March 31, 2010
Once upon a time, Ugh raised the deer’s thighbone high above his head and brought it crashing down upon the head of a passing rabbit. Yum yum, rabbit stew for dinner and a nice new woolly patch to keep the cold from his nether regions.
At that moment in time, had Ugh and all his species killed one rabbit simultaneously the rabbit population wouldn’t even have been dented.
Fast forward a hundred thousand years or so, and if all of Ugh’s adult descendants in the UK killed a rabbit, there’d barely be any left.
This, put simply, is sustainability. The desire … nay, imperative … to take out of natural cycles only what can be replaced. It is not a solution for all time but we’re currently using 3 times the number of rabbits which actually exist. That, surely, can’t be sensible.
What has this to do with green websites though?
July 1, 2009
Remember the old printed company newsletter? If you were responsible for writing the monthly articles back then, you were probably stuck listing employee anniversaries and pushing what one former journalist has called “corporate propaganda.”
Corporate intranet sites have assumed many of the editorial features of the old monthly newsletters. But almost a decade into the transition, many corporate intranet sites have lost their power to communicate in a relevant, personalized, and effective way with their employee readers. For those corporate communicators who are responsible for maintaining the editorial freshness of their intranets, it’s critical that they keep in mind the needs, interests and reading habits of their audience.
While many complaints about intranets can be technical or navigational in nature, some are just plain communication blunders. Editors and writers seem to have forgotten that the same rules that apply to making an external internet site effective –being easy to read, full of current and interesting information -– apply equally to employees who aren’t always going to their intranet just to find the HR Department’s phone number.
One major pharmaceutical company allowed their intranet for their field sales staff site to become the equivalent of a corporate “kitchen junk drawer,” containing every link to every department across the company, cluttering the chance for any clear communications. It’s what the former CMO of a major consulting firm called a “Link-a-rama.”
According to the web site Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, many of the winners of the 10 Best Intranets of 2009 show that “intranet personalization is becoming increasingly sophisticated.” Says Nielson, the lead application of personalization is “to provide each employee with news updates focused on their job role and personal interests. If intranets show everyone everything, information overload ensues and people either ignore the news area or squander their time reading irrelevant stories.”
Today’s intranets can go beyond being the link to the company directory or security bulletins. One company that made the top 10 best sites is the COWI Group A/S, a Danish engineering, environmental science, and economics consulting firm. They enhanced their company employee profiles to highlight common users and created an interesting combination of personalization, social networking, along with the traditional staff directory.
The epitome of personalization for an intranet site is one that was developed by a major west coast networking company. They created an internal social network —taking the intranet model to its full potential. This employee experience network does everything from informing employees on the latest brand corporate positioning information to inviting employees to share stories, videos, experiences, thoughts and ideas about working with the company.
Intranet sites must now contend with the myriad of social network tools—Yammer, iChat, Facebook, Twitter, and an influx of software tools like SocialGo and Sixtent that allow corporations to build their own social network communities, replacing some of the older functions of intranet news.
In the end, intranets must be as topical and current in the way they communicate to employees as any external form of communication. If not, they risk just talking to themselves with no one listening.
I recently invited Larry Oakner to write this guest post for us about the corporate intranet. Larry is a Senior Brand Director at CoreBrand, a branding consultancy headquartered in New York, and has spent more than 30 years building brands, positioning companies, and managing strategic marketing projects. He has helped nearly four dozen Fortune 1500 companies implement their branding programmes internally throughout their organisations. Who better to talk to about internal corporate communications?
June 29, 2009
Continuing my visits to the investor home pages of FTSE 100 companies, I recently visited the Cadbury site. I think my decision to visit the site was subliminal – I’ve been on a diet lately, so perhaps I subconsciously thought that I could satisfy a craving for sweets by visiting their site. I didn’t lick the screen however – you have to draw the line somewhere.
Overall, I thought the Cadbury investor page was quite well done in terms of layout and the information content on the page. The left hand side of the page lays out the major sections within investor relations, enabling investors to find what they are looking for easily. My one quibble with the list of sections is the listing for RNS. Not everyone will know that this stands for Regulatory News Service, but as I say, it’s a quibble.
The center of the page presents important recent information to investors where they are most likely to look for it, while the right hand side of the page focuses on links to longer term information such as a half yearly trading update, management interviews and stock information. The layout and information presentation worked quite well for me.
Alas, I wish I could say as much for the graphic design elements of the page.
The investor page, as it should, carries over the design element of the Cadbury web site, which I find less than attractive and distracting. First, there’s the color – purple. I know that this is a confectionery company and some designer probably chose purple to signify fun and to carry through Cadbury’s signature color scheme, but to me purple printing is just plain ugly. And I say this an alumnus of Northwestern University, which has purple as one of its school colors. Secondly, the graphic elements of the page – uneven lines, ragged edges and lime green color splashes behind the photos, are distracting.
My overall impression on the design side is that Cadbury is trying too hard. Just like candy, a little bit of that stuff goes a long way.
June 19, 2009
Oddly, the Sunday Times ran two separate articles about corporate-speak this week, and though I would happily assign most examples of corporate-speak to the bin, I do want to defend some of it, and one word in particular.
The corporate-speak the ST was decrying falls into three main groups:
- Long-winded and pretentious phrasing, such as:
“High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process”
This example is highlighted by the Plain English website, and they translate it as:
“Children need good schools if they are to learn properly”.
It’s best to avoid this kind of writing: it is often intended to impress or to intimidate, and usually ends up with the reader suffering from bad brain fog.
- Management-speak clichés, such as ‘thinking outside the box’ or ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’. These are familiar to all of us by now, but they must have been fresh and surprising at some point.
Now they’re like Christmas cracker jokes, and just elicit a groan. New clichés, please…
- Jargon: language characteristic of a particular group or subject. Examples: ring game; toe-loop; pinking; deboss; and scuppers. (These are from poker, skating, sewing, printing, and sailing.)
And jargon is the type of corporate-speak I want to defend.
Technical term? Provide a glossary
All industries have their own technical terms. If you are deeply embedded in an industry, these terms don’t seem unusual at all, and each so precisely describes its subject that it would be absurd to use any other. Even though outsiders don’t have a clue what you mean. This is why we recommend using a glossary on the corporate website to explain any that might have crept in without being noticed.
And there is a clear need for using plain English wherever possible, at least if you’re trying to communicate with someone who is not within the industry, and therefore couldn’t be expected to know the technical terms.
This isn’t easy. One of the difficulties many website managers are dealing with is how to provide their information in an easily understandable form, appropriate for the audience they are aiming at.
Betting on the corporate website
Take, for example, our use of the word ‘stakeholder’. This word was vilified in both those articles in the Sunday Times this week.
The original meaning of the word was ‘someone entrusted to hold the stakes for people betting against one another, and required to hand the stakes to the winner’. This would have been someone trustworthy and independent, who probably didn’t have a stake in the bet.
Yet today it often means almost exactly the opposite: someone who does have an interest in ‘the bet’ – and probably a strong interest. In corporate terms, it describes people who are affected by, or who can affect, the actions of the business; those who have a stake in the success of the business. We use it to describe people with an interest in the corporate website. Examples include: investors, journalists, job-seekers, analysts, employees, suppliers …
This sometimes happens to words; the language changes constantly. (There’s a fascinating list of changes here, if you’re interested).
Does it matter? Does this change in meaning confuse people?
I don’t think it does, at least in this case. Using the words appropriate to the situation is important. In this case, using ‘stakeholder’ is a useful shortcut for ‘group of people with an interest in the business and therefore in the corporate website’ and will be understood by our primary audience. Avoiding using it will lead to repeatedly using long-winded phrasing; something to be avoided in itself.
What do you think? Is there ever a case for using jargon? Should all the language on a website be suitable for the averagely intelligent, averagely educated 14-year-old, or can some of it be more complex?
Is it even possible to remove all corporate jargon from the corporate website?
June 18, 2009
As promised in a previous post, here’s a roadmap to the four articles that comprise Dr. John Sullivan’s analysis of “127 suggested features or capabilities for the corporate careers website of the future.” The links will take you in order to the articles archived on Sullivan’s own website. (Links to the ere.net version are provided at the end of this post.)
Part 1: Contains an analysis of the current state of most Career sites; a list of “16 Reasons Why the Web Is a Powerful Recruiting Sales Tool”; an index of the “18 Categories of Website Features or Capabilities” that will be discussed in the series; and discussions of the first three categories, which are:
- Careers page easy to find on the lead-in page
- Immediate “wows” to get their attention
- Quick identification features
Each category has its own list, so Part 1 contains the first 23 of the 127 suggested features or capabilities. (The category names in the individual parts sometimes are not the same as they were on the index list, but they are similar.)
Part 2: Covers the next five categories, which are:
- Initial classification of the visitor
- Features that provide personalized information
- Personalized features and expedited treatment
- Features for attracting employed top performers
- Features for attracting active job seekers
This group brings the features/capabilities total to 56.
Part 3: Covers the next four categories, which are:
- Other information-gathering elements for all visitors
- Careers page features that sell them on the firm
- Jobs page features that sell visitors on this job
- Features that make it easy to find jobs
This group brings the features/capabilities total to 92.
Part 4: Wrapping up with the remaining six categories:
- Features that bring the firm to life and make the firm appear genuine
- Features that help assess job qualifications
- Features that provide feedback to candidates and that answer their questions
- Elements that help build the relationship over time
- Geographically localized features
- Other things to do related to the site, including metrics
The features and capabilities in the last category (Other things . . . ) are not numbered, so they are not included in the 127 total.
The links provided above are to the Sullivan site because the articles are more readable there and the titles are part numbered. If you prefer to read them on ere.net (where the list numbering is continuous) here are the links in order:
(Thanks to “Solo, with others” for a lakeside view of the advice business.)