There’s a simple surveillance exercise I encourage nonprofits and foundations to do once a year. January is a good time.
Set aside a few hours to keep up with communication developments among your peers/competitors by exploring their websites. It’s almost like doing a mini- analysis of brands.
First, review your own website carefully. Then, identify six of your most similar peers and/or important competitors. Visit their websites and take a thorough look at what they’re doing in communications vis a vis what you’re doing. Create a comparison grid so you can record the results of your study and see them side-by-side.
Keep notes especially about things the other sites DO BETTER than yours (and how they’re doing them). The kinds of things you’re looking for are:
1) Website design
How professional and attractive is it? Does it convey clarity or clutter? Do the main pages direct the eye from the most important thing to the least? Is navigation difficult or easy? Is a call to action prominent? Are photos and photo captions effective? Are important keywords woven into headlines and subheads? Is there a search option? What kind of emotional impact does the home page have? Does it engage you immediately? Is the content fresh? What kind of “personality” does the website convey? What are some unique or cool features that work well? Do links take you off the page, to a pop-up, or to another window? Could you guess from the contents of the home page what the key audiences are for this organization? How transparent does this organization seem? How authentic? Is there too much bragging? Too little information? Is it highly institutional site versus a more human site? Is website copy short, digestible, and easily understood? Is there a lot of scrolling required? Are the most important things placed “above the fold?”
2) Knowledge base
Foundations and nonprofits are eager to share their knowledge. How well does the site do that? Is the knowledge base simple to find? Is it all in one place or scattered throughout the site? Is it well named?What does it consist of—publications, PDFs, videos, presentations, podcasts? Are the items in the knowledge base easy to understand or full of jargon and data? Are the items inviting to read? Is it clear for each item what its audience and usefulness are? Are PDFs simply print publications or are they specially designed for online readers? Are there executive summaries or simple abstracts that describe the contents of each publication or PDF so readers don’t have to skim the whole thing? Are there events attached to the knowledge base: meetings, seminars, webinars, workshops? What other kinds of resources does the organization offer to help interested visitors learn more?
3) Interactivity and social media
What are the ways that visitors can interact with the site? How well linked is it? Does it offer a place to sign up for a newsletter or mailing list? Does it include or is it linked to an organizational or CEO blog? Are there opportunities to leave comments or to participate in forums or groups? Are there videos or podcasts available? Is there a live feed option? Are there links to a social bookmarking site? flickr group? LinkedIn profiles? Facebook group or fan page? SlideShare or Scribd? Does it include or link to a wiki or other kind of small community site (e.g., Ning). Are there feeds from news media or external bloggers? What other signs do you see that this organization is trying to engage with its visitors? If there is a newsletter—how frequent and how well done is it? If there is a blog—is it kept fresh and interesting? How many comments is it getting?
5) News room
Do they have a news room? If not, how do they track and share their news releases and media coverage? if they do have one, what does it include: executive bios/photos; news releases; media coverage of the organization; media coverage of an issue(s); story ideas; list of staff expertise w. email links; event calendar; executive speeches/commentaries; photo archive; media contact information; recent financials and tax return forms? What level of transparency does this news room convey? What level of accessibility?
Taking into consideration everything you see on the website—how good is the organization at telling its story in terms of human impact? (not data) Does it feature the voices of its beneficiaries? Other testimonials? Does it use ample quotes, not just its own voice? Does it provide smaller, “snapshot” stories about its successes that have strong emotional impact? Does the organization clearly let people know what they can do to support it? Does the organization talk about its processes and activities more than it talks about the positive impact it has on human beings? Does it feature compelling stories about donors and supporters? If it produces an annual report, how well does that publication tell the organization’s story? How well does the organization use photos? Are the photos high quality? Are they of human beings? Do they use videos to do storytelling? Are they effective?
It doesn’t take long to get a clear picture of how your organization’s communications rate compared with peers or competitors. You’ll see where you can make improvements to get the edge, and maybe even discover an unoccupied market niche you can fill.
None of your key audiences lives in a vacuum; they’re exposed to communications from your peers and competitors and position you somewhere within that larger universe. Make sure you’re the brightest star!
CC photo credit: uBookworm