How do you create policies that act as guard rails, giving employees a high degree of freedom within a framework established to minimize the possibility of making a mistake?
I’ve always said that digital policies are about maximizing opportunity while minimizing risk. First, organizations have to determine the level of risk they’re comfortable with. Then they have to develop policies to support that level of risk tolerance. The policies act as guard rails, giving employees a high degree of freedom within a framework established to minimize the possibility of making a mistake. A checklist that prevents content creators from publishing a post until certain criteria are met is one example. Another example would be a requirement that Marketing can’t launch an overseas campaign without researching the relevant regulatory requirements and verifying that their campaign meets those requirements.
When you’re starting a digital policy initiative from scratch, it seems overwhelming. You have to look backward and tear apart all of your existing processes to find the places where mistakes could creep in, and then come up with ways to seal up those vulnerabilities. And then you give yourself a big round of applause and think that you’re finished except for making sure everybody abides by the new policies and measuring their effectiveness.
But that approach leaves a big, gaping hole: the opportunity to learn from mistakes, whether they’re your own or another company’s. If your digital policies don’t include a process for monitoring the business world, capturing digital missteps, ferreting out the lessons, and incorporating them into your own digital policies, you’re really missing out -- not to mention leaving yourself open to making similar mistakes.
Let’s take a look at a few examples.
The 2008 recession hit Gap (and its customers) hard. Instead of panicking, however, the management team responded in a way that illustrated that the brand was aligned with its customers: Basic, but hip. They focused on discounts and special offers, they strengthened the brand, they built a presence on social media, and they launched a campaign about being able to shop anytime, anywhere, via the web. Nobody doubted that the company was led by a team of experts who knew what they were doing.
Their efforts were an enormous success and saw the company through the first two turbulent years after the recession. By 2010, however, customers were ready to start spending again, but Gap hadn’t caught up. Everything about the company seemed...stale.
So...they punted. Instead of doing the work to find out what kind of styles customers expected from their brand in 2010 and then doing the hard work to deliver those styles, they just launched a new logo. And it was despised on sight...to such a degree that the company pulled it after only five days, returning to the tried-and-true blue square.
Black Lives Matter protests have again captured the world’s attention, just as they did in 2016 -- except that, hopefully, no one will make a mistake as stupid as the one Pepsi made with Kendall Jenner, standing at the front of a crowd of protestors, handing a police officer a Pepsi.
Looking back, it seems ridiculous -- as was Pepsi’s initial statement that they were “trying to project a global message of peace, unity, and understanding.” Clearly, they were trying to hijack a movement by associating it with their product. They then made things even worse by apologizing for “putting Kendall in that position.”
At the time, though, somebody obviously thought it was a good idea, and it slipped through any safeguards that may have stopped it.
If your organization suffers the repercussions of a digital faux pas, it’s important to review your digital policies to find out how it happened. Maybe there were no policies addressing that particular situation, or maybe the policies were ignored due to a lack of enforcement.
Going back to the Pepsi example, they might have considered making the following changes to their digital policies:
Google is constantly nudging the internet in the direction it wants it to go -- most recently, focusing on delivering quality content that serves the searcher’s needs.
But those updates don’t come without a price. When Google’s Panda update was released in 2009, it hit low-quality, “content farm” sites like a tsunami: One of them, Demand Media, lost $6.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2012 alone.
While Google doesn’t often make such massive changes to their algorithms, they do continue to tweak them. Sometimes the changes are announced. Sometimes, the first sign is a sudden, dramatic drop in SERPs.
Your organization’s digital policies should stipulate how you’ll respond to Google algorithm changes both proactively and reactively. When Google announces a change, your policies should lay out the steps for how you’ll make sure you’ll benefit from the change.
Your policies should also spell out the steps you’ll take if you notice a sudden drop in SERPs. That might include checking for things like a preference for semantic search or penalties for things like spammy links (both inbound and outbound) and making any required changes to stay on Google’s good side.
There really is such a thing as being too popular. In the world of e-commerce, it usually shows up as a site that crashes under unusually high demand. Here are a few examples:
Some spikes in traffic can’t be anticipated -- such as when Meghan Markle wore a coat by Line the Label when she announced her engagement to Prince Harry. Others -- new product launches, for example -- can be anticipated and should be prepared for via testing. Your organization’s digital policies should try to prevent crashes -- and the resulting lost sales -- by specifying what testing will be done under which circumstances. The policies should also establish mitigation procedures in case the site ever does crash under a heavy traffic load.
I’m very familiar with the work it takes to produce comprehensive digital policies! So it would be nice if we could consider the job to be finished at some point. But the world continues to throw us new challenges -- pandemics, natural disasters, the need to minimize risks for changing business circumstances, etc . Those things will continue to happen, and each time we fail to codify those lessons into our digital policies represents a lost opportunity. In the worst cases, organizations take a big hit in revenue, reputation, etc., and gain nothing.
I encourage everyone to be proactive. Develop methods for capturing “lessons learned” now...before those “learning opportunities” present themselves. You’ll be too busy mitigating whatever “emergency” you’re dealing with to think about “What next?” But if “What next?” is built into your digital policies, you’ll have a framework that ensures your digital policies will continue to improve as your organization works its way through new ch
Want more practical advice on digital policies? Read other articles in “Shifts in Technology” series:
Part 1: Do your digital policies address natural disasters?
Part 2: Digital policies are no good if they’re static
Part 3: Is there risk hiding in your digital policies?
Need a hand getting your policies in order? Get in touch to schedule a workshop or discuss a consulting engagement.
Photo by Grant Ritchie
Sign up and stay up to date by getting insights like this delivered to your mailbox.