Stewardship at the heart of Web Governance

Stewardship is defined as being responsible for taking care of something that doesn't belong to you. At the core of your web site's success is the need to serve your visitors - whether they are customers, investors or prospects. In this sense, your web assets don't belong to you and being able to make decisions based on this notion is critical.

That's where a web governance model can help. A good web governance model establishes how resources, staff, and money should be allocated to benefit all project stakeholders. The web governance plan is your key communications reference guide.

10 web governance considerations

Generally, the need for web governance has a direct relationship with the size of the investment and its intended impact: the greater the investment, the greater the need. Without a governance plan, the squeaky wheel gets the grease— and this is not likely in the best interests of the project. A formal plan may not be necessary for smaller organizations and projects, but you should still be familiar with these 10 areas:

  1. Objectives – The website objectives should support the achievement of your business objectives; therefore both need to be well defined. (Note, if one of your business objectives is not "make stakeholders happy" then you can stop reading.) The plan and the team should decide on the allocation of resources based on fulfillment of the web objectives. In this way, web governance can help set expectations for the project. It can also limit the politics that come into play, especially for larger organizations where there are multiple stakeholders. 
  2. Governance Board – An ongoing governance team must represent all stakeholder groups but remain small and nimble to make decisions efficiently. It should include one c-level person to get the ear of the executive team for large decisions and approvals. The role of the team is to:
    recommend and approve web priorities and sub-projects
    recommend and approve standards for design, messaging, branding, management, etc. (i.e. 3 through 10 below)
  3. Ownership – While stewardship of your web assets is a team effort, one person must take responsibility for the documents, meetings, follow-ups, and standards that are set. Rotating this position on an annual basis can also help keep progress from plateau-ing.
  4. Roles and permissions – This means determining exactly who will do the work. If using a CMS, clients get excited (and rightfully so!) at the prospect of distributing responsibility for content changes to various departments. Think carefully through the permissions you give to each user:Should they be able to edit all content or select pages?Should their access be ‘read only’, ‘editor’, or ‘publisher’?Can they manage other users on the site? Can they access and manage application data collected on the site?
  5. Funding   When funding comes from many departments, each feel they are entitled to a say in the direction of the site. Well defined objectives keep everyone focused on the greater good and help fend off the squeaky wheels. 
  6. Branding / Look & Feel – It’s important that your website accurately portrays your brand and is consistent with your other marketing materials. Organizations with defined brand guidelines may need to adapt them for the web and ensure they are communicated to all content contributors. Web guidelines should cover (at minimum): logo use, colour palette, header styles and typography, photo selection and cropping, and template selection. 
  7. Content & messaging – Many content contributors can muddy the voice of the organization. It’s a good idea to define standard messaging and to assign a Marketing Communications person as a final set of eyes before clicking publish.
  8. Measurement – Tracking the performance of your asset is essential to determining progress toward the achievement of your objectives. Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) and plan to make metrics analysis a regular part of website stewardship.
  9. IT Infrastructure – While website management has moved from the IT to the marketing department, IT plays an integral role in your website. Hosting, bandwidth, back-end databases, and integration with 3rd party systems all require IT expertise. When in doubt, get them in the loop—techies hate surprises, and these surprises can be costly.
  10. Training & education – With many hands contributing to the website, it can grow like a patch of weeds if left unchecked. Training is critical so that contributors understand the basics of usability, web writing and content management to keep your site well groomed. Also, as the Internet changes so quickly, it’s important to keep people aware of trends and how to best incorporate them into your site. An outdated website can become a liability.

Flexible & focused

While a governance model is important to have, the reality is that you won’t know all of the answers to these 10 areas until you live with your new site for a while. Web governance must be adaptable because your website is constantly evolving. As your website and business grow, so must your model. Keep it flexible and focused and your web projects will be managed on time and on budget – and your web site will be an appreciable asset.

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