If there's anything that enterprises have learned from their acquisition activities, it's that you can't possibly think of everything you need to do operationally and even strategically during a merger. One area where gaps are likely to turn up is on the web side of the acquisition.
The first challenge on the public relations end may come from within corporate walls. Senior executives and the public relations departments of both the acquiring and the acquired companies need to get their heads together so they can develop consistent messaging and talking points that go out to both web and non-web channels. Talking points include: What benefits does the acquisition bring to both organizations and their customers? How will the acquisition contribute to the corporate direction, and what can stakeholders expect to see from the merged enterprise in the future?
Corporate announcements must be clear and anticipatory of the questions that are likely to be raised. In the course of crafting these announcements, one oversight public relations often makes is to devote significant effort to meetings with the web and non-web presses and other interested stakeholders and not as much effort to websites and social media. However, most stakeholders and interested parties get their information from the web. Because of this, there is a compelling argument that web assets should be dealt with as aggressively as other assets when it comes to ensuring a smooth corporate acquisition.
Corporate executives, product strategy setters, and public relations personnel should consider these five questions (at a minimum) on the web side of any corporate acquisition.
1: How should the corporate website be re-messaged or rebranded?
A common strategy is to redirect via web link visitors from the acquired company's website to the acquiring company's website. Unfortunately, the follow-through can break down once the redirected visitors are on the acquiring company's website, especially if there is no mention on the corporate website about the company that was acquired. At a minimum, visitors should see an announcement of the acquisition with a link to a press release or an announcement that explains the acquisition and how the new company will operate.
2: What steps should be taken if a website is decommissioned?
For a period of at least several months, visitors to the acquired company's website can be redirected to the acquiring company's website—but just as importantly, there should be a decommissioning plan for the acquired company's website, if decommissioning is determined to be necessary. This decommissioning plan should include maintaining a property interest in the website's domain to prevent other parties from taking the domain over to where it can create confusion and adversely affect the corporate brand.
3: How should social media be approached?
It's easier for public relations to set a strategy for outreach to traditional media and analyst relations channels than it is to set a course for social media, which is much less predictable. This is why a social media approach should be an integral part of the acquisition rollout plan. The social media approach should address proactive communications to social media channels as well as timely responses, especially if negative messages appear regarding the acquisition.
4: What is the immediate impact on web content?
Press releases and corporate announcements are usually the first news of an acquisition that appears on the corporate website, but after that, it is likely that new content will need to be developed concerning new corporate product contacts and even changes in the products. Marketing should have a content change roadmap in place that takes root in early acquisition activities.
5: How will web-based process flows change?
If the acquired company has an e-commerce channel, this channel will need to be incorporated into the acquiring company's e-commerce website. This presents immediate work for IT and for marketers, sales executives, and product managers who are actively engaged in pricing and product bundling and coordination.
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Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.