By Michael Stein
I sense a growing anxiety among organizations about the institutional and technological demands in building and maintaining an Internet presence. I have one word of advice: relax! The best way to avoid getting overwhelmed is to return to the basics of what the Internet is about and focus on content. Content is what drives people to visit our Web sites and why they want to be kept up to date with email bulletins. Press releases, news, executive summaries, reports, and statistics; every piece of information developed by your organization should be considered for Internet distribution. Content is the core of the Internet and the Web, so let it drive your online efforts.
Build your Web site with easily accessible and compelling content. Keep it simple and low tech, but always up-to-date. When you have an event, release a report or issue a press release, post the information on your site as soon as possible. Nothing else will make a greater impression on your media contacts, allies, member and donors as your commitment to immediacy.
Create a regular email bulletin to push content to your audience. Avoid Webcentrism, a dependence and focus on an organization's own Web site at the expense of email outreach and working through other people's Web sites. After all, let's face it: people will rarely visit your Web site without reminders. Your email list may start out small, but every address is important, so make it a habit to collect email addresses. Also, be certain to avoid spam complaints by only adding people to your email list who want to be included. Set up a simple and secure way for Web site visitors to add themselves to your list. Announce it on the front page of your Web site. Make your bulletins short and snappy, start out bi-monthly, and always put links to other content on your Web site.
Register your Web site content with search engines and directories. Millions of Web surfers use these sites as starting points by using content keywords or by browsing. You can't afford to be left out. Start with these: Yahoo, Hotbot, AltaVista, Excite, Infoseek, Lycos, NorthernLight, and StartingPoint. Visit each site and get listed; a perfect project for a volunteer. (You don't have an Internet volunteer? Visit www.impactonline.org and they'll find you one.) While you are at it, put a meta tag (hidden description and keywords) on your home page so that roving search engine robots will catalog you again and again as they visit your Web page periodically.
Build relationships with online editors at Web portals that cover your issues and offer them content. Don't keep your content to yourself - share it with the pros! Web portals cover a range of issues with features, articles, directories and search engines. They can be for-profit or non-profit, and are growing fast in popularity. Start with these: HandsNet (www.handsnet.org), ConsumerNet (www.consumernet.org), About.com (www.about.com), Snap! (www.snap.com), Policy.com (www.policy.com), Join Together (www.jointogether.org), KidsCampaigns (www.kidscampaigns.org). MIRC (www.mediate.com), CRRC (www.conflict-resolution.net), and CBNet (www.communitybuilding.net). There are many more Web portals out there that cover your issues, so go track them down!
Track usage patterns of your Web site content. Talk to your Internet provider to obtain the usage statistics for your Web site, and perform a quarterly review to identify the popular content. Then reinforce that content (e.g., a certain on-line column) with better home page placement and feature it in your email bulletins. Your Web site usage statistics are a poll of your readers, so listen up and give people what they want!
Adopt a cross-medium approach to your Internet content. Remember, the core of your site is its content, so make sure it is the star of your Internet promotion. Announce it in your print newsletters, mention it in a flyer you put in your outgoing mail, place it on your voicemail, promote your email bulletin on your Web site and your Web site in your email bulletins, add your Web site address to all your outgoing email, print your web address on the back of all your envelopes (large) and make sure your staff, board and volunteers know your Web site address by heart.
These suggestions will help you get back to basics, focus on content, and take the anxiety out of Internet mania.
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