The Three Spheres of Web Strategy –Updated for 2009

Web Strategy Spheres

I hope this is one of those resources you print out pin to your desk, and share with others. This is the core theme of this blog, the balance needed for successful web endeavors in organizations.

I originally posted this diagram in 2006, then updated it in 2007, and it’s time to revisit the core structure of the goals and challenges of a Web Strategist, especially as I reset as I change roles.

Who’s a Web Strategist? In a company, they often are responsible for the long term vision of corporate web properties. At a web company where their product is on the web, they’re often the product manager or CTO. Regardless of role, the responsibilities are the same, they need to balance all three of these spheres, and make sure their efforts are in the middle of all three.


1) Community Sphere
To be successful, the Web Strategist must understand (by using a variety of techniques and tactics) what customers and prospects want. Stemming from, ethnography, analytics, brand monitoring and primary and secondary research the end result should be a web experience profile and mental model.

Specific skills needed: Ability to understand and implement research, strong understanding of user experience which would include usability, information architecture. Ability to synthesize content from a variety of real time locations such as web analytics, customer feedback from support and surveys and communities, and an ability to be empathetic to customers. Above all, this strategist should be able to predict where customers will be in coming years –not just understanding of previous or current states.

Key Recommendations for 2009-2010: Focus on brand monitoring of customers in the social space. We’ve seen an increase in consumer adoption of social technologies which has caused a shift in where customers make decisions (not just on your corporate website). This is an opportunity to quickly identify who they are, what they want (and don’t want) and understand the language they use in order to reach them.


2) Business Sphere
Yet understanding customers alone isn’t sufficient, the Web Strategist must be able to achieve measurable business objectives. This leader must be able to first identify key stakeholders within an organization, capture their needs, prioritize, and balance into a plan that meets both their needs and the community. This delicate dance requires the strategist to balance the needs of a variety of internal teams, offset daily fire drills, yet meet the needs of the company. Many Web Strategists fall short here, they meet the goals and objectives of internal stakeholders yet fail to balance the needs of the community. The end result? A website where users rarely visit, and go elsewhere to make trusted decisions.

Specific skills needed: Ability to communicate within a company, understand and prioritize emphatically the needs of multiple business stakeholders and prioritize. This leader will also need to be a mediator and must defuse the assertive business stakeholders will cool logic and business acumen, as well as ensure the web team operates in an efficient operation. Management skills are critical here: project management, human relations, communication, and the ability to define clear concise goals based on dates for content and technical teams. Lastly, the core of the role includes skills in marketing leadership, advertising, media, product management and marketing.

Key Recommendations for 2009-2010: In many cases, the recession has clamped budgets down to operations with budgets coming from campaigns and business units to innovate. Where budgets are limited, learn how to use inexpensive technologies like community software, blogging, or status update tools internally –yet have a long term plan for how they work. On the external front, provide guidelines and resources to internal teams to use social before it cascades to many areas of the company without common framework –fragmenting the customer experience and wasting business resources.


3) Technology Sphere
Lastly, the Web Strategist should be an expert in their own realm of internet technologies. They’ll need to know the capabilities and deficiencies of their current arsenal of tools as well as adopt new technologies that are ever emerging. Leaders in this space often become complacent configuring current systems and forget to plan into the immediate roadmap new technologies that widen the breadth and width of what can be done. If the Web Strategist is performing the Community sphere correctly, they are already watching how the use of customers technology adoption is changing.

Specific skills needed: Ability to understand the workings of web architecture in the internet field. While they are not technical experts they should be able to understand the impacts of these technologies to the business and community. They should also be watching for emerging technologies and devote a percentage of resources to research and development for new technologies –never falling behind. The strategist should demonstrate skills of innovation, and experiment and practice with new technologies as they emerge first hand –but by keeping a focus on long term business objectives.

Key Recommendations for 2009-2010: Web Strategists need to prepare for a new set of connected devices that are quickly emerging. While social caught most companies off guard, mobile technologies within and outside of your company will impact how information is quickly shared. Start by analyzing related applications and mobile social networks in rich mobile devices such as Blackberry, iPhone, and Palm Pre.


To be successful, the Web Strategist must balance all three of these spheres. Becoming a master in each of these spheres requires incredible dedication, so the leader must rely on their team for input, actively seek out education, attend workshops, and read books on the various subjects.  Also, if this helps to shape your career, or you’re a hiring manager for this role, I hope it helped to define what to look for.

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