On the web, we need a new form of communications that focuses on serving customers rather than telling them what to do.

Communications and marketing professionals are being offered a huge opportunity by the online world. There is a major need for professionals who understand customers and can generate content that serves these customers better.

This opportunity is also a major challenge because traditional communicators and marketers are simply not trained to serve. In fact, they are often trained for the very opposite task. They are trained to tell, to broadcast, to change minds, to attract attention. These skills are often counter-productive in an online world.

It is the easiest and most comfortable thing in the world to sit within an organization and think you are in control. It’s easy to sit within an internal communications department and think you control communications within your organization. It’s good for the ego. But it’s no longer true.

It might have been true fifty years ago. But today, the idea that you control the message is more and more delusional. Of course, there will be instances where message control does work, but they occur less and less frequently. And online, in particular, it is incredibly difficult to make people do something they did not originally intend to do.

People know what they want when they go online. And most of what they want is not news. When employees use an intranet they want to find other employees, book meeting rooms, find training, check up a procedure. Very little about these tasks is "new." Sure, there might be an update to a procedure, there might be new training modules, but the vast majority of the content is there already.

And whose responsibility is it to help employees complete these tasks? Often nobody. In many organizations, intranets are the responsibility of internal communications, who are primarily responsible for news. In so many cases, news gets in the way, making it harder for employees to do what they need to do.

How much of business or government is new? Very little. But we have communications and marketing tasked with telling us what is new. Marketing and sales are invariably much more focused on getting new customers than in keeping current customers happy and loyal.

Who is responsible for all the stuff that’s not new? The stuff that makes up 95% of the online world? They are a very rare breed, let me tell you. And they are absolutely essential. They are the people that make websites work, that make them easy, simple and customer-focused.

Content is the solution and the problem. Content should not be the focus of our strategy. We must stop communicating and marketing at people with our precious content. The stuff you’ve been trained to do wastes time online. It gets in the way. It infuriates customers.

Our focus should be on the tasks people want to complete. Wherever I find websites that are failing I hear internal conversations about content and technology. Wherever I find websites that are succeeding I hear conversations about customers.

Help customers do the things they have already decided to do. Give attention. Pay attention. Listen, observe, serve. That is the new land of opportunity for the web professional.