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Corporate websites are ‘in decline’: so why the refresh of the ODI site?

Back in May last year, I wrote a post for OnThinkTanks.org on the decline of the corporate website (and rise of a social internet). In this post, I argued that: ‘a good communications strategy must start planning for obsolescence of a corporate website as a communications tool: it must look at how connections can be made between content and the social world, how information can be automatically posted on relevant platforms in the right format.’

As Digital Manager at ODI, I am responsible for overseeing our engagement with the Internet, and have overall responsibility for this site. I have the perfect platform to turn these thoughts into action. Yet, despite writing a post saying websites aren’t going to be important anymore, ODI launched this new site in late October.

Why didn’t I practice what I preached? The answer comes in the closing sentence of the very same blog: ‘Organisations that get this right can have their cake and eat it: develop the website … but expect that over time more communications will take place in the places the website connects to.’ 

The technology didn’t support the strategy

I wanted ODI to ‘have our cake and eat it’, using the website as a central communications tool while it remained important, but also preparing for the future. The fact is that the old content management system that the website was run on couldn’t support either current or future use adequately. On each of the three planks of our digital strategy it failed to meet our needs:

  1. It didn’t connect easily to other sites or platforms, allowing us to push content to them. We would want this for effective being there communicationsthat reach our audience wherever they may be.
  2. It didn’t allow readers to quickly access old content, or allow us to profile new and multi-media content we create around the web. We would require this to offer a comprehensive cradle to grey researchtool that makes the most of research throughout its’ lifecycle.
  3. It was built using bespoke technology, meaning we had to build every innovation for ourselves rather than taking advantage of content and technologies made freely available on the internet. We would have to do this to be ‘reusing the wheel‘, rather than reinventing it.

So our new site is built on an open source platform, Drupal. This is the one of the most commonly used content management systems, and one of the most developed-for. We hope our new site will allow us to:

  1. Do more with less effort by posting to other platforms automatically
    Because there are so many developers working on Drupal, there are lots of people who have made modules to connect to other sites. So we will be able to more easily make our blogs available through Facebook, send links to Twitter, or use EventBrite to manage events.
  2. Be more flexible about how we bring together mixed media content and content from other sites
    Most ODI website content uses a standard template. However sometimes we need to break out of straightjackets. The old website did not allow this; Drupal does. In the coming years, ODI will be able to bring together our video, audio, imagery as well as text. This will help to tell a coherent and enticing story of the disparate strands of communications being delivered across the web.
  3. Offer you, our users, a quicker and easier route to the information you require
    It was hard to access to the full breadth of ODI work on our old site. Our new Search Centre is designed to allow all our content to be found quickly and easily. We hope this means that everything is found and read more, ensuring that our content continues to be found even when we aren’t actively promoting it anymore.

The design wasn’t reflecting the best of ODI

Of course, the reasoning for embarking on the website refresh project was not merely technological: it was cosmetic too.  As James Georgalakis of the Institute for Development Studies rightly asserts in his post for OnThinkTanks.org, one of the crucial things a website can deliver is credibility for an organisation.

With a new brand being developed, I knew that it was important to deliver a modern, enticing design. A vibrant design to reflect our new logo. A design that gave visitors the impression ODI was a dynamic organisation, producing high-quality research.

But there were other design considerations: we needed a design that helped us to find more ways to promote key content. After all, if ‘being there’ means posting information to the sites that are leaders on a subject, then ODI is the ‘being there’ site on the subject of what ODI is doing. And the old design only allowed us to promote work properly on one page: the home page. Now we have 17 pages that are designed to promote different parts of our output across the site – each programme has an attractive landing page, as do our publications, Opinion pieces and events. We can now highlight much more clearly the best of ODI coming out in each of these areas.

Your views are welcome

I believe that the new site is the right showcase for ODI in the coming years and that it will support us to implement more innovations in line with the ODI’s award winning digital strategy. But what do you think? Does the ODI website work? I’d love to hear your views.