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Who is responsible for digital mistakes?

Who is responsible for digital mistakes? Lisa Welchman

We are 20 years into the corporate digital development, and most organizations have a sophisticated digital footprint that includes web, mobile, and social channels. But despite the ubiquity of digital, few organizations have a real sense of who is accountable for digital quality. And often, that quality can be low. 

On any given day, customers can log on to an organization's website and find rogue areas and other errors the marketing staff doesn't know about -- and wish didn't exist. These "mistakes" fall into two camps: ones that degrade the brand, and ones that can lead to legal liability.

Mistakes that degrade the brand can be obvious to spot, like the misuse of a corporate mark or content that is written in the wrong voice, tone, or language. Sometimes it's as simple as forcing a user to walk a convoluted path to perform what should be an easy task. Many times, customers just give up in frustration, sending them straight to the competitor.

Perhaps even more dangerous, some mistakes lead to legal liability. The type most often seen in the press is called a data breach -- and it's easy to see how it could lead to legal woes for an organization. But there are other types of errors that can occur, particularly in the wild world of social media, where one "off" tweet or Facebook post can open an organization up to lawsuits from competitors and consumers alike.

So, how do these digital mistakes end up online in the first place, and who is responsible for preventing them?

When these sorts of events happen, sometimes a finger is pointed directly at the information technology or marketing departments, but most often, organizations are hard-pressed to determine who is actually responsible -- simply because they don't have a clear picture of who is steering key decisions about digital development. 

Even after 20 years, many organizations have not taken the time to consider how their digital team is structured or exactly what goes on down in the digital trenches. Sure, it's easy to point a finger at the front line digital troops, but in reality, it is the role of executives to ensure that effective management structures and enabling resources are put into place to keep the products, services, and information the business delivers on target for the market and relatively risk free for the organization. That executive function should absolutely extend into the digital realm. Until they extend their focus to digital, the organization's digital presence will continue to operate at risk.

Sometimes executives such as CMOs and CIOs, who have established their careers in a pre-digital universe, have not stopped to consider how organizational structures, policies and standards, and communications and collaboration models might need to change in order to operate safely and effectively in a digitized market place. And they also have failed to see how their own roles may have changed. Consider this: if print brochures were an organization's primary marketing and communications channel and an organization was consistently turning out ineffective collateral that led to brand degradation and legal liability, who would be accountable for that mistake? Now let's look at that through a 2015 lens: If an organization's websites and social platforms are the primary marketing and communications channels for the organization, who should be accountable for their quality? In both cases, the answer is likely not some junior, frontline resource.

It's important for CMOs (and CIOs) to lead the charge for a better aligned digital team and to help other executives in the organization understand the range of online mistakes that can occur without that alignment. Leaders need to understand their joint accountability for errors that occur not through tactical negligence, but because of a strategic misstep: lack of planning and organization.

For marketers, the transformation starts by working together with IT to institute a framework that establishes accountability and authority for digital matters and decisions. This framework would align marketing resources, the individuals who choose the systems and software that marketers use to work online, and others in the organization who contribute to the online experience. This structure will help create an environment where the content that goes online is of higher quality and where foreseeable mistakes don't happen in the first place. It can also provide the marketing team on the front lines with clearer authority to make key decisions related to the organizational online portfolio. It's well worth the effort to ensure a less risky, more effective digital presence for the next 20 years and beyond.

Lisa Welchman is president of Digital Governance Solutions at ActiveStandards.

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Lisa Welchman is the president of Digital Governance Solutions at ActiveStandards and the author of the upcoming book, Managing Chaos: Digital Governance by Design (Rosenfeld Media, January 2015).  Lisa's focus centers on understanding and...

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