Jeremiah Owyang, a Web Strategist in the valley wrote an interesting blog post, The Irrelevant Corporate Website. The majority of the statements are correct around the idea that corporations should be embracing community systems and the content produced around that community as they provide trust, buy in, and feedback to learn from.
However I have to disagree with the post title and overall statement on the relevance of corporate sites. Jeremiah couldn’t actually believe that corporate sites as we have them today are irrelevant.
Corporate websites serve as the company voice and they exist to provide information that only the company can provide. Information on the direction of the company, product offerings and the commitment to the markets served are something only the corporation can provide. The community has no place in communicating that information to the public. With that said, the community can provide a tremendous amount of feedback and information on what is promised by the company. This information provided in the public along side the corporate communication can be a powerful and trust building system.
“Decisions are made before they go to the corporate website
Yesterday, at lunch with a college student, she told me that her peers get ideas about product decisions on consumer rating sites, and from their peers. “
Sure, this is true of a portion of decisions made about consumer goods, especially consumer electronics. However for larger purchases such as automobiles, the corporate website is a primary destination along with Edmunds, Kelly Blue Book or Consumer Reports. A large portion of products purchased on the internet such as apparel do not have community reviews or information available except what is produced on the retailer’s system.
This high valuation of peer comments and ratings may be the case for Gen Y which Jeremiah references in his post. However there are many other demographics that still matter and do quite a bit of the purchasing. Many of these other groups use the manufacturer or retailers site to first learn of the product.
Another issue with this argument is that it applies to hot or sexy items that the Gen Y crowd is interested in. But for the majority of consumer market, they don’t have an avenue to obtain this information. As an example, try finding peer reviews and recommendations on the next living room couch you should buy. For many consumer goods categories, much of this info is just not available in large enough samplings to be helpful. This could be another argument for why manufacturer/retailers should be fostering this community as they could be a definitive source for this information.
This is also nothing new. Software and hardware companies have been leveraging community systems for forums, user contributed downloads, and chat since the 80′s and early 90′s with BBS systems like Major BBS, TBBS, and Wildcat.
On the other points, I completely agree that B2C(and some B2B) manufacturers and retailers need to augment their content with community systems. If they do this sucessfully, they will be trusted by the community that already exists, with or without their participation.