The breadth of Internet sites and the information they deliver present a challenge for any corporate public relations staff.

General Motors’ Communication staff needed a resource tool that would allow it to readily identify the Internet’s most important websites and the most influential online journalists.  Hass Associates, Inc. of Ann Arbor, Michigan, proposed a service that would combine the accessibility and speed of the Internet with the knowledge and decision-making of skilled editors and Internet-savvy librarians.  It would offer these resources to GM communicators anywhere in the world through a revolutionary tool known as Web.InSite.

Web.InSite is a unique decision-making tool that evaluates the importance of Internet sites that are reporting and discussing the corporate and product news of a company. The information provided in this database includes comprehensive contact and background information on the most critical media sites on the Internet, whether based in the United States or globally; English, German, Spanish, Italian, French and Japanese sites are included.  In addition to the information readily accessible in this database, Web.InSite has a dedicated editor available to answer questions and provide specialized service.

For GM’s Communications staff, Web.InSite is an essential tool for evaluating and prioritizing media inquiries, researching online publications and assessing the potential power of certain web sites.  

A database accessible with an Internet browser, Web.InSite provides 15 types of information for each web site entry provided.  Users can research a site’s primary audience and key editors, producers and journalists.  Web.InSite also details site content, frequency of updates, level of visitor traffic, and any partnerships or alliances that site may have.  GM communicators can use Web.InSite to learn who owns a web site and whether it is part of a public or private company.  A related database includes online journalists (and their contact information), who are affiliated with these websites. 

A critical feature of Web.InSite is its ranking of web sites.  This system rates sites as to their potential for corporate communications purposes, according to a standard set of criteria.  The scoring helps media relations staff identify sites to which they may want to commit time and resources. These rankings produce a score that can be used to determine a “top 10 list” in various categories such as “all sites,” “web-only” sites, general news sites (the most influential sites offering business and product news), investor-oriented sites (market news, analysis and discussion) and industry-specific sites (e.g. automotive, airline).  

The Web.InSite editor takes questions from GM Communications staff about sites being rated or new sites they encounter. Generally, these questions are researched and answered comprehensively within two to eight business hours. To maintain accuracy, the editor is consistently updating the database. 

Web.InSite’s first and ongoing challenge is identifying websites that are relevant to a given industry, such as the automotive industry.  Important new websites appear on the Internet every day and the database editor is alert in locating them as they arrive. 

Locating background information on these websites, much of which is not readily available, is the next challenge. Providing background information on a website requires research of a variety of sources, including direct contact with website managers. 

The third challenge is using the background information to evaluate the importance of a website. The developers of Web.InSite formulated criteria to make these evaluations. Evaluations are provided as both a numerical score that ranks or compares a site against others in the database, and a written explanation as to why a site is important. 

The final challenge is ensuring that all information in the database is up to date. Each website entry in the database must be regularly monitored for staff changes, address and phone changes, partnership and affiliation changes, mergers and acquisitions, and editorial and content changes. 

The original technical goal was to develop a web-accessible, user-friendly database that was searchable, easy to navigate, and provided several options, both online and off, for additional assistance and special research requests. 
Web.InSite is a flexible database that is useful for any corporation. Although many websites in the database are clearly industry-specific, the content provided on most sites are relevant and transferable across industries. These challenges were successfully accomplished.