Everywhere we look, organizations are doing more and more with digital. Web sites, mobile sites, mobile applications, microsites, and social software channels continue to proliferate. This creates a special challenge for marketers—particularly when it comes to sustaining an effective, on-brand experience for customers.
That’s where digital governance comes in. Far from a nice-to-have academic exercise, a digital governance framework can be the enabling force that puts an organization’s online efforts into overdrive.
Still, when I talk with marketers, they often don’t give governing concerns the time of day and typically have some misconceptions about the value of governing digital channels. So here are the most common questions I get about digital governance—and their answers.
1. What is digital governance?
Digital governance is a discipline that helps businesses get organized around the care and feeding of their online presence. For most organizations, that means Web, mobile, and social channels. In practice, a governing framework lets everyone in the organization know who gets to make decisions about every aspect of digital. This minimizes unnecessary and unproductive debates and infighting about things like the graphical user interface, which technologies will be used, or how the organization will define digital success.
Having a clear approach to digital governance also helps ensure that what you do online is within the bounds of the law and within your organization’s best interests. It also guarantees that your digital strategy is firmly integrated with the overall business strategy.
At its core, defining a digital governance framework isn’t complex. Yet, as a lot of marketers know, implementing the framework can be very difficult in an environment where the use of the Web has grown unstructured and sometimes chaotic.
2. Who in the organization should “own” digital?
That’s a loaded question with an easy answer. The organization “owns” its digital presence, but different parts of the organization are stewards of different aspects of digital. If you think of digital as an iceberg, marketers are often only focused on the part that’s above water—content, graphic design, and maybe the structure or information architecture of the site. So often marketers think they should “own” digital.
But some of what makes digital really work is not so easily seen–for example, publishing systems that support sophisticated information delivery to multiple devices via content “tagged” with information (metadata) that help target it to certain audiences. Then drilling down even deeper, databases and other systems hold all the information, and, deeper still, hardware hosts your Web sites and keeps them secure and available 24/7. And that’s just for Web sites. In the past, IT would be the default for anything “technical,” but to be successful today, marketers, digital, and IT must align to get a holistic view of the iceberg—particularly what may be lurking underneath the surface.
Thus, many aspects of an organization must be involved in the stewardship of digital—not just one. And unless marketers are willing to expand their skills to include some highly technical concerns, stewardship or ownership, if you like, must be shared with other stakeholders. In many cases, it makes sense for the steward of digital to be the CMO, but collaboration with the CIO and other leaders is essential. But whoever is taking responsibility for enforcing digital standards and quality must proactively lead and set strategic direction across departments.
When digital is championed by another leader in the organization, such as the chief digital officer (CDO), the CMO still must play a role in ensuring all digital marketing content aligns with the overall brand and business strategy.
3. Digital is fast moving and ever-changing. Won’t governing digital just slow us down and make us less competitive?
People often equate “governance” with “slow and bureaucratic.” Governance has nothing to do with speed.
A very simple governing framework might be that one person in your organization has complete authority over what happens online and gets to make every decision about how things are built, from design to content to technology.
In fact, that’s how a lot of early informal governing frameworks were. Remember the do-it-all webmasters from the early days of the Web? They configured the Web server, designed Web pages, and wrote content. And that worked when Web sites and digital were new and not particularly mission-critical.
But commercial digital just passed its two-decade mark. Digital channels have become, for some organizations, primary communications and transactional channels. The webmaster is gone. Most digital teams are vast, geographically and functionally distributed entities. If organizations don’t come up with clear roles and responsibilities within that team, there is likely to be a lot of friction. And that friction doesn’t speed things up. It slows things down.
Yes. It takes time to implement a mature approach to governing digital. But the time spent will usually return the investment many times over with streamlined working processes, decreased negativity and debate among digital stakeholders, and improved customer experience as your digital team comes into alignment.