In today’s society, managing public information means a lot more than press releases to local media and phone calls to your membership. In addition to the society web site, there are social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus along with photo-sharing and video-sharing platforms. How are you going to deal with all of this?
You start by building a plan.
The first step is to define your goals – who do you want to reach and what do you want them to know. From there you’ll develop a content plan for your web site along with guidelines for maintaining any social networks your society decides to use.
Think of your web site as your society’s storefront. It should be the public information hub for the society and serve as a billboard to attract new members. In addition to providing information about the society and how to join, it should list upcoming meetings and any other society-related events. If you are also using social networks, most blog platforms support widgets that can automatically retrieve and display the latest updates posted at those sites. By making your web site the information hub your members will have one place to see everything related to the organization.
A content plan is a spreadsheet that defines the content items you want to present on the site, displays how those will be organized and identifies who is responsible for providing each type of content. That last item is the key. It doesn’t matter how attractive your site is if there’s no useful content to be found on it. The people most involved in each area of your society’s operation should be the ones describing what that program, news item or event is, how it works, and when it’s going to happen. By assigning those responsibilities in your content plan, everyone knows their role in its success. It is also a good idea to have your public information officer review all content before it is published.
Essentially, there are two types of content on a public web site: static information and updates. In the static category are content items that seldom change like the association’s purpose, membership benefits, leadership, committees, programs and bylaws. Updates are more transitory and include meeting and event notices, society news and other content defined by the society’s leadership. In the plan below, you’ll notice that these items are broadly defined by their category, but you will probably want to describe types of content to include in each category in the Notes column.
In this example, you will notice that the content has been divided into pages and posts. Many content management platforms support both static pages – pages displaying content that seldom changes – and posts – blog articles with content that is more temporary. The site plan is organized by sections, pages and sub-pages which will then be used by the webmaster to develop the site structure and design. Notice there is also a column to include the person responsible for the content on each page/post category and a review date. Generally, review dates are only necessary for pages. Although they are seldom updated, each should be reviewed at least annually to insure that their content remains current.
While pages are the “online reference library” for your society, blogs are the news that let your members – and prospective members – know that your society is active and involved. Think of it as part newspaper and part advertising. In addition to announcing upcoming events like meetings, seminars and field trips, you might want to include photographs of those events, the latest deals at the various research archives and research tips. These are the things your board should define in the content plan.
If you are trying to attract distant members, social networks can be very useful. Platforms like Facebook give both local and distant members a place to interact with each other and with society staff. Google Plus’s communities and hangouts are great platforms for building virtual special interest groups. These networks will require more oversight and hands-on participation to keep those conversations going. Your content plan should define which platforms, what kind of presence you’ll have and who will serve as site manager on each.
A content plan isn’t written in stone. It is a living document and should be reviewed and updated frequently. If you are considering adding a new section to your site, first work out how you think it should fit in the overall plan. After the section is built, monitor your stats and ask for feedback to see how well it is working. You may need to make adjustments to the content or how it fits in with the rest of the site before you have it the way you want it. Once finalized, make sure your content plan is updated too.
Your content plan is a blueprint of the information presented on your site. A beautifully designed site will catch a visitor’s eye but without useful content, it won’t keep their attention very long. A site content plan is the first step to insuring your society’s web site continues to attract and inform both your existing membership as well as prospects.