The Vanguard View: Insight for Association Websites

Skills of the Modern Association Website Manager

Posted by Ray van Hilst on Mon, Oct 28, 2013


Typewriter resized 600


Webmaster - a person responsible for the creation or maintenance of a Web site especially for a company or organization.

 - Merriam-Webster

Once upon a time, there was only one person in an association who could publish pages on the association’s website. The Webmaster. And they spoke a strange language called HTML and maybe even CSS, IP, FTP, IIS, DNS, and the dreaded SSL.

A lot has changed. 

Now we talk about concepts such as content marketing, communications, branding, editorial standards, and more subjects that deal with WHAT goes on the page rather than HOW it gets there.

Organizations are implementing content management systems such as the Sitefinity CMS we use at Vanguard Technology, and the platforms are now more powerful and easier to use. This means the skills required of today’s web managers have evolved quite a bit.

Content First

There is a revolution happening in web design. Flash and slick graphics have been pushed aside for great content. Jeffrey Zeldman highlights this in his 10 Commandments of Web Design presentation where he says “Thou shalt entertain.”  Well let’s face it… you need great content to entertain.

I see this in some of my favorite sites that feature great content.  Sites like, Quartz and A List Apart feature clean modern design that is content driven.  In the association world we see this at work with the site.

This shift means your modern web manager needs think about content and how it drives the organization.  He needs to be a blend of strategist, writer, publisher and coordinator.  He also needs to know where to publish the right pieces of content so it reaches the right audience and drives audiences back.

What you’re looking for:

  • Content creation – Someone that knows writing for the web and can create and edit content. A strong candidate also understands more than words and thinks about visuals and video.
  • Relationship and consensus builder – Someone to coordinate with your departments to plan for their involvement in your website and collect content.
  • Scheduling and planning – The best websites run with an editorial calendar efficiency. Your web manager needs to manage what content goes on the site when and communicate that through the organization.

Jack of All Trades

While publishing content is quite easy with a CMS, to take your web publishing to the next level you need to find a “jack of all trades” kind of web editor.  This is someone who quickly resizes an image, heads off to a conference with a camera, understands revenue drivers and creates marketing calls-to-action (CTA).

Basically, you need someone who is going to go the extra mile to cover the details and content marketing and the technology that drives it.

What you’re looking for:

  • A designer’s eye – Visuals matter. The modern web manager understands current design trends and applies them to your content. At the very least, she provides feedback to the designers creating visuals.
  • Analytics and reporting – The beauty of the web is that everything can be measured. Your web editor should have the ability to review Google Analytics to not only report on the number of visits but also what content is most effective at meeting your goals.
  • Digital native – As your own web publisher, your web manager needs to know and live in the platforms where your members are so she can effectively promote content in the right channels or technologies.

What about IT?

The underlying infrastructure driving an association website is technology. Larger organizations have network administrators, developers and web designers fluent in server configurations, API and HTML.  But most our clients at Vanguard Technology lean on us to manage the hard-core technology components of their website.  They leave the hosting, back-up, software configuration and integrations to us so they can worry about the content and the marketing.

But if you have the budget (or the right person in mind), the real skill you are looking for is a “Marketing Technologist.”  This is an emerging role of someone with enough tech skills to do most basic technology related tasks but also enough strategic and marketing vision to know where technology fits into the organization and how it can be a game changer.

What you’re looking for?

  • Tech savvy – Many pieces of technology come together to manage an association website. Your manager doesn’t need to do the actual technical work, but he should have a basic understanding of the technologies and components that drive them. As I say, “Know enough to be dangerous and smart enough to call for help.”
  • Project management – A website is never “done.” You will have projects small and large as you add functionality or even migrate to a new design and CMS.  Your web manager will need to manage these projects internally and adhere to deadlines, coordinate feedback and manage stakeholders to make sure projects are completed on time and on budget.
  • Basic HTML - Most everything you need to do can be done with a good WYSIWIG Editor (“What You See Is What You Get”). But every now and then you need to adjust an HTML tag or add a bit of code.  In addition, the more skills your web editor has, the more he might be able to take on some advanced CMS skills rather than using your vendor’s support hours.
  • Client support – This person is going to have to explain tech to non-tech people.  Look for someone who understands the underlying technology and can explain it in plain English. He can build internal resources to support your website through other departments.

Experimenters Need Apply

Perhaps the last, and most important, trait to look for in a web manager is someone not satisfied with the status quo.  Web technology and trends change constantly and the pace is only speeding up. 

A modern web manager embraces change and isn’t afraid to test new ideas and tools. She knows the best websites, has the latest gadgets and  knows how to experiment with them for your organization.  She operates in a “no fear” mode as she updates pages and knows that except for the most egregious errors she isn’t going to “break” the website (and if it gets broken, your web vendor should have a back-up ready to restore).

The Bottom Line

Technologists and “coders” will always have a role in website management. But those are skills that can be left to a web vendor partner.

The more important internal skill is to focus on content and people to make sure your association website is being fed content and the needs of the organization and the member are being met with a fresh, dynamic website.

What did I miss? Anything else you can think of as you look for that perfect fit? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what other skills you think the best managers have.

Photo Credit: Flickr, welcometoalville 

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Topics: web strategy, Google Analytics, content strategy, association websites

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