Corporate websites: do we need them?

3 January 2013

Earlier in 2012, Nick Scott wrote about the decline of the corporate website. And then he went ahead to redesign and relaunch ODI’s site. Later in the year, James Georgalakis, Head of Communications at IDS, wrote about how they had also redesigned and relaunched their website, asking if it is wrong to herald the death of the corporate website.+

Yesterday, Suzanne FisherMurray from IIED joined the discussion with a comment on James’ post that reflects on IIED’s own website redesign earlier in 2012:

I’d agree that it’s not an either or choice –both an institutional website is important, but so is investing time in social media and online networks. That’s why IIED redesigned its website, became active on a number of social media channels and broke down barriers between the main website and our social media channels. For example, our twitter feed now pulls through onto our homepage.

IIED wants its site to allow the visitor to participate with the work of the think tank. Central to their redesign is a “getting involved” feature.

And yesterday, too, Nick Scott rejoined the debate with a post of his own on the ODI blog:

As one of the people who has heralded the death of the institutional website, I wanted to take the opportunity in my post to restate where an institutional website can fit in the picture. I definitely think the direction of travel is that institutional websites will effectively be obsolete in a few years’ time, but I accepted when I first wrote on this subject – and still accept – that institutional website have a role in the present.

He’s allowed me to repost some of it so let me pick the bit that is most relevant for this discussion (but make sure to read the whole post: Corporate websites are ‘in decline’: so why the refresh of the ODI site? and join the conversation):

Why didn’t I practice what I preached? The answer comes in the closing sentence of the very same blog: ‘Organisations that get this right can have their cake and eat it: develop the website … but expect that over time more communications will take place in the places the website connects to.’

The technology didn’t support the strategy

I wanted ODI to ‘have our cake and eat it’, using the website as a central communications tool while it remained important, but also preparing for the future. The fact is that the old content management system that the website was run on couldn’t support either current or future use adequately. On each of the three planks of our digital strategy it failed to meet our needs:

  1. It didn’t connect easily to other sites or platforms, allowing us to push content to them. We would want this for effective being there communications’ that reach our audience wherever they may be.
  2. It didn’t allow readers to quickly access old content, or allow us to profile new and multi-media content we create around the web. We would require this to offer a comprehensive cradle to grey research’ tool that makes the most of research throughout its’ lifecycle.
  3. It was built using bespoke technology, meaning we had to build every innovation for ourselves rather than taking advantage of content and technologies made freely available on the internet. We would have to do this to be ‘reusing the wheel‘, rather than reinventing it.

So our new site is built on an open source platform, Drupal. This is the one of the most commonly used content management systems, and one of the most developed-for. We hope our new site will allow us to:

  1. Do more with less effort by posting to other platforms automatically: Because there are so many developers working on Drupal, there are lots of people who have made modules to connect to other sites. So we will be able to more easily make our blogs available through Facebook, send links to Twitter, or use EventBrite to manage events.
  2. Be more flexible about how we bring together mixed media content and content from other sites: Most ODI website content uses a standard template. However sometimes we need to break out of straitjackets. The old website did not allow this; Drupal does. In the coming years, ODI will be able to bring together our video, audio, imagery as well as text. This will help to tell a coherent and enticing story of the disparate strands of communications being delivered across the web.
  3. Offer you, our users, a quicker and easier route to the information you require: It was hard to access to the full breadth of ODI work on our old site. Our new Search Centre is designed to allow all our content to be found quickly and easily. We hope this means that everything is found and read more, ensuring that our content continues to be found even when we aren’t actively promoting it anymore.

I think it is safe to say that all three would like to hear from you so do join in, here, in James’ post, Suzanne’s, or Nick’s.

I would like to know about new websites of think tanks in developing countries. What is behind their design (or redesign)? How did you go about doing so? How does it interact with other platforms and social media? Is it working? 

If you have examples to share, please contact me about them and we’ll feature them over the next few months. You can prepare a post for On Think Tanks, we can repost a post you have written elsewhere (for your own blog, for instance), or we’d be happy to conduct a short interview if that’s easier.