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NFPs Stuck in Digital Service Swamp


Friday, 10th March 2017 at 2:31 pm
Ellie Cooper, Journalist
Australian organisations, including not for profits, are suffering a “digital confidence” crisis, according to new research.


Friday, 10th March 2017
at 2:31 pm
Ellie Cooper, Journalist


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NFPs Stuck in Digital Service Swamp
Friday, 10th March 2017 at 2:31 pm

Australian organisations, including not for profits, are suffering a “digital confidence” crisis, according to new research.

While 98 per cent of organisations surveyed said digital was important to their success, less than 40 per cent knew where they wanted to go in the digital space.

The Australian Company Digital Confidence report, commissioned by digital strategy agency ntegrity, described this as “digital distress” due to poor confidence.

Richenda Vermeulen, founder and CEO of ntegrity, told Pro Bono News that a lack of digital confidence was a pain point experienced across diverse organisations.

“There were really consistent struggles across industries, across team sizes, there was similar struggles that people were having in a five person organisation and one with 500 people,” Vermeulen said.

“That was I think the surprise. We thought that areas that people were struggling with digital marketing would be quite different across different sizes of organisations, but it wasn’t.

“But then, at the same time… they were some of the themes that we’ve been hearing over the last few years, and part of why we wanted to commission the research.

“Australian organisations are experiencing digital distress and this is due to poor confidence.

“Confidence is vital for driving digital success, without addressing this issue Australian organisations are set up for digital failure, they are lagging behind their high performing global counterparts.”

Digital confidence is broken into four key areas that, when combined, increase an organisation’s capacity to deliver results.

The areas are leadership, resources, vision and skills.

“So whether the CEO is setting the digital agenda… whether there’s a clear vision that is driven from the top, whether there are resources that are aligned to that vision and looking at things with a long-term view, and [whether] staff are skilled and have the right training,” Vermeulen said.

“When all of those four areas are aligned… there’s this increase in digital confidence – being your ability to track and measure your success, your ability to see and believe your organisation has digital marketing proficiency, that you’re confident that staff can do what they’re being tasked to do, and also confidence in your leadership, that you have the right leadership to lead that charge.”

digital success

The research found three digital maturity stages in digital confidence. The first and most common is called digital sideliners.

“They’re organisations where digital is this separate team, and there’s really not much integration into the business,” Vermeulen said.

“Or maybe it’s just a part of one person’s [job] and a lot of the time they are getting pulled into ad hoc requests that are specific to a one-off campaign, or there’s somebody wanting a Facebook page or doing tweets, versus looking at the bigger picture of where that digital needs to be resourced.

“It’s not looking at ROI, it’s not looking at customer journey mapping, it’s not looking at the strategy.”

The second stage is called digital climbers, where organisation’s have a digital vision and some change is underway, but they’re at the early stage of their journey.

The third is digital achievers, where organisations have a clear vision, are seeing results and know the direction they’re going in.

“In all of those three stages, the majority are sitting in that digital sideliner, which I guess was a surprise for us,” Vermeulen said.

“We didn’t think, of the 170 organisations that we surveyed and interviewed, that the majority would come back as digital sideliners. We really only had one or two organisations of that 170… in the digital achievers area.”  

Vermeulen met with a group of not-for-profit organisations, which made up 30 per cent of surveyed organisations, ahead of the research launch on Thursday.

She said they especially were stuck in a “service swap”.

“There are these strategic goals that the organisation wants to achieve. There is a bigger picture that… might be to do with having a digital vision or spending time on a digital audit or mapping out a customer journey or training staff,” she said.

“There are all these key strategic things, but they [digital marketers] keep getting pulled into the service swamp, so that is different departments asking them for… things like: ‘Make me an email,’ ‘I need five tweets,’ ‘We need a microsite,’ ‘We need a new Facebook page,’ ‘Change this copy on the website.’

“They’re continually getting pulled into these non-strategic… things that often have low to no business value.

“Generally the biggest struggle point is their resources and people aren’t aligned to long-term goals, they’re just aligned to these one-off requests. This service swamp concept is something that really got traction [with not for profits] and some of their biggest questions were around the service swamp.”

Howard Ralley, the executive of marketing, communications and fundraising at CARE Australia, told the audience at the research launch that the service swamp concept resonated with him.  

“I was thinking of the bit in Lord of the Rings when Frodo is walking to Mordor, he gets into a swamp,” Ralley said.

“And him and Sam, they look down into the waters and they see all the dead people coming up, and I think those dead people are all the ex-digital people in my team who started the job thinking: ‘I can change the world through digital,’ and they ended up in the swamp.

“It is a real issue… one of them is the rest of the team from HR to finance to marketing to program delivery all know deep down that digital is part of that role, even though it might not be in their job description.

“And so they then go to the people who’ve got digital in that job title and say: ‘Help me do x.’”

He said the digital team was likely doing more organisational prioritisation than anyone else in the company.

“They were getting everyone, all parts of the business saying: ‘Can I have this?’ and the poor head of digital, or that team, were then having to make a [decision] about yes or no,” he said.

“So they were actually at the sharp end of deciding what the company strategy was, and there was no filter going through other managers to say: ‘Is this really important? Do we really need a microsite? Do we really want to do that?’”

He said a successful solution was introducing a ticketing system.

“We just got a free ticketing form off Google, and that’s been successful in at least measuring the amount of weeds and requests that come into the digital team,” he said.

“We saw in one month there was 237 requests to do stuff. And they were churning through it, and they were a bit like an IT help desk just getting shit done.

“So we managed to use that ticketing system to put a number on it and say: ‘Actually you guys should be prioritising that, your manager should be prioritising that.’”

While digital confidence requires the four key elements working in unison, Vermeulen said there were two areas that could be prioritised at the start.

“It does have to come from the top. What the research pointed to is that if the CEO [is] the voice of digital and they have a clear vision as to how digital links to your organisational goals, confidence levels in your organisation goes way up,” she said.

“For the majority of people, the head of digital, the voice of digital is head of marketing or head of fundraising and confidence levels go way down. The core area to start is make sure the most senior person in your company is on top of this and driving that agenda, rather than have it being driven in a siloed way.”

In organisations where the CEO leads digital, confidence in digital strategy is 81 per cent, and at 75 per cent when the CEO is the voice of digital.

“The second is making sure your company has a really clear vision, so your digital vision should align with your organisational vision,” Vermeulen said.

“So if your organisation’s vision is to be the thought leader in the health space, then your digital vision would align to say use online channels to ensure our content is the first… content that is sought after when people are searching for health.”

Ralley said getting CEOs on board was often a matter of showing them “the sexy side of digital”.

“With digital, CEOs I’ve worked with, they kind of get the big picture, they get the: ‘Ok that’s where the future is,’” he said.

“But because they’ve not got that background and knowledge of digital, they struggle to look through the magnifying glass and really know what the business case could be.

“We’ve found that actually getting them into the eye candy is a good start. So for example, we at CARE joined the march… for International Women’s Day, and my CEO was there so we plonked a camera on her and interviewed her as she was walking along, as people were charging around her we did a live Facebook feed of it, so she was really excited.

“And I think you’ve got to start a little bit with the sexy side of digital and then you can feed them into: ‘This is the science behind it and the data behind it and how cool is that that you can actually measure the crap out of it.’

“And that’s working for us to give her the digital confidence to then lead with it.”


Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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