Here is a message that you might not want to hear. I am willing to bet that your company is not even remotely beginning to harness the full power of the Internet. Moreover I’m also willing to bet that you probably already know this. In a recent survey conducted by WebTrends in which more than 250 Chief Marketing Officers were polled, only 4% of respondents rated themselves and their staffs as “experts” on web marketing trends, strategies and technologies.

My experience tells me that the results of the WebTrends survey are spot-on. Regardless of the size or sophistication of the companies I have worked with over the years I have rarely come across organizations that really understood the power of the Internet. Oh sure, on an intellectual basis I think most executives understand the opportunity that the Internet affords, but it is the rare executive who will take that high level understanding and turn it into a well defined corporate internet strategy.

So, if the country’s best and brightest marketing minds are perplexed with how to best leverage the Internet to their advantage how can mid-market companies hope to thrive in this complex and ever-changing environment? The truth of the matter is that it is difficult, but then the greatest gains to be made are rarely easy to come by. Truly great advances in corporate growth require time, commitment and resources and cracking the key to success on the Internet is no different.

There is not nearly enough room in this blog post to cover the subject at hand in great detail so I have decided to focus on what I consider to be the most important decision you can make with regard to your company’s internet strategy Who are you going to put in charge? If you follow the guidelines outlined below you’ll be off to a better start than most and your business will begin to see gains that will be sustainable over time:

If the person in charge of your internet strategy is not a subject matter expert you are in great trouble. A well designed internet strategy can broaden and deepen customer relationships, increase brand awareness, expand revenue channels and markets, leverage business intelligence, increase efficiencies, create economies of scale, lower operating costs and add value to a variety of other mission critical items. So why would you trust something this critical to anyone other than an expert? Here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid when making human capital decisions with regard to your internet group:

1. Not having an internet group: Not having a group solely focused on vision, mission, strategy, goals, objectives, tactics, and process related to internet objectives is your first mistake. It is essential to apply dedicated/focused resources in this area to maximize opportunity.

2. Give the responsibility to IT: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the person charged with the responsibility of the corporate internet strategy be an IT staff member who is really nothing more than a already overworked network administrator who happens to be able to write a bit of code. Certainly web based initiatives require technical ability, but a very specific set of technical skills combined with branding, design, marketing and communication skills not ordinarily possessed by IT staff are also required.

3. Charge marketing with the responsibility: Not all mediums are created equally…print is different than radio which is different than TV, etc. As you have already seen by the results of the WebTrends survey most CMO’s don’t even consider themselves to be experts in this area so why would you assign the responsibility here? If you want a very pretty, but functionally useless internet presence then travel this path.

4. Responsibility by default: Worse yet is the scenario where internet responsibility is just added to someone’s job description because they happen to be a bit more web-savvy than anyone else on the management team. These individuals are rarely selected because they have any particular competency or even a desire, but rather they were the unfortunate soul that drew the short straw.

Let me ask you this question; did you recruit, hire and deploy your internet talent at the same level and in the same fashion that you did your finance talent? By way of example I have served as both a CFO and a Director of Internet Strategy and I can tell you that I was able to have much more impact and make much more substantial contributions with the Internet Strategy position. You wouldn’t let a bookkeeper serve as your CFO, or a paralegal serve as your General Counsel so why treat what is arguably a position of greater influence than the aforementioned two senior positions as an afterthought.

If your staff doesn’t possess subject matter expertise on internet design, functionality, usability, application development, architectural considerations,  process engineering, digital media, search engine optimization, search engine marketing, linking strategies, e-commerce strategies, the blogoshpere, social networking and the virtual plethora of other web-centric skill sets and competencies then I would strongly urge you to look toward an outside vendor until you can afford to build the necessary domain expertise internally.

In a perfect world your Chief Strategy Officer, Chief Marketing Officer or Chief Technology Officer would have very strong Internet competencies. However if they do not, I would suggest either upgrading the quality of your C-suite talent, creating a Director of Internet Strategy position to give the non internet savvy C-suite executives the support and guidance they need or engaging an advisor to bridge the gap. A focused competency in internet practices will produce a high return on investment by increasing revenues, margins, brand equity, and valuation.