April 24, 2012 11:56 pm

FT Bowen Craggs Index 2012

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Total's Elgin PUQ platform©PA

Online outlets: Total has used its website and twitter feed to post updates about a gas leak in the north Sea

Last month, Goldman Sachs used the homepage of its corporate website to respond to an attack by one of its former managers in the New York Times. This month, Total has been posting updates about its gas leak in the North Sea.

Journalists say company websites are critically important sources of information and customers are increasingly using them to try to investigate the ethics of companies they are buying from.

The corporate website is the core of a company’s online presence, and in many ways the most important communication channel it owns. Yet the evidence in our latest survey is that an alarming number of companies fail to understand or act on that.

This is the sixth Financial Times Bowen Craggs Index of corporate website effectiveness. While there has been some progress, there are too many sites where effectiveness appears to have stalled, or even gone into reverse:

•Last year we said Hewlett-Packard’s site was a mess – for example, there were two newsrooms with the same information. There still are, and the site seems more confusing

Pfizer has several references to 2005, as though they are current

Vodafone’s homepage is almost unchanged in a year

•A number of US companies have forgotten that their site is used by an international audience: ExxonMobil offers 15 cents off fuel; General Electric talks mostly about the US

•Chinese sites remain stuck in a rut. There has been almost no improvement in the past six years

Intel and Barclays have decided to reinvent the way people get around their sites; and have botched it

•A number of companies, including Goldman Sachs, have jumped on to the iPad bandwagon, making their sites look like apps, but not behave like them. It does not work.

These six points fit into two categories. The first four reflect a lack of interest, and resources. The last two show almost the opposite – plenty of interest, but misdirected.

Web agencies must bear some responsibility. Barclays and others have swallowed the line that conventional menus should be abandoned in favour of something more “stylish”. They should not.

Our Index looks at online communications as a whole. So we also examine how corporations are using social media channels and apps.

There is a great deal of activity here, some of it exciting and one example – the iPad app from Shell – provides convincing evidence that an app can take on a corporate website and beat it hands down.

But many companies have simply latched on to the latest technologies – whether iPad apps or Google+ pages – without considering how they will work with their website, YouTube channels, Twitter feeds and the rest.

The sudden omnipresence of these technologies is part of the problem. Resources are being spread too thin and the need for speedy implementation is winning over strategy.

Behind all these issues lies a lack of senior management engagement, or so it would appear. The companies that have done well are those where bosses understand how important online communication is, and have diverted – relatively trivial – but appropriate resources towards them coherently.

Too many of the others have jumped on passing technology bandwagons, but failed to manage them strategically. That should be a real concern not just for the comms team, but for the board.

More details in the accompanying pieces and at www.bowencraggs.com/ftindex

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