An open letter to web managers

Paul Boag

For a long time I have been working with those who have been given the responsibility of their corporate websites. What follows is an open letter to them all, which will hopefully act as an encouragement in a difficult job.

Let’s be honest; being responsible for your organisations website can feel like a poison chalice.

Many did not choose the role, but had it foisted upon them in addition to their normal job. They are expected to ‘handle’ the web, while still fulfilling the role for which they were hired. All of this with no training, little knowledge and no promotion!

Worse still the web can be an area fraught with politics and blame. You are responsible for the website, but often don’t have the authority to set the agenda or implement change.

Do not despair. I want to encourage you. I want to tell you that you have been handed the most incredible opportunity of your career, all you have to do is grasp it.

The web is the future for almost all organisations, whatever your sector. The worlds of business, non-profits and education are all changing and the web is a key component of that change. The person who owns the web and understands how to leverage it is in an incredible position of power. They can become an indispensable asset to the business. They can become a lynchpin around which the organisation is built.

I know what you are thinking. In fact the chances are you might be thinking three things:

  • The web is not seen that way in my organisation.

  • I don’t need the extra hassle. I have a secure job and don’t need to become indispensable.

  • I don’t know much about the web. I am far from indispensable.

Let’s deal with each in turn.

The web is not valued

The web might not be seen as a crucial business tool yet, but it will be. The web has systematically overturned industry after industry, from the record labels to newspaper publishing. Eventually the web will change your sector too. I don’t care what your organisation does, eventually the impact will be felt. An impact in terms of how you interact with your customers, deliver your products or present yourself to the world.

With the web migrating beyond our desktops to our phones, consumer electronics and even clothes, we will soon be living in a world where it is crucial to all communications with customers. You have been given the opportunity to be at the heart of that.

When I first started on the web I was given the job because I was an intern and the web was boring. Nobody wanted to touch it and so it was given to me. But, I saw the potential. I could see how it was going to transform the business I worked for and so I embraced it. I encourage you to do the same.

I don’t need the hassle

You might be thinking you don’t need the hassle. If you work for a large organisation like a University, you maybe tempted to think you have a job for life and that the last thing you want is more responsibility.

You may think that, but its not true. There is no such thing as a job for life. The world has changed and the safe ground of familiarity is slipping away beneath your feet. The only way to survive is to adapt, to move to the new safe ground, and the only way this is achieved is by becoming indispensable. The web offers the opportunity to become just that.

Don’t allow yourself to become obsolete in the new digital landscape.

But I don’t know much!

This might all feel overwhelming to you. You might not consider yourself a ‘technical’ person. You might not be the kind of person that spends your life tweeting what you ate for breakfast. That is okay. That is not a requirement for the job.

Being a great web manager is about standing up for the web. Its about taking responsibility, making decisions and setting direction. Its about leadership not technical skill.

That can sound scary to somebody who is used to the safety and anonymity of a large organisation. Better to keep your head down and just do the work. However, that won’t make you a lynchpin, that won’t make you indispensable. That won’t make the web effective in your organisation.

People fear taking responsibility for fear of failing. They fear that if they do something wrong, they will lose their job, but here is the great secret of the web; it is easy to recover from failure. If you send a brochure to print and it has an error it can cost thousands to reprint. Correcting mistakes online is a matter of moments.

In fact great web design is about failing fast and regularly. Its about forming hypothesis and testing them. Its about experimentation.

Also learning about best web practice is easy. There are no shortage of books, video courses and free material available to learn from. Grasp hold of the opportunity and educate yourself. Yes, you may need to do this in your free time but it is worth it. It is worth it for the opportunity to advance your career and make a real impact in your organisation.

Learn from others as well. There are no shortage of passionate web people with whom you can talk. The web community is vibrant, open and ready to help.

Stand up

You have been given the responsibility of owning the website so start exercising that authority even if it goes beyond what you perceive that authority encompasses. Set standards, form policies and most of all be willing to stand up and say ‘no’ next time somebody suggests something that you know is wrong for the web.

Try ideas on the site, take initiative. As Grace Hooper famously said:

Its easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

I know this may sound risky, but it is riskier to do nothing, to sit on the sidelines until the web is taken away from you and the opportunity is gone. Its riskier to risk your job becoming redundant.

Most of the time managers love pro-activeness, but even if they don’t what is the worst that could happen. You could lose your job. But, is that so bad? The world is full of organisations desperate for people willing to step up and manage the web. Organisations that will respect your opinion and give you the authority to take on the role. If you know your stuff and are willing to take responsibility, you will not be out of work for long.

My message here is a simple one, grasp the gift that has been given to you. Recognise the value of being responsible for the web and see it as an opportunity for career advancement and not as a burden that has to be born. Most of all, believe you can make a difference and change the playing field. Yes, you will meet resistance but if there was ever an area for innovation it is on the web.

“Blank paper with three fold mark” image courtesy of