Jeremiah Owyang of the Altimeter Group keynoted the Gilbane Conference in San Francisco today. His thought-provoking talk was focused on the roadmap for the social corporate websites with the goal of making them relevant again.

In the future, he asserts, there will be no corporate sites. There will only be sites assembled on the fly based on your social data.

Various Types of Corporate Sites

There are two types of corporate sites, according to Owyang:

  1. Sites focused on companies and products (customers don’t necessarily trust those sites)
  2. Sites focused on customers

Owyang looked at social in corporate and laid out the steps organizations should take how to make their web presence engaging and relevant. “Social will be like air.” Customers are making decisions based on a variety of channels. Yet, many brands approach their corporate sites and social networks in a disparate fashion. But how to bring them together?

The Evolution of Corp Websites in 8 Stages

The proposed framework to implementing social corporate sites is called The Evolution of Corporate Websites in 8 Stages -- it can be your actionable plan if you want to get from one of the stages of zero to some social to a seamless integration.

  • Stage 1:
    Do nothing, no social integration at all. The benefit here is ignorance is bliss and it’s cheap. Final result -- your site is irrelevant, your customers will ask peers in other places as to which product to buy, which service to use.
  • Stage 2:
    Some linking to social networking sites, but for no reason or good strategy. Benefit: encouraging growth of social channels. Downside: you are sending people away, but it is even worse when you’re doing it while sending a confusing message.
  • Stage 3:
    Linking away because you have a strategy. Benefit: this triggers a social alert in the form of an endorsement, where when users go to a website and social integration is done via a pre-populated Facebook wall post or tweet. This is a more sophisticated way when it comes to linking to social sites.
  • Stage 4:
    Brand experience is mirrored in various social channels. Customers are experiencing the same brand regardless of where they go. Some examples include Tiffany’s and Starbucks integration of corporate and social. Very often, it’s even hard to know they’re not official sites. One important thing, however, is to make it very clear that this is your official social account by linking to it from your official site.
  • Stage 5:
    Aggregate social discussion on corporate site. Since trust has shifted away from corporate sites, savvy companies will aggregate trusted discussions on their site. Being open to customer concerns and feedback is important if you want to make it a trusted discussion. Challenge: you lose control over content.
  • Stage 6:
    Users come/stay on your corporate site using a social log-in (MySpace ID, OpenID, Windows Live, Facebook Connect, etc.) Upside: this approach may increase sign-ups widening marketing funnel, downside -- and it is all about trade-offs -- you may not know who they are, you may not get their email address. But who likes registration forms on websites? Those who want to "bug them so that you can bug them better."

    Rather than getting customers’ email addresses, get them to become your fans or followers on Twitter. They will tell their friends, bringing more people to your site. And this is a change in thinking: you do little and let them do the work. Downside: this requires a lot of planning and resources.
  • Stage 7:
    Improve the site by providing contextual content. People trust their peers more. With contextual content relevance increases, creates viral loop and more people will come.
  • Stage 8:
    Seamless integration of social and corporate, where one cannot tell the difference between the two. Owyang said URLs will become irrelevant, domains will become irrelevant, sites will become irrelevant in the future. This doesn’t yet exist. One example: Vitamin Water who shut down their corporate website and moved completely to Facebook. In the future, there will be no corporate sites. Websites will be assembled on the fly based on your social data.

But do have a strategy and a plan for the new experience medium, don’t dive into social without it.

Related: The 5 Pillars of Web Engagement Management