Any discussion on technology within small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will be incomplete without the discussion of the Web presence. The website is perhaps the most neglected part of the IT infrastructure. Part of the reason is that it still remains quite a chore to update the website. As a result, most websites (if they do exist) are out of touch with the reality of the entitys business activities. Used well, the website can in fact be a very powerful asset for SMEs. It is a cost-effective way to reach out to customers nearby and prospects worldwide.
It is an irony in the world of content management that it is so much easier for an individual to update a weblog than it is for an organisation to update a website. (On a related note, blogs are also so much more readable than corporate websites!) This is the thinking which makes me believe that organisations need to present a more personal side of their business on the web. Think of marketing as a conversation, as the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto suggest.
My ideal corporate website would have three parts to it, all built using a content management or blogging tool. The first part is the standard website as it exists today the about us, products and services, press section, contact us, and so on. This needs to be there because this is what most visitors are expecting to see. But the website needs to go beyond this with the addition of two new sections an Industry Outline and a Daily News.
The Industry Outline can be just a single page. It provides a list of resources and context for first-time visitors. It places the SME in the context of the industry, and highlights the various developments that are taking place. It becomes a kind-of ready reference for visitors. There are links, maybe a few comments on the news, statistics, events that are taking place, and so on. Much of this information is probably already known to people within the organization what I am suggested is that it needs to be made public, to make the page a fact-finder for others.
The Daily News is a weblog. It presents the whats new section with a personal touch. It should ideally be authored by one of the senior owner-managers, and thus should also be tinged with personal observations. It can also provide excerpts from relevant stories which have appeared elsewhere. It is the perfect complement to the Industry Outline, which provides the high-level view. The Daily News section provides a regularly updating collection of links, news and comments on relevant events as they take place. Reader should also be allowed to leave comments on the blog posts for everyone else to see. The weblog should also offer an RSS feed allowing interested readers to syndicate the content and receive it in their aggregator.
These two sections are not necessarily what one would expect to see on corporate websites. And that is precisely the reason they should be there! They help build a relationship with the visitor. They give a reason for a repeat visit. They provide a human touch to an otherwise impersonal presence. One side-effect of this will be that as others start linking to the site, the Google Rank will rise, making the site show up higher in the search rankings. Yes, there is a time commitment from management towards the online presence, and the benefits may not be immediately visible. But this is a differentiator which will provide a platform for the diffusion of ideas in a manner a late-coming competitor will find it hard to replicate.
Tomorrow: SME Wheel of Penetration
TECH TALK SMEs and Technology+T