Is the homepage dead?

Amongst the bits of digital lint that landed in my browser’s belly button last week was an intriguing blogpost which argued that the company homepage is dead, killed off by the rise of social media.

“There is a new Web”, John Brandon argued, “and it’s the Web of social media and links, not the Web of domains and dotcoms”.  Businesses need to accept this reality and figure out how to make it work.

And to a certain extent he has a point. The social web has transformed the way consumers find information. It’s been a long time since your actual domain name mattered; Google is everyone’s homepage now. But that simple fact means that your website still matters.

Every page is the homepage

While it’s certainly true that the number of people typing and arriving at your homepage has dropped like a stone, the number of people visiting websites hasn’t. They don’t arrive through the front door anymore, but via search directly to the relevant content.

That means every page on your site is as important as your homepage. So it needs to make the right impression, answer the visitor’s question, guide them through to a specific transaction, or whatever function the content needs to serve. And it has to do all of that quickly as over half of website visitors will spend less than 15 seconds on a site before deciding whether it’s worth engaging with any further.

The actual homepage still matters too. People may not arrive through the front door, but if they’re seeking out more information on your company, chances are they’ll take a look at it. It serves both as a means of navigating to more information, and creating proof that the company is one they’re comfortable doing business with. Just as you’d keep the porch tidy and the front lawn mowed if you were selling your house, you need to keep your homepage up to date if you want to create the impression you’re a thriving business you need your homepage to reflect your brand and narrative with steady flow of relevant content.

Content without context

There is a shift happening in the way people consume content, with a growing proportion of content now read on other platforms. I read the blogpost that inspired me to write this one within Flipboard, for example, rather than on the website that published it.

That shift means your web content needs to be produced and published in such a way that makes it easy to read both on-site and within aggregators – and performs the function you want it to even when stripped of the context your site design and navigation provides. That means thinking carefully about content design, taking into account changing patterns of consumption that the mobile web has created, and of the user needs at the point of consumption.

Why not just put your content on social media?

The article’s author argues companies could skip having a website altogether. If you’re selling widgets, he contends, you’re better served having people go straight through to Amazon to buy them.

But what if you’re not selling widgets? His suggestion that legal or insurance firms looking to attract clients can use Facebook instead seems a little naive, given the awareness-consideration-conversion process that typically precedes a transaction in the world of financial or professional services. Put simply, people just don’t buy such services that way. They seek out information, go away and have a think about it, seek out information from elsewhere, and come back later, with conversion potentially taking place via a different channel (some marketeers call this the Zero Moment of Truth).

If I were looking for a new credit card, for example, I’d start with search, maybe look on a product comparison site, Google around to see if there are large numbers of people complaining about the provider on social media. But I’d also look on the firm’s own site to get authoritative, updated product information, for example on introductory offers, as information on social media or third party sites can often be out of date, or laid out in ways that are difficult to consume or understand.

Of course a brand’s social media presence matters. But web and social aren’t a zero-sum game – being on one doesn’t negate the need to manage content on the other. Quite the opposite; they need to reinforce one another in order to gain the best returns on investment in content.

The rise of the walled garden brings new challenges

One of the arguments for being on social is to extend the reach of content and drive traffic back to your site. But this is shifting as social networks are developing ways to keep users within their ecosystem.

Facebook have long encouraged brands to publish to the platform rather than link out – for example using Facebook native video rather than sharing a YouTube link. They’ve developed this further in the past year with the arrival of Instant Articles, where articles are published to Facebook directly, ostensibly to speed up the user experience. Twitter is said to be getting in on the same game, with a new feature allowing content of up to 10,000 characters said to be coming in the first quarter of this year. While these developments will inevitably impact on the volume of referral traffic, they won’t do away with referrals altogether.

All of which places new and increased demands on digital teams. While the mechanics of publishing have been getting easier every year, the demands for digital expertise have not as the number of channels and touch points continues to grow, as does the competition for eyeballs online. Gaining most value from this increased channel mix means understanding the ways in which people consume content on each platform, and designing it accordingly so that it delivers its intended objective – wherever the audience finds it.

The homepage isn’t dead. It’s multiplied exponentially, and so too has the challenge for those managing digital content to ensure every interaction is as good and well-thought-through as the homepage of old.

#hashtagfail: What to do when a social campaign goes bad

Inviting audiences to share their content or comments via a hashtag campaign has long been a social media staple. But that comes with considerable risk that the campaign could go sour – at best failing to inspire engagement, at worst inviting outright ridicule.

The latest brand to invite Tweeters’ fury was IBM, who this week launched a well-meaning but nonetheless ill-considered campaign inviting women to consider careers in STEM by hacking a hairdryer.

The response from women on Twitter was a storm of rage and ridicule:



While IBM have provided a textbook example of User Generated Fury, there’s a lot others can learn from their response. First, they apologised – quickly and unreservedly, acknowledging why people felt the campaign was offensive.


They also deleted the offending tweet. While this opens up brands to accusations of trying to rewrite history, or pretending the incident didn’t happen, it also limits the damage. A ‘offending’ tweet can continue to be in circulation – and generating ire – long after the apology is issued. This was a tough call to make, but in my view the right one.

Many commentators are surprised that IBM, longtime champions of diversity in tech, made such an elementary error at all. Where I think they fell down is in failing to anticipate the response. They could and should have foreseen that a tactic that perpetuates gender stereotypes might go down badly in a campaign about combatting those stereotypes.

If you’re planning on any hashtag campaign, invest some time in planning. Before launch ask your entire team to think of all the ways in which it could go wrong.

Conducting a campaign pre-mortem like this helps you to identify and mitigate the risk things will go wrong – and help you plan what to do if your hashtag becomes a bashtag.

Hashtags are still one of the most effective ways to build engagement and participation with a campaign. While #HackAHairdryer highlights the risks in running social campaigns, it also shows that a swift apology can limit the reputational damage. Spend some time planning to avoid and manage disaster and proceed with caution.

Have you had a social campaign go south? What lessons did you learn? Let me know in the comments below.

Social media lessons from Ed Balls

Today marks four years since Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls accidentally tweeted his own name, and inadvertently became an internet phenomenon.

It was back in 2011 when Balls was shopping for the ingredients for a 14-hour pulled pork recipe in Asda that an aide suggested he search for an article on Twitter which mentioned him. Balls began typing in his name, but a phone call distracted him and he accidentally hit ‘send’, to the delight of the Twittersphere.

Balls didn’t delete the tweet afterwards, apparently because he didn’t know he could. It has since been shared over 37,000 46,000 times. Tweeting Ed Balls became an internet meme – spawning photoshopped pictures, celebrity endorsements, media coverage and even fame on London’s tube network.

In 2013 internet users began marking the anniversary of the tweet’s now-legendary publication, tweeting Ed Balls at 4.20pm GMT. 28th April is now known as Ed Balls Day.

What can we learn from this?

  • Memes and social media backlashes can come from anywhere. While Balls is in the public eye, even private individuals can find a single tweet can make them a target for mockery or even hate. Balls was lucky; most people just found it funny. However, social media mistakes may have serious consequences. Once made, those mistakes are not easy to fix. Be mindful of what you share on social media. This story about comms professional Justine Sacco’s very ill-judged tweet is a salutatory lesson.
  • Tweet in haste, repent at leisure. Ed Balls’ attempts at multi-tasking made him the butt of many jokes. Take a moment to proof your social media posts, particularly if it’s anything important or serious. (That includes checking the links. I once tweeted a link to some underwear I was buying online when I meant to share a news story. #awkward.)
  • The internet never forgets. Balls’ eight-character mishap happened four years ago, but it’s still very visible. Be mindful of your digital footprint. Social media has not only made us more accessible to one another, but also more accountable. Your online presence can be an asset or a liability. Any remark you post in the public domain can be found, mocked, distorted or misinterpreted – even years later.
  • Acknowledging mistakes can earn you (some) respect. Four years on, the offending tweet is still up. And that Balls has accepted and even joined in the (largely good-natured) ribbing has earned him a little respect (alongside the inevitable laughter at Twitter incompetence).

UPDATE, 4.20 GMT: Ed Balls responds from the campaign trail:

300 Seconds in London and Manchester

It’s hard to believe we came up with the idea of 300 Seconds just a few months ago, as a way of helping women in digital to gain confidence and experience in speaking in public. We hoped that by giving speakers the opportunity to gain experience and develop their skills, we could help to tackle the lack of diversity at tech events. 

Our first two events were amazing, packed with great new speakers confidently and articulately sharing their stories and experiences on a wide range of subjects – proving that there’s a vast well of talent out there for conference organisers to tap into. We’re blown away, too, by the individual success stories we hear from our participants – of gaining confidence, of going on to present to big crowds, of new jobs gained.

So we’re absolutely stoked to be hosting not one but two 300 Seconds events this week. This week is Internet Week Europe, a week-long celebration of Europe’s thriving digital industry, and what better way to celebrate than to share stories and successes in our trademark quick-fire format?


Just a fortnight ago I met up with Rosa Birch, one of the women behind Ada’s List, a new online community for women in tech, and together we hatched a plan to bring 300 Seconds to the first ever Ada’s List meetup. So we set ourselves the challenge of organising our biggest event yet in under two weeks.

The Ada’s List and 300 Seconds teams have been working hard to bring together a line-up of speakers that meet our mission: giving women in tech a platform to showcase their skills and a space to share stories, advice, tips and knowledge. We’re also really lucky to have Internet Week’s Festival Director Caroline Waxler, who will be over from New York, open the event for us.

Tickets are free and I’m pleasantly surprised at the number of people who have signed up. Men are most welcome too. If you’d like to join us, there’s still time to RSVP via Eventbrite.

Our speakers have been confirmed and are:

We’ve managed to get some great sponsors too, so huge thanks to them: AccentureDXWMade by ManySleepio, and Swiftkey.

Other details are:

When: 12th November, Tuesday, from 6.30pm to 10pm
Where: The Village Hall, Shoreditch Works, 33 Hoxton Square, London N1 6NN

Read more about the Women in Tech meetup


At the same time, Ann and I have been busy since the summer planning our first 300 Seconds outside London. BBC R&D’s Ian Forrester had been looking for ways to improve diversity at tech events for some time, and invited us to bring 300 Seconds to Media City in Salford.

They said: “Working with BBC North, BBC R&D are proud to be part of an initiative that aims to give support and a voice to those who find it a challenge to make themselves heard, and to promote the role of women in the digital community.  We know that the north-west is home to some fantastic talent, and we’re excited to welcome them to MediaCity to share their ideas and insight with us.”

Read more on the BBC R&D blog.

Our speakers are:


When: 14 November, from 6pm
Where: MediaCityUK, Salford

A handful of tickets are still available.

Read more about the Manchester event.

Introducing 300 Seconds: a series of talks by women, for everyone

In the weeks since I blogged about the lack of diversity at tech events, the debate about women speakers has continued, with TechCrunch’s Disrupt NY attracting criticism recently for its overwhelmingly male speaker bill.

We held a positive and popular session on the issue at UKGovCamp (kindly liveblogged by Alex Blandford), and a couple of weeks ago Teacamp was devoted to Digital Women – their most attended event to date, with more than 100 people coming along (see this excellent write-up from Martin Belam).

At both of these sessions, the focus turned toward what positive, practical steps we can all take to raise the profile of women in digital, build leadership skills and increase the diversity of voices and experience in our industry debate.

One such initiative is The Women’s Room, an online database of female experts willing to give media interviews, founded after the Today Programme twice interviewed men about women’s issues, claiming they hadn’t been able to find any female experts. This has quickly grown to list over 2,000 qualified and experienced women from a wide range of fields.

After UKGovCamp, my favourite digital divas and I got together  to discuss what practical steps we can take. As we see it, two of the biggest barriers to women speaking at conferences are a lack of confidence or experience, and that conference organisers naturally look to those who have a track record of speaking at previous events. So we hit upon an idea which will tackle both of these.

Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 15.25.46Introducing 300 Seconds, a new series of lightning talks that are interesting… but short. Our aim is to hear more about the personal and professional passions of our peers in the digital community. Be inspired. Learn something new. Meet. Chat. Engage.

Standing up in front of strangers and talking for half an hour can be daunting. But 300 seconds, well that’s not so bad, is it? If you aren’t used to standing up in front of people, it’s a great way to practice your presentation skills in a safe and friendly environment.

300 Seconds could also be the place to test out a new presentation you are working on. Maybe you do this all the time, but want to tell people about something new or exciting, or a new angle on a familiar topic.

We launched 300 Seconds less than two weeks ago, and have been overwhelmed by the response . The 50 attendee tickets and 12 speaker slots were snapped up within days, and we now have a waiting list of people who’d like to attend.

We want the first event to be a success, so we’re looking for a larger venue which will allow us to open the event up to more people. Can you help? Do get in touch if you can.

We’re already looking at holding further events. If you’d like to help out (with your skills, contacts, sponsorship, or venues), let us know. If you’d like to speak at a future event, or hold your own 300 Seconds event in your region, look out for details and registration on

QR WTF: transitory technology and internet immortality


An unquestioning press release re-hash on The Guardian’s website today claimed “traditional graveyards are being transformed through technology with interactive headstones providing a revolutionary way for people to remember loved ones.”

A £300 QR code etched into granite, claim Dorset funeral directors Chester Pearce, will enable visitors to learn all about the person buried, rather than being limited to a name, age and date of birth and death.

Or will it? QR codes attract significant criticism for being fiddly and hard to use, but in many cases this is simply because they’re used in entirely the wrong contexts.

My concern in this case, though, is that people are being sold a transitory technology for what’s supposed to be a lasting memorial. Let’s look at the issues:

  • The QR code links through to a website giving details of the deceased, as well as providing a comment feature where people can share memories.
  • All well and good – for now. But how long will this last? Who curates the content? Who ensures the domain remains up in five years, ten years?
  • Then let’s look a little further ahead. Despite a great deal of hype, signs are pointing towards QR codes not really gaining traction with smartphone users.  People are talking about the (far less faffy) Near Field Communication protocol performing the same job, better. I would wager that the QR code won’t be around in 2030, let alone 2080.
  • If my wager is wrong, that’s ok, because I’m pretty sure this website won’t exist either – and nor will the ‘lasting memorial’ websites these QR codes point to.
  • So what are we left with, in 2030? A weird design, etched in stone, which no device can decode, and (even if it could) almost certainly won’t point to a live website.

Claims that the QR codes will be “useful to those visiting graveyards to research their family tree” in the future ring very hollow once you think the thing through.

I’m no fan of QR codes, but in the right contexts they perform a useful task. What are those contexts?

As Bruce Willis’s case against Apple over the right to bequeath digital purchases highlights the fleeting nature of online content, many are starting to look at their digital legacy. As content increasingly becomes digital-only, it’s right that we consider the permanence of what we leave behind. But leaving a QR code as your memorial means that you’re merely one whose name was writ in water, not marble.

(with thanks to Adrian Short for the Keats quote).

Hello again

Forgive me, dear readers: it has been seven months since my last blog post. Perhaps you’ve been wondering where I am.

Mostly I’ve been blogging elsewhere – over at I’ve been wittering on about a bunch of intranet-related topics. Knocking out one blog post a month is proving a little easier when I have three fellow editors giving feedback and telling me to publish.

Here’s a few of my recent posts:

But while it’s given my content a bigger audience, it has given me less to talk about here on my own site, and even less time to write anything.

I’ve also been busy talking about intranets in real life too. I spoke at IntraTeam over in Copenhagen back in Feburary, and at Advanced Intranets and Portals in Amsterdam in May. Back in June I had the great pleasure of co-hosting IBF Live’s 10th anniversary special, where Deutsche Bank’s John Stepper and I presented our top ten intranet mantras.

I was also honoured to join the advisory board for Jane McConnell’s Digital Workplace Trends Survey, collaborating (online, of course) with a stellar group of digital workplace practitioners to plan the next survey and to interpret the results when they come in. The survey goes live in a few weeks’ time and I’m already looking forward to seeing the findings.

But the biggest change has been in my work life: in April I left my role at UK Parliament and joined Standard Chartered Bank as Senior Manager, Online Communications. As well as being a huge change of scene, it’s also a change in focus, as my new role covers external as well as internal online projects. It’s been a busy few months and an exciting new challenge, working with such a huge and diverse global audience across a wide range of channels.

So between working, running, and blogging elsewhere, and life generally getting in the way, this little corner of the web has been sadly neglected. Sorry. While I plan to continue blogging about intranets and the digital workplace over at Intranetizen, I will try and keep this blog up too, with (occasional) musings on digital communications both internally and externally. Watch this space.

Networking for #intranet managers

In my latest post over at Intranetizen, I’ve pulled together my recommendations for intranet pros on networking with others in the industry.

Always one to eat my own dogfood, this week we’re holding the fourth Internal Communications Teacamp. The theme this time around is internal comms and employee engagement.

As ever, IC Teacamp is open to all internal communciations practitioners, in any industry or discipline. No need to book or RSVP – just come along to Cafe Zest, on the second floor of House of Fraser in Victoria Street SW1, from 4pm tomorrow (18th January).

If you can’t make it, follow the action on the #iceteacamp hashtag.

October update

Well, it’s been a busy month for intranet professionals – especially me!

I began the month with the happy news that my mobile intranet intranet at Parliament won an Intranet Innovation Award – a gold award for frontline delivery. I was presented with a lovely trophy by James Robertson at the most recent Intranetters meet-up.

Later that week I spoke at Interaction, a new conference from the folks over at Interact Intranet, who bought together intranet experts from across the UK, Europe and further afield. It was great to hear from so many industry thought leaders, many of them for the first time (such as Mark Morrell and Janus Boye), as well as meet other intranet specialists and swap war stories over coffee.

In my presentation, I shared my experiences developing a mobile intranet for Parliament – which I’ll blog about at some point soon.

Finally, this month I joined the team of writers at Intranetizen, one of the leading blogs in the industry. In my first post for them, published this week, I look at the latest award winning intranets and argue that their focus on delivering precisely what their users need is what makes the end product so good — and so impossible to scale.

I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts on intranets and more over on Intranetizen as well as here.