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Why Associations Need to Take Back Control of Their Websites Today (And How to Do It)

Written by Julie Dietz on October 20, 2016 at 8:30 AM

Should your association maintain its own website?

Try to count how many websites you visited yesterday. Or even today "“ just this morning.

Do you know? Or have you already lost count?

Half an hour into my day, I've usually lost count. Everything I do, from research to keeping up with association and software news, leads me to a different website. Often, the websites I land on are my first, even my only, contact with the organizations behind them.

It's probably the same for your members.

Even if they're referred to you, people likely receive their first significant contact with your association through its website, which is also how they judge you. According to researchers at Stanford, 75% of consumers will make judgments about your association's credibility based on your website.

It is also the first place people go to stay engaged after they become members.

That's why so many associations hire professional web designers to build and maintain their websites. They want to create the best possible impression on members and prospects from the very beginning, maintaining that positive outlook throughout the member lifecycle.

For associations and other membership organizations, hiring professional digital marketing help can have big benefits, as well as significant drawbacks. By handing over control of your website to an external organization, you lose the power to connect directly with members and prospects, make updates, and ensure that you're delivering the most valuable, timely benefits. And that could cost you members.

It's time for associations to take back their websites for the good of members, prospects, staff, and even their budgets.

Why Your Association Should Manage Its Own Website

Consistently updating your own website has several advantages that will trickle down through your entire association.

You'll Save Time and Money

Going through a professional web design or maintenance firm will help ensure you get a great website, but it will also cost top dollar and updates could take more time and money. You pay for the initial design and data migration, then you'll likely have to go through that same organization to make future changes.

You need to make a list of your updates, changes, or new page requirements, send them to the organization, and then wait until they have time to make the updates. All those future changes are usually billed, sometimes creating a long, expensive process. For some associations, having professionals do their updates may be the right move to ensure quality, but for many others there's another option.

By maintaining your own website you don't have to wait for a third party, which saves time and money. You can make updates quickly as part of your day-to-day tasks, which is especially helpful for pages that routinely require maintenance. Volunteer opportunities and pages that describe your association's upcoming events are two examples or pages that should be updated daily or weekly.

You'll Be Able to Directly Connect with and Deliver Value to Members

Saving time and money is a big win for your association, but the most important reason to manage your own website is your members. How strong are your connections with members if all your online interaction goes through a third party?

Your members expect to connect with your association directly via the internet. Increasingly, they also expect to get value from your website, online community, or membership management system. Your members are even trained to expect speed and responsiveness when receiving this value. After all, that's what they get from all their other online interactions. Just think of how quickly Amazon delivers.

If you need to wait days or weeks to update volunteer opportunities or make new benefits available to your members, then you're not effectively delivering value. When you manage your own website, this is no longer an issue. You control when, through what methods, and how frequently you connect with members. You also empower your staff to make sure members are getting the most timely, valuable benefits possible.

4 Steps to Take Back Control of Your Website

If your association is still going through a third party for website maintenance, now may be the time to make a change. Follow these four steps to take control of your website for the benefit of your budget, staff, and members.

Step 1) Adopt a CMS that Gives You Editing Options

A CMS, or content management system, is the technology that runs your website. When you take back control of your site, make sure you choose a CMS that lets you edit current webpages for updates and changes to information and branding. It should also allow you to create new pages for offers, benefits, or promotions.

The best CMS options will be simple enough that even those who aren't software experts can learn the tools and make changes. Both WordPress and Socious MemberCloud's CMS are examples of this type of system, allowing even those without coding experience to maintain websites.

Expert Tip: Selecting a CMS that lets you make changes yourself doesn't mean that you can't also hire a web designer. The best design and technical service professionals will work with your system of choice and won't have a problem handing over control once their initial design work is finished.

Step 2) Determine Who Can Make Website Changes

If your association has a small staff, it's possible that everyone will need the ability to update your website. However, making changes is often easier when just a few people are in charge of maintenance.

Decide which management tactic works for you, then designate the staff members who will be able to make changes to your website. Clearly outline which pages each staff member is responsible for and make regular task and update needs clear. Everyone should know their responsibilities and build them into their daily, weekly, or monthly schedules.

Step 3) Train Your Staff

Everyone who has access to your CMS should be trained on how to use the system to update information, graphics, and create new website pages. Depending on how often your CMS is updated, this could mean regular, periodic training sessions.

Many associations are winning the training battle by adopting association management software that also manages their website. With this setup, staff only needs to be trained on one system in order to work with all areas of your association, your website included.

Just remember that the tools in your CMS or membership management software are only half of your training needs. Your staff also needs to be familiar with your association's branding, style guides, and the web design that's already in place so any changes they make match your branding.

Step 4) Put Maintenance Systems in Place

Whenever you take on new long-term initiatives you should put processes in place to ensure you're not reinventing the wheel every week or month. Maintaining your website is no exception. Create maintenance systems for updates, regular changes, and any other website needs. These systems should include several components:

  • What task needs to be done
  • How the task should be completed
  • Who is responsible for the task
  • How frequently the task needs to be performed

Often, you'll have different staff members in charge of different areas of your website. Make sure your maintenance systems take this into account and that responsibilities don't overlap. You wouldn't want one staff member to accidentally undo another's work. For instance, your volunteer coordinator may update your volunteer opportunities page every Friday while your membership director updates your benefit pages once a month.

Maintaining Your Association's Website Takeaway

Saving time and money are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to maintaining your website. The real benefits come from establishing a direct connection with your members and improving your ability to deliver value. This is all part of providing a seamless, enjoyable online member experience "“ a must in a world where more and more members prefer digital experiences.

Once you have the right CMS and maintenance processes in place, it will be easy to maintain your website. There will be little extra effort required and you'll give your association the tools it needs to provide the value your members expect well into the future.

The most successful membership managers practice these 11 habits.

Topics: Associations, Member Experience, Online Community

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