Putting ‘increasingly irrelevant websites’ in context

Valuable comment from a local government webby following my post about visiting the public sector web manager’s group conference a few weeks back.

James from East Devon raises issue with me about Lincolnshire council’s plan to turn off their intranet in three years time. I said that it was ‘an obvious extension of the ‘corporate website is increasingly irrelevant‘ mantra’.

James responds that the Lincolnshire ‘intranet’ isn’t really that at all, its a knowledge management tool with no integration to online systems or directories.

“All of that, of course, is an internal issue for Peter and his council but I wouldn’t want anyone reading your blog to think that it was an endorsement of “corporate websites being increasingly irrelevant”. I believe they’re more relevant than ever and can be used in increasingly creative ways to improve delivery of information, systems and communication.”

I agree with James that corporate websites and intranets are valuable and relevant tools. They’re not going to disappear in a hurry. I think there’s a difference between ‘increasingly irrelevant’ and ‘dead as a dodo’ so perhaps I should explain what I think it is.

For many organisations up to now, including in the public sector, ‘web’ has meant their internet and intranet sites. Companies have recognised the need to be online and responded by resourcing teams or outsourcing requirements for a corporate presence online. Those sites have typically expanded over the years; some strategically and user-focused, others sprawling with legacy content and design.

The point that Jeremiah Owyang makes is that, for most organisations, owned and controlled domains – and the desire that they rank high in search results – has been their only requirement for online activity up to now. That has to change as new methods of online marketing, outreach and engagement develop and mature.

Corporate domains will continue to be important (and for government there are specific issues around being a trusted source for information) but they will increasingly exist as part of a wider mix of digital channels that organisations will need to appropriately utilise. This is nothing new, its fairly classic marketing and communications theory – audiences, needs, messages and appropriate delivery channels.

The ‘irrelevance’ stems from them potentially becoming less important if your audience is elsewhere online. Why put all your resources into your corporate domain if engagement would be more effective elsewhere? We use this line of thought at MoJ to support our use of Direct Gov:

The corporate domain is primarily for stakeholders. We get between 300,000 and 500,000 unique visitors a month. Direct Gov is primarily for citizens. They get between 10 and 15 times our monthly traffic. Why create online content and services for citizens and locate it on our domain when the chances of reaching the very people that want them are massively increased elsewhere?

Similarly, if your staff have internet access why spend large sums of money procuring collaborative tools for your intranet when similar (and often better) tools exist online and cost very little to use? (assuming there are no data security issues of course…)

Of course, many public sector organisations are only resourced to manage their corporate web presences and intranets at present. That’s what makes the challenge interesting and more difficult – how to respond to the opportunities with limited resources and build a case for doing it.

Does that make sense?

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