The Slippery Definition of a Digital Channel

By Deane Barker on January 13, 2012

Working in web content management, we tend to place an inordinate amount of emphasis on a single channel: the web, and naturally the website that pushes information into it.

But, more and more, I’ve been beating the drum of multi-channel content delivery, as it relates to content management.  The idea of multi-channel delivery is that  your CMS stores content that’s delivered to all sorts of places, your website just being one of them (and perhaps not even the most important one).  See these two posts for (lots) more on this:

In this vein, I decided to do a quick “digital channel audit” for Blend (prompted by some great discussions I had at the J. Boye CMS Expert Group meeting in New York yesterday).  I wanted to determine all the digital “touchpoints” where information from was projected to the world.

Simple, right?  Well, yes and no.  On the surface, it’s simple, but as you get deeper into it, you realize it’s not entirely straightforward.

Quickly, you have to consider scope – what do you include in this list?  Your website, sure.  But what about third-party system on which the organization has a presence?  What about your employees’ blogs?  Their LinkedIn accounts?  Their Facebook profiles?  I’ll talk much more about this later.

The fact is, information about your organization is projected from all sorts of places, and your level of control over the different channels varies.  Over some, you have complete control.  Over others, indirect control, or none at all.  We directly control what goes on Blend’s website.  However, if one of my employees wrote something derogatory about the company on their Facebook page, we could ask them to remove it, but there’s no guarantee they would.

I think the litmus test for qualification as a “channel” is whether or not your organization has the ability and the authority to directly inject information into it.  If not, then it might be a marketing touchpoint, but it’s not a digital channel.

For example – Blend is a partner with both EPiServer and eZ publish.  On both of their websites, we have company profiles which are displayed to people looking for an implementation partner.  These profiles are, without question, important marketing information that needs to be monitored and maintained by our marketing staff.  However, it’s not a digital channel.  We do not “publish” to it, we can simply request changes to it when it needs to be changed.

So, with that definition in mind, off we go.

Our Main Website

This one is obvious.

Our Main Website’s RSS Feed

There’s a tendency to just lump this with the website itself, but I’m going to break it out on its own.  It’s “chained” to the website in the sense that everything that all news that gets posted there also gets posted to this feed, but the presentation and delivery methods differ so much that it’s really its own thing.  Additionally, we’re toying with the creation of a “Blend Firehose” feed which would aggregate all our channels, and in that sense, RSS would become a very different thing than the website itself.

Gadgetopia

The blog you’re reading (here’s a link!) is owned by Blend and is a representation of the knowledge and competency of the company.  It has a fair amount of recognition in the content-management space (one of our core services), and is referred to whenever I speak at a conference or webinar.  It’s as much Blend’s website as the actual website.

Gadgetopia’s RSS Feed

All the same information about our website RSS feed applies here too, which the added wrinkle that Gadgetopia’s feed is much more well-traveled – I’d guess that 80% of the eyeballs that read a Gadgetopia post come from the RSS side, not the HTML side.

Our Twitter Accounts

We have two of them: @blendtweets is for general information and is the one people reference when tweeting about us.  @blendquotes is another one we created to catalog the (many) stupid things people say around the office.  Both have several hundred followers.

Our LinkedIn Page

There’s not a lot that happens out here, but some information requires occasional updating.  The biggest thing we do with this is ensure that all our employees are correctly linked to it.  (Though, now that LinkedIn is allowing company status updates, this might change.)

Our Flickr Account

We get a lot of use out of this – we post pictures of about every event that happens at the company, and it becomes a core way to communicate the culture of the organization, especially when trying to recruit.

Our Email Newsletter

We just started this (you can sign up here).  It’s run out of MailChimp, and has several hundred subscribers.

Our Main Email Account

We have a main email account: info@blendinteractive.com.  This is a inbound channel only, in that we don’t proactively send emails from it, but emails come into it that need to be responded to, but the quality and timeliness of those responses are a reflection on the company, so it’s channel all the same.  (This is the only inbound channel we have, though I’m sure other companies have many more – every form submission from your website could be considered an inbound channel.)

Our Facebook Page

There’s quite bit of information about the company out there.  It has several hundred subscribers, and we post information to it regularly.  It’s an important channel in that it’s  “push-ish” – information we put on the page is push into subscribers newsfeeds, which makes it much more visible than channels which require someone to proactively visit.

Our Google+ Page

Google+ is an untested medium, and who knows it will really take off, but anything we post to Facebook, we also post here.  Likewise, everything that can be said about the Facebook channel also applies here, albeit with less eyeballs looking at it.

Our Slideshare Account

We recently opened a Slideshare account to post all the decks from various Blend speaking engagements.

So, that’s it for direct digital channels.  From here on out, things get a little more blurry –

There’s one another channel that’s “official-ish” – Corey’s blog at eatingelephant.com.  We encouraged Corey to start this blog to capture some mindshare in the content strategy space, but we also insisted that it belong to him, not us.  As such, Corey owns the domain name, and we stay out of it.  However, the blog is a direct reflection of a core service offering of Blend, and I refer clients to it, so it becomes a somewhat official channel for Blend-related information.

Beyond this, there are channels which are sources of information about the company, no-doubt, but are personal to our employees.  These channels have differing degrees of relevancy to the business.

For instance, all of our employees have Twitter accounts, and many of them tweet about core competencies of company which means they’re a reflection of the capabilities of the company.  However, we have no control over them.  I single Twitter out here because it’s the one employee-controlled channel which reflects most directly on our business – Seth tweets about .Net development a lot, Corey tweets about content strategy, etc.

There are other employee-controlled channels which slide further and further down the “chain of relevancy.”  Our employees’ LinkedIn profiles, for instance – I’m quite interested in what information they provide here since it reflects on their competency as a professional, but I have no control over it.  Their LinkedIn profile will outlive their time at Blend.

Then, at the bottom, we have things like our employees’ Facebook pages.  I don’t know any employee that talks about business much on Facebook (I think I’m friends with all the employees at Blend), but there’s a potential that they could do something here that reflects on the company in some way.  However, again, I have zero control over this, so its not a channel anymore than what an employee says at a dinner party is a channel.

(I can think of only one instance where an employee put something on Facebook that we took issue with.  It wasn’t derogatory, but it did reveal something that wasn’t quite ready for public disclosure.  We asked the employee to remove it, and he did.)

So, in the end, the definition of a “digital channel” can get slippery, and it starts to drift into things like corporate social media policy.  Your organization leaks information from a thousand holes, and you only have control over a select number of them.

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