Traits of an Effective Web Steering Committee

A 14-year veteran of the interactive active agency world, I’ve seen all different sorts of ways that medium to large companies handle the Web channel. How they’re structured, how they make decisions, where they report into, etc.

We all remember back when the Web team or webmaster reported into information technology (IT). The marketing department, often on the outside looking in, had minimal feedback especially when it came to the way the brand was expressed. Then, the Web channel broke away from IT and even the parent company. Remember (Kmart), (Barnes & Noble), (American Greetings), etc. Very often these companies had have their own profit and loss statement. In a few cases this worked, but in many or most cases it didn’t.

Over the past four to five years, it’s become more common for the Web team to sit inside of marketing. Of all the options, this is probably the most natural fit, but still has some significant problems.

These problems exist because the Web for larger companies encompasses too many aspects of the business to fit within just one group. In a way to be most effective it must stand alone while at the same time have significant representation from many different groups within the company.

Now, “stand alone” often can cause problems. Keep in mind, I’m not talking about a standalone company, but more of a department within the company. Again, all key groups must be represented.

Often can be established through the creation of a Web steering committee. Again, I have seen this done effectively as well as very ineffectively. Based on my observations, here are my learnings:

Why Create a Web Steering Committee

First things, first. What’s a Web steering committee? It’s a cross-functional team that helps guide a Web channel’s strategy. If done correctly, this helps ensure there’s equal representation across the entire company so it doesn’t turn into being only about e-commerce, driving leads, offline sales, or customer service. It a way to avoid having the brand team chime in and say the Web team’s activities are “off-brand.” Think of the Web steering committee as your board of directors for the Web channel — senior people with a strong overall company strategic focus. Its members should help look at near-term success while also focusing on what’s best long-term.

Who to Include on a Steering Committee

This can depend based on your organization, but I recommend the following for most organizations:

  • The Web team’s leader.
  • Branding lead.
  • Sales lead.
  • Customer service lead.
  • IT/technical representative.
  • Finance lead (monetization, prioritization, budgeting).
  • Optimization lead.
  • Web analytics/performance marketing lead (ideally including someone with knowledge of attitudinal, satisfaction, usability, web analytics, etc.).
  • Customer/traffic acquisition lead (online media, search, offline media, PR, etc.).

It works best if this team is kept to 10 or fewer people who are senior leaders involved in company strategy. It’s also key they have and make the time to regularly attend and actively participate. There’s a natural desire to send a junior team member who can easily attend every meeting. While this seems like a good idea, it generally doesn’t work. That’s because it’s difficult for a junior employee to go back to her leader and cover what was discussed and decided. Often this leads to a ton of back channel discussions. If you’re going to commit to a Web steering committee, make it a priority for the senior leads to attend.

Traits of a Successful, Healthy Web Steering Committee:

  • Representation from all key groups.
  • Senior leadership from represented groups.
  • Methodology for measuring overall site performance.
  • Process for prioritizing initiatives based on business impact. (Monetization anyone? See past columns if you’re not familiar with monetization and why it’s imperative for success Web measurement and optimization.
  • Engaged participants.
  • Frequent/regular meetings. (At minimum, they should be either bi-weekly or monthly.)

Why Web Steering Committees Fail:

  • Political infighting.
  • Lack of senior representation.
  • Not making the steering committee participation a high priority.
  • Lack of accountability.

Last week, I attended a Web steering committee meeting at a large organization. This particular committee is aiming in the right direction, and got me thinking about the traits of healthy committees and ineffective ones. Again, when these committees are done correctly they can greatly improve the Web channel’s ROI (define) and its overall impact on the business.

If you don’t have a Web steering committee with this type of representation, consider it. If you already have one that isn’t functioning well or missing some of the elements outlined above, you might want to print out this column and slip it onto the desk of every committee member as well as senior leadership in each of these areas!

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