What you need in order to govern

Web estates may not seem to have much in common in the way they are run, but there are eight touchstone requirements for success, David Bowen says.

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I don’t write many columns about web governance – how to manage websites and online estates. Which seems strange, because in our consulting work it is a key – often the key – part of the job. There is good reason for this misalliance, though. In a survey on governance that we carried out a year ago, the answers were so varied it was impossible to spot meaningful patterns or trends. Generalisation is tricky, and without generalisation a columnist is lost.

But it should not be impossible. When it comes to websites, we can list a number of basic rules. We really should be able to do the same with the way they are managed. So here goes.

1. You need senior level backing

In the best of all possible worlds, the manager in charge is him or herself senior (this is largely why shell.com works so well). But a good second best is to have a top executive involved as sponsor, providing backing and, if necessary, battering down departmental walls to make sure the online estate – by its nature a cross-border enterprise – can do what it needs to do.

2. You need a senior committee

It should probably be chaired by your senior-level backer (see above), to make strategic decisions and ensure that a good chunk of heavyweight management is engaged. It need not take up much of its members’ time, but it will keep online communications somewhere near the front of their minds.

3. You need a central web team

One that can get things done – it can be small, but it must have both skill and influence. It is easiest to have influence if the person in charge is reasonably senior. But at the least they must be able to call on the senior sponsor when they need.

4. You need a team leader with the right personality

That is: charming, patient, skilled, flexible, subtly ruthless. A combination of Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci and Machiavelli should do the trick.

5. You need an editor

A real editor from the old days who knows how to find stories, write them, edit them, write headlines (for the home page) and – from the new days – has an understanding of video and a fascination with the possibilities of multimedia. Sounds like a tall order, but there are so many journalists who have been thrown out of work by the rise of the Internet. Grab one.

6. You need your organisation’s online people to work together

Which means you need mechanisms and processes to make sure they can collaborate, share best practice, avoid common mistakes. It can be a committee or team; perhaps a blurry mix of the two.

7. You need to cover all channels, not just websites

The arrangement that persists in some companies – where the website is managed by corporate comms and social media by marketing – makes no sense. Managing channels such as Facebook and Twitter requires specific skills, which may have to be bought in, but only the web team will have the helicopter view needed to make everything work together. ‘Content strategy’ – what goes where – is a phrase of the year. If you are a web manager who does not currently control group level social media channels, use its trendiness to make a grab for them.

8. You need to batter down silos

This is a standard management consulting thing to say. But with online it is so, so important: a web estate that is divided like a traditional company makes no sense. HR may only be interested in the careers bit, but jobseekers – its customers – will want to find out everything about the company. Journalists will not go only to the press section; customers – some at least – will want to know about the company, not just the products; and so on. The ‘newsroom’ approach employed by some companies – where different corporate departments work in one big room and share ideas – is a good start. Next stop, get rid of the distinction between marketing and corporate communications. Renaming corporate comms ‘group level marketing’ would start a healthy blurring process….

You may have spotted a problem as I get toward the end – I am talking not about reorganising the web estate, but about reorganising the company. About decisions not made by a senior manager, but by the board in a radical moment.

Fantasy? Well, we may have arrived at the ultimate governance rule: You need a board that understands that the internet really is vital, not just for selling products or services, but for selling the brand, the reputation, the essence of the group itself. Get that one accepted, and the other rules will naturally fall into place.

First published 09 April, 2014
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