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Planning a new website

Increasingly a website sits at the heart of a membership organisation. It is the hub which brings together information and resources from across the various divisions. Usage figures are on the increase and more printed collateral is being abandoned as the information is transferred to PDF or other web documents. However, we still find that significant website upgrades are carried out with much of the content continuing to grow rapidly and without a clear review of the overall strategy for the site.

Creating the right strategic vision
Some of the failings in preparing the website brief come from deeper rooted problems within the organisation. Internal territorial and control issues with communication silos can lead to ineffective member communications and this impacts on the web site too. Neville Reed, communications director at the Royal Society of Chemistry told delegates at a recent MemCom conference that websites must be run by communications not IT. What the RSC did before a significant upgrade of their site was to carry out the following: -

  • Asked users not proxy users for feedback
  • Carried out market research on services, activities, products
  • Experimented (took some chances and were prepared to fail)
  • Backed their judgements

The RSC has a well structured marketing and communications function but we do see some membership organisations which have low levels of brand communications consistency. This impacts on the website brief and the eventual design and functionality. When we at Ashridge are assisting a membership organisation with its marketing and communications’ plans we often find that we have to input on areas of cultural change in order to ensure that the organisation is functioning in the right way to maximise member and potential member communications. When your brand communications and internal processes are sorted out then this is the time to consider major website upgrades. Otherwise you will simply have departments saying what they want from ‘their bit’ of the website without the member’s needs and the organisation’s communication priorities dovetailing into an effective site. When you are comfortable with your structure, research and planning then you will be in a position to prepare a brief which gets the most out of a supplier without unnecessary and costly revisions.

Neville’s golden rules for website development:

  • Never use cutting edge technology – let others experiment
  • Standardise where possible using a sound content management system
  • Don’t be swayed from a soundly prepared brief – everyone will tell you how the site can be better designed, faster, easier to navigate and more fun

Next step
If you would like to review your website and its strategy, please call us on 01787 319 393 to arrange a meeting.

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