Recently I had the occasion to speak with Jere King, Vice President, Corporate Communications Services at Cisco and asked what the company was doing to leverage the Internet in its own communications. I confess I was curious about the company whose name is almost synonymous with the Internet.
Jere put me in touch with Gretchen Ushakova who has headed the company's news portal, News@Cisco, since its creation some 4 years ago. In preparation for that meeting, I decided to explore the news site first to see what I might find. And I can honestly say that I was blown away by what must be one of the best, most innovative examples of how one company is using the Internet and new digital media to transform the way it communicates with its markets.
News@Cisco is a study in the elegance of simplicity and the richness of content that only B2C companies, like Amazon or eBay, have been able to provide. The news portal demonstrates the ability to take an immense amount of information, hide its complexity away from the user, and enable anyone to find what they need on the $22 billion global company's site.
In the next few posts, I will explore some of what Gretchen and I discussed and the issues these represent for communications in an Internet world.
Prior to 2000 Cisco, like so many companies, primarily used its on line Press Room to post and archive press releases and to provide contact information for the Cisco PR team. At that time business was booming, and the company website (and its communications team) were experiencing a rather dramatic demand for company news from customers, investors, partners, reporters, analysts and others.
Not only was this demand for information beginning to strain limited PR resources, but the Communications team at Cisco, had other concerns as well.
There was a pressing need to:
. Coordinate and control information globally
. Communicate in one voice through out the company
. Reach very different kinds of audiences around the world
. Operate 24/7, providing news and responding to news which directly affects Cisco and its customers and partners
. Streamline and improve the communications operations at Cisco and define a new set of best practices.
Cisco Communications decided to develop a two-pronged strategy to address both internal and external needs, the team started by defining the needs of both its internal and external audiences. Editors and journalists reported that they wanted transparency between the organization and themselves, access, speed, the ability to dive (instead of surf) for information. How the information is organized was also key.
Cisco Communications decided that instead of a more traditional Press Room they would build a news portal whose purpose would be to provide a site that offered a much broader array of resources and services, such as executive interviews and articles on areas of key concern, Q & A's on important, and often more controversial issues, such as product defect or cancellation, additional feature articles on a specific industry, technology or application, in addition to case studies, customers wins, breaking news, press coverage, backgrounders and white papers. The portal would also offer information in a greater range of media: from text, images and graphics to audio and video formats.
Cisco also decided to build a searchable news portal that would be organized into "buckets" of related information. At the highest level, the biggest buckets are broken down into: corporate, media resources, product and technology, global, partner, community & philanthropy. These broad groupings are in turn parsed out into increasingly smaller, more focused categories of information, such as a specific technology, industry, product, customer or region. Information thus categorized can be searched by date and by topic and by media, i.e. in text, audio or video.
Thus, for example, a communications editor can dive immediately into the wireless section of the portal and pick up related product or technology news, press releases, case studies, feature articles, patents, video, web casts and other links related to wireless technology. If instead, the writer wishes to refine a search for, say wireless customers in Europe, News@Cisco provides a site search button, which will provide listings and recommended readings. In each section there is a "Help US Help You" button where a reader can ask for further assistance and a "Feedback" button to suggest improvements.
There is also a Media Resource Section with Cisco Media contacts by beat with contact information, executive biographies, financial information, research studies, public policy information, photos, images and logos, and broadcast media resources, such as b-roll or finished videos.