November 20, 2020 What can you learn from the global leaders in corporate digital communications? (Special Contribution)

Jason Sumner
Director of operations and editorial, Bowen Craggs & Co

In September we published the Bowen Craggs Index of Online Excellence 2020, which is a ranking of the best 30 companies in the world at communicating with external audiences across corporate websites and social media channels. The Index comprehensively measures usability and editorial material across eight main metrics and 26 sub-metrics. The methodology is based on our own expert analysis and nearly a decade’s worth of visitor survey and analytics data.

Every year, we examine what the Index leaders are doing that other companies can learn from; and identify the wider trends in corporate digital communications that every senior executive and digital professional should be aware of.

Extraordinary global upheaval in 2020 has intensified public confusion, anger and distrust, while at the same time, the Covid-19 pandemic has increased our day-to-day reliance on digital channels for working, commerce, communication and information gathering. The leaders in the 2020 Index of Online Excellence recognize the profound shifts that have occurred and are responding in new and innovative ways on corporate digital channels.

BP is this year’s new Index leader, scoring 224 out of a maximum of 280 points. The UK-based energy company is highly effective at overall usability and messaging, as well as serving specific audiences such as journalists, investors and jobseekers. The company did an excellent job of communicating in a transparent way through a number of changes, including a new CEO, a new strategy focused on renewables and plunging oil demand due to the pandemic.

BP is particularly good at what we call ‘inside-out communications’ – explaining more of what is happening inside the company to the outside world, in order to improve its reputation with stakeholders. The CEO, Bernard Looney, publishes his notes to staff on the website and LinkedIn, for everyone to see, providing an unusual glimpse behind the scenes and helping to build trust. Another example of inside-out communications is Verizon’s ‘Up to Speed’ series of podcasts for employees, which is published on external channels. Verizon, the US-based telecommunications provider, is seventh in the Index, and the highest-scoring American company.

BP, Verizon and other companies in the Index top 30 understand that stakeholders – investors, journalists, policymakers, jobseekers, employees and customers – are demanding more transparency from organizations.

We have direct evidence of this from our collection of visitor surveys, conducted with audiences on corporate websites around the world. They are increasingly frustrated with what they perceive as a reliance on corporate slogans over facts and evidence – for example, stating the corporation’s ‘purpose’ without explaining what it means in the real world.

Moreover, material intended for internal audiences can leak at the click of a mouse, so it makes sense for there to be as few walls as possible between the internal ‘story’ and the one you tell the outside world. Digital transparency also helps to build receptive audiences when there is a negative story to address.

At the present, there are no Japanese companies in the top 30, meaning that they have not met the threshold for overall performance, (the current overall score threshold is a score of about 192 points out of 280 points). However, a number of Japanese companies do show best practice in certain areas of digital corporate communication. Toyota, for example, shows promise in how it has positioned itself as a ‘mobility’ company, and its press release archive successfully integrates the company’s rich history.

In general, a number of Japanese companies – including Sony and Nintendo – already have world-class social media consumer marketing strategies. We would encourage Japanese firms to apply similar talent and resources to boosting their use of digital channels to “market” – and provide evidence for – their corporate reputations as forces for social and environmental good in the world.

Recognizing the importance of corporate digital channels for building reputation, increasing investment and attracting talent is only the beginning, however. The key is ongoing investment for continuous improvement, and ensuring that corporate digital works with other initiatives – marketing, sales, customer service – as well as proving value to senior executives through measurement and data.