The Vanguard View: Insight for Association Websites

Ignore Demographics For Your Next Website Design

Posted by Ray van Hilst on Thu, Feb 21, 2013



Yep. You heard me right. The age, sex and income of your members don’t matter the next time you do a web design project for your association.

You see, I love when online stereotypes are wrong. I was reminded of this in an article earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal about “Geezer Gamers.”

Quick, what image jumps in your head when I say “Gamer?” Admit it, you just pictured a 20-something sitting in his parent’s basement with bags of Doritos and bottles of Mountain Dew scattered across the floor after a night of intense battle in Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed.  You don’t imagine a 40-something father of two sneaking in a quick break to save the galaxy? Or a 77 year old retired butcher who goes who shreds competitors under the screen name Claw.

So why are you making the same assumptions about who uses (or will use) your website?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have heard “We need social media all over our new website so we can appeal to younger members.”

Really? Are you sure your younger members are the ONLY ones using social media? 

Ray and Linda ChrenoCheck out the photo I snapped at a conference where I finally caught up IRL (“In Real Life”) with Linda Chreno.  Linda and I became friends through the weekly Association Chat tweetchat (an online discussion held through Twitter). I am in my early 40s and Linda is… well… older.  I don’t know her age, and it doesn't matter.  Come to think of it, no one has ever asked about age in the Association Chat tweetchats. Along the way we also connected with many other amazing association professionals.

What does matter is that we are both members of ASAE, attend conferences and are active members.  So why would someone make an assumption that we aren’t participating in social media or somehow a less valuable member?

Think Technographics. Not Demographics.

When planning your next web design project, start by getting to know how your members and potential members use technology instead of just making decisions based on how old they are. 

  • How much time do they spend online? How is that time spent?
  • What sites do they use? Consider both professional and personal sites.
  • How much do they use social media? What sites do they use?
  • What are their behaviors when they use social media? Are they “lurkers” or active participants?

Now you can identify how people will use your site and what content and social media connections you need.

We use a number of tools at Vanguard Technology to conduct this user research including reviewing web analytics, focus groups, individual interviews and online surveys. It’s up to you how to gather the info, but start with the data before you make a wrong assumption.

Consider the complete online profile

I always point out that users spend most of their time on other websites.  That is why a site consistent with online standards is so important. See what other sites your members use by looking at:

  • Google Analytics – What sites refer traffic to your site?
  • Competitors – What other industry related sites are your members using?
  • Online Resources – Are there established online databases or web based tools your members are using?
  • Asking them – Either in person or through a survey. Find out what sites they use.

Then take a look web design trends and the online experience to see how your site stacks up. Does it have a modern look and feel? Is it built for the modern browser? Is it ready for Responsive Web Design?  Is the content written for the modern web?

Once you understand the online landscape in which you site exists and how it will be used (and judged), you can develop an online presence that communicates your association’s brand and builds member value. 

The bottom line is to dispense with commonly held perceptions and incorrect stereotypes. Take the time to understand how your members use the internet and build a plan for how they could interact with your association website.  Once you do that, you’ll find more site usage and a better online experience for your association.

By the way, if you're looking to connect with Linda and the rest of us with the next Tweetchat, follow the hashtag #assnchat and we'll see you online on Tuesdays at 2 PM Eastern. You can also connect with the AssnChat Community in Google+

Topics: web strategy, association website design, responsive web design

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