Debate over 'headless' digital presence misses the point

Over the past few months, there have been a number of discussions about whether the future of digital presence is in fact a "headless" one, i.e., one without a central hub like a homepage.

Over the past few months, there have been a number of discussions about whether the future of digital presence is in fact a “headless” one, i.e., one without a central hub like a homepage. Both Edelman Digital's director of insights Steve Rubel and technology journalist/author Paul Gillin (among others) have championed the idea. In the midst of those discussions is a bit of a change being noticed in the world of advertising, where companies are increasingly driving those that are reached by ads toward social networking profiles and other non-company owned locations, with one of the more notable companies being Toyota, whose “Sienna Family” TV spots send viewers to youtube.com/sienna.

While the concept of “headlessness” will probably send brand managers screaming into the streets, I'd like to suggest a slightly tweaked alternative that leans toward the quote that Gillin published in his February 10 blog post on the subject, where Coca-Cola digital communications director Adam Brown stated, “[Coca-Cola's] philosophy is to fish where the fish are.”

This isn't – or shouldn't be, at least – a foreign concept. It's no different than how we plan our media relations activities, product launches, and so forth, every single day. It's just applying those concepts a little differently.

It's less about sitelessness or headlessness, and more about the “head” or “site” not being where it might have been for all the time that we've been pointing people to a central Web site. In fact, it doesn't at all mean we wouldn't have a “home” site at all. Rather the “hub” in your hub and spoke strategy might exist on Facebook, a Ning Network (a client of Allison & Partners), or a YouTube page. That “hub” location might also vary depending on what efforts you were executing at any one time, meaning any given campaign might have a different central location that you're driving to based on the goals or audience(s) involved.

For instance, YouTube might be the right place to send people to find out more about Toyota's Sienna minivan, but it isn't the place to keep current and future Toyota customers up to speed on the company's recent recalls. That's what toyota.com/recall is for, even if that page does have multimedia or social media attributes. Context, even in social media, matters – not just the fact that lots of people are on Facebook, Twitter, et al.

For PR planning purposes, this means we need to continue to be flexible and not rely on one “home base” for everything. It might seem a bit daunting at first to try and be “everywhere” in the digital world, but better to, as Walter Gretzky told his soon-to-become-the-greatest-NHL-player-ever son, Wayne, “Skate where the puck's going, not where it's been.”

Tom Biro is a VP at Allison & Partners, based in Seattle. His column focuses on how digital media affects and shifts PR. He can be reached at tom@allisonpr.com.

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