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Your website is not your presence

Your website is not your presence

The 2004 race for the Whitehouse was the first time that the web was central to the communication strategies of Democrat and Republican Presidential candidates on the election trail.  The web is at the core of their strategies again in 2008, but it could not be used more differently than it was in 2004, proving that the web, and those who use it strategically, have grown up a lot in four years.

In 2004, Bush and Kerry both organised campaigns through the web, they complemented their media campaigns with web messages, their imagery, design and messages matched closely in the online and offline worlds.  So what’s the difference?

In 2004 the presidential web strategies centred around the candidates’ websites, but in 2008 the web strategies of the would–be Republican and Democratic candidates are based on social media, networking sites, blogs and discussion forums.  Battles which were once fought only on TV prime time are now raging on YouTube, Bebo, MySpace, Blogger, and Facebook.

Music videos and speeches enjoy their own channels on YouTube.  Social media groups are set up on Bebo, MySpace and Facebook for each of the candidates.  Supporters and employees of each candidate read and post responses onto blogs.  The smart web savvy candidates recognise that what people once scrolled about you on walls they now write about you on blogs.  Blogging is the new graffiti.

Smart web strategists recognise that we are no longer in control of the message.

However there remain companies who refuse to accept that if their website tells half truths that their customers can find the full truth a matter of clicks away.  Companies who don’t get this don’t get the web.

Consider the Dublin based baggage handling company who encountered a prominent Irish blogger complaining that their service was slow and unprofessional.  Their response wasn’t to listen and improve, it was to sue.

The blogger took great joy in scanning and publishing the solicitors letter on his blog for all to see.  Within a matter of days many other bloggers had published similar bad experiences, and indeed such was the volume of interest that within two weeks the blog post had reached the front page of Digg, a social networking news site.

More worryingly for the company, due to the popularity and linkages of the blog, Google started displaying the blog entry at number one on the search results, pushing the company’s main website into second spot.  The baggage handler’s response?

They signed the blogger up for a dating website!

You couldn’t make it up.

This baggage handling company failed to realise that their website wasn’t their web presence.  You can’t lose bags, provide lousy service, sign people up for dating sites and make it all OK with a solicitors letter and a smiley website.

Sure, our websites might say warm, fuzzy, sugary, marketing things about us, but the blogs that comment on our products and services, the discussion forums where our customers congregate tell the real truth.  Wikipedia is now a more trusted source of information on some businesses, politicians and movie stars than their official websites are.

This is because web has empowered customers to become more cynical, discerning, savvy, distrustful and suspicious than at any time in history.  They are sick of being marketed to and they come to the web to get past the marketing waffle.

The web has put the customer in control like never before.  Deal with it.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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