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Web content & the law
Engaging with the rules and regulations governing digital content More

Why should the c-suite care about content?
To get the attention of the kings and queens of the Big Business Jungle you need to demonstrate you can take their pain away More

Posts in category auditing websites and emails

Online marketing comms – rules tighten. Let the seller beware

From March 1, any communication on your website that sets out to tell users about goods, services, opportunities, freebies… but where the primary or ultimate  aim is to sell something, will be regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The ASA is the UK’s independent advertising watchdog, responsible for controlling marketing communications in all media in the UK. (They work with statutory partners such as Trading Standards, the Office of Fair Trading and the communications regulator Ofcom.)

The March 1 changes cover the marketing communications of all organisations operating from the UK on their own websites and in other non-paid for space online under their control eg Facebook.

The ASA talks about copy a great deal in its guidance but their remit could easily extend to any type of content, for example a home page video or a viral campaign on YouTube.

Ready?

The ASA’s extended remit may come as a surprise to a lot of organisations (the ASA’s own cross-media advertising campaign was only launched at the weekend). As always the big question is who’ll get their knuckles slapped first, for what and how hard?

The ASA’s punitive powers already include obliging broadcasters to comply with ASA rulings but  it’s also brought in some new sanctions from March 1 including “an enhanced” name and shame policy. And paid-for search advertising that links to non-compliant marketing communications may be removed with the agreement of the search engines.

It’s also important to keep in mind that marketing content that falls under the scope of the ASA’s remit may not necessarily include a price or seek an immediate financial transaction. Let the seller beware.

The change falls under the scope of UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the Committee of Advertising Practice / CAP) Code.

CAP decided to extend the digital remit of the ASA in response to formal recommendations from a cross-section of UK industry, including the Internet Advertising Bureau. Nick Stringer, director of regulatory affairs for the IAB stresses that self-regulation must maintain pace with today’s fast-moving digital environment and changing consumer behaviour. “The ASA’s extended digital media remit aims to protect internet users and enhance their trust, as well as industry and political confidence, in the medium.”

What’s covered:

  • advertisers’ own marketing messages on their own websites, regardless of sector, type of businesses or size of organisation
  • marketing communications in other non-paid-for space under the advertiser’s control, such as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

What’s not covered:

  • classified private advertisements
  • press releases and other public relations material
  • editorial content
  • political advertisements
  • corporate reports and investor relations.

User generated content?

ASA points out that generated content (UGC) that has been adopted and incorporated within an organisation’s own marketing communications could be covered. This will be considered on a case by case basis.

For example: “ASA is likely to take a very different view of a consumer’s positive comment that has been posted, by the website owner, in a prominent way on the front page of its website, than if that same comment appeared within the context of a consumer message board moderated for harmful and offensive language or images only”.

How to make sure you comply

CAP is offering guidance and courses. The IAB has also including some useful FAQs on its website. From a content strategy (CS) perspective the key thing is to make sure that all your content is fit for purpose and doesn’t fall shy of any regulation.

While the March 1 changes are the latest, many websites fall short of what’s required elsewhere – for example Part 3 of the Disability Discrimination Act which covers access and came into force back in 2004. Ringing any bells? It means your website must be accessible to blind and disabled users and this should be influencing everything from colour choices to meta data.

Content audits and the use of copydecks are just two of the CS tools where regulatory or legislative requirements could be captured and verified. Even without the weight of law, large organisations need to be running tight ships – eg who wrote it, when, who signed it off? Clearly defined and maintained internal content creation processes are a must. And let’s not forget content training that not only improves content creation skills but raises general organisational awareness of why all content, on’ and offline is so important.

Apart from anything else, if you can demonstrate you did your best to comply with this law or that regulation, the punitive response maybe be less harsh than in organisations where content is chaos rather than king.

Useful links

» More about the CAP guidance
» IAB Extending the digital media remit of the Advertising Standards Authority FAQs PDF

A good website is like a good Christmas tree…

A good website is like a good Christmas tree…  ‘Ah’ I hear you say, here comes the tenuous festive metaphor. Not so, you cynical lot, but a seasonally-apt reminder that good websites are predicated on structure, not tinsel and baubles.

And notice that I say ‘good’ website, not ‘great’ website, or ‘fantastic’ website. ‘Tis the season to be hyperbolic but pursuit of the online ‘wow’ factor has caused many a website project to crash and burn.

Your ambition should be a good website. Something that will last – and accumulate value over time, like a good Bordeaux. (Okay! Trees, wine… to many metaphors already.)

So let’s get back to that Christmas tree…

The reference to websites and Christmas trees actually came up in a meeting where we were discussing the structure of a large site and considering the dynamics involved when finalising the Information Architecture. On the one hand, there’s the user, who wants to get in, do the thing they want to do and get out again. They don’t want to hunt for anything (maybe a bit of light foraging) or translate company-speak. Then there are company structures, business configurations and hierarchies… Maybe a little internal politics?

Add to this a layer of reluctance, or exhaustion, from people who find themselves in some way responsible for the content or its creation. Yet another conversation about the top level navigation, deeper structure and labelling rationale? Yeesh!

So, how much does it really matter? You buy your Christmas tree – any size and shape will do – and then you cover it with lovely decorations and lights that wink and glitter at users. How much does the underlying shape matter once all that stuff is covering it?

Okay people, here’s the deal: a website is for life, not just for Christmas. It has to serve you well and grow as your organisation grows. Overlong or stunted branches can cause the whole thing to topple. You can stuff a fairy on the top but if the tree’s got too many branches or too few, if it leans to one side or has a kink in the trunk – you’re screwed.

And, if the structure is poor, there is even more temptation to layer the whole construction with even more tinsel and shiny bits. Lots and lots of ornaments (or pages and the odd bit of Flash) may distract from the underlying problem – a rubbish shape.

So whatever stage your at with your current web project – whether you’re starting new, or going in for a little pruning – take a step back and look at that structure. Is it strong and straight? Does it make sense? Is it pleasing to the eye? Is there room for other branches to grow? Growth is the final metaphorical twist in this seasonal story…

You can buy a Christmas tree that haa no roots. It’s designed with built in obsolescence. After Christmas you chuck  it out. Next year, you get a new one. But a good Christmas  tree / website needs to be nurtured and should be bought to last. It needs soil and water (or content and creativity). It needs looking after.

So go for straight and strong with roots. Merry Christmas.

And take it away Bing!

Highly effective email tactics

I lurve MarketingSherpa and have been a fan for years. I particularly wanted to share this chart from them on various email tactics, such as delivering content relevant to segment, email to house lists, email to rented lists… were rated as 2highly effective” by B2B and B2C marketers.

effective email tactics

( I know the copyright says 2009 but it’s just landed in my email inbox from them.)

Both B2B and B2C rate delivery of relevant content to segment as highly effective. The percentage of B2B marketings saying this is slightly higher. In their analysis of this difference MarketingSherpa point out that the business-buying process is usually longer and more complex than that for consumer purchases. “Delivering content that is not only relevant to the recipient’s business segment but relevant to their current stage in the buying process is critical.”

I’m less swayed by this argument. Timely contact in the buying process is important in both markets. With consumers, the buying process can be as complex and involve a journey across multiple channels – a newspaper advertisement, something on television, a poster in a shopping mall as well as email. There’s also a proportion of consumers who will make selection processes online but still go in store to buy. By contrast the business buying process is more focused and may have less distractions (competitors), particularly at the high end (capital purchase).

But the real kicker in my book is the statistically significant percentage of marketers who rated event-triggered autoresponder emails as highly effective – way above  third part ads and rented lists, among other things.

When was the last time you reviewed your autoresponder emails? Yeah, yeah… I know – you’re just about to take a look.

» This chart on the MarketingSherpa site (it won’t be available for long)

Are you a warden or a prisoner online?

stanford cartoon

The Stanford Prison Experiment looked at what happened psychologically when you placed some people in positions of power and other’s in positions of vulnerability (wardens and prisoners). Irrespective of their previous internal moral ‘clock’ – how would they behave?

The simulation carried out by Stanford University in the summer of 1971 was ended prematurely because of the impact it had on its university participants. Those students who were given the role of prison guards showed themselves capable of brutality. The students consigned to prisoner roles became stressed and depressed (as if their confinement were real).

Stanford, and the earlier Milgram experiment conducted at Yale University, opened up interesting questions, not just about the deeper, darker side of human nature but how we behave when we assume a role, or are put into a certain situation. As psychology professor Phil Zimbardo, who led the Stanford research team, puts it: “Situational variables can exert powerful influences over human behaviour, more so that we recognize or acknowledge.”

Okay, now the digital communication segue…

While I’m not suggesting that digital content ‘controllers’ will ever resort to beatings and electric shocks, there is often a divide between those who police the content and those who do not. These schisms can exist between online content commissioners / editors and content producers / authors. Or between active members of the content team and ‘the rest’. The rest being anybody in an organisation that doesn’t take an active role in web, email, digital messaging strategy, development and delivery. It can also exist between on and offline teams (marketing, editorial, brand…).

The Stanford experiment didn’t end prematurely because the research team had learnt everything there was to know, but because they became alarmed at how quickly the abuse of roles and situations occurred.

So in any situation where there is authority and lack of authority there is the opportunity for abuse.

I can’t make over entire organisational hierarchies on the basis of the above premise, but I can suggest discreet changes to the way online content oligarchies are handled. That may seem a small change but just think about the influence your online content has on your brand and therefore on how wider audiences perceive your organisation. Plus online is relatively young and still relatively fluid. In-house content processes are not set in stone. Change them while you still can.

Where to start?

Who are the content controllers and what power do they have? A healthy content process has checks and balances in place reflecting different content steers. This shouldn’t be a cumbersome process but a light matrix approach to ensure that core organisational values, the needs of marketing and sales, corporate information, plus the rigours of online execution and presentation are held in balance.

When changes are made to online process and / or presentation – a new website, extensions to email campaigns etc – who is consulted (and who isn’t)? It’s hard for people to be all fired up about the company website if the only time they’re consulted about it is retrospectively: “Oh, the new website launches in 3 weeks. We need your new page content ASAP. Did you not get the email?)

How do you regularly test the water in terms of existing content processes and how they are viewed internally? Zimbardo points out that at some stage there is a shift from what’s reasonable to what isn’t. How would you know if this shift happened within your organisation’s digital content process?

If existing online content processes and manifestations aren’t working, do people (outside any content claque) feel empowered to say ‘this isn’t working’ or ‘our new website is rubbish’? If the emperor is in the buff you need to know quickly. Online is everybody’s business.

Checks and balances

A qualitative content audit can throw up weaknesses is existing systems. It needs to be carried out by an external team (but this could involve different departments or areas of online activity critiquing each other’s work).

Content should be reviewed against organisational values and Tone of Voice, online ambition and audiences. You may want to read an earlier post on personas (I’ve popped the link at the bottom of this post). I’ll work up a personality for any site I’m reviewing (as if it was a flesh and blood member of the team). If your website sat at the next desk, would you share your sandwiches with it?

I also came up with this acronym. I think you should be answering ‘yes’ to 6 out of 9 points.

1. Can a wide range of people within your organisation suggest a digital change and / or refinement and know someone will take notice?

2. Have they got a clear idea about who to approach if something isn’t working right – broken website links, poorly coded emails, spelling mistakes online… (or know where to find out)?

3. Are new digital projects only embarked upon after a well-rounded opinion-seeking process and shared collective understanding?

4. Little digital errors (page not found, spelling errors, broken links…) rarely happen.

5. Large digital errors (website down, email campaigns producing little or no response…) rarely happen.

6. Everyone takes an interest in what rour company is doing digitally, even if they’re not actively involved.

7. No faction, department, skillset, business unit, or organisational activity feels excluded (frozen out).

8. Guards need walls. Are the processes and decisions made about how your brand is communicated online done in clear view?

9. Eyes (2), ears (2) mouth (1). Is your organisation watching and listening to what’s been done and said online rather than simply talking about it. You should watch and listen more than you speak.

Internal link

>> More about personas

>> The 7 ages of content maturity table (towards the end of this post)

Find out more about the Stanford and Milgram experiments (I’ll open these links in a new window):

>> Stanford Prison experiment website

>> The Stanley Milgram Experiment

Archive as a presentation of your brand

Mad Hatter cartoon

In Alice in Wonderland the Mad Hatter is doomed to live his life at tea time. He and his companions cope by moving round a giant tea table, leaving behind the detritus of their last repast in order to begin again at a new place setting.

I sometimes feel the web is modelled along similar constraints. I ponder the detritus we leave behind in terms of useless links and even more useless pages, while we’re guzzling Darjeeling somewhere else. Like the Mad Hatter we’re doomed to live life in the present tense and there isn’t time to tidy up what’s gone before. Which brings me on to the subject of archiving (‘At last!’ exclaimed Alice).

Some organisations have embraced archiving. But often there’s a clear driver. For example, they have archivable product of intrinsic value. The US Congress digital preservation program, designed to preserve political historic context and the British Library web archive, come to mind. I select these 2 at random and don’t want to get drawn into commenting on their execution. Newspapers and libraries have always archived and are therefore predisposed to do so digitally.

And, within the context of this blog, neither do I want to get into the technical developments that enable archiving. What interests me is why so many of us are Mad Hatters? What’s the mindset that prevents us engaging with archive projects and what are the implications for brands?

Businesses are becoming increasingly aware of how important their online touch points are, not just in terms of sales and information but as an extension of  brand. At CDA we talk about usefulness as the essential online brand attribute. Online, people don’t want marketing messages. They want facts and information, fueled by clear navigation, that allow them to get on an do.

But what do businesses do about content that’s no longer current?

1. The simple answer would seem to be: take it down.

For much material that probably makes perfect sense. If it has no intrinsic value, even as a matter of record, then it can probably go.

But you need to be asking some pertinent questions around this and not acting in haste (because it’s the easiest solution). These questions should exend to considering links that inhabit the pages you are considering taking down – not just out from them but links in from other pages and other sites. Sites that may well belong to other organisations and are therefore are outside of your direct control. (CDA recently undertook a BBC archive project where link evaluation was the critical factor.)

2. Plenty of content can probably be kept digitally but not made available.

I remember being told about a tobacco company that keeps everything on the basis that they don’t know where their next class action is coming from and they can’t afford not to have a record of everything they’ve said and written (web is just a part of that).

3. But there is also a great amount that should be archived in a way that still allows public access.

An easy example is past copies of annual reports and accounts.

But a publicly accessible archive also stands testament to organisational longevity. Even at a subliminal level this is an important brand attribute, particularly in financial services and the public sector.

So, I hear you thinking, we’ll keep all these pages up then? Ah, if only life was that simple. Pour me another cup of Darjeeling and I’ll explain.

The web, like the Mad Hatter’s tea party, exists in the here and now. For online users it is forever tea time. They’re looking for content that will allow them to do things now and are evaluating against personal criteria that allow them to make judgements about this in the fastest time possible. A matter of seconds. They expect web content to be current because they are.

Archive pages need to evidence the fact that they are archive in nanoseconds. They also need to evidence that they’re still up there because they’re useful in some way. Obviously a date helps but is it really clear? Explore some of the dustier corners of mega sites and you’ll find all sorts of pages, PDFs, printer friendly versions that seem to exist outside of time and space.

And there is a clear governance issue here. Take the hypothetical case of a health site that over the years has written and commented on various reports relating to diet, including how many eggs we should eat. (I choose eggs because the guidelines seem to go up and down like Topsy. I have no idea what they currently are but I’m healthy and I like omelettes.)

And this health organisation has done some pretty impressive work over the years; collaborated at a government level and the like. To take down the older reports would mean their online presence is diminished. Plus, they are a valueable site for research and student traffic who want to access this past material. Password protecting a whole load of content would be counterproductive in terms of this traffic (having considered this approach thoroughly) and also reflect badly on their brand. They’re a public health organisation.

But say I’m an overweight man in his late 50s with heart and collesterol issues. In an attempt to look after myself I visit this health website and download information about diet. But in my haste I download previous advice on eggs. Six months down the line I’m facing a coronary bypass and there’s a leaflet in the doctor’s waiting room about no win no fee legal advice.

Now I have no idea what the legal argument would be in this case. But up until the end of last year I was Chair of Governance for a small UK NHS organisation so governance and duty of care are things I feel very strongly about. Could something like this never happen? Or is it just a matter of time?

So, I hear you thinking, we’ll take all these pages down then. Ah. Cut me a slice of cake and I’ll explain.

This brings me back to an earlier point. Your past is part of your brand. If you were at a dinner party with someone who refused to talk about anything that happened pre-2008 you’d be a little suspicious. Wouldn’t you?

So archiving has to be about striking a balance. It’s about governance, curation, usefulness and record. If you have sites and pages languishing out there because it’s just too complicated to consider doing something about them, well… have you met my friend the Mad Hatter?

Useful links (that take you to CDA main website pages)

>> How useful is your brand?

>> Brand usefulness – help not hype

>> How people use language to search online

Useful links (you’ll leave the blog and CDA, so we’ll open these in  a new window for you)

>> British Library UK Web Archive

>> US Congress archive program