Let’s Talk ‘About Us’

Ever hear those words and cringe? When said aloud, they usually mean, “Uh-oh. This relationship’s not progressing very well.”

Ever read those words and cringe? In Web-speak, they often mean, “We don’t respect your time. We can’t tell you right up front what we’re about so we’re sending you to this dumping ground for mostly irrelevant information.”

Countless Web sites have an “About Us” section. Few of these relay much useful information at all. Even fewer convey what companies really want customers to think they’re all “about.” Usually, “About Us” is where all the company blather is moth-balled. It’s packed with messages from the corporate executive, a few hoary press releases and the inevitable vision statements, mission statements and just about every statement there is that’s of absolutely no interest to the average visitor.

Consider whether or not you need an “About” section. If users come to your site and can’t figure out who you are and what you have to offer, there’s a big problem. Your home page should automatically jump out at visitors and say, “You’ve landed on a great site from a great bunch of people who want to help you. Here’s how we can do just that!” If visitors have to click on a section to get the answer to, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” Well, you’ve blown it.

Why are these sections always “About Us?” Isn’t the first rule of Web writing that content should be about you, the user? For the record, a company that believes its marketing should be “About Us” is seriously in peril.

Isn’t it interesting, too, that most “About Us” sections are the end of the road, rather than leading visitors to do something? If you want to introduce visitors to your company (and get them excited about it), shouldn’t the next logical step be a link so they can read more, use a directory, take a trial run, purchase a product or take another form of action? If you’ve sent visitors fishing in “About Us,” they’re another click deeper into your site. If they aren’t directed to anything useful, it’s one more annoyance.

I’d like to see an “About Us” page that thanks the visitor for being the least bit interested in that section of the site. Isn’t it simple courtesy to thank others for listening when the topic is me-me-me?

Maybe I’m being harsh. Yes, consumers need to know what your organization does. A truly customer-friendly site should accomplish this in a sentence or two on the home page. Good sites tell you right up front exactly what they do and how they do it differently than the competition. “The easiest way to book an airline flight.” “Running shoes in all sizes.” “Simple online math lessons for literature majors.” “The word’s online marketplace.”

Where do you pack away all the various and sundry information about your organization? I suggest starting with spring (or autumn) cleaning. Vision and mission statements should generally be saved for internal communications. Most vision/mission statements are for internal goal setting. Very few differentiate an organization. Fewer still are of interest to the consumer.

Other information such as company history and executive bios should be used sparingly. Consider whether or not it’s important to your target audiences. If you’re convinced it’s crucial, take a cue from Amazon.com. They’ve got a section for investor relations and a section for the media (press releases). Nothing is lumped into an all-inclusive hodgepodge of “company information.”

Consider giving more prominence to critical information that’s sometimes stowed in “About Us.” This includes location addresses, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and media and customer service contacts. This part is especially important for companies hoping to attract press attention. Reporters don’t have time to slog through organization charts and policy statements when looking for a contact name and phone number.

The bottom line, of course, is to think about what customers want to know about you. It’s never about what you want to push on them. If you aren’t sure what customers want to know, ask. It’s the best way to keep people happy and the best way to avoid those dreadful words: “We need to talk about where this relationship is going. We need to talk about us.”

Adapted from ClickZ.com.

Susan Solomon is the executive director of marketing and public relations for Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital health system in Southern California. In this capacity, she manages promotional activities for both traditional and new media. Susan is also a marketing communications instructor at the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California, Los Angeles.

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