“Can the online Annual Report not just be part of the corporate website?” Right off the bat, this idea sounds plausible: a company website is, after all, the logical starting point for many stakeholders. If we take a closer look though, there are significant problem areas around this strategy. In this article we have summarised the five most important reasons why online reports are only useful as a microsite.
Five reasons to have microsites for your online Annual Reports
1. Report character
Annual reports are a rather particular form of publication for a company. By definition, they have a clear day-to-day reference and are momentary illustrations on the development of a company. But how is this report character made clear on a corporate website? If the logo or corporate design of a company changes, is the online report accordingly modified? Is the copyright reference in the footer always in the current year? Are current changes in the management structure also reflected in the online Annual Report on the website? This distinctive reporting nature does not become evident as just part of the corporate website. This is because the other information on the website is regularly updated. Corporate websites are a channel for last-minute information whereas reports are based upon past facts. Users of the corporate website have a clear expectation regarding the timeliness of its content. A change in management must be announced immediately. This is certainly not the case for an Annual Report. As a result of this, the assimilation of an Annual Report into the overall ecosystem of a website gives a very false impression to the stakeholders: Annual Reports are not to be updated anymore – this is what users must be able to rely on!
Like their printed counterparts, online Annual Reports have a deliberate degree of independence as a type of publication. They often follow a certain content and design concept, often have a motto or are graphically different from other company publications. While the corporate website generally limits the creative (and also technical) possibilities for the creation of an online report, microsites offer – especially due to their character of independence – a greater degree of flexibility. A clear labelling of the microsite will also help stakeholders recognize the report as such. On the corporate website, on the other hand, there is a very high risk of confusion and delimitation between the Annual Report content and the time period it covers and the other (current) content of the website.
Annual reports are a long-term account of a company’s development. As such, these current snapshots should always be available. This can be effectively implemented with a separate online report in the form of a microwebsite. BASF’s online reports for instance have been available as microsites from 2007 (http://bericht.basf.com/2007) until today (http://report.basf.com/2016) under their own web addresses (URLs) which has not changed since the day of publication. If, on the other hand, reporting information is integrated into the corporate website, after a period of time it is usually replaced by the new content. The old report will be only available as PDF for download.
4. Technical requirements
The implementation of an online corporate report also poses companies a technical problem: Normal content management systems (CMS) are simply not developed for the implementation of online corporate reports. Annual reports often contain hundreds of pages and tables that must be entered within a very short period of time after being approved. “Manually” copying this content “by batches” into a CMS is not only highly error-prone but also a cumbersome process – which is most probably not ideal right in the middle of the reporting season. For online Annual Reports, special CMS solutions are needed to ensure process reliability. nexxar implements the contents of a normal report through a special software, which is directly connected to the report CMS nxrEdit and is based on a predefined template structure. A report with 400 pages, 200 tables and 100 graphics can thus be easily implemented within 72 hours from data delivery. Not only for security reasons, but also because of practical advantages, the online report should not be hosted on a dynamic CMS. For example, updates in the CMS could lead to display problems or technical difficulties in older online reports. For nexxar, each report is thus exported as a static HTML version after approval by the client. Like a PDF, the online report can also be distributed via USB stick.
There are a number of features that set apart online reports from normal websites: interactive comparisons of key figures are rarely found on corporate websites, glossary terms are usually not highlighted and easily explained via a simple click (example: HHLA). The automatic direct download of all tables as an Excel file or corresponding chapter PDFs is also not provided in a normal website CMS.
There are good reasons why online reports are only useful as microwebsites. Nevertheless, the Annual Report and corporate website are not in each other’s way! They should be interlinked as best as possible. If you are looking for the online report, you should find it on the homepage, the investor relations or sustainability sections of a corporate website as soon and easily as possible. Company websites are intended to provide stakeholders with an overview of the business, products and current developments. They must not overwhelm users with information. For complex publications such as a corporate report, a separate microwebsite is quite clearly the better choice. Through links users can be redirected to the corporate website for more information. At the same time, the online report should lead to many links back to the corporate website, such as the financial calendar or current IR contacts. The very best tips for promoting online reports can also be found in the nxr lab.