Commentary: Put your customers first - except on your website

Jeff Haden, CBS News Money Watch, 12/16/11

Customer needs are important, but a business website -- just like any other -- should be based primarily on what you want and what you intend. Then you can think about the customer. The web is a great place for interaction, but it also risks information overload when it comes to customer feedback. If you listen too closely to what a minority of vocal customers say they want, you're unlikely to create a site that drives your business in the direction you'd like. Here are some basic elements to keep in mind when you're building a site that serves your purpose.

Focus on your strategic goal, not just what a web site "needs." Most [businesses] create an overall structure [with] a home page, some product pages, a few resource pages, maybe a blog, an About Us and Contact page ... "  But what do you want customers actually to do? Every page should drive some type of customer action.

The home page should drive subsequent actions. A home page that tries to do too many things accomplishes none of them. Pick one or two actions you want customers to take, and focus on building your home page so visitors are most likely to do what you intend.

"Standard" pages should provide the information you want customers to know -- and information that serves your ultimate purpose. Contact Us pages should make it easy for customers to reach you, but in the way that best serves your business. (If most of your sales require conversations with customers, should an email form be the featured contact method?)

Don't react too quickly to customer feedback. The sentiments of a small slice of vocal customers may not be right for your business. Listen when it makes sense, but don't alter your site in response to every comment. Otherwise your business is a follower, not a leader.

Don't force the customer to dig for value. Many websites soft-sell. Restraint can be an admirable trait. No one likes a pushy salesperson, even a virtual one. But your website only has seconds to engage a new visitor. Make sure your call to action is clear. Great calls to action resonate with customers because they clearly describe the benefit to the customer. When a customer recognizes tangible benefits or problems that will be solved with real solutions, they're happy. Customers won't feel they're being sold when you help make their lives better. 


Commentary: You cannot leave social marketing just to the marketing department

Howard Seth Cohen, Audience Development Specialists website, 5/30/12 

As arts organizations look to the social web to engage past and future audiences, the one massive misstep they can make is to think that the only way to engage is through an official channel, e.g. a theater company's Facebook page. You want to activate a wide swath of supporters to spread your message for you, in attractive bits of snackable content that reach out to new people -- potential audience members that are outside of your current social circles. You cannot control how someone else uses social media, so simply inviting someone to an event, or emailing, or posting to your page's wall is not sufficient. Think of your entire staff as a TEAM of promoters. Keep the 'carefully thought out on brand message' for the official page, and then have everyone, from your interns to board members to guest artists to creative team posting regularly. Train your team to search for and engage with each other's posts (re-share, like, and comment on them.) This way, you game the Edgerank algorithm into thinking that your content is important enough to share with more people, and become a Top Story. Your organization has the power to utilize social media to foster growth and create a larger community of like-minded people ready to support your mission. But you cannot forget that the first word in "Social Media" is SOCIAL. Now is the time to engage your entire team in a thoughtful effort to increase your visibility online.


Commentary: Are you providing the right mix of digital content?

Laura S. Quinn of Idealware, June 2012 issue of the digital journal NTEN: Change

Odds are good that your organization is using multiple communications channels to reach people, from social media to direct mail and email to websites and blogs. In a recent survey of readers, we learned that organizations are using an average of almost four different channels as part of their communications mix. Using each to its fullest potential takes work -- it's time-consuming to write a lot of new content for your blog, but it starts to feel redundant if you post the same information on your Facebook page or Twitter feed. A little forethought can help you maintain the balance of information you're posting, or feel you should be, and ultimately save time. Readers of this journal reported using each channel primarily for a particular purpose-67% were using websites and 61% blogs primarily for newly-created content. A much smaller percentage was using these channels primarily for promotion, curation or community building. Twitter and Facebook often fill a very different role. More people were using these channels for curation -- both are well-suited to reposts and links -- and more were focused on community building, a natural fit for social media. While some people still used them primarily to deliver original content, it's not an optimal use for them, as neither is as good a means of delivering a lot of text or a series of images as email, websites or blogs. Respondents also tended to have more complex strategies for these channels, with close to half reporting that they did not use them primarily for any one content strategy but instead for a mix of purposes. So how can you apply this information to your own work? Start by making a list of the channels you're using, or would like to use, and think through the types of content you're providing for each. Map them out in a chart, and consider whether your strategy makes sense. Does it correspond well to your communication goals? Is something not working that you can change for better results? For instance, if you're creating all new content for every channel, but curating existing content will provide as much value, making a change can save you a lot of time. Remember, there's no absolute right answer -- it's a work in progress, so don't be afraid to change things around if they're not working.

FROM TC: The entire June 2012 issue of Nonprofit Technology Network's quarterly digital journal, NTEN: Change, is about Content Curation. Click here to read the full issue.


Commentary: It's time to focus as much energy on visibility as on web content

The Kennedy Center's Michael Kaiser, Huffington Post, 6/4/12

Many, myself included, have focused on the benefits that internet technology offer to arts institutions: reaching many new people at lower cost, explaining new and challenging work, educating children, and on and on. It is easy to say that internet activities are a powerful new tool for arts organizations. Websites, social media, email blasts, etc. are all potentially potent tools. But I worry the largest arts organizations are doing the best job exploiting new technologies and that smaller organizations are lagging far behind in developing strong web content and in making their web offerings visible. The focus of too many arts organizations has been on the content of online communications without giving enough attention to getting them noticed. Anyone can create a website or tweet or create a Facebook page. But getting them noticed by more than a handful of people (usually already our best friends) is a huge challenge. And so many companies (for-profit and not-for-profit alike) are sending emails to ever larger lists that spam protectors are getting more aggressive and the delete button is being worn down on too many computers. If no one sees your website, does it really exist? Does tweeting to no one matter? If an email blast is deleted before it was even opened, was it worth the effort to create it? As with any potent new technology, we must experiment, monitor how they are most effective and develop more sophisticated strategies for employing them. We need to avoid the platitudes like "everyone should be on Twitter." We need to evaluate what works and what doesn't work and adjust our marketing strategies accordingly. And smaller arts organizations must work especially hard to develop approaches for getting their people to view their websites and tweets and to open their emails. I would rarely say this but it is time to focus as much time and energy on visibility as on content.

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