In a post last week – What Does Member Engagement Mean to You – I suggested that building a robust online community is only part of the engagement equation. But while engaging members offline is important, the reality is that “your website is still your primary identity online.”
Your website is where your members go for information and insight; where they can participate in your online community; where they can register for events; manage their membership profile and even their yearly renewal.
So, using the Field of Dreams metaphor – if you build it, will they come?
Building a website to realize your members’ “Field of Dreams”
For some small or fledgling member organizations, the first big challenge is to actually build a website! So, if your organization is just getting started in developing a website or looking at a wholesale “refresh”, here are a couple of resources that might help:
The Nonprofit Website Handbook is a comprehensive, “how-to” resource that offers an overview of the website design and development process. It was written and designed by Yesenia Sotelo, founder at SmartCause Digital (a web development and digital strategy firm). They also offer additional resources, such as the Website Launch Checklist - here.
- Help with managing website development:
John Haydon's post - Ten Ways To Make Your Nonprofit Website Simply Awesome - (also quoted above), outlines “10 must haves” for “awesome” nonprofit websites. While all 10 of John's tips apply to membership websites as well, these 5 are particularly applicable:
- Help in making your website "awesome":
- Professional design
- Intuitive navigation
- Answers to common questions
- Strong SEO
- Sharable content
You can read John's post for details on all of his 10 “must haves” and you can check out his other free website resources and tips - here.
- Help with website building solutions or platforms...
We created a guide - Membership Software Selection Guide - to help associations, clubs and other membership organizations choose the best system to suit your specific needs in building a membership website.
Getting members to engage with your website
Once you have created a website, the key goal is to get people to the site and keep them coming back for more. This means offering the right content – fresh, up-to-date and targeted to your audience – to keep them engaged and to ensure they experience membership value.
Ensuring content can be easily updated
While developing fresh content can be a challenge for small membership organizations, another important consideration is ensuring your website can be easily updated. In our post – Tips for Keeping Your Website Fresh – we noted that many small organizations rely on volunteers or staff with limited digital skills to update content on their website. This means that you need to ensure you have a user-friendly platform or content management tool to make their job easier. Otherwise, fresh content may be put on hold while you wait for a “techie” volunteer or an outside service provider to upload the content to your site. This may leave you feeling like “the victim of a "hostage" situation with [a] web developer. ...And what starts out as fresh content ends up a little stale by the time your supporters see it on your website."
Developing fresh content
In terms of how to approach content development, our post also offered an approach that small organizations could consider for getting started - a meal planning approach. In other words, when thinking about scheduling content for your website, think about what news you’d like to dish up each week or month and map that to your organization’s activities and information. What content do you have on hand and what do you need to develop? Start with a realistic and manageable time frame for planning - can you schedule one or two months of content?
As we also noted in the post, Kivi Leroux Miller offers guidance in her blog post, Content Strategies: Mapping and Merging - including tips on creating an editorial calendar.
Ensuring content is targeted to your audience
To ensure you are offering content that keeps them coming back for more, you first need to be sure you understand your audience. One strategy is to develop user personas. John Haydon offers another helpful post - How to Create User Personas for Your Website - that explains how this works. Haydon suggests “[d]eveloping user personas [fictitious characters that represent the various different types of people that visit your website] for your website will help you design a website that resonates with visitors, motivates content sharing, and converts ...Personas will also help you optimize your website for search because you have a better understanding of the keywords they’ll use in search engines.”
You’ve got their attention, now how can you keep it?
Engaging members on your website starts with offering fresh, useful content that is targeted to your audience. But keeping them engaged and participating involves:
- Alerting them to fresh or new content:
You can keep your members informed of fresh content by including information in other channels, such as regular updates in your emailed newsletter, any publications you create and/or send to members as well as in face-to-face meetings. Of course, social media - such as Twitter and Facebook are also great ways to keep members informed of new content. Find ways to leverage and promote new online content to get and keep members actively involved.
- Enabling two-way communication:
Your website should be the "mothership" of your organization's online community - so information shouldn't just flow out to members, you need to promote two-way communication opportunities as well. This means opening channels so members can also communicate with your group's administration and leadership. This can be done through:
- online forums: here's a resource that outlines How to Start an Online Forum
- a blog: enabling comments on your blog posts;
- via social media: e.g., encouraging communication via Twitter or Facebook - e.g., asking questions and listening to member's comments
This is just a few ideas to get you started thinking about how you can engage members through your website.
We’ll offer more on keeping members coming back in future posts - so stay tuned to the Wild Apricot Blog.
Image source: Website building - courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com