Posts Tagged ‘ public relations ’

National identities on the web

As kids we identified far-off countries by flags. As teens we picked them out based on geographic shape and location.

But as adults, our identifying image for a country overseas could soon become its homepage. We already instinctively seek official websites for companies, organizations and individuals. Nations surely aren’t far behind.

So what are they showing us?

It’s quite a mixed bag, and the results are interesting enough that they were the basis of some really insightful research by one of my best professors this semester.

They’re also fodder for some much-deserved criticism by web designers. This immensely entertaining blog post got me thinking about the topic, as it lines up government websites from around the world and scrutinizes the flaws of each. There are some really puzzling examples. Why is it always fall in Cypress? Must people be blurry in Greece? Do the French really think red and purple make a good color scheme?

But there’s more to analyze here than just aesthetic design. Approach the sites from a public relations standpoint, and you can see how different nations have very different goals for their web portals. Nations like Poland, Denmark, Israel, and Singapore have appealing sites that seem aimed at attracting new visitors and outside investment.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have sites where informing native residents appears the primary goal. This can be done with style like in Belgium and Australia or with visual clutter like in Mexico or Cameroon. You could even be like the United Kingdom and come up with a color scheme and design that has no visual connection to your actual country.

There’s also something to be said for simplicity. It’s easy to criticize nations like Ireland, Thailand and South Africa for their bare-bones design. But keep in mind that these nations have large rural populations. A simple site may be uninteresting, but at least it properly loads on old browsers or dial-up connections. Argentina even found a way to make simple look stylish.

What’s most important is that the site have a public relations purpose, whether that’s attracting outside attention or informing the taxpayers. Effective design only comes about when the nation is clear on this goal.

Otherwise you can turn up some pretty ghastly results even in relatively wealthy countries. For all their oil money, the governments of Saudi Arabia and Russia still can’t seem to buy a website that doesn’t make them look like third-world nations in cyberspace.

Social media offers little if there’s no plan in place

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re an active user of Facebook and Twitter. So quick show of hands, how many Facebook fan pages do you actively check? What about commercial brands you follow on Twitter?

For all the talk about the potential of leveraging these social media spaces for profit, few companies enter with a real strategy on connecting with customers. As a result, you get a glut of Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and very few that have active audiences following their content. They’ll sign up. Maybe check in every now and again, but ultimately move along to their friend’s photo album from the weekend.

This is of course a gross generalization. There are some smart and creative users of Facebook and Twitter who build an audience for their company/organization. But it’s highly unlikely anyone who just shows up is going to build a following.

This is where web analytics come in, enabling the companies with a plan to comprehensively track activity on their site and see if it matches up with their predetermined goals.

That’s assuming you have a plan. Many don’t.

Being able to clearly articulate your social media objectives is absolutely essential before making the Web 2.0 plunge. That was the central point my classmates and I heard today from PR and Marketing professional Mark Tosczak, who has worked with many clients in tracking their web presence and expanding into social media.

“Being on Twitter is not a plan,” Tosczak told the class. “It’s not a strategy. It’s not a goal. It’s just being on the web.”

Merely being on the web may have been impressive for a company …. in 1996. Nowadays corporate organizations need to define their goals for cyberspace. Is it just to get a bunch of page views? Is it to sell a product online? Is it to get consumers to sign up for a mailing list? Is it to expand into a new region? Is it to foster customer loyalty?

These are goals that can be measured through analytics by looking at the concrete results of what people are doing once they reach the site. It’s here that an organization can keep tabs on whether their website or their Facebook page is fulfilling it’s intended purpose or just taking up server space.

Once the objective is defined, then comes the challenge of wading through all the data and putting it in proper context. That’s a valuable skill where firms like RLF Communications, where Mark Tosczak works, can provide a great service to corporations.

But nothing happens unless the goals are there first. Nowhere is that more evident than on the social media spaces that are created just to exist. As I’ve blogged about before, these pages need to be offering valuable content, building customer relationships and offering something unique in order to stand out.

Just existing on the web isn’t enough.