Digital models – which does your organisation match?

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I’m a big believer in CPD and have signed up to a digital marketing course developed by Google and certified by the IPA. The programme content is superb and I recently had the privilege of watching Neil Perkin of Only Dead Fish speak.

Neil talked briefly about how organisations approach digital projects and as part of this described an interesting method in which team players from across the business come together for a project and then disperse once it’s complete, just like on a film set. It inspired me to do a bit of research and find out more.

Looking online I found an article by Jason Mogus that was published in 2011 in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Describing four typical models for managing digital, it was obvious that three years on, although many businesses recognise the importance of digital, they are still finding it difficult to fully integrate it across the company, at least in my experience here in the North East.

The first model that Mogus describes is ‘Informal’, which is represented by random digital work across various functions and departments. It’s fair to say there are still businesses in the region with this type of rudderless strategy. Unfortunately, as Jason says himself, it’s not pretty and the results are rather limited.

Lacking in content leadership

Mogus calls the second model ‘Centralised’ and this is the one I see the most frequently and can actually lead to some very positive results. This is where the digital department runs all activity as a silo and the benefits include ‘consistent messaging and branding, common tools, and, importantly, clear ownership and reporting lines.’ Mogus’s issues however, are that the team may have strong technical and publishing skills, but they may equally be slow to respond and possibly lack the ability to engage with key stakeholders and provide content leadership.

His view is that the model ‘makes for a cleanly run, professional system, but it tends to make innovation difficult, especially around adding capacity for increasingly mission-critical functions such as storytelling and engagement’ – something I have certainly seen play out. I am regularly called upon to help strategise and innovate, as well as to devise and deliver the content creation element in these situations.

Third up is the ‘Independent’ model, which is where digital leadership roles are assigned to different departments across the organisation. Although a model that is growing in popularity, Mogus counsels against this. Introducing multiple digital players across the business that each feed into a central marketing point may seem beneficial, but often highly competitive rather than collaborative silos appear and departments with less clout may struggle to get the attention of ‘an over-taxed and under-resourced central digital team.’ What’s more, duplication of resources commonly occurs and can contribute to confusing user experiences – an own goal, by any marketer’s terms.

The most progressive model

Which brings us on to the final ‘Hybrid’ model advocated by Mogus and which is the hardest to achieve, despite being ‘the most progressive and the most conducive to producing continuous innovation at the pace of digital change’ because it requires looser, more adaptive structures overall.

Here, the central digital team practices open leadership, driving any high-risk projects while supporting digital players within each department to ensure activity is in line with the overall organisational objectives. The central team are ‘service oriented, highly collaborative, hyper-connected listeners, who also have the technical and content expertise to be high-value strategists.’ To be sustainable, Mogus states support for this has to come via a larger change initiative that enables the flexibility needed for today’s networked world.

Writing this, I am able to identify many of the companies I work with and no doubt you can identify which model your business belongs to, too. If you want to evolve, do what Mogus recommends and start by asking whether your organisation has a sense of purpose and direction with regards to where digital is going, how your digital channels perform against those of your competitors, whether you can innovate fast enough and whether your internal departments feel well served. Aside from all else, it will certainly make for some interesting discussions at the next team meeting!

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