Jun. 27, 2011 - Better Association Websites
Most organizations have a website these days. Probably they’ve had one for several years—somebody told them it would be ‘cool’ to have a site, and so they found an inexpensive (or even free) way to create their presence on the web. These days, it might even be a Facebook page that satisfies the requirement of entry into the digital age and the need to have a ‘social network’.
“Visit us on the web,” you can say to members. Or, if you’re really really cool, you can say “Follow our QR Code to learn more!” and other cool people are directed to your website via their cell phone app.
However, the real problem is this: the website in question really sucks (that’s a well-recognized technical term). It’s a digital brochure. There was little reason to visit it in the first place, and there’s even less reason to go back. But who cares? There’s a website, a Facebook page, a QR code. We’ve seen our duty, and we done it! We may have even spent a lot of money making it visually interesting with slide presentations and things that flash and bounce.
But websites aren’t just passive electronic brochures, and social media is much more than an occasional tweet or (heaven forbid!) a sales pitch on a Facebook page. Today’s communication depends on the dimension of interactivity, of real time call and response, of dialogue.
A successful website features interactivity. Here are some suggestions for building that dimension into your organization’s online presence:
1. Blog. People want the backstories, the insights, and the conversation. And they don’t want to be talked to; they want to talk back, to share ideas, to rate usefulness of information, to contribute their own insights. Remember, blogs are a two-way street.
2. Make use of networks. One of the best users of Twitter I know is a state AE who is constantly reporting on real estate legislative matters—he’s faster than newscasts, and more reliable. The final measure of his success: he has well over 2500 followers!
3. Ask. Ask people to guest post to your site. Did a member go on a trade mission to another country? Attend an interesting seminar? Go to a state or national meeting? Ask them to write a personal account. Ask people to ‘like’ your Facebook site, and follow your tweets. Make it easy for them to subscribe to your blogs through FeedBurner and/or an RSS feed.
4. Feature products. Set up a regular product review feature on your website: your readers want to know about books (link to Borders or Amazon for easy purchase), software, new mobile applications. Give readers an opportunity to post their own experience with products. Of course, your association has many products for members and for the public: offer special sales and discounts, merchant coupons for affiliate members’ services. Finally, think about setting up a service quality rating program which allows the public to give input on member service or the members to give their reaction to association initiatives.
5. Make ‘contact us’ your theme. Set up your site so visitors—members and the public—can easily ask questions with the idea that someone will respond by the end of the next business day. I’ve even been on websites where it’s easy to speak to a representative online during business hours. And tracking consumer questions provides ideas for future seminars, blogs, or other content.
The point is this: websites are about the conversation, not just about the information. It’s important to weave conversation into the web design, and to respect and encourage both sides of the dialogue.
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