The death of corporate websites: Top 10 ways they will change

Simon Mainwaring / Brands / 5 years ago

Cartoon Credit: Dave Coverly @

In the not too distant future static corporate websites will be replaced by their social equivalents.

This will happen because more and more consumers are engaged in daily conversations, often involving brands, across multiple applications, platforms and networks, wholly independent of these sites.

As these conversations become increasingly independent of these sites, falling traffic will render them ineffective in their current form. Instead, the online presence of each brand will necessarily expand out into the social space to stay in touch with their audience.

As a result, the online presence of a brand will increasingly become the sum of its social exchanges across the web and not the website that many currently call home.

Corporate sites will change in many ways:

1. They will be forced to constantly reconstitute themselves as a function of ever-shifting dialogue with consumers. (Have you ever noticed how every time you re-do your website, as soon as you’re done, you have to re-do it again because technology and conversations have moved on? It’s just like that and isn’t going to change).

2. The compass for a brand in this shifting marketplace will be its core values and purpose. The strict definition, execution and adherence to values allows for a brand to move and morph without cannibalizing itself.

3. Corporate sites will serve as launch pads for outreach rather than destinations for inbound interest. Their main role will be to constantly engage consumers in conversation (wherever that is occurring) and actively damage control any mishaps in brand messaging.

4. Information will no longer sit idly in corporate sites waiting for visitors. Rather, it will constantly flow through moving conversations in the social space.

5. Corporate sites will have no beginning or end. They will live, breathe and die in conversation. As such the online hub of a brand will be distributed rather than centralized in a site.

6. The focus of brand awareness at any given moment (specific to the brand at large, a product launch, or some larger conversation to which it is relevant) will be a moving target driven by conversation flow, engagement levels, technology tools and context.

7. Brands will no longer be places to visit but people you meet on the road. By this I mean consumers will intersect with brands at different points in the day, wherever they are, often indirectly and unexpectedly, rather than a destination they consciously visit.

8. A brand manager’s job will become that of the social officer, facilitating as many moments of authentic interaction with consumers each day as possible. As such, part of their job will be understanding where to find their customers and how to help them find the brand.

9. Control isn’t what it used to be. In a consumer-driven marketplace the tension between granular data/ROI and consumer-focused messaging will be greater than ever. Brands will have to rethink how they measure success for these new distributed sites looking to attention and engagement rather than number of visitors or click throughs.

10. As community becomes more mobile, consumers will increasingly be defined by where they are. As a result, brands will be everywhere all at once and constantly on the move to stay in touch with consumers.

Steve Rubel tweeted this weekend that his big takeaway from CES was that “wireless and social are getting embedded into every device”. To paraphrase Ben Harper, “When consumers lead, brands should follow” and this includes their websites.

How is your brand reaching out into the social space? What other changes do you expect?

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  1. lelapin says:

    the trend already started for small companies that prefer investing on social platforms over creating their own website from scratch and deal with the heavy lifting of making it popular and everything.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I believe that there will still be a need for the corp. website, however it will be a dstination that a prospective client will engage in after first finding your organization through some type of social media. It will cease to be the entry into your organization and become a place to establish value.

  3. Pls spell “its” correctly.

    1. Sabrina Mandanas says:

      Hello Glenn Gillette…It’s 0057 EST from where I am and had just stopped working; exhausted, crossed eyed and in need of rest, I decided to make this blog post as my last stop before bed. I have to tell you that in as much as I am one of the most nit-picky person you will ever meet, I was so engaged in the message being delivered, as I am in the process of revamping my company’s website, that I happily failed to catch the “its” error to which you had referred. I suspect that in this stage of Simon Mainwaring’s career and life, mistakes such as the one you noticed bears little to no consequence amongst those who appreciate his professional wisdom including the vast information which this blog delivers. Please forgive me but sometimes, being human is such an awesome achievement in this universe because it embraces mistakes and signs of imperfection, hence those guilty are that much more approachable, endearing and touchable… Sorry if I made mizzztakes here as well… goodnight love!

  4. Lucy says:

    This is a very interesting post indeed. I think you may be right for some visitors and for some corporate sites – particularly those directly facing consumers. But I think even these companies will need some core, centralised functions, even if these are reduced to libraries and directories, and for some visitors there will need to be the ‘authorised version’ – perhaps particularly for investor relations. For some companies – and maybe some industries – it may be difficult to generate genuine conversation off-site, particularly about the company brand as opposed to any product/service brand. I think it likely that a hub of some kind will remain in all cases – though it may vary between companies.

    I do think that the corporate site will either become increasingly attenuated, as more and more content is held elsewhere (we already see some corporate image galleries held on Flickr, for instance), or else it will become increasingly dense and vibrant, as visitor generated content is either created directly on the corporate site or is ‘brought back’ to the site for collation and display. Either way, I think it will change – and it’s going to be fascinating to see which way companies go.

    Thanks for this post – lots to think about!

  5. Isaac Viel says:

    Although I agree that Corporate websites are becoming less and less effective at communicating day by day, week by week and perhaps year by year what the company is doing, I don't think they will be going away anytime soon. I remember years ago, during the rise of Ebay and Amazon, people saying how brick and mortar stores will soon be gone and all that will remain will be online shopping. I do agree though that essentially social media and active conversation IS the new internet. It's no longer a static thing; it's a moving target where brands own web space not just in one place but on customer's blogs and twitter posts and text messages. So looking back on the brick and mortar is dying idea, it's funny that official corporate websites have become the brick and mortal, which now seem a bit redundant, old fashion and slow to respond.


  6. Hi, Isaac. Happy New Year and thanks for your thoughts. I agree I don't think they will totally disappear but I am trying to distinguish between a website and where the brand actually resides. Here's a bad metaphor. I think there will always be a brand mothership in space, but most of its population with be off on adventures in space. And I think what's most important for a brand is to focus on the engagement or awareness hub of a brand, and I don't think that will be the website. I've got another bad analogy. If your brand is your car roaming the streets, your corporate website will be where you get a tune up. Obviously we both agree brand presence is no longer a static thing. What I fear is that, after so long associating a brand's online presence with their site, it will take too long for brands to realize they need to reach out and live in the social space. It is crazy to think of websites as dying bricks and mortar. I think they'll be around, but rather than homes for brands, they'll be empty nests. (There I go with another metaphor!) My hope is that this post may encourage a few brands to consider venturing out before it's too late. Otherwise it might get very quiet and lonely for them. Best to you too, Simon

  7. Thanks for catching that. Will do. Best, Simon

  8. Thanks and agreed. I think of necessity, smaller companies are at an advantage as costs are driving them in the right direction towards the social space. Bigger companies suffer from time, money and mindsets invested in elaborate sites (as I have done myself). My hope is simply to encourage companies of all sizes to head out into the social space and realize that's where they need to live if the brand is to stay in touch and relevant to consumers. Thanks for the input, Simon

  9. Hi Lucy and Happy New Year. Yes, I don't think corporate sites will disappear and they will become more like libraries, directories, warehouses or some other base station equivalent. My main distinction is that the life of the brand, its pulse in daily consumer conversation will reside and flow across social networks and platforms. You do raise a good point and one I didn't consider. Some companies, the brave ones, will aggregate visitor generated content at their corporate site. I think of the Converse short film gallery as one example. Those efforts will definitely attracts renewed attention to the corporate site. Critical to the effectiveness of this, however, is an equally rattling leap of faith that companies must do they will need to turn their sites inside out so they are consumer focused rather than brand focused. You see many examples of that today but its still not easy. Thanks for that distinction. I don't believe corporate sites will be lost forever but what we look to them for will no longer apply. Life, for a brand, is now to be found out there by getting social. All the best, Simon


  10. Chris Moody says:

    Awesome post.

    We've had several meetings about “blowing up our corporate website” and this is definitely something that will continue to increase.

    Community first, company second.

    Chris Moody

  11. Thanks, Chris and Happy new Year. I think you're right. Community first is the fundamental shift. A corporate site may still exist but in service of that community. It's a subtle shift but a consequential one. The brands that do it first will be best positioned to benefit for community goodwill and interaction.
    Good luck with the demolition. Best, Simon

  12. John Balla says:

    You packed a lot of thought-provoking stuff in this post, and it’s easy to see how all 10 of these will play out.

    I believe there’s a corollary to your points #7 and #8 regarding brands, which is that the transparency and interactivity of social media will drive a greater need within the enterprise to align more tightly around the brand promise.

    Disconnects between customer experience and customer expectations will become more apparent to a wider audience, and the nature of social media has the potential to magnify dissatisfaction to the point that it will compel companies to react more quickly and more genuinely.

    If it has not happened already, it will not take long for management outside of the marketing function to realize the need to engage in the conversations happening with or without them and that there’s a long list of ways that “business as usual” will never be the same.


  13. Brandon101 says:

    Great topic Simon. I definitely believe that corporate sites in their traditional form are a dying breed. As Lucy said, there will always be a place for static information, directories, etc., but the real value for most visitors will be the interaction with the brand AND the community that supports the brand. What I mean by that is that social functionality should be included in the sites as well so that visitors have a chance to interact with the larger community, including those who are engaged on other sites/communitites. Discussion areas, blogs, Twitter feeds, photo/video uploads, etc. can enhance the classic corporate site and help humanize the brand.

    I absolutely agree with the concept of outposts that surround the main home base, and ideally those outposts should provide whatever experience the customers desire at the outpost and also provide a clear path to the home base, as well as paths to other outposts. The bottom line is that we should architect brand presence online to reach customers and potential customers where they are, not try to drag them away from where they are to some place that is convenient for us.

    One final thought – it's important to consider the platform when having this discussion. Many companies get locked into technology that precludes them from adding key functionality as they go and when conditions change. Heavy reliance on Flash for instance can be limiting to future add-ons without major work, not to mention problematic for mobile access. Companies that explore open-source or non-traditional web platforms may end up having a leg up in the long run. A key question should be 'does the platform have hooks into existing social tools and communities that my brand has a presence on, and does it have the capability to add additional features in the future without a major overhaul?' Asking this kind of question in the planning stage can be very beneficial and lead to a much more interactive and engaging experience for site visitors, and fans of the brand on the outposts as well.

    Thanks for the topic, Simon!

  14. Thanks Brandon and hope all is well. I agree. If corporate sites can efficiently integrate social element and become consumer focused, then they can prolong their relevance and life. At best, though, I think that function of the corporate site will just make it one more outpost for consumer attention (as you rightly described it). Brands need to leave their own nests and mix with customers rather than through a party and hope everyone comes. I agree, technology is a limitation on brand scope, and no doubt they have invested time and money in that technology, but as we all know, the only thing that's for sure is that the technology we're using now is already out of date. Brands need to be as nimble and consumers and that is hard when you're a big organization, but those that survive will be those that can adapt and adapt again. For that reason, I agree, open source is better and should be addressed in the planning stage. Perhaps we should use constant change instead of known quantities as our guiding principle now. It's tough but realistic. Thanks as always for your great input, Simon

  15. I agree in that it's a total nonsense that official sites don't help me find places where I can talk about their products, or at least read other's opinions.
    For brands to leave this task to Google is just madness, and a really missed opportunity.

    I'm still surprised Nikon doesn't show a gallery of pictures taken on Flickr with their products for instance. It'd be so easy to tag our pics with the name of the lense or body. And it would make so many people realise what they can achieve with it (much more than spec details).

  16. Thanks, Shann. It is strange, I agree. There's a huge upside to consumer-facing corporate sites that are being missed. It would be an easy way to help customers find a brand by building galleries and the like into their sites. The changes will come when enough brands do it. It's hard though when companies have so much investment in the way things were always done. Best, Simon

    1. Investments AND personal interests… Big corporations are not fit for radical change, because they inevitably mean that someone is in the line of fire (and very often they can be important decision makers, who have a lot to lose).

  17. Hi Glenn, hope you got some rest. I know how you feel. I'm so jet lagged right now I look, well, green. Thanks so much for the time you took to read the post late at night. I actually really appreciate when people catch errors. I try to be thorough but always miss a thing or two. I changed it right away and wouldn't have caught it otherwise. But yes, you can never be too human, especially in this crazy digital space that is enveloping us. Odd times, to be sure, but interesting. Hope all's well with you, Simon

  18. Hi, John, and Happy New Year. I so agree about transparency. It's a huge bug bear of mine. Without it trust is almost impossible. And, as you say, the downside is huge as social media amplifies the disconnect between brand promise and experience. It's incredible to find ourselves in increasingly accountable times as marketers. I agree lots of things will be effected and most companies will change later than needed, but the market has a very effective and often ruthless way of sorting out the sluggish. Thanks for your input and I hope all is well, Simon

  19. iconic88 says:

    Great points you’ve raised Simon.

    I would add that Seesmic’s acquisition of Ping.Fm’s will likely become very important in this space. Seeismic is positioning themselves quite nicely as the gateway of choice for a growing number of business’s (albeit SME’s) to ‘push’ our their content to the many communications platforms where conversations are taking place as well as ‘engage’ them.

    The questions are these, how will businesses keep their clients engaged? who will be responsible for this role? under what conditions?


  20. “By this I mean consumers will intersect with brands at different points in the day, wherever they are, often indirectly and unexpectedly, rather than a destination they consciously visit.”

    Perhaps as a big interactive TV set. Consumers still want their media entertainment to be free.

    On the other hand, if consumers are genuinely interested in a product offering, they won’t hesitate to visit the website for more information.

  21. FamousRob says:

    You can already see how the myspace page and facebook fan group has replaced band web sites.

  22. Agreed. Really good point. That's a great example of the migration. Thanks, Rob.

  23. Thanks and totally agree. Conversations will be managed by intermediaries like Seismic for sure. Brands will then have to engage with them to reach customers. It sure is a whole new dynamic. Businesses will have to be out them, actively engaging their audiences constantly. It won't be easy or static. Strange times for all of us. Great questions, BTW. Thanks for the feedback. Simon

  24. I agree and thanks. It might be through interactive TV, but whatever the means, they have to capture consumer interest first by joining a conversation to which their product is relevant rather than leading with their product. Then I think people will happily visit a corporate site because its in their interest. That's when a site as a library, inventory, resource will still have a role. Thanks so much
    for the feedback, Simon

  25. Iconic88 says:

    Cheers Simon ;-)

    At the nexus (excuse the Google pun) point where conversations are taking place, can you imagine the tremendous analytics value a company like Seismic will be able to offer to businesses? They won't be a one-trick pony as they will access every major conversation platform.

    As for businesses, IMHO, they will need to adopt an authentic maternal attitude in their engagement with their audience.

    Is this the age of 'tao-vertising' Simon realised? advertising without advertising ;-)

    Thanks mate!

  26. I know. It's so bizarre. Too good to be true perhaps? It'll be interesting to see what strategies are use to co-opt it like greenwashing. In truth, it's just so infuriating for brands. It's like a despot who's been told his kingdom moved on without telling them. It's the democratization of voice, conversation, politics, social change – so much is shifting. I hope it all bodes well. I'm a big believer in human nature but had the naivete knocked out of me some time ago. The more we champion the upside though, the better the odds will be for positive change. Great to be in touch, Simon

  27. utymooliveira says:

    SImon good point, but I just want to add and remember that Skittles start this strategy a long time ago check it out

  28. Thanks. I remember the Skittles campaign and it definitely set the bar and was first out of the Gates. I was trying to say Coke or Pepsi were first, but that here are two category leaders, major brands, making the leap. If only to encourage others to do so. As a brand with such incredible creative pedigree, it was easy for people to think the Skittles campaign was just something they would do when in fact they were right on the money and first. Hopefully, the risks big brands are taking will further encourage others to help themselves by embracing the social space. So thanks for bringing that up and hope all is well, Simon

  29. Iconic88 says:

    I love what you say Simon, “the more we champion the upside though, the better the odds will be for positive change”, that is where the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is.

    Brands will find this frustrating and infuriating for sure. That is because their level of control and ways of doing things is eroding. Their kingdom has if not is moving on and as you rightly say, the democratization of voice, conversation, politics, social change is happening. So much so, it's happening right before their eyes and in real time.

    The issue for the despot is, are they still getting the same advice from the same people who didn't tell them their Kingdom is moving? Maybe they need a fresher perspective? Maybe the advisors need better better advice from those around them.

    Old habits are hard to break but if a brand is willing to let go and unlearn what they know to go outside and bring in a fresh perspective, even an old dog can learn new tricks.

    Take care mate and thanks for the mind food. @Iconic88

  30. You're welcome. I agree, the ability to unlearn is as important as the skill of learning. Even more so in a real-time marketplace. the industry is transitioning and brands are looking for advice in new places. My hope is that ad agencies round out their skill sets as soon as possible to avoid being left behind. Best, Simon

  31. Iconic88 says:

    What would be your advice for people Simon on how to approach these ad agencies to help them round out their skill sets?

    Best Regards from Sydney.

  32. Just to embrace social media. To start doing it for themselves, to educate their staff, to hire expertise, to bridge traditional and social media. Compeltely possible. S.

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  36. Scott Clark says:

    Do you think that corporate sites will ultimately become servants of the Social Graph – a jumping off point that ties together the various conversations (plus, perhaps transactional support.)? Will traditional SEO finally become mostly dependent on social signals around brands?

  37. I do. I think all brands – whether they're government institutions, private sector companies or non-profits – will become listening posts for community intelligence. Corporate sites will either be consumer facing and content hubs or social dashboards and information archive for the brands. Social will drive SEO for sure. The power shift is already underway. Thanks, Scott..

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  41. Marc-Oliver says:

    Some great thoughts and ideas, Simon. I am currently writing on an article for the about the (declining) value of official brand portals – aka “homepages” (here is an abstract/pitch:

    Within the last couple of months I talked to many people, website owners, designers, content managers etc. (spec. in the ski resort industry) about their website strategy and noticed that many of them just don’t know what to do with it anymore. On the other hand are the users. They are getting more and more sophisticated in using other devices, app-like services and interfaces. Ultimately, they want brands to become useful “tools, partners, services, etc.” in their daily lives. Most branded websites can’t compete with those new demands and desires, that’s why they look, feel and behave so draggy. Also, the user wants to be seen as an individual – not just as a visitor or personae. Brand portals don’t provide these options – Social Media Platforms and Mobile Services do. This is the mental model, that the new web experiences (social, mobile, context related, etc.) implemented into the users behavior. A “classic website” has no place in that model.

    Visiting traditional branded websites became equally to visiting a dentist: “official and unpleasant”.

    Now, Simon, what do you think, makes people coming back to sites? If they do – what’s the most common experience they expect?

    Thanks for some thoughts.

    Regards and sunny wishes from Quebec.

    1. Thanks for your insights Marc-Olivier, and a pleasure to meet you. I think
      that if brands want to bring consumers back to their websites they need to
      turn them inside out. Instead of hubs for brands, they need to be recast as
      gathering places for customer communities.That simple shift will
      dramatically affect the content and how it’s organized.

      Perhaps the best way to describe it is that a brand’s online HQ needs to
      become a place where customers live rather than a museum they get to visit.
      Obviously the carpets will get dirty and you can’t necessarily control who
      comes through the door all the time, but you know it will be full of life
      and conversation.

      A good starting point would be to work with customers and say if we were to
      build you a site, what would it look like. Them, the experience they expect
      would be driven by what they want to do there, who visits and what interests
      they share.

      Plus it would be built in a way that can accommodate organic changes in
      technology, conversation or guests. In my mind brand websites need to think
      of themselves as storytelling platforms that engage consumers in
      conversation and activities rather than monuments to themselves.

      I hope that helps and a pleasure to meet you. Simon

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      1. Don’t participate if you do not intend to invest time and energy into
      long-term relationships with your fans.
      2. Don’t participate if you are not willing or capable of moderating the
      conversations you start on a daily basis.
      3. Don’t measure success by the number of fans or followers you have, but
      rather, how deeply they are engaged.
      4. Don’t treat social media like direct mail where you simply talk about
      yourself tirelessly in shorter sound bites.
      5. When you make a mistake, don’t get defensive or self-righteous, but
      rather, accept responsibility, apologize and do what you can to make up for

      _Top 5 Dos for Facebook_
      1. Do bring consistent creativity to your Facebook ‘Like’ page to inspire
      2. Do respond to negative comments in order to turn a brand critic into a
      brand advocate.
      3. Do recognize your brand loyalists and reach out to them to build them
      into brand ambassadors.
      4. Do keep up to date with the latest applications and plug-ins that add new
      dimension to your ‘Like’ page.
      5. Do recognize that your are effectively bidding for people’s attention in
      an overcrowded marketplace and that their time deserves to be rewarded.

      _Top 5 Don’ts for Twitter_
      1. Don’t buy followers. It’s a waste of time and money.
      2. Don’t spam your audience with constant messages about yourself.
      3. Don’t forget to bring some humor and wit to your communications so that
      people want to read what you share.
      4. Don’t forget to retweet what your followers share.
      5. Don’t forget to be interesting. You must demonstrate your passion for
      your topic.

      _Top 5 Do’s for Twitter_
      1. Do engage with a follower when they reach out to you with a question or
      2. Do post between eight and ten times a day and spend the rest of your time
      on engagement.
      3. Do share photos, video links and text messages to inspire interest.
      4. Do stay consistently engaged to avoid community attrition.
      5. Do monitor your tone carefully, because it only takes 140 characters to
      undo all your good work.

      Overarching all these pointers is a necessity for your brand to be clearly
      defined, to know its core values, and to demonstrate those consistently.
      Social media tools are not an end in themselves, but rather another way to
      connect with people emotionally to generate word of mouth advertising. If
      your brand is clearly defined and your core values consistently on display,
      your community will reward your engagement by promoting your brand for you.

      Thanks for being a part of the We First community and I hope you enjoyed the
      newsletter. Look out for a big announcement in next month’s issue!

      A struggling economy, a world in crisis and new social technology has left
      brands scrambling for profits and consumers desperate for change. What if we
      could achieve both? What if brands and consumers could partner using social
      media to build communities, profits and a better world? That’s the promise
      of a We First world.
      Simon Mainwaring is an author, blogger, speaker and founder and CEO of We
      First, a social branding consultancy. A former Nike creative at Wieden &
      Kennedy, Portland, and worldwide creative director for Motorola at Ogilvy,
      he is a member of the GMI Digital Advisory Board, the Advisory Board of the
      Center for Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School, AdAge’s Power150 and is
      an Expert Blogger for _Fast Company_.

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      Copyright © 2011 We First

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  42. […] websites is on the rise. Articles such as “The death of the brand website?” and “The death of the corporate website” are good examples of […]

  43. […] They’re becoming less important as more and more communication takes place on other platforms. I’m not the only person to have talked about the ‘death of the corporate website’ as other websites become more […]

  44. michaelbrenner says:

    Hi Simon, writing a post referencing your predictions here. Want to provide an update on progress of the death of the corporate website and brand managers becoming social ambassadors?

    1. Simon Mainwaring says:

      Thanks, Michael. It’s a great suggestion and I’ll get to it soon. I think my largest comment would be that the entire enterprise must become and ambassadors now. Here’s a great Altimeter report for the end of last year that should help your post:

    2. Simon Mainwaring says:

      I’d love to discuss further too so I’ll reach out and it would be great to do a call Michael.

  45. Dean Parker says:

    Hi Simon, have just published a response at Would be interested in your thoughts.

    1. Simon Mainwaring says:

      Sure Dean and I’ll take a new look now!

      1. Simon Mainwaring says:

        Dean, I tried to respond to your post but I can’t find where to write a comment. I don’t think the comments function is enabled. Or let me know what I’m missing. Thanks.

        1. Dean Parker says:

          That’s a very good point. Apologies, comments have been disabled for various reasons. Maybe we can debate here?

          1. Dean Parker says:

            Hi Simon. Discus is now live again on the site. Would still love to her your thoughts.