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Is It Time to Redesign Your Online Community?

Written by Julie Dietz on August 11, 2016 at 8:30 AM

8 signs that it's time to redesign your online community.

Have you ever heard the phrase "perception is reality?" It refers to the way people make judgements about something based on how it appears to the outside world. Nowhere is this more important than online, where smalltime brands can get a credibility and conversion boost by appearing well-designed, organized, and professional.

On the flip side, most people shy away from old, outdated products and organizations. We like websites and communities to be modern, attractive, and easy to use. According to research from Dr. Elizabeth Sillence of Northumbria University, up to 94% of people will leave a website because they mistrust its design.

If your online community's design is older, it may not be up to your members' current expectations. It may need a redesign.

Despite the logical need to update your community, redesigning isn't always a good thing. Sometimes it's frustrating and confusing, like when your grocery store changes its organization and you can no longer find what you need. Redesigning is also a time-consuming process that can divert resources from other community-building activities.

So how do you know that your online community needs a redesign, and if that redesign be more helpful than harmful?

The answer is in your past and current performance information. How effective is your online community right now? Look for problems that may be hurting engagement and your community's success at converting prospects. Those problems are the signs that your community may need a redesign. Here are seven of the most common.

8 Signs Your Online Community Needs a Redesign

If you notice one or more of these issues and can tie the issue's resolution to a business benefit like increased member renewals, then it may be time to redesign your online community.

Sign #1) Your Templates Don't Work Well with Mobile

Your online community software should already have responsive design, which automatically adjusts your community to fit on mobile devices. Optimizing for mobile doesn't end there, however. As more and more community members start using mobile, you need to build mobile-friendly features into your design, especially your templates.

Even with responsive design, multiple-column blog templates don't fit well on mobile screens, for instance. It's best to have a single-column template with font that's large enough to be easily read. Long paragraphs can also be daunting to mobile users, so redesigning your templates may lead to content changes as well.

Evaluate your other design elements for mobile. Colors, backgrounds, and pictures should all be easy to read on computer and mobile devices. If they're not, then you could be frustrating some of your members and it may be time for a redesign.

Sign #2) The Navigation Isn't Clear

Navigation is a huge part of the online experience, so don't be afraid to ask your members about this directly. You'll know your navigation isn't clear when community members have a hard time finding the content they need and your most valuable pages are buried. Confusing navigation that leads to consistently negative feedback from members means it's likely time to clean up your community's organization.

During the redesign, make your navigation links short and specific. All your most important resources should be linked to directly from the community's home page. The same is true for your group communities, such as chapter or committee communities. Link to all your chapter's most important pages from the chapter community's home page. Make it easy for your members to find the content and information they're looking for.

Sign #3) All Your Content Is Private

Your online community should be exclusive to members, but if everything is hidden then you can't leverage your user-created content's SEO power. Only public pages can be crawled and ranked for SEO by search engines.

Your community's design should include exclusive members-only sections as well as public sections where prospects can connect with your association and current members. Both sections should include content and calls-to-action that encourage prospects to become full members, and full members to upgrade or participate.

If you don't have both public and private section, you can redesign your community to incorporate them. You'll have to choose the best content and forums to make public, as well as what content is best for full members. Create the right combination, and your community will gain SEO and conversion power.

Sign #4) Your Community Showcases Only One Type of Content

Written blogs, PDF files, forums, and other written content types should not all that's featured in your online community. They may even be boring members. According to statistics collected by HubSpot, colored visual increase people's willingness to read a piece of content by 80%. Content with images gets 94% more views, and in 2017 up to 74% of all web traffic will be for video.

Evaluate your online member community to see if it's keeping up with the diverse content types that members want. You should have photos, videos, infographics, webinars, and other dynamic content that diversifies your offers for prospects and members. When the majority of your content is written and has very little variation, a redesign coupled with a comprehensive content plan may be the best next step.

Sign #5) People Are Not Participating

Your entire community should be actionable, meaning that it should be built to give your members something to do. Whether that's watching videos, reading blog posts, or answering forum questions, your members should be actively participating.

Each section of your online community should make your members' next actions clear. A call-to-action could do this, as could a form to submit a comment, or a link to "read the full blog post". If these types of action-oriented design aspects aren't clear, then a redesign may help you encourage more participation.

Review member data and send out surveys to get feedback on why people are not engaging. What type of content would most interest them? What types of discussions? Incorporate that information into your redesign plans, creating the more compelling content and participation opportunities based on member input.

Sign #6) You're Not Converting New Members

Keeping all your content private is a problem, but so is a public community section that doesn't convert prospects to full members. Are people visiting your public, prospective member section? Why aren't they deciding to become full members? If you're having this problem, you may not be telling your organization's story and showcasing its value effectively.

In this case, a redesign should make increasing conversions and membership a priority. Review both prospect and member activity data to find out what content is popular, and what is not. Provide teasers of the best content that will drive prospects to join.

Another way to showcase your organization's value in a redesign is with your online store. Make some members-only content available to non-members at a price. They can choose to purchase the resource to better understand your organization's benefits, potentially leading to a full membership purchase in the future.

Sign #7) Your Association Is Implementing Major Changes

A major indication that you should redesign not only your online community, but your website and member benefits as well, is if your association is making major changes. For example, if your association is changing its organization and educational programs to become more relevant to your industry's current technology, then it's a good time to redesign your community.

Keep in mind that, typically, only major changes will warrant a redesign. Completely overhauling your policies and benefits apply. Changing one bullet point in your mission statement does not.

For major changes, redesign your online community match your association's new look, feel, and offers. Prioritize your updated value and relevancy, building out new community pages to showcase your benefits. You can also use your redesigned community to communicate with members about the changes. Explain why you chose to make a shift and ask how members feel about the updates. Their input is the most important feedback you can get.

Sign #8) To Accommodate a New Feature or Audience

Membership organizations are dynamic, changing organisms. As you grow and adapt to the changing needs of your members, your online community will change too.

Some organizations launch the community with only certain types of members, so that they can test the concept or focus their community management efforts. It may be time to open the community to additional groups in your association.

While you can easily add groups to accommodate additional member segments using your online community software, the practicality of this simple approach depends on how you structured your community originally. This may be a good time to evaluate what you have learned since launching the community and redesign the entire community to be more cohesive and member-centric.

Additionally, while you might be able to roll out new features with the click of a button, they might not fit into your community layout the way you want. The launch of new engagement opportunities in your online community is an excellent time to do a redesign, so that the new feature fits into your overall member engagement plan. 

Online Community Redesign Takeaway

Any time you notice not just one, but several of these signs, then it's likely that your online community needs to be updated.

Don't surprise your members with a radical redesign, though. Get community members involved by using surveys and polls to directly ask if they think an update is the best choice, or if they'd rather keep things the way they are. By asking members for their input you involve them in the process, making them feel more invested in both the community and the redesign – if you decide to redesign.

When your community does need to be redesigned, don't view the project as extra work that will take up valuable resources. Instead, look at it as an opportunity to improve the member experience and create a space that will help your association engage current members as well as convert prospects.

Use this guide to evaluate, select, and plan a successful online community for your association.

Topics: Online Community Software, Member Experience

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