For Content’s Sake, Collaborate

Did you ever present to a group and inspire groans instead of applause?

Well, it happened to me, but only because I brought up an apparently painful topic. Last September, I addressed my healthcare marketing colleagues at a national conference and asked those who were responsible for their organizations’ Web sites to raise their hands. Almost half of the audience members raised their hands, but a few of those hand-raisers did so with loud, painful groans. Now, since my talk wasn’t specifically on Web sites and I didn’t want to turn the session into 90 minutes of “try to top this Web site horror story,” I decided to wait until after my presentation to determine the source of all those moans and groans.

Why did the words “Web site” and “responsibility” elicit such agony? I later discovered that most of my marketing colleagues enjoyed the responsibility of overseeing their organizations’ Web sites. “It’s just the frustration you encounter along the way,” one of the groaners later confided. “Everyone — from accounting to sales to finance — has a great idea for the Web site but no concept of how to get it implemented. Once you do synthesize everyone’s input into a viable plan, your strategy has to pass your tech department’s reality test. And even the most responsive of tech teams often have to deliver bad news — that your plan either can’t be done or will need a bigger budget or more time than anyone anticipated.”

Apparently, my healthcare peers aren’t the only ones trying to find the best “home” within the organization for the all-important Web site. Whereas direct mail, the company newsletter, and print or broadcast advertising are all very clearly in marketing’s domain, the Web site (and the much larger Internet technologies) is a little fuzzier.

The following are the most typical structures to consider.

The Marketing Department

For traditional companies (the “bricks”), giving the marketing department responsibility for the Web site makes sense since your site is essentially another method of interacting with target audiences and is often another point of sales. Marketers are also the organization’s communicators — the folks who craft the content of the message as well as its adherence to the brand. A savvy marketer will simply not let his or her Web site succumb to weak content and inconsistent messages. The same goes for customer service (which often lies somewhere in the realm of marketing). Marketers know that lousy customer service — especially on a Web site — can quickly lose a customer.

But marketers aren’t always the most tech-savvy in an organization (and, yes, I know there are exceptions). What happens when your content-rich site crashes day after day? And, of course, what happens when you encounter the situation that evoked so may groans from my colleagues — too many technical expectations and no one with the expertise to make it happen? There are those who argue that to have the best-functioning and most up-to-date bells and whistles, a site should be under the eye of…

The Information Services Department

Giving information services (IS) the reins means fewer Web breakdowns that wreak havoc on a company’s image. Also, IS usually has a better grip on reality than us pie-in-the-sky marketers who want our Web sites to scream with interactivity. And, for those marketers who don’t read the trade journals night and day, the IS department can help an organization stay ahead of the curve — creating new capabilities and setting new standards. But there’s some risk in giving IS the first and last say in decisions affecting an organization’s Web site — especially if your organization tends to work in “silos.” Divorce the marketing department from Web site activities — and say adieu to effectively communicating your organization’s message. Perhaps the answer is…

A Dedicated Web Department

Does this work? It depends on how many “silos” you’ve already built. It’s very possible this new department will eventually lose ground to traditional IS and marketing activities and become the offbeat child no one knows how to handle. All this politicking could lead to…

Outsourcing the Web Site Entirely

To me, this is a last resort. Say hello to canned content, racking up bills for every little modification, and consultants who tell you what your message should be. (OK, I know I’m going to get letters about this, but, generally, that’s the bill of fare.) My recommendation is what makes sense in just about every organization…

A Collaborative Effort

A coordinated strategy between IS, marketing, and all other interested parties clearly makes the most sense. When all come to the table with their talents and expertise, the results are always the most favorable. Accountability is key for this structure to work. IS ensures the site works and stays ahead of the curve. By keeping the content current, meaty, and responsive to customer needs, marketing is always enhancing the brand (a tall order, but that’s our job, folks!). I also suspect there are fewer groans from organizations that successfully adopt this structure.

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