Advances in technology and web design have changed what we expect from the internet and the websites we use every day. A great website five or ten years ago wouldn’t meet the cut today. Think about Facebook’s early design, for instance. It was text-heavy and clunky. (Don’t remember what Facebook was like in 2004? Take a trip down memory lane with PCMag.)
Your association’s website is no different. It needs to meet and adapt to your members evolving and increasingly particular needs. Here are six ways that your members’ website expectations have changed in just the last few years and how you can keep up.
We’re so used to personalized content that many of us don’t even recognize its significance anymore. But Amazon, Netflix, and Walmart all make recommendations based on your purchase history. The ads you see on your browser’s sidebar are often items that you were just looking at yesterday, and Facebook now greets you in the morning with a weather forecast for your city: “It looks like rain today in (your city here). Stay dry!”
Such personalization is no longer surprising. It’s normal, which makes it an unconscious expectation for your members. They want content that’s customized and relevant to their interests on your association’s websites.
You’re probably not going to greet members with a city-specific weather forecast, but you can use online activity data and transactional information to customize their experiences.
To do so, choose a content management system (CMS) that integrates with your AMS and online community software. Collect data from all three systems to find out what membership tier each person is in, what pages they’re visiting online, and the content topics they’re most interested in. Use that data to send only the most relevant offers and information to each member.
You can also choose a platform that allows members to sign up for email digests with updates on website activity and discussions in your online community. As long as these emails are customizable, with members choosing what communities they want to receive emails from and how often they want to receive them, they’ll contribute to the personalized feel of your website.
Customer service expectations are a lot higher than they used to be. To begin with, members expect to be able to solve their own problems using online resources. If that fails, they want to contact your association in the same ways they contact major brands – via email, social media, or phone – instead of being forced into using a single channel.
If you’re not already responding to member issues via email and social media, add those channels to your support tools. Ask those who contact you via public social media to send you a private or direct message and make sure all emails go through a dedicated email address in your online community or email platform. And, if possible, keep your phone number on your website. There’s nothing more frustrating than wanting to talk to a person and not finding a contact number.
To cut down on customer support issues, you should also provide self-service resources on your website. Include information about your association, the different membership tiers, and the best ways to access benefits, like online educational courses, in easy-to-find places. Most members will take advantage of these resources and solve problems on their own, or ask for help from their peers, before they contact your association.
Social media has empowered people. Facebook and Twitter have given relatively unknown people large followings, and both celebrities and officials have changed their rhetoric due to pressure from social media.
People expect a similar level of influence in your organization. Members want to give you feedback and have a say in your association’s future priorities, as well as the content on its website. If you don’t provide a way for members to give you that feedback online, through your website, then members may feel that you’re not meeting their needs and decide not to renew.
Associations have always been member-centric, devoting the majority of their time and resources to providing value to members. Now that social media has amplified people’s desire to provide input, however, you need to go above and beyond what you’ve always done.
Start by making it as easy as possible for members to provide feedback. Create a dedicated suggestion forum on your website or set up an email address where members can send private feedback to your staff. Some associations will even set up rotating volunteer committees that work directly with staff to help guide the organization.
Regardless of how you choose to give members a voice, make it clear that their suggestions are welcome and taken seriously. When you act on a recommendation, tell members by posting a blog or giving a shout-out in an update announcement. You can also publish your volunteer committee’s achievements and summarize how it has impacted your association every quarter.
Associations are excellent places for professionals to network and meet others in their industry. Now, as social media ramps up the level of connectivity in our daily lives, association members are starting to expect even more. Instead of relying solely on traditional networking opportunities at your annual conference, members want to use your website to connect with their peers year round.
Choose a CMS that lets you create a members-only website where your members can network safely. In this type of site, sensitive information such as contact details can be put behind a login. After members log in, you can give them access to member, expert, and speaker directories that allow them to search for and connect with peers and industry experts.
You can also provide space for members to introduce themselves in association-wide forums, get to know their peers through discussions, or make deeper connections with an online mentoring program. Each of these tools can be an exclusive member benefit that helps people network even if they can’t make it to live events.
I read blogs, my colleagues listen to podcasts, and my brother watches videos. Everyone consumes information differently, and with content management systems that support multiple formats, your members expect to have information available to them in a variety of media. They expect written content, images, and video. Many will also appreciate slideshows and podcasts.
Creating so much content in different formats is a challenge, especially for associations with limited time and staff. To make it easier, get the most out of your material with repurposing. Repurpose your videos into written blog posts, then siphon out the audio and publish that same video as a podcast. You now have three content pieces in three different formats with little extra effort. (Hint: This work particularly well with interviews.)
To create even more content, enlist the help of volunteers. Send an email to your most engaged members or set up content-related volunteer opportunities on your website or in your community. You can ask volunteers to write a blog post, take photos at chapter meetings, or do a live video at your conference, for example.
Very few people spend time looking for things on websites. The search engine is the first stop, with inquiries typed in verbatim and high-quality results coming up almost every time. For example, if your member searches “What’s a good Chinese restaurant near me?” Google will return with the top three Chinese restaurants within a few miles of their location. Facebook is also working on improving their search function.
If your membership website doesn’t have a search tool, now is the time to add one. Make it as intuitive as possible and use tags, categories, and hashtags (if available) to bring up the most relevant results.
To make finding information easier, you should also clean up your website navigation. Cut down on unnecessary pages and menus, then create universal navigation tabs at the top of the page or include universal links in your website footer. Limit navigation tabs should have just one level of dropdown options, because submenus can be distracting and confusing.
Your association and its members don’t exist in a bubble. Social media, ecommerce behemoths like Amazon, and Google’s evolving search tools all affect what your members expect from your website.
To keep up with changes, make your online member experience a priority. Keep up with key trends and how the most successful business websites are being updated. Refresh your own website to stay current with the changes you’re seeing and seek feedback from members on how you’re doing. If you’re missing the mark, your members will let you know so you can make more effective improvements in the future.
Already made changes that worked well for your website? Share them in the comments!