The Vanguard View: Insight for Association Websites

3 Ways To Future-Proof Your Association Website

Posted by Chris Bonney on Mon, Apr 08, 2013


describe the imageThe proliferation of tablets, smartphones and new paradigm websites like Pinterest as well as forward-thinking mobile apps like Vine can easily lead an association to ask, "What's next?". Or more importantly, "What should I be doing to stay relevant online in this fast-changing world?"

It's not a good strategy for you to chase the latest technologies or implement functionality for the sake of functionality, so let's steer away from the "shiny objects" discussion and instead provide three things you can do to your association website today to ensure it's ready for the future. 

1. Make It Responsive

It's one of the most common conversations around web design today. Simply put, Responsive Web Design (RWD) is adding new imagery, headers and styling to the behind-the-scenes code of your site so that it "responds" to whatever devices might be accessing it and renders a page that is specific to the device's screen size.

The easiest way to understand this would be by example. Navigate to the American Telemedicine Association website on your smartphone, tablet and then laptop to see how the site responds. Or an easy way to see RWD in action is to simply go to the site on your laptop and then reduce the width of your browser and watch the site react. 

Why it matters: 

There are many predications that smartphones and tablets will overtake laptops as the primary devices accessing the Web, so don't leave your members out in the cold on their iPad. Give them an experience they will remember. Also a nice competitive advantage for your organization if you do this soon.

2. Open Up Your Members' Only Area

We at Vanguard Technology have been talking about this topic for years. The truth is if your locking static content behind a members' only login, caling it a member benefit, you're behind the times. It only takes one member's download of your content to make it public. So, a new approach might be to re-think your members' only content and provide all your special reports and static content as public information. You do want to maintain your authority in the industry after all. An alternative would be to create a peer-to-peer sharing environment behind members only and let you members find value in sharing with each other, under the umbrella of your website. That member-to-member enagement is the future of member benefits.

Why it matters:

Members' only content as a member benefit needs to fulfill its promise and most of the time it doesn't. The Internet is full of free content that is "good enough." So believing your static content seems valuable to prospective members might not be the incentive you think it is. In general, organizations are not thinking hard enough about their pricing models (maybe do a subscription to your website like this org does) and how some simple shifts in mindset could do wonders for getting your members to log in again.

3. Start Crowdsourcing

The concept of crowdsourcing online is almost 10 years old, yet it's not an area that's gotten a ton of traction in the association world. Crowdsourcing is different than surveying your members, trying to get their opinion on something. It's asking them as a group to make a decision for your organization. Why not give your members three choices for your next event's keynote speaker instead of choosing the speaker yourself? That would be easy to faciliate online. Why not start a wiki (no, not another old-fashioned Web term!) and let your members collaborate your next piece of important web content. Let them ensure its accuracy and be accountable for it. They might be more apt to visit your site if they were actual contributors.

The list goes on and on for how to use the wisdom of your crowd, and if you want to ensure your long-term relevance, it's a good idea to consider some options sooner rather than later.

Why it matters:

The attention of your members online is a highly competitive landscape. If you're not engaging them through an occasional crowdsourcing activity, you can't expect them to be interested in you forever. What's in it for them? Dip your toe in the water on this one. Fear not.

In Closing

Don't underestimate the future demands of your members around their mobile experience. Most mainstream sites have a separate tablet and smartphone interface, so if your site doesn't, expect some noise. 

We've surveyed hundreds of association members across several industries and we've found that 99% of people do not list their association's website as the first place they go for industry information. Where do they go? Google, of course. If you're hiding your most valuable industry content behind member's only, Google will never find it. 

And while it's easy to not feel comfortable reaching out to your members to partake in your organization decision-making through crowdsourcing, you've also got to figure out a way to keep them engaged moving forward in a world where their time is stretched and their tolerance for low-value websites is at an all-time low. You might be surprised what you find out if you ask.

So, what are your thoughts on these three ideas? Is there a fourth thing to consider for the future? Have you tried one of these three things already? If so, what were the results. Feel free to comment. 


Topics: crowdsourcing, members only, the future, responsive web design, best practices, association technology

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