If you don't have a digital presence today, you don't exist.
This statement might give you anxiety, but without a proper plan, you shouldn't rush to expand your online presence. You need a solid foundation on top of which to build what really amounts to your front door to the world. The importance of this shouldn't be lost on you, and you'll need a dependable framework to serve as a guide.
To build a stable foundation, you need to address four unique and interrelated components: content, strategy, design and technology. Your focus on each of these must be in equal and measured parts, ensuring a balanced approach to your digital presence. Think of the components as four table legs, where over- or under-emphasizing one will result in the table falling over.
Content: The first issue you need to address is defining the message you want to communicate. Typically this begins with your mission statement and expands from there to convey what your product or service can do for potential customers.
This message often is born from advertising or marketing teams, but you should remember that in the digital world, it's critical to focus on engagement. At the heart of the internet is interactivity, and it's critical to acknowledge that we operate in an environment of engagement, rather than an old broadcast model.
Strategy: Once you have defined the "what," fine tune it by addressing why you are in business and why would someone want to listen to and engage with your message. Combining the "what" and the "why" helps you crystallize a plan for your messaging and communications. Your strategy should focus on your engagement over a period of time to establish a relationship with customers. This will chart your roadmap, guiding your company from where you are to where you would like to be.
Design: By now, you know what your message is and why you are communicating it, but if the receiving party doesn't engage with it, you've failed. The packaging for your message is extremely important, so this is where aesthetics and customer experience come into play.
The rise of digital at the end of the last century and through the last decade saw the parallel focus on usability. A well-designed user experience can really differentiate your company from the rest of the market.
The design and aesthetics of your message are just as important -- and unfortunately, sometimes more so -- than the actual content. It has to be accessible, engaging, and understandable so that the receiving party can absorb and process what is being communicated.
Technology: The final component is often the least understood and, as a result, overlooked. Everyone knows how to drive a car, but very few understand how the car works. Similarly, everyone is online, and yet, a very small group of individuals truly understand how digital technology works.
The fourth, and most important, component is technology. I do admit a slight bias toward this, given my role as a CTO, but objectively, one can't overstate its importance. Without the proper tools to execute the job, it doesn't matter what your message is, why you are communicating it or what it looks like. You will be unable to connect or engage with your customers without appropriate technology.
By no means is this a comprehensive plan which you can plug and play into your business environment. It's high-level guidance outlining the four key components required to drive digital success.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Tom Cochran currently works at the U.S. Department of State in the Bureau of International Information Programs. Prior to that, he was the Chief Technology Officer at Atlantic Media, and served as the Director of New Media Technologies forThe White House.