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August 14, 2012

To View or To Do

The following is a guest post from Moira Edwards, CAE, president, Ellipsis Partners.

In Sunday's Learning Lab "Deep Dive: Everything Mobile" at ASAE's 2012 Annual Meeting & Expo, ASAE Chief Information Officer Reggie Henry gave us the insight that people have different appetites for online content depending on whether they are in learn mode or solve-a-problem mode. Our associations' websites satisfy both needs with information to browse and data to find.

In contrast, mobile sites are nearly always about doing rather than viewing. As you run through the airport, luggage in one hand and phone in the other, you access mobile sites when you need to save time and get specific information. So your members need your mobile site to solve their immediate problem. Maybe it's to find their meeting registration information or committee agenda or the certification deadline.

This is a very useful differentiation. Are our members in learn mode or problem solving mode when they get our newsletter, or maybe in neither? When we select an AMS or social media platform based on a great demo, were we in learn mode or problem solving mode when we evaluated the features? If we need both, how do we make sure we effectively meet both those needs? I will be using this framework as one way to evaluate all sorts of information in the future.

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December 7, 2011

Make your mobile apps make money

This tweet from @betsyschro at the 2011 ASAE Technology Conference & Expo neatly captures a common concern for associations as they explore their mobile options:

Informative and fascinating #tech11 GW1 opening session. But... raise your hand if your assn can afford awesome mobile tech?Wed Dec 07 15:18:08 via Twitter for BlackBerry®

Conveniently, an Idea Lab this afternoon offered some help in the form of advice on how to make apps profitable, to help cover costs or even drive revenue for the association. Alexandra Mouw, senior consultant, strategic web solutions, at Results Direct, suggested associations could learn lessons from the app of all apps, Angry Birds.

Angry Birds has been successful for many reasons, including:

  • It's simple. Birds flying and crashing into a structure.
  • It can be played in small spurts, in 30 seconds or a few free minutes.
  • It offers incentives for progress, such as stars and additional levels.
  • Even though it's installed on your phone and played alone, it still becomes community experience.
  • It works and rarely crashes.
  • The characters have proven likeable enough to be licensed for physical merchandise.

And so in thinking about developing apps for associations, it helps to understand the various models of revenue generation for mobile apps, Mouw says. Here are the leading forms:

  • Paid apps. This is the simplest form. Set a price as low as $.99 in the platform's app store. (This is one way Angry Birds makes money.)
  • Advertising and sponsorship. This might be the form with the most immediate potential for associations.
  • Freemium apps, which come in a couple forms:
    • Lite versions: Free apps with limited capability or with advertising. Some of those ads encourage users to download the paid app with additional functions. (Angry Birds does this, too. You can buy a lite version to try it out.)
    • In-app purchasing: The app is free, but users can buy additional features or functions from within the app.
  • Driving out-of-app purchasing. The app could be free or paid, but it's designed to lead users (subtly or directly) to buy something somewhere else. (Think Angry Birds plush toys.) A common association example of this that came up in the session is certification preparation material; the prep app might be free, but it helps people toward reaching a paid certification.
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Let Mobile Help You Find Your Focus

lukewroblewski.jpg

Luke Wroblewski's mantra, "Mobile First," reminds me of The Onion.

Not because it's a joke (far from it), and not because he's funny (which he is, but that's not the point.)

If you've ever read an interview with writers of the satirical newspaper (like this one), you know that they brainstorm in headlines first. They toss around joke headlines in meetings, and then they assign writers to the stories. The headline is the joke, and the joke is the most important part. The rest is just extra.

Wroblewski, digital product software designer, cofounder of Bagcheck Inc., and opening general session speaker at the 2011 ASAE Technology Conference, says associations should take a similar approach in designing online engagement opportunities for members: "It makes a lot of sense to start thinking about mobile as the first order of business." (So much sense that he wrote a book about it.)

Your first reaction to this might be, "Why design the tiny version first?" Wroblewski's answer is the same that The Onion writers would give about brainstorming joke headlines: because the constraints of a small space force you to focus on the most important part.

When you go from designing for a desktop to a smartphone screen, you lose 80 percent of your space, "which I think is awesome," Wroblewski says. "You put what your customers want first, and as a result your business grows."

For associations, this will be a difficult change. Focus isn't exactly a forte. "Association" has been aptly defined as "a conglomerate of small businesses … with a consensus-based governance model slapped on top." Getting consensus on what's most important, on what makes the cut for the small screen, will be a messy process.

But with mobile devices predicted to overtake PCs in 2013 as the most common channel for accessing the web, if you're not already thinking about mobile first, you might soon find yourself finishing last.

Follow the conversation at the Technology Conference at http://tech11.org, and look for further coverage here on Acronym throughout the week.

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May 5, 2011

7 Ways to Strategically Align Your Leveraged Social Blog with Engagement Champions for Search Engine Success in the New Association World Order

Ha! You actually clicked on this link, did you? My apologies; sometimes I feel like we are all heading down a little bit of a silly road, flush with "5 ways to do this" and "10 ways to do that," with some awesome keywords that get clicks and sound so neat in the homogenized soup that is the mainstream social internet. Ugh.

Anyway, as you know from some of my past posts, I've been working on the rollout of a new website over the past year. We've learned a lot along the way, and below are some ideas I want to let you know about or that I am randomly pondering, and I want to hear from you on stuff you are doing or pondering related to the web these days, as well. (If you don't respond then I will maybe cry a little bit.)

  • We are learning at my association that an online community is hard work, and that what works is usually not even close to what we thought would work. For example, we have a great discussion forum that no one discusses on, but people love to post their own videos and pictures on the same site, and they love contests where they can win stuff or send in funny pictures.
  • We are finding out that a social media component to web advertising and sponsorship packages gets a lot of interest from agencies and people we are trying to sell to. It's a nice value add and helps seal the deal sometimes. And we are learning that selling comprehensive packages complete with in-person, print, email, web, and social components take longer to sell but are of more value to our core sponsors and advertisers.
  • SEO is so boring and yet so important, and I think we should all invest in someone to do strategic SEO for our associations if we can.
  • Web strategy is the equivalent of association strategy. The two must exist together and not in separate vacuums, and we should contextually frame much of our overall strategy with the web in mind, due to its influence and importance (e.g. "How do we leverage the web to achieve X or advocate for Y?")
  • Associations should be using the web and social media to innovate when it comes to committees and how they discuss, make decisions, and accomplish work. Is anyone doing this, because I'm not! Most of our committee meetings are via a conference call or, on special occasions, we'll use GoToMeeting.
  • ROI discussions on social media I think miss the point; do you calculate the ROI on a stapler or for your email account or for that cocktail party? I think we are all trying to measure things too much in order to justify our own existence; these tools should help free us from this measuring overkill and allow us to reconnect with people, which is what associations are all about in the first place, right?
  • Video is the way we should archive our association history, moving forward … like those old family videos!

Thoughts?

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May 4, 2011

Getting "Elders" to Engage in Community-building

I've been reviewing my notes and conversation from MMCC last week and ran into a good community-building example described by Joe Flowers, who has spent three years as community manager at the 5,000-member National Association of Dental Plans, a trade group.

I had asked Joe for suggestions about how to entice the most senior, most experienced members of an organization to actively participate in an association community when they might be feeling like they already have a strong enough professional network and often "don't learn much" from education sessions, publications, list servs, or conferences anymore.

Joe responded that NADP had tackled the dilemma by "educating our members that their entire staff could be part of any [association] conversation," rather than just one or two individuals. He learned that his older members were concerned about the quality of the professionals who would be leading their companies once they had retired or moved on.

Joe e-mailed volunteer groups with specific numerical goals aimed at boosting the community, asking volunteer members to send an association e-mail to 10-15 people at all levels of their workplace each month. The e-mails invited these individuals to share opinions, attend association events, and sample NADP content. They also included specific and easy sign-in instructions so they could try out what membership might feel like. Joe then "let it snowball from there."

It did, although NAPD "took a hit" when it switched to a better platform that not everyone immediately embraced. "They went back into their shell a bit, but now they're coming out again" because they miss what they gained as an active community member, Joe laughed.

His job has been particularly tricky because members are highly competitive. But by focusing community discussions on research studies, legislation, and committee work while avoiding product-oriented subjects, companies were not nervous about having lower-level staff involved and often found common ground.

When discussions lagged, Joe seeded the site with provocative data, restarted popular conversations from the past, asked for comments to a document, or collected suggested messages that members wanted the CEO to make in his next media interview.

As a result, "we've seen a steady increase [in the community's engagement], and we've pulled data showing about a 10% increase in website traffic each month, and even a 45% increase one month." The month before NAPD launched its community strategy, its site attracted 1,000 unique visitors, Joe noted. Five months later it's at 10,000 and has "a lot more engagement points now, too."

Those are impressive numbers. I wish Joe well in his new PR job, which starts tomorrow in California, but am sure that his oversight of NADP's community will be missed. Meanwhile, I'm going to look for similar good examples of inclusive communities that appear to excite members of all professional levels.

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April 26, 2011

SEO: No home runs here, just a whole lot of tee ball

From a marketing and communications standpoint, there is perhaps nothing more important than ensuring your association is at or near the top of the list of search results when people are searching on terms relevant to your industry, profession, or interest. I've read the articles and been to training on search engine optimization (SEO) like lots and lots of other folks. I was drawn into a session here at the Membership, Marketing & Communications Conference by its title: "From Page 55 to Page 1: One Association's Journey Out of the Google Abyss."

It's the story of how the Society of Hospital Medicine, and specifically, what they did after they learned that their job board--a new product they had high hopes for in terms of outreach and revenue--did not show up on the first page of Google results even though competing job sites did. And it wasn't on the second. Or third. They had to hit "more results" a total of (you guessed it) 55 times.

Alarmed they studied the issue and implemented strategies to improve, not only the new product, but the way the entire website would show on Google and Bing and other sites. What they discussed is not any different than what you'd read about or learn about in other SEO sessions. It's examining the language you use, some backend HTML stuff, and getting reputable, strong sites to link to your site. What they really learned is that it takes a strategy and a lot of effort, and it's continuous. They have some good, interesting tools they used that can be helpful to associations. (I'll follow up with them, give me a couple weeks and I'll update this post, ideally, with a link to a sample or two.)

But Todd Von Deak, CAE, the VP of operations and general manager of SHM, summarized the main point several times: "Don't look for the home run. Play tee ball instead." His point, it takes a lot of little things, all wrapped up in ongoing processes to jump 54 pages in Google. They talked about getting marketing and web staff on the same page as being critical--and I'd add all communications and content people. To successfully get to and stay at the top of search results requires the cooperation of anyone who has direct access to put things on your site to use the right terms and build pages in the right way. It sounds easy and simple, but it takes amazing discipline to pull it off.

They also reiterated a favorite theme of mine, which is that the most important part is getting highly rated sites to link to your site. The top way to do this, obviously, is to have good content--to put good, linkable material on your site. I've always tended to downplay the second way to get this done, which is to try to actively manage it. Basically, the strategy here is to assess who would be a good reputable site on which a link would be beneficial for your organization, and actively try to get them to do it. I always thought such a strategy would never pay off, but I'm not so sure anymore. For one, there are more influencers than there used to be, and identifying them is easier than before. Social media has changed this game, and even when you look at traditional media sources, they are doing tons of social media activities. And second, yes, it's still a lot of work and may not yield a lot of links, but search results are so important, why not put resources on it? Everything an organization decides to do, continue doing, etc., is a resource decision, and there are few things that are going to rate higher in importance than being at the top of search results.

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January 19, 2011

Online Community Cacophony

Okay, so a long time ago I wrote several blog posts related to Goplow.com, our associations new content+community website, and I promised more...and then I didn't get you anything else because nothing great happened for a while. But I am here with an update as our small association pushes itself hard to build this resource we've created. And I must say that creating and growing an online community is the wild west of the association world; one must stay true to the association's goals and fight through the cacophony of noise that is out there relating to creating and fostering a digital community.

Thanks to great resources at ASAE and some solid colleagues met through the annual meeting, I was emotionally prepared for the initial LAL (lull after launch, just made that up). Since then, we've made some good headway, here are some things we have done:

A Great Story: We launched a video contest for our publication in the fall. Each issue we feature a snow professional on the cover, and it's a great honor, so we created a contest where folks could submit videos explaining why their story should be told. We got a whopping 8 entries, 2 of which didn't qualify, so sounds like a drag, right? I disagree; we got 6 great companies to share their stories with us, and the winner especially had a powerful story that I think will resonate with our magazine readership, and we probably would have never known of it...and we doubled our traffic to the site BTW and people really watched the videos.

Partnering: We forged a new publishing partnership, believe it or not with our main competitor online in our market. We strategically built our site to differentiate it from this site from the start, so together we complement each other and offer better choice for our advertisers and end-users. This allows us to spread our message via email and in print to new audiences, at much higher numbers then previously; we provide quality content links, they feature their diverse community, and both sites drive traffic.

Synergy: In the past year we launched an online marketplace with another partner, linked to our site homepage. In 2011 we hope to take this a step further, pulling the sites closer by creating a sub-domain on our site for the marketplace, which will allow us to leverage the high-SEO potential of a site like the marketplace (tons of links to other sites!), and make it easier to market the sites (instead of separate URL's) to drive traffic, and make it more intuitive for site users.

Constant Review: We just finished a user's survey, and thanks to a very strong financial start for the site in terms of ad sales, we are able to re-invest a portion of that revenue into the site in 2011. Concept is: launch, implement, review, rework, and the process starts all over again.

Would love to hear how others are building their online communities in any function, or if anyone has advice for us as we grow our fledgling community!

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July 1, 2010

Quick Clicks: Straight Up

Welcome to the latest edition of Quick Clicks--just in time for the holiday long weekend (for those of you who are in the States). Here's some great reading before you head out to your holiday celebration of choice:

- Welcome to new association blogger Dave Martin! Dave just recently launched the Dirty Martini blog, with the great tagline "Association Marketing Straight Up."

- Amith Nagarajan has written three posts on the Aptify CEO blog following up on his Leadership Inspiration post here on Acronym. He's written on encouraging debate at all costs, making decisions with imperfect information, and challenging your opinion continuously.

- The Connect blog shares 56 takeaways from ASAE's Membership and Marketing Conference and Association Media & Publishing's Annual Meeting.

- At face2face, Sue Pelletier considers a couple of perspectives on the question of whether or not association tradeshows are on their way out.

- At the SignatureI blog, Marsha Rhea considers what the next 50 years might hold for associations.

- The Nonprofit University blog shares a fascinating parable about Goldilocks and the three executive directors.

- Vinay Kumar wonders if we're asking the right questions as we try to improve our organizational performance. On a somewhat related note, Chris Bailey has some suggestions on how you can listen like an anthropologist to hear what isn't being said during important conversations.

- At the Insights From a Future Association Executive blog, Bruce Hammond has started an interesting discussion about the future of magazines.

- Michele Martin at the Bamboo Project blog shares some lessons learned from arranging a virtual career fair.

- Joe Sapp at the Moving Through the Association World blog (welcome back, Joe!) responds to Brian Birch's recent Acronym posts on building a new website with some advice of his own.

- Rebecca Rolfes suggests a new way for associations to think about growth.

- The AssociationRat blog wonders if the business world has anything equivalent to a walk-off in baseball.

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June 15, 2010

Anatomy of a Web Launch 3: Pillars of Success

We left off on the last post by talking about the strategic sponsorship our association built with a publisher to couple resources and launch a new content and social networking website. In this post, I will talk about the strategy we created to manage the site long term.

Building Foundations. We reviewed many sites and articles related to managing sites, and especially social networking sites. We then created our management system, best described by the image below:

Pillars_Diagram.jpg

As you can see in the diagram, we generated a management platform based on what we call the Three C's: Content, Communication, and Community...and we utilize the term synergy to describe the type of atmosphere we wanted to cultivate long term, where the community builds its own content organically, meaning over time the whole begins to equal more than the sum of its parts.

The Three C's: Content, Communication, Community. Step one, develop relevant, quality content for our targeted audience. For this, our Content pillar was created, and one staff member was assigned to be the driver of content on the site, with help from other staff and an editor from our publishing partner. Goals of content include accuracy and relevancy, stories as valued content (instead of just traditional business/how-to articles), and alignment with the overall educational objectives of the association. We also established that this site would serve as the major hub for pushing content out to other social environments. For video content, we appointed our most video-centric champion in the office to work with our Content Coordinator and manage the creation of video content .

Next was the Communication Pillar. We assigned the person in our office most diligent about messaging and sharing information across our various social channels. The goals and values we set for this pillar included consistent monitoring/management of overall message and branding, monthly evaluation of search engine placement/keywords, and consistent gathering of feedback.

Finally, we fleshed out the linchpin for long-term for success of the site, the Community Pillar. We set up a system where our top 3 most passionate staff members on social networking will take the lead---we don't want to limit their passion to connect online during work hours, we want to harness it. Goals and values were:


  • To foster a dynamic and engaged professional community through encouragement and planned community-building programs and projects.

  • Consistent and regular encouragement of SIMA volunteers and Board of Directors to actively participate in the community weekly. Identification of volunteer 'champions'.

  • Creation of the 4 rules that every person should follow when posting on the community, with our goal of fostering a culture that is more like LinkedIn than Facebook.

Please engage with me and consider these questions, or ask me some questions:

  • What management functions have you all put in place for social communities?
  • What concerns or challenges have you faced with online communities?
  • What are the challenges to creating a community online that has rules of engagement?
  • How do you enforce bad behavior on a social networking site that your association built?
  • What are some fun giveaways or contests that you've seen or heard of to build community?
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June 7, 2010

Anatomy of a Web Launch: Planning and Partnership

Now that we are ready to soft launch our site, it's fun to reflect. I would love to say that the last 2 months of site development have been a huge nightmare and challenge, but it's actually been quite painless overall. And the funny thing is, the site that we have created is actually quite simple. And that's the point, which leads me to my next post in this series (if you didn't see it, the introduction to the series is available here).

Planning. In January of 2009, I pulled together our association staff and the management team from our publishing partner to discuss and review our online presence. At that time, we as a staff had been engaging and actively using social media as a group for only a few months.

It became evident that we needed to develop a new site on a newer platform for our official publication, Snow Business magazine. The platform we were on was older, less flexible, and it was outdated. We also knew that we had to position ourselves as a leader in our industry online; there were already several successful (from a traffic standpoint) websites out there providing a threaded discussion format, but no sites delivering quality content (in many formats) coupled with a professional community. We wanted to be different. We also were overwhelmed with all of the prospects/functionalities, consultants, nings, wings, and blings, blah blah that were out there...where do we start? First, we needed a name for this monster project: Project Vulcan.

Over the course of 2 months, we made some strategic decisions that influenced our Vulcan site before it ever had a domain name. We really forced ourselves to talk about our goals as a staff/publishing team, and what we wanted to be able to deliver long-term. We didn't even look at sample sites, and every time we started talking about the bells and whistles, like 'maybe a content cloud...' we brought it back to strategy. Out of this came our Big Picture Outcomes---we forced ourselves to tie make sure these tied to strategic plan goals. Check those out here.

We also knew that in year one, we would not be able to deliver on all of these outcomes. We simply wanted to develop a dynamic, functioning platform that would allow us to build upon, and that was flexible.

Partnership. Before we talked site specifics, we had to define our partnership. We knew that the costs of a site like this for a small association by itself were difficult; we couldn't justify the cost without help.

Leveraging an existing relationship, we set up a partnership with our publisher that allows SIMA to own the new site, but outsourcing several functions to our publishing partner. This way, we could leverage; an experienced, professional editor of very high quality; a professional salesperson for ad sales; an IT consultant for IT questions; and some services from a highly competent graphic designer. We would split the expenses for development and marketing, and share profit (although the publisher gets a bigger piece of the pie, that's their incentive). Some content would be developed by us, and some by them, each owning its own content (this causes some challenges, to be sure).

I want to be clear; this site could fail long term, as could any new product launched online. However, I feel we have greatly increased our chances of success by going through a strong planning process first.

For the next post, I'll show you a really cool diagram, and talk about the initial RFP process and first steps in creating this site, please share thoughts below on the challenges of planning online products and resources in today's web environment.

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June 1, 2010

Anatomy of a Web Launch

Over the next few months, my association will venture into the great known. We will boldly go where millions have gone before, and we will stumble and perhaps fall. And in the end, we hope we will be a smidgen wiser and better off than we were before.

I speak of a new content and social networking website we have been hungrily planning, conniving, ghoulishly hoarding close to our breast, for over a year. And you will experience the final development and launch of this site with us, if you DARE!

Here is what I will attempt to do here at Acronym:

- Describe our web strategy and planning process without putting you to sleep.

- Update you on things that are a major pain in our you-know-what.

- Tell you about our partnership strategy, and how it cut our expenses in half.

- Show you all this cool diagram-thing I had our graphic designer create to illustrate our philosophy of Content, Communication, and Community, and explain why I quoted Spock.

- Our logo design process, which was maybe one of the more painful things I've experienced in a long time--I won't even tell you about choosing a URL, as I still have PTSD from it, I think.

- Talk to you about how we dealt with some normal defenses and challenges to the project from board/volunteers/ourselves.

Now, my association isn't the first or the last to go through this kind of experience. I'd like to hear from you. What cautionary tales do you have to share from past website launches? Building a new online community? What questions would you like to see me write about in this series of posts? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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August 31, 2008

Associations Responding to Hurricane Gustav Threat

As always, I am proud to report that many associations have already sprung into action in response to the serious threat of Hurricane Gustav, now a Category 4 hurricane heading toward New Orleans, and the potential threat of Tropical Storm Hannah coming toward the Florida coast. Here are some of the actions associations are already taking:

· The Air Transit Association of America (ATA) has released a statement explaining evacuation processes for residents in the New Orleans area. You can read it here.

· The Humane Association, American Red Cross, Salvation Army, local and national food banks, and numerous faith-based community organizations have partnered in Nashville, Tennessee, to open shelters, distribute meals, and support evacuees from the hurricane.

· The American Red Cross is urging people in the potentially affected areas to register themselves its new Safe and Well Web site at www.redcross.org, or call a loved one and ask them to register you. This online tool helps families and individuals notify loved ones that they are safe during an emergency. You also can read and link to the organization’s advice to evacuating families by going here.

· The Texas Society of Certified Public Accountants is urging people in the affected areas to “financially prepare” for the hurricane, using its tip list, which includes the need for having plentiful cash on hand, documenting household goods and valuables, and gathering important documents.

· The National Association for Amateur Radio (ham radio folks) has developed guidelines for potential volunteers interested in responding to the hurricane emergency, warning them not to “self-deploy” and noting that the International Radio Emergency Support Coalition has been relaying reports online since Friday.

· The Texas Hotel & Lodging Association sent an alert to members last Thursday, repeating a local government estimate that 45,000 evacuees could arrive if Gustav hits Louisiana. Local restaurant associations and members have been stocking up as well.

· Social media also is coming into significant play in terms of sharing storm information, relaying community/government emergency operations, organizing nonprofit relief and assistance responses, checking on association members, monitoring local chapters/components, and rallying volunteers on standby.

· Bossier City Firefighters Association is working with the International Association of Fire Fighters to find housing for IAFF members evacuating the area. Like the response to Hurricane Katrina three years ago, many local associations have turned to their national associations and leaders for help—and emergency housing is just one such request. Others I’ve seen relate to transportation advice, pet care in the region, and reinforcing communication strategies.

· The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) is actively tracking the storms on the Hurricane Preparedness section of its web site and has the latest NOAA and other weather updates, the status of various airports, an emergency preparedness checklist, and many more resources available to help members and the public stay abreast of rapidly changing weather conditions.

· Various electrical power associations are urging the public and businesses in the potential hurricane zones to review their virtual brochures on preparing for power outages and surges as a result of poor weather. Here’s one example from Coast Electric Power Association.

· A number of associations also are encouraging members to access the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) Hurricane Preparedness page, which contains emergency plans for businesses and families, emergency supply lists, and background on hurricanes in general.

Thanks, y’all, for once again stepping up to make a real difference in the lives of both your members and the larger public. Please know that ASAE & The Center stand ready to assist you in your efforts!

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April 24, 2008

It’s all about users

More from the 2008 Digital Now conference. A common theme bubbled up in several of the sessions today: focusing on users.

Specifically, many of the thought leaders have hammered home the importance of thinking like your members and website visitors, listening to them for their needs, and asking them how your content and services should be structured.

Dan Guarnaccia, VP of product marketing at Sitecore, listed the seven habits of effective websites. Number one on the list? “Your members are in charge.” Later on, he talked about taking an honest look at your website and finding the holes – the places where your members look for content and either miss what’s there or find nothing at all – and patching them up.

Matt Loeb, CAE, staff director at IEEE, conducted extensive usability testing for the online portal for IEEE’s magazine, Spectrum. Members were asked to complete tasks on IEEE’s website and were monitored as they did. Their feedback? The site navigation stunk (in so many words). So they redesigned it.

In the same session, Gary Rubin, chief publishing and e-media officer at the Society for Human Resources Management, said he intentionally downplays the brand of SHRM’s print magazine on SHRM’s website. “People are going to our website for broad content, not our magazine,” he said. Content from the magazine and other resources is arranged by topics and categories – which is how visitors browse and search – not by what publication they came from. (Take-home test: check your association’s website. Are the names of your publications more prominent than the content in them?)

The real doozy came from Jim Bower, founder and chief visionary officer of Whyville, an educational online virtual world for kids age eight to 14. Bower argued that the human brain interprets information in three-dimensional space, and so Whyville is constructed for children to learn by moving through and interacting in the Whyville community. He said two-dimensional information (including that on a computer screen) is “an artifact of the printing press.” Whyville seems alien to most adults, but it works: Whyville has drawn 3.3 million users. Engaged users. The kids even participate in their own governance system.

The big picture: as association staff, it’s way too easy to develop deeply ingrained interpretations of everything about your organization. Don't allow this to guide how you deliver content and services to members and consumers, because they see your products in entirely different ways.

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March 6, 2008

More Than Just a Pretty Website

This week marked the launch of a new website for my association. We’ve been working with developers since last November to craft a new look and feel for the site and develop a streamlined structure that would not only put a fresh face on the organization, but also make information accessible enough to cut back on the volume of calls and emails we receive. After being live for only a few days, the new design has received positive feedback. I get the sense that even the most tech-shy of our members will be giving the site another look.

The transition from our old website (and my anticipation of how members will relate to the new one) got me thinking about the major role that design plays in our use of the internet. Each time we visit a site we make initial judgments about its content based on its graphic interface. Contemporary graphics, colors, and fonts, along with up-to-date navigation and menu conventions engender an immediate and basic level of trust that we’ll find what we’re looking for. Clashing colors and poor organization on a site’s homepage quickly make us doubt we’ll read anything of value within its pages.

As manager of our website’s words I’m all about communicating value to members and other constituents. I realize that the articles, issue summaries, and event descriptions I’ve worked hard to gather and post will be viewed differently now that our site looks fresh and new. The real test will come several months down the road when a little of the shine has worn off and members expect our site’s content to live up to its pretty face. It’ll be my challenge to ensure they find the value they’re seeking.

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September 28, 2007

Mobile emulator

From the AE on the Verge blog, here's a link to a neat tool that can show you how your website looks on a mobile phone (at least, on two specific types of mobile phones). I personally am not that big on the mobile internet, except when I need to check football scores; but more and more people, especially internationally, are using their cell phones as e-mail and internet tools. It's important to keep that audience in mind.

What associations out there have specifically created mobile-optimized websites or web tools for members?

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September 11, 2007

Quick clicks: Future web trends, global social media

- Via elearnspace, I came across a list of 10 web trends to watch out for over the next 10 years that may be of interest. Some of the trends, such as “virtual worlds,” I’ve definitely been hearing about; others were new to me. Are there any trends you’d add to their list?

- I also wanted to point you to an interesting post from Peter Turner at opensource.association. He has a map showing the leading social media sites around the world, and he points out some interesting patterns from the data.

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March 9, 2007

MySpace is so last year

I just spoke with a friend of mine who is a youth leader in his church, and he happened to mention that he joined Facebook to better communicate with the teens he works with. Apparently, when he notified the youth group members via e-mail about upcoming events, no one would come. Turns out that the teens (at least at his church) aren’t checking e-mail anymore; to reach them, he needed to communicate with them through Facebook.

When asked if any of the teens were on MySpace, he scoffed, “No. MySpace is passé to them now.”

Associations interested in reaching out to young people might need to adjust their plans …

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January 18, 2007

Behind new eyes

Jakob Nielsen, a web usability guru (he’s been writing regular columns on the subject since 1995), posted a great piece of advice in a recent article:

“ … it’s a good idea to ask any new hires in your usability group to immediately write usability reviews of your [website] design while they still have an outside perspective.”

I would take that a step further (especially since very few associations probably have a separate usability department) and expand that to all new hires—even new members. Create a set of usability questions and tasks to send to each newbie. Take their input, along with the information you're gathering from site logs and other sources, and use it to fine-tune your online presence.

I bet you’ll be surprised and enlightened by what fresh eyes see on your site.

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December 13, 2006

Lessons from the World Rock, Paper, Scissors Society

The light-hearted World Rock, Paper, Scissors Society (WRPSS) is an extraordinarily successful experiment in viral/word of mouth communications. Although delightfully silly, WRPSS offers up some valuable lessons for those of us who--perhaps--take ourselves too seriously

WRPSS founder and managing director Doug Walker was the luncheon speaker this week at the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Summit in Washington, D.C. Doug's day job is Interactive Strategist at an ad agency TBWA\Toronto. He identified four keys to their success: authority; mutation; participation; and, "accretion."

The WRPSS is the authority quoted by the New York Times when the childhood game of rock, paper, scissors is invoked to resolve gridlocked decisions by art auction houses and state court judges. How did they become the authority? They said they were. Interestingly enough, visitors attracted by word of mouth added their strategies and experience to a long threaded message, which in turn became a book. And, as we all know, publishing a book makes you an authority.

The idea quickly mutated, adding more of the trappings of an association, including paid memberships and meetings. What the founders learned was that they had to quickly mutate to keep up with their members' fantasy. Last year their annual world championship made all the network and cable news shows with the winner featured on every late night night talk show. Check out the NPR story on their mythological history.

Participation was key to their success. At the meet, they treated competitors like athletes and groupies like special interest groups. But the most telling lesson learned was "accretion." Walker said that participants grew the mythology, identifying with the group, and each step of WRPSS' development layered on the last. He said you could have never launched it as it now exists, but each activity led to the next or "accretion."

"A few people played their roles (leaders) and we attracted more and more people," Walker said. In fact, they were so successful a producer from Fox News covering the championship launched a competing organization.

The lessons from social media not only make for a powerful fable, but also a game plan for any start-up associations, lessons not unlike those now being learned by WOMMA.

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December 6, 2006

Reuters Partners With Yahoo For Citizen Media Site

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This week, Reuters and Yahoo launched "You Witness News," a Web site that allows amateur photojournalists an opportunity to submit their pictures and videos of newsworthy events. The best pictures will then be displayed on Reuters and Yahoo's online news sites, accompanying written coverage of the events.

"Citizen journalism" has become something of a buzzword in the past few years - with the advent of YouTube, Flickr and the like. And I have been pondering lately some of the ways that associations can tap into this passion. When you think about it, citizen journalists, for the most part, are volunteers, and just like the volunteer leaders we work with every day, these folks are so passionate about weather or photography or the perfect cup of coffee or seeing their name on Yahoo News that they will take the time to upload their photos and their videos.

Association staff - like Yahoo and Reuters staff - cannot be everywhere all the time. Yahoo's You Witness site goes one step beyond just accepting photos and videos and actually has video lessons on how to take the perfect picture, the quickest way to upload materials and how to tell a story.

I don't have the budget to start a Mississippi Hospital Association You Witness site, but I can easily put a blurb on my Web site encouraging members to send me their photos and videos of industry-related events and happenings, from a training drill in their hospital to an opening reception at a national convention.

While I'm still pondering how associations can tap into the zeitgeist of citizen journalism, let me know if you have any ideas. You can leave a comment here or e-mail me directly at slea@mhanet.org. I'll post a round-up of all the responses when I have thought it through a bit more. And if you have any examples of associations tapping into citizen journalism, please let me know that also.

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November 4, 2006

Truth to Power

Unable to disguise what I think--my face gives me away even across a room--I avoid playing poker and have carved out a role telling truth to power. After all, if you can't fix it, feature it.

To improve our game, we all need honest feedback, me included. Yet how often do we invite it or seek it out?

One method to guarantee that those of us in management don't take ourselves too seriously is to visit Despair.com, the specialists in demotivation. The posters and calendars are classic satire, poking fun at those motivational tools you see in airline magazines and skewering B-School pretensions.

I dare you not to see yourself in one of the Self-Narrative video podcasts , such as Principles of Organizational Storytelling. Like the Emmy Awarding winning show, "The Office," it will make you squirm.

Don't write this off as simple-minded office humor. It might just be what your team thinks you need .

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October 31, 2006

Hyperniche

The November Fast Company has an article I almost skipped over: "Hyper-Local Hero" by Chuck Slater. I'm glad I didn't, it's a good read, but more importantly, it had a lesson for me in my approach to association websites.

The article is on Rob Curley. The one-sentence synopsis: Curley has moved from small newspaper to small newspaper and turned dull, unimaginative websites into creative bursts of local activity by developing ideas he describes as "hyperlocal."

The difference between a small-town newspaper and an association isn't as great as you might think. Such a newspaper might server a public that is anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000—right in the wheelhouse for many professional societies and even trades when you factor in management teams. As the title of the posts suggests, I'm now thinking of association websites as a way to be "hyperniche."

Look at the sidebar "Rob Curley's Greatest Clicks." It's a dozen of his successful creations. Imagine how just a minor change—as minor as changing "hyperlocal" to "hyperniche"—could make them applicable to association:

Local Survivor Game—make it an "Idea Survivor Game" where a group of your profession/industry thinkers are challenged with a new real or semi-real scenario to offer advice. Each week, visitors vote one thinker out of the game.

Eclectic Podcast—make it "Status Quo Destroyer Podcast" where every week or month you challenge a different piece of conventional wisdom that holds your industry/profession back.

Geocoded News—make it "Niche News" where people select a particular topic from a list and get recommendations for articles to read, book reviews, education reviews (and upcoming opportunities), etc.

That's just three out of a dozen. And if there's an idea I could leave you with: When you see something interesting, steal it. Adapt it. Allow it to help you make something special.

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October 2, 2006

Do you know your Long Neck?

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The Long Neck, according to Gerry McGovern, is where the long tail meets your Web site. It's the understanding that 90% of your Web visitor are only going to read 10% of your Web content - and if they can't find it quickly, they won't even read that much. McGovern, in his latest book, Killer Web Content, explores the disconnect between the information companies have on their Web site and the words Web searchers use to land there. McGovern's company joins these two together to create what he calls Customer Carewords - the words your customers love and are looking for.

The graphic, from his Web site, uses the tourism industry as an example. In a Customer Carewords poll of over 1,000 people in 12 countries, people were asked to choose the tasks they most wanted to complete on a tourism website. 147 possible tasks were offered such as: planning a trip, vacation packages, getting here and around, accommodation, special offers, things to do and see, etc.

The top seven carewords, representing five percent of the total tasks, got 35 percent of votes. In fact, the top seven carewords got more votes than the bottom 120 carewords. This tourism Long Neck represents the essence of what a tourism Web site must do to be successful on the Web.

McGovern argues that too many of us have wed Web publishing to data management when they should actually be completely separate. Too many of us "dump" our information on the Web, offer a search engine and think "If it's out there, they will find it." (Or as Peter Drucker put it, we’ve spent the last 30 years focusing on the T in IT and we’ll spend the next 30 years focusing on the I.)

McGovern defines "killer web content" as the tiny fraction of the content you produce that, if properly written and published, will make your Web site a success. But if it's buried down deep with the other 95% of the content that no one is reading anyway, it will never be found. (And taking the wrong content out is just as important as promoting the killer Web content. The wrong content gets in the way of the right content.)

McGovern writes:

In an age of information overload, content management must be more concerned with what you don’t publish. It is easy to put everything you have up. It is easy to take a print document and save it as a PDF. But that’s not management, and those who take that approach have no future as content managers.

Ouch.

At past workshops, McGovern asked Web managers to stand up if they could swear in a court of law that all of their Web site content was accurate. Nobody stood. I wouldn't either.

If you, like me, don't have the money to hire Gerry McGovern to poll customers on your Web site on the words they love, your own site statistics are a great place to start. See which pages are getting the most hits, which keywords are landing Web searchers on your site and how many visitors go directly to your main page (I'm assuming these are members or vendors who know your association well). For example, at MHA we get the most hits from Google searches - and the #1 search string is Mississippi Hospital Association, so the majority of searches landing at our site are for people looking for us (not the other 5,000 documents that we have posted). Our top four search strings are, in order: Mississippi Hospital Association, Ms Hospital Associaton, www.mhanet.com (which is not our Web site by the way - we're at www.mhanet.org) and Mississippi hospitals.

Phone calls from members and vendors are also a good indication of what they can't find on your Web site. Log calls in your area about requests for content and ask others to send you an e-mail when a member calls and asks for specific information.

McGovern talks often about what your "Web team" can do to make your site successful. Of course, in the association world, the Web team is often one person. And that one person generally has a laundry list of other responsibilities, with Web management just one of many (like myself). But as Web content becomes an increasingly critical part of any association's communication strategy, we're going to have to all force ourselves to turn an increasingly critical eye to our Web content and organization.

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