One of the best films of 1995 featuring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon was Dead Man Walking. As I consider the metaphor, while somewhat extreme (and you could even debate a bit of a harsh judgment), I can't help but think about your association's website.
A man alive, but with no life to speak of. An inevitable end of all ends.
Now, I'm not saying your website is facing an end of all ends, but I would argue that unless you at least consider and/or ideally execute (pun intended) on these 5 elements of a winning website in 2011, then, yes, you are somewhat so far behind the times that you risk having another site or organization (non-profit or commercial) sweep in and take the attention of your members.
Surely, a fate worse than death!
1. Peer-to-Peer Community
This isn't about Facebook or LinkedIn. This is about providing an area behind the login of your site enabling your like-minded members to interact with each other - sharing best practices, networking, uploading valuable documents and discussing important things.
2. Social Networking Outposts
This IS about Facebook and LinkedIn...and even Twitter. While we like a good strategy as much as the next person, we are also advocates of the READY/FIRE/AIM approach to the social web. If you haven't created a Facebook page or a LinkedIn group yet...do it. If you haven't reserved a Twitter handle for your organization and for each of your staff, including your executive director...do it. Let's decide how you use the outposts later. Maybe your members or potential members will figure out a way to use them on their own. Fire now, aim later.
The granddaddy of the social web. You need a blog, any blog. Some way for you to create transparency, a glimpse into your organization and what you stand for. Or maybe to communicate a view of your industry from your CEO's perspective...or maybe from your accountant's perspective.
4. Make It Easy to Contact You
Mostly thinking about your contact us page. Is it currently just a static page with your address, phone number and generic email listed? Not enough. Provide an online form that people can fill out to reach you. Include a drop down so they can specify what their message is about. Website error? Membership question? You get the idea. People generally feel an email to an unknown entity will go unanswered, so they send nothing, but a form makes the experience seem much more official to them, so give them that option. Who knows what your members are dying to tell you. There are a multitude of ways to put a form on your site without hiring a web developer like this, this and this.
It's the future of information delivery on the web. How about a simple welcome message from your executive director? Or better yet, a member testimonial video. Maybe some excerpts from some conference sessions. I've always wondered why associations don't take more of a TED approach to their post-conference content.
So, those are the 5. Will you keep your website on death row or will you get a pardon by implementing at least two or three of these this year?
Comment below if you'd like us to review or audit your home page to see how bad (or good, of course) things are at your website. We'll do a one-page written review for free. Drop your URL below along with your email address and we'll have it to you in a week.Chris Bonney is Vice President of Client Experience and Marketing at Vanguard Technology. Connect with him @chrisbonney or cbonney at vtcus.com.