Why smaller is better when it comes to your charity's digital footprint

Could an ever-expanding digital footprint be damaging charities in the long-term, asks John Simcock

John Simcock
John Simcock

One of the unintended consequences of the rush to digital in the charity sector over recent years has been an ever-growing digital sprawl.

As charities have seized the opportunity to create dedicated channels to reach specific audiences and meet discreet knowledge needs, the number of microsites, landing pages and social media feeds has swollen substantially.

From a tactical perspective, these have all made for quick wins when it came to supporting campaigns or ‘getting the message out’ about an important new initiative.

Strategically however, more and more charities are realising that an ever-expanding digital footprint is something which might actually be working against them.

Expectation management

The first issue I hear about from heads of digital is the unquestioning expectation from teams across charities that their initiatives will be supported with the creation of new web pages and their own social media plan – regardless of relevance or importance.

Managing these expectations has become an increasingly time-consuming part of the day job for digital teams. The real problem isn’t the time spent but is the fact that it prevents digital teams from focusing on more strategically important questions around the way charity teams think about and use digital platforms and channels.

Digital millstones

A second issue that charities are waking up to is that their digital footprints have got to a place where the resources needed to manage them is greater than what they have available.

Across a growing digital estate, the combined costs of hosting, design and development are significant. This is in addition to the people resources needed to keep on top of the new and existing social media feeds or microsites.

The practical impact is that microsites and social media feeds get forgotten about.

Strategically, the impact of this unmanaged digital sprawl is an inconsistency in communications to the people who matter. It not only makes it hard to find the information people need but there is also a lack of clarity around which messages matter most.

Perceptions of the digital team

A final problem caused by a bulging digital sprawl is its impact on how the digital team is perceived within a charity.

Our recent research among charities has shown that a defining challenge in the year ahead is for digital teams to help drive a more strategic approach to the use of digital platforms.

For charities who have yet to get to grips with their digital sprawl and show they have a robust approach to managing the existing digital infrastructure, this will be a hard conversation to have with any credibility.

A new digital diet

It’s for these reasons that having a plan in place to slim down your digital footprint should be a priority for any charity.

Doing this will ensure you have the right conversations about what is really important to your organisation from a strategic perspective.

This will set a context for how the digital team is deployed in the future, reducing the resources absorbed by activities which add little value and, most importantly, change the way digital teams work with the rest of their organisation.

John Simcock is charity director at Eduserv

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