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Coca-Cola declared the corporate website dead. So why haven’t companies listened?

Coca Cola Journey

Content is king. The website is dead.

About 6 months ago, Coca-Cola declared that “Content is King, and the Corporate Website is Dead”. The blog outlined how storytelling was the cornerstone of 21st century communications which for Coca-Cola translated into stories that involved their brands. The result of this revelation was a revamp of their website to more closely resemble the site of an online media company than that of a company making soft drinks.

Has anyone noticed?

Although the declaration and the website grabbed attention at the time, it is hard to find any other companies that have yet followed suit. The corporate website is still perceived as an obligation to provide information about the company and its products in a representational way. Any attempt to integrate social media into the mix will be the obligatory Facebook or Twitter like buttons at the bottom of the page. As for storytelling, this is almost always driven by the other obligatory element of the corporate site, the dispassionate news releases written by the corporate PR department.

Part of the issue will be that company executives will not necessarily recognise that they even have a problem. For many senior managers, social media is still a foreign world and they are not being driven by what analytics about their websites could be telling them. The other more obvious reason they may not realise they have a problem is that they probably don’t actually use their own site. If there is a function specifically for staff, it will probably their assistant that navigates that function for them.

Forget the content, just increase the traffic.

Websites are often seen as the principal component of a company’s marketing strategy. It is often assumed that once a site is created, traffic to it is simply a matter of strategies such as search engine optimization (SEO). This view has been promoted by other companies selling services to boost the visibility of websites.

The problem with SEO is that it tries to manipulate whether a site appears in a search. How effective this is in practice is questionable. Even if effective, what it doesn’t address however is the issue that Coca-Cola raised, namely that unless the content is something that people actually need, whatever traffic does actually end up on the site will have little relevance.

The move to mobile.

Another factor in the growing irrelevance of corporate websites is the inexorable shift to mobile. It is now estimated that around 17% of all Internet traffic is coming from mobile. Even if a site is designed in such a way as to be formatted correctly on a mobile device, people are going to access the site very differently. Only content that solves a particular problem for a user will have any relevance. The rest is largely redundant.

The move to social.

Along with the shift to mobile, there is the continuing inexorable move to social networks. Internet users are spending around 27% of their time on social networks. The amount of time spent on traditional websites that aren’t engaging their consumers is diminishing.

The move to apps.

And finally, there is the fact that dynamic interaction with users is occurring increasingly through mobile apps. This takes even more traffic away from the corporate site if the principal form of engagement that a customer has with a company is their app.

Not only is functionality being disaggregated, but content is too. Videos produced by a company may feature on a web site, but they will also be part of the corporate YouTube channel which may have its own set of subscribers. Clients now will obtain information and content from a company through a range of sources, most of which will never lead them back to the main site.

What can be done?

Changing online strategy for most companies is going to be a challenge. Engaging with customers using a mobile driven, socially focused communications strategy and surfacing consumer generated stories would be something most companies have little experience with or could ever do well. Not engaging in this way however will be the equivalent of not having a web presence 10 years ago. Ironic then that companies would still see having that web presence as being important.

Online students and “on-campus students learning online” - is there a difference?

On-campus students online

In a recent interview with the University of New England’s (UNE) ex Vice-Chancellor Jim Barber, he talked about the disruptive threat of MOOCs to the Australian higher education system. The threat was largely being ignored by what he perceived to be blinkered and risk-averse educational leaders and governance boards. It was not clear from the interview what he saw as the solution but part of the issue was around the dilemma posed between cheap online education epitomised by MOOCs, and the increasingly expensive and traditional on-campus version. Even without confounding the issue with the idea of MOOCs, Barber observed that:

“(In theory) you really could jettison UNE’s entire on-campus operation, get rid of enormous cost and run a fairly lucrative (on-line) operation. But the sort of damage that does to the (Armidale) region for the foreseeable future is unconscionable”

The interesting part of this is that even Barber makes a distinction between students who are online and those that are enrolled in on-campus courses. We all believe to a greater or lesser extent that students who come onto a campus are engaging in activities largely different from those who access the university only through their computers.

The problem is, the difference between online and on-campus is becoming increasingly blurred. On-campus students spend an increasing amount of time using their computers and accessing content through the Internet. The amount of time a student might directly interact with lecturers and other teaching staff is usually defined as contact time and this averages around 3 to 4 hours a week. This means that the majority of their time that they are spending studying even as on-campus students is actually online. At UWA, like other universities, our libraries are now being converted into studying spaces that are constantly full of students plugged into their computers. Even during the so-called contact hours, students are multitasking with their laptops open taking notes and checking other sources of information.

Proponents of on-campus university education will argue that students will also be engaging with each other on team work and projects and socialising. This is true, but they will like all young people, be simultaneously interacting with each other via social media and messaging. Again, what was once limited by being physically co-located has now shifted to making where you are, far less important. Add to this the fact that a large number of students don’t now bother to actually come onto campus because they are working or find the effort of travel too much, the difference between online and oncampus narrows.

There are obviously things like laboratory work that can only currently happen in a physical setting on-campus. But even these are now being challenged as large class sizes and consolidation of teaching make them impractical to run anymore.

We usually do not acknowledge the fact that our students who are enrolled for on-campus courses will actually spend only a fraction of their time in that physical space and even then, the significance of it being a university campus will be simply the place they happened to be when they were online. We usually care about how our physical spaces look and what amenities are available but never notice poor wireless networks frustrating students trying to work online or worry about the less than professional online content provided to them for use in their studies.

Jim Barber is right to worry about the threat that MOOCs pose. For our students, the online world is now second nature even if they themselves are not fully aware of it. Most would not readily admit to the relative amounts of time they spend learning online versus non-online. The move to an education system that was driven by the use of MOOCs would not be that great a leap for them.

On the other hand, when academics assess the threat they compare the quality of online with what they falsely perceive to be a largely mythical on-campus experience.

That is not to say that being on-campus to do online courses is a bad thing. UWA for example has a beautiful campus with increasingly attractive learning spaces for students to do exactly that.

When Drones attack. Triathlete discovers the hazards of drones in public spaces

Injured Athlete with Drone The West Australian

In what may become an increasingly common occurrence, a drone that was being used to film the Endure Batavia Triathlon in Geraldton, Western Australia, seemingly lost control and crashed into runner Raijer Ogden, injuring her sufficiently to require hospitalisation.

Warren Abrams, the owner of the drone, later claimed that the vehicle had been “hacked” by someone “channel hopping”. He even suggested that this was possible for someone to do using a mobile phone. It is far more likely however that if the cause of the crash was due to interference to the signal between the controller and the vehicle, that this was caused by the environment the drone was being flown in rather than someone deliberately trying to jam the signal.

The type of drone being used by Abrams is radio controlled using radio frequencies commonly in the 2.5 GHz range. There are quite a few devices that operate in that range including the WiFi from mobile phones. Usually however, these devices would have to be close to the receivers on the vehicle to have any sort of effect. There are reported instances of interference with drone control signals from things like mobile phone towers that could cause sufficient loss of contact between the controller and the vehicle to cause a crash.

To deliberately hijack the drone however would require someone with a similar controller overriding the controls that Abrams' team was using - which seems a more implausible scenario. Cheaper consumer drones operate by using WiFi from mobile phones and again it is possible to disrupt the communications between phone and vehicle but you need to [fly close] to the drone with the device that is disrupting the connection.

The other possibility is that the crash was simply due to operator error. It is not clear who was actually operating the drone at the time but on Abrams' Facebook page, it is his daughter, 19-year-old Coraleigh Abrams and a fellow employee, Jordan Smith, also 19, who normally operate the drones.

New Era Ag Tech - the Drone Operators with the drone that caused the accident

The drone itself is likely to be the DJIF550 hexacopter pictured below which is a popular hobbyist hexcopter. If used for commercial purposes however, the operators are required to certify with the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). It does not appear that Abrams or any of the organisations he runs are listed as certified operators, a view confirmed by the Australian Certified UAV Operators group. This has been denied by Abrams but he has still not been able to provide proof of his certification when questioned by journalists. CASA is now investigating the incident but have not said whether the drones were being operated illegally.

Hexcopter DJIF550

Drone crashes are not that uncommon. Last year a drone crashed into an audience at an event in the US injuring 4 people. In another incident, a drone crashed with the attached camera revealing that the owner had been filming people covertly.

Video caption here

Clearly the drone in this incident should not have been flying within 30m of people and should have been flown by certified operators. As drone technology becomes cheaper and more accessible, the risks of these types of accidents will become greater. In the case of this race, it was the organisers who were partially to blame for allowing a possibly unlicensed operator to film the event. However, given the newness of the technology, the thought that this type of activity is regulated would not necessarily have been known to them. Unfortunately, common sense didn’t kick in as a safeguard.