Thoughts on website development for unions

April 10, 2011

I’ve helped a few groups with setting up their websites over the last year or two – and set up many more for work. These have mostly been for specific campaigns or highly focused purposes – campaign sites.

Recently, I’ve had reason to reflect on a common challenge that I face when talking about websites with unions.

What do you want your website to do?

What is its purpose? What is it’s goal? Why do you need this website.

Just like Facebook pages, I find there is often a gut reaction to say “we need a website” (or “we need a Facebook page”) for X campaign, without asking important questions before hand.

If you’re redesigning your main website – which many union are doing – it’s probably a good idea to have a close look at the Google Analytics of your current/old site. What were the main search terms that visitors used to reach your site? What were the most visited pages? Chances are, “contact details” or “contact page” will be high on the list.

A site-map is a useful tool to think about what you want your union website to do.

Without thinking about what you want your website to achieve, it is unlikely that it will be a successful website. Who is the website for? If the main audience for the site is the union’s secretary, then perhaps its worth having a conversation with him or her as to whether a website is appropriate or worth the time and money. Remember, your union secretary is not a web designer.

Most union websites – especially campaign sites – can’t be for everyone (members, non-members, media, politicians, community, employers, supporters, union staff, Facebook users, Youtube viewers, etc). They need to have a primary audience, or a primary group of visitors, in mind. (Which is not to say you can’t have secondary audiences.)

Having a simple, concrete goal

In my view, union websites (and the websites of other progressive campaigns) need to do something or achieve something in the real world. However, your website should have a simple goal that can be explained in concrete terms and be easily measured. A site without a simple, concrete goal is one that will struggle to succeed at anything.

Some campaign sites I’ve set up and seen other unions create are ones that are solely for collecting the emails of campaign supporters. Sites that focus on this kind activity are typically more effective than campaign sites that seek to do everything all at once. Getting your supporters’ emails is a great goal for your website – it is measurable, concrete and simple. Email is afterall, still the “killer app” of online campaigning.

Other sites may want supporters to “send an email” to a target – a boss, company, politician, foreign government, etc. As Eric Lee has pointed out, unless you get real bulk in the number of emails sent, this approach can risk exposing the lack of support your campaign has, rather than its strength. Of course, this kind of goal is also simple, concrete and measurable.

When thinking about your main union website, is it clear what your site’s goals are?

NUW

The NUW website has three clear goals.

The NUW website has three clear purposes for their site, followed by a host of secondary goals.

The three goals are: join, get active, and get help. They are front and centre, with large calls to action. Secondary to these three main things the NUW wants visitors to their site to do are: find out about campaigns, get news, and sign up to their e-news. These secondary goals don’t diminish the primary calls to action.

I’ve written about the National Union of Workers’ website before (here and here).

This blog post is really an addendum to my earlier post last year about how to make the ultimate union campaign website. A lot of the advice in that post really won’t help unless you’ve thought about what you want the site to do.

[box type=”info” border=”full”]Read my article Five tips for the ultimate union campaign website.[/box]

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