So I’ve been put in charge of our web projects… Where do I begin?

Two people questions 1One day the boss decides that someone should be in charge of “our web site”, “our Facebook page” or whatever it is that our company has been using… Usually when a refresh is required and no one quite knows who is in charge… And you are the one chosen by the gods. Congratulations, this is a great opportunity, and I will try to give you some ideas.

The good news is this position can be a learning experience, a good stepping stone for your career and even a lot of fun. Beyond being the “it” guy or gal at your company, at the center of all things new and cool, you will also have the opportunity to generate actual value for your company, by making your customer’s lives easier, more interesting and more productive.

The bad new is there is a confusion between web media and its actual use. In the mind of your boss you will be in charge of “being on the web”, coordinating with existing marketing campaigns and presenting reports on the number of visitors and “Likes”. None of that will actually generate any value for your company, and while your boss means well, you will need to change this perception so everyone is on the same frequency and has the right expectations for the web and for you. In the end your boss is thinking of results, sales, costs, profits, growth, and you will need to make the connection with the web; fear not, you won’t be doing this on your own.

The first thing you need to ask for is a job description; If the job description doesn’t exist your HR department may need to ask a specialist to generate one, but you need to be aware that not all descriptions are equally useful, and some may put you on the wrong track.

The right job description for a Web Coordinator (or whatever it’s called at your company) will first establish two high level goals, which are “How the web affects our business” and “How we can use the web to improve our business”; together they can be heartily accepted by your boss and define a Web Medium Strategy. At the heart of these goals is knowing our business and our customers, and is not something that can be expected immediately of someone new to the position. Knowledge of our customer already exists somewhere in your company, and your first task may be to find a way to collect it, usually from stakeholders; the second part of the equation is for you to express to these stakeholders how the web is affecting their customers and how we can use the web to help their results.

A second level goal derived from this is a Content Strategy defined by specific projects, their goals, and scope. My way of generating a content strategy is through the customer’s experience with our product, unearthing specific opportunities to improve it.

A third level goal is to manage projects and in particular to understand the resources involved in each project, from Information Architecture, to Usability, to Development and Design. The Web Coordinator doesn’t need to be a specialist in these areas but needs to understand them well enough to know which ones are more important for each project and what to ask of each web specialist. There are many courses and books available to understand each area, but your boss needs to understand they will require a specific investment, mostly in time.

The wrong job description will make your life a lot harder because it falls back on a default that isn’t working, which will have you running after specialists who in the end can only generate empty media like web sites and social pages devoid of any interest for your customers and thus of results for your company. You can find a way of rating your website here.

The wrong assumption here is that we will be generating web forms like web sites, or social pages, or pretty design, or fancy technology, to which we can later bolt on some content or functionality; what we need is to be generating whatever it is that helps our customers and our business, which defines our content, which we can then deliver in whichever form our customer is using or is likely to find most useful: a very clear case of function first, form second.

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Whom should we hire to do our web site?

Wrench and screwdriverThe very first question should be: what do you want your website to do? What should you be using the web in general for? The problem with not having these questions solved first is that you’ll find yourself with a default answer provided by web vendors: you’ll want a pretty site, will say the designer; you’ll want a cool platform, will say the developer; you’ll want to be popular on social media, will say the twitter user; you’ll want the magic of SEO will say the SEO expert… But none of these are directly related to your business goals. How can you tell? Because your website will be empty of content, won’t address anyone and thus won’t be found by anyone, or it will have generic content of little value for your customers, which may even hinder your long term relationship with them.

A second related question is that not all web functions can be outsourced. If you think of your web presence as a tool to help in the delivery of your brand’s promise, this is something that can only be accomplished inside your company, as no one outside will know your customers better.

So who should you hire first? Whoever knows your customer best, whoever has a stake in sales to customers and your customer’s experience… In other words, probably you or some of your colleagues… Who already work with you. Once you’ve established what the web can do for you, you can then ask specific tasks of web specialists, and they’ll thank you for being more specific.

Who should be in charge of our web projects?


Ultimately the web can be profitably used to attract clients, help them solve their needs through our products and services, and make their overall experience with our product more productive and pleasant. This can also be seen as delivering on our brand’s promise, and catching up to our customer’s expectations which are being changed by the web itself. This gives us some idea of who should be in charge of our web projects.

Since the web can be used to reach more clients and expand their experience around our product, a logical choice would be whoever is charge of new business development: depending on your organization this could be your CEO or your brand or product managers. The relationship is even stronger when our use of the web has implications for adapting or improving our product itself. For instance a coffee brand may use the web to help its customers express how they prefer their drink, which may be different from the custom in the brand’s country of origin. In this case the person in charge needs to balance the opportunity to serve a new market with the risk of diluting the original brand.

Web projects can also be seen as the natural purview of Marketing, since we are talking about the brand and fulfilling its promise. There is a specific danger as the marketing department can easily fall on its default use of other media but now on the web, with the resulting campaigns generating advertising that is irrelevant or annoying to our customers. The biggest cost of traditional advertising on the web is that we are missing out on the stream of queries from our customers, eroding their trust in us and putting our long term relationship with them in jeopardy.

Given that the web has an effect on many business areas the CEO may need to be the team leader. Taking into account the amount of work CEOs already have to cope with, they may need to delegate this task but remain the ultimate stakeholder. The easiest way to begin is to define the stakeholders, and from this an executive team.

From the impact of the web on our business we can also see who should not be in charge: our web projects are clearly not design projects, so the arts department or an external designer with no knowledge of our customers and our business cannot generate the goals and the specific web solutions. Once we have a web medium strategy, a content strategy that responds to specific opportunities, then we will certainly require functions such as information architecture and usability testing that will help us give form to specific web projects – and even this is far removed from “web decoration”.

The same logic applies to our IT department or external developers: some technology will be required but technology by itself with no content is of no value to us. Our IT department’s contribution could be invaluable once we define the goals of our projects and a content strategy, as they could help us choose the best web technology, manage suppliers and have better control of our digital assets.

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