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Managing Web Content with a Small Staff - 6/8/2010 -

Managing Web Content with a Small Staff

Now more than ever, association team members need to collaborate offline to achieve success online. These tips are geared specifically for the small staff tasked with managing web content like one of "the big guys."

By Meredith MacMillan

How do you keep your Web content fresh and up-to-date? How do you meet your members' demands for more content, more often? How can you maintain a top-notch website when you're light on staff? In this article, five association experts will share their tried-and-true tips and lessons for managing a dynamic website with a small staff.

Tip #1. Change your mindset.
For Christina Folz and her team at the Optical Society of America, changing their mindset away from a traditional print workflow has been key to achieving success with the Optics and Photonics News website. "Instead of thinking about it as an afterthought, it's important to plan the online components when you're planning the print issue," she says. During editorial planning meetings, Folz and her staff now make it a point to brainstorm and discuss how to complement Optics and Photonics News print stories with videos, podcasts, and other rich content on the magazine's website.

Tip #2. Deliver content often.
Today's members want news, information, and content as often as possible, and they expect your association to deliver. The good news is you don't need a huge staff to do so. Even though the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) has only two Web staff who together maintain nearly 1,000 web pages, they still are able to offer members fresh news daily and new blog posts twice a week. "Keeping and following a schedule for updating the site and soliciting content from other departments have helped us to be successful," says Donald Jewler, ACCC's director of communications.
Tip #3. Train staff to use new technologies.
From podcasts to wikis to content management systems, the tools and technologies for creating content have advanced quickly. To keep up, association staff may need training to learn the new medium. When The Wildlife Society redesigned its website and incorporated a new content management system in 2007, Webmaster Ruxandra Giura trained her colleagues how to use it.

"I wrote a tutorial and recorded a webinar for staff and 65 subunit webmasters detailing how to do all the basic things on the website, from fixing typos to posting new content," she says. "We also created set standards about how to properly format text, images, graphics, video, and audio for the Web. The fact that there is a document they can refer to if they don't remember how to do something has saved a lot of time."

Tip #4. Market, market, market.
Just because you build a great site doesn't mean your members will come to it. These days, you have to market. It's a lesson Constance Hardesty, editor in chief of the American Animal Hospital Association's Trends Magazine, knows well. With no budget or staff, for many years she produced Trends Online in her spare time. To encourage readers to visit the magazine's website, she ran regular messages about the site's offerings in the magazine's print version.

"Monthly visits hovered around 4,000 until June of 2009, when I ran a special issue of the magazine titled Trends Online in Print. Each article was a 'reprint' from Trends Online. Readers got the message again and again: 'See what you missed?' Since then, visits have soared. Our most recent traffic report shows about 20,000 unique visitors per month," Hardesty says.

Tip #5. If it's time, redesign.
"Members expect their association websites to offer the same convenience, speed, and functionality they find on other websites. They probably don't think it will be Amazon.com, but they want to manage their association relationship online just as they handle other parts of their lives. When they can't register for events, renew membership, or change their preferences or their profile, they are dissatisfied. That dissatisfaction may be enough on its own to drive them somewhere else," says Rebecca Rolfes, executive vice president of Imagination Publishing and executive director of Association Growth Partners.

So what's the solution? Rolfes suggests that associations consider the benefits of a site redesign. "Any association, especially a small one, can meet a lot of goals by just redoing their website. They can automate many processes and save time and money now spent on tasks that can be handled digitally," she points out.

Tip #6. Use freebies.
Facebook. Twitter. Google Analytics. Poll Daddy. Blogger. YouTube. What do these things all have in common? They are free tools that associations can use to share and promote content, interact with members, gain insight into web traffic, conduct surveys, share videos, blog, and enhance their Web presence. "Having a blog has been a really good thing for us because it allows us to constantly update our site with timely news at a very low cost," says Folz.
Tip #7. Pool your budget.
"Too many associations have very siloed budgets," says Rolfes, noting that associations typically pay for their website using funds from the technology department. She recommends that associations pool money from other departments' budgets—like membership, recruitment, and member services—since an improved website will positively impact the association as a whole. "A website is not just a technological function. It is a strategic initiative that needs attention and resources to make it the best it can be," she says.
Tip #8. Get out of the silo and collaborate.
Whether your staff is small or large, the ultimate key to creating a successful website is collaboration. "These days, the Web means more than just the webmaster. It means the publishing people, the marketing people, the conference people, the SEO people, and of course, the IT people who make sure that the infrastructure can support their efforts," says Giura. Now more than ever, association team members need to collaborate offline to achieve success online.

Meredith MacMillan (Twitter @meredith_mac) is senior editorial associate for the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and a member of the Association Media & Publishing Final Proof Committee.


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