving guide, not as a rigid set of rules.

The editor even has a key role to play in ‘content metrics’. Before content even makes it online to be measured by hits, bounce rates, visitor satisfaction, ‘shares’, etc, the editor serves as a gatekeeper, answering highly subjective questions. Is it interesting? Is it appropriate for our audience? In this way the ‘art’ of the editor’s qualitative judgment informs the quantitative ‘science’ of website measurement.

For a free copy of Fragmentation ahead: Creating, implementing and measuring your online content strategy, please email Dan Drury:

First published 24 June, 2015
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