The Vanguard View: Insight for Association Websites

Encouraging “Play” for Association Websites and Technology

Posted by Ray van Hilst on Wed, Mar 13, 2013


My third grade son is doing a school project that requires a Microsoft Powerpoint presentation. No big deal, right? Except that the teacher isn’t going to teach them how to use Powerpoint

As his teacher said:

“No one taught me how to use Powerpoint. The key is to play… Play, try new things, screw up then screw up some more. You learn by playing.”

He goes so far as have a rule that they are not allowed to ask for help until they have tried and failed three times.

How refreshing!  I wish adults had this philosophy about learning technology.

In many associations the keys to technology – especially the association website – are controlled by the IT department. Making a simple text change on a web page involves a support ticket to the IT department (and usually a “pleasantly tenacious” follow-up call).

But the fun part of doing a web design project and implementing a CMS like Sitefinity is that content updates can now be managed by the staff who know the subject matter best (hint: it isn’t the IT department).

Yet when we start training staff on how to use the CMS, we get push back. People have “learned” to be afraid of technology and that they might “break” something. The reality is that today’s modern CMS systems – especially an easy to use content management system like Sitefinity – features a number of tools and safe guards including:

The Sitefinity Dashboard with easy to use help and documentationOn screen documentation – Need help? It’s right there in the CMS interface. Check out this screen shot to the right that shows the Sitefinity dashboard with videos, tips and documentation.

Versioning – The CMS saves each “version” and published change. So if you completely “blow up” a page (which I have done), you can revert to a previous version

Workflow – If you still want someone to look over your work and double check it? Implement a workflow process that sends pages to an editor or designer before it goes live.

The key is to get in and do it – or just “play.”

At Vanguard Technology, we find that technology adopters pick up how to use Sitefinity within minutes. However, for the association staffer who has been distanced from the website management technology it takes overcoming a bit of fear and often some encouragement to get in and get going.

Fostering “play” for your staff in your association website and CMS

Here are some tips to keep in mind as you implement you're the CMS for your new association website and create a safe environment for your new content managers:

Checklists and Cheat Sheets – Since you now have new people who are publishing content, they may need some reminders. Create handy checklists to be kept right next to your staff’s computer that they can refer to. Include things like formatting, meta data, style, etc. The key is to make your checklists easy and accessible.

Build a Sandbox  – Set up a section of pages or folder of pages where staff can “play and experiment.” Do this while your site is in its beta launch and they can see how navigation is dynamically added to the site. After your site goes live, hide the pages and keep the “play area” so staff can try new things or you can train new employees.

Create a CMS Hackathon – The best ideas for how to manage content in a CMS usually come from day-to-day users. Set aside a few hours to tackle a big content piece or solve a problem as a group. Bring everyone together to share ideas and let people see how they manage the content.

Maintain Documentation – When you are done with your association web design project, you will have good documentation from decision points and pieces in the project. Collect all that documentation and keep it updated as you start working in the site. If you add categories to the taxonomy, add them to the documentation. If you add SEO keywords, add it to the SEO instructions.

I was recently speaking with a client who is an association IT director and oversaw the implementation of his CMS and web design project. He mentioned he had just handed control of the site content over to the various association departments… and he had the biggest smile on his face!

The reality is your IT department doesn’t want to manage your association website. They want to give control to the staff who knows the content, programs and information. They want you to publish and maintain your website.  But they are often held back by current systems or anxious staff that are afraid to experiment and learn technology based skills.

Take a lesson from a third grader. It’s ok to “play” and experiment. Everyone needs to become a technologist in today’s modern work environment. And when you make it safe and fun for your staff to learn new skills, they will take charge and learn these new skills.

Topics: association website design, CMS, association technology, content management system

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