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.

The community sometimes translates my posts, I’m thankful and am happy to highlight them here:

82 Replies to “The Three Spheres of Web Strategy –Updated for 2009”

  1. This is great Jeremiah – and it really helps address the imbalances I often see in approaches to community management in that it is not just about the community needs… and nor is it just about the business’ needs. It’s a balance that fluctuates over time which needs to be supported by technology to effectively understand activity and feed it in to business processes with the ultimate goal of revenue or cost reduction.

  2. Great post, nice to see it updated for 2009. I totally agree with the points you make but think that in some cases its beneficial for web strategy to be controlled by more than one person. The danger with the approach you illustrate is that the web strategist is affectively a generalist (or ‘Jack of all trades’) and potentially ends up with a surface understanding of each key area but not strong enough in any to make a real difference.

    In my opinion it makes more sense that the 3 spheres are controlled by a team of (T-Shaped) strategists with specialist knowledge in one of the spheres and a general understanding of the other two.

    just a thought.

  3. How would you change this for the Not for Profit world? Or would you? Keep in mind, that a website is not only a vehicle for revenue, but also (for most) it may be a core aspect of delivering their charitable programs. (the key word there being “charitable”)

  4. Very interesting graphic. Can you explain a bit more on the ‘Monetization Issues’ and why these are settled between the spheres ‘Community’ and ‘Technology’. I see these more between ‘Community’ and ‘Business’ as it is first of all a challenge to explain decision makers the long-term benefit of the community for business, and then to get the money for it.

  5. Paul,

    In larger corporations there are multiple stakeholders. Sometimes they’re segmented by business unit(s) or marketing and an IT one.

    When I was at Hitachi, I was responsible for the Community side, some of the Business Side, but the Technology side was ran by IT strategists (their exact title). We had to come together and agree on priorities that met all of our needs which wasn’t always the case.

    So to answer your question, the organizational structure will depend on, well each organization. It’s going to be hard for one individual to be expert at all three, so they’ll often have to have team members in each camp to rely on.

    For example Rachel Happe is talking to the community expert within a company, business side may be native to many strategists (or their boss) and the tech lead (lead developer, or web architect) may cover the changes in tools.

  6. Laurie,

    functionally, there’s no difference between this model in non-profit, or big corporation or even sole-propertier. Every website must balance all three of these needs to be successful.


    Yes, having success in two spheres but being deficient will offset your website and therefore your company. Regarding “monetizaion issues” that’s a diagnosis of a website that’s strong with technical deployment, and is used by the community.

    It however lacks a business model and is unable to properly able to generate revenues. What comes to mind? A rash of new web 2.0 startups with cool technology but inability to quickly monetize. A few years ago, that was certainly Twitter, their now starting to show signs of a monetization roadmap.

    Take the “frustrated users” that’s often the diagnosis of the corporate website. Which is often just meeting the needs of many business stakeholders with little effort focused on end user. See if your website is SNOWED

    The final deficiency is a website with customers, a business purpose but is woefully out of date when it comes to have the right technologies in place to support customer needs. Underfunded websites, or strategies held tight by firm-handed IT processes or business leaders without foresight come to mind. A good example? Websites that don’t have community features have forced customers to reassemble in other locations like social networks are a good symptom of this problem.

  7. Jeremiah,

    This is great. Not only will help me as I redesign my business site, but it really helps me as I lead hospitals in creating value in their sites…so much brochure ware out there, and so little value….thanks again…Love your posts.

  8. Hi Jeremiah,

    good post and good visualisation. I very much agree with:

    >Stemming from, ethnography, analytics, brand monitoring and primary >and secondary research the end result should be a web experience >profile and mental model.

    Developing these tools and methodologies in the context of the web is a challenge and is as yet far from done, it is still a very young field, but a very promising one.

  9. I have always liked this representation of Web Strategy. How the Community, Business and Technology spheres interact and integrate is core to any web strategy. I remember when this first came out, and yes, I did post it on my wall as well as carry copy around with me. Am just about to do the same thing with the current version. Thank you very much for updating. This is something we should all keep in our web strategy toolkit.

    Bert DuMars
    VP E-Business & Interactive Marketing
    Newell Rubbermaid

  10. Thanks Jeremiah. Having been asked to come up with “web strategy” for our group within our company this is a big help to guide the conversation. Somehow visuals always make a bigger impact than trying to explain what you mean without them.

  11. Jeremiah, per your recommendation, I have printed this post out. The diagram is simple but powerful.

    On the business side though, I would also like to add to the Recommendations for 2009 – 2010: provide training to employees on how to best harness and use web marketing tools to build business. Management is often over 40 and doesn’t have the background or skills to do it. There are well-meaning employees that will often take on the charge, but don’t do it for maximum impact. At the same time, management doesn’t always know how to direct or manage them. Also, businesses need to have internal policies on how employees can be engaging in social media. In this world of digital transparency, everyone is involved in marketing.

    Thanks again for a great post and framework.

  12. This is great Jeremiah. I think the slide itself is especially useful for non-technical people on the business side. I just forwarded it to the members of a non-profit board I belong to. They desperately need help with an outdated Web 1.0 site that does little to serve the larger community. I will also use this with my corporate clients. Thanks for the 2009 update.

  13. Great article! You have done an excellent job of putting this into words and also graphically representing this concept. Although, we work in this realm all the time it is nice to see it in writing and graphically in order to step back and look at the big picture instead of being caught up in the day-to-day tasks.

  14. Thanks – this will be great for competitive analysis too. I see us using the three spheres as topics for evaluation and as a part of our portfolio of recommendations for clients.

    It’s also helpful for all of us as individuals as a reminder to stay relevant by keeping current in all three areas, or as you pointed out, augmenting by surrounding ourselves with those who can.

  15. Fantastic post Jeremiah! It’s ironic that I wrote a similar one recently. I do like how you have depicted this visually.

    I agree that strategists need to have an expert understanding of technology – an area where many do fall short.

    No one cares to admit this in business, however how does “failure” fit into the equation?

    Naturally all of us are prone to failures (myself included.) We have all developed strategies that should work, have met all of the objectives as outlined by our own research and client needs though for one reason or another do not perform as well as we would have liked.

    Some of my greatest successes have in fact come from my failures (such is life, I would imagine)

    Keep up the fantastic posts!


  16. Great post, Jeremiah. Thanks for updating it. I agree that it is not only important to find the perfect balance, but you must also continue to seek knowledge and education to stay up to date. Everything is changing fast and it won’t slow down.

  17. Jeremiah,
    Under the Community sphere, you suggest brand monitoring for 2009-2010 – right on! One suggestion is to add brand engagement as follow thru on any brand monitoring. Listening/monitoring is great and necessary first step, but the data and insights from monitoring can identify valuable customer engagement opportunities (e.g., sales, corp reputation, cust svc, mkt campaign feedback). Demonstrate your monitoring via visible customer engagement on the web.

  18. I agree with Paul Seys comments to some degree. I am a Web Manager at a 2 year college, but really consider myself a Web Strategist in the sense that I feel my role is to look for upcoming trends and see that the college is moving in that direction more than managing the day-to-day activities.

    I feel that it is the role of the Web Strategist to have strong understanding of all 3 spheres, but that trying to be responsible for all 3 spheres spells failure. For example at the college where I work, I have proposed to executives the need for a Customer Relationship Management suite to manage our prospective students. They have agreed and initially tasked me to facilitate its implementation.

    Its only been since Enrolment Services took responsibilty of this project that work is starting. This is because they understand and are responsible for the business sphere in this instance.

    All this being said, I think its critical that a Web Strategist understand all 3 spheres and hand-off as required, but that they are a catalyst in an organization to start web initiatives.

    And yes Jeremiah, I have printed this graphic off. I think it speaks very well to holistic efforts that should be put into a strategy.

  19. Sean, you’re right, action is the ultimate goal beyond just listening.

    Thanks Mike

    It’s difficult to be a master of all three domains –and this is why some delegation or dotted lines will be critical.

  20. Very insightful post Jeremiah!

    I will like to relate this to Startups;

    -Technology; Most startups are started by tech people and usually very passionate about their technology.

    – Community: the passion drives them to develop something useful for the community hence it continues to grow.

    -Business: Any startup that misses this area will not be out there for too long, as passion or technology is not enough to sustain the business so the expertise on monetization is very crucial here. Any startup founder that doesnt have this should go search for one else he should learn it. The weakness to learning it is usually not effective enough as technology is growing a very alarming pace.

    Coming to business aspect, nothing can beat team-work. Web strategist could know about business but may not be as knowledgeable in the particular industry (eg. I was an IT specialist at an Investment Banking outfit, am not an investment banker hence needs the knowledge of those who do).

    Generally a web strategist have lots of work to do, educate the colleagues who are concern about the core competency of the company then bridge the gap by harnessing technology, community and business (core competence, competitive edge) to deliver value. This will help make business people see web/IT as not just an expense area but a value driven area worth investment.

    My 2 cent (NG 4 Life)

  21. Pingback:
  22. Hi Jeremiah- stimulating discussion as usual. When speaking with some companies we find that the web strategist is the “best person” who materializes from the web designer/ graphic designer lineage – or from the bowels of the IT department. Neither can claim to fully understand core business drivers under the SMM portfolio.

    With the assistance of your model, we can enlighten clients about the real critical success factors and not their perceived ones.

    BTW- congrats on your move to Altimeter!

  23. Very interesting, Jeremiah, and makes me think these three spheres could be useful in other organizational areas beyond web strategy. If more folks in every company kept these three key areas in mind, businesses would run more like roundabouts and less like traffic jams.

  24. Hi jeremiah, very useful and insightful post. Actuallu I am writing a book about how mix and match 4 dimensions:
    Brand, Business, Search and Social.
    The Brand is more and more influenced by the 2 S’s, and also Business it is.. So I am trying to find a direction for Managers to address this difficult rebus.

  25. Hi. I’ve just read your article this minute and right now I’m making a Spanish translation for my blog. Hope to see your comments there, even when it’s written in Spanish. Yours is a very good article and I’d like to remark the importance of being direct and synthetical in this kind of matters. Thank you.

  26. Jeremiah,

    Really enjoyed your piece. Makes perfect sense. As a Web Strategist, I am very strong in the community and business domains. I keep on top of trends and technologies, partnering with IT for the level of technical expertise required. But from experience, and from online job descriptions, I have the impression that the technical side has a definitive edge in the Web Strategist profile.

    The Web is often viewed as IT property. Given the Web Strategist role straddles both the communications/marketing and IT worlds, it can be tough to navigate the politics to get to an environment of balance and transparency. Especially when budget control is at stake. New roles like Web Strategist challenge long-standing demarcations, with access to online technical forums, etc. further de-mystifying the “black box.” Would be great to hear your experience – and that of other Web Strategists on this front.

  27. Thanks for the effort………
    But, in reality all of these feed off each other. For instance, if you are a killer social mediation you may not know how to convert visitors once you get them to your site. On the other hand if you are a landing page specialist but don't know how to get traffic to the landing page you are dead in the water.
    The key is to equally focus on all facets of a web strategy rather than unrelated facets


Comments are closed.