Finding your Purpose

I read somewhere recently – Jakob Nielsen’s site, methinks – about the number of websites in the world growing exponentially to meet the two billion or so users who now have access to the internet. We’re now into the tens of millions or so: pretty phenomenal stuff given the web’s only been about for a decade.

Later that week I got into a discussion which made me wonder just how many of those websites had been set up with a true purpose: that is, something more than the banal “to reinforce the brand” or “to sell more product.”

The blog

The friend in question had a potential client who was a member of parliament MP). Said client, not to reinforce stereotypes, obviously had a nephew or niece (or some other member of the “yoof” demographic) that had recommended he use a blog as the centrepiece of the site. The idea was that the MP, upon rising each morning, would contemplate the state of the world, newspapers or his navel that morning and share his thoughts with whichever of those 2 million people users happened to be tuning in.

The first thought on hearing this is that the MP might have been a bit presumptuous: with a many hundreds of MP’s in Australian Parliaments, and the somewhat unpopular nature thereof, there’s no guarantee of an audience tuning in each morning with bated breath. If the flow is a trickle, then the resources spent – not that my friend isn’t worth the money – is largely wasted.

But a worse scenario, in certain circumstances, is that people, in particular the media, do tune in. Recently a Queensland MP, following a much-publicised (fatal) shark attack, attempted to put the incident in perspective, without trivialising the trauma to the family of the victim. All well and good in theory, but the media who relayed his article only remembered one sentence:

“People are meat. Sharks eat meat.”

The point, in this instance, is to consider the possible implications of problems before the code is tapped out. If the MP concludes his words are still vital, a simple strategy of a media advisor check might mitigate the risk entirely.

The Story of Milk

A former client, who will remain nameless, was a very well known manufacturer of food, snacks and beverages. Somewhere along the line, four web sites had been set up about … milk drinks. Not totally unknown amongst consumer products of course, but typically this is merely a vehicle, using competitions prizes or other giveaways in the hope of imprinting their logo on the user’s retina during the application process.

This client, however, hardly ever ran competitions or giveaways, and had a policy expressly forbidding links to websites outside the multinational. The result being that nutritional information aside, the most useful content to be found on any of the sites was “the story of chocolate.”

Conclusion

A company wouldn’t set up an office or launch a product without first sitting back and considering the variables, like potential customer traffic, distribution channels and the like. Yet the first step in putting together a website is often to open FrontPage and throw in the corporate logo.

Improvement isn’t that hard – just a few basics during the planning process:

  • Use cases – who exactly is it you’re looking to communicate with?
  • The right resources – why are you writing site content if you don’t write brochures and ad copy?
  • A business case, and in particular objectives like Return on Investment, site traffic and sales.

Get these right, and you’re in with a chance of the website helping your business.

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