I had one of the most frustrating website experiences ever this morning. The reason why that was so might surprise you. It was not simply a matter of poor design - it was the failure to allow me, the user, to participate in any significant way.
Had the site been one where I was only mildly interested in the topic, I am sure I would have just closed the tab and moved on with my day. However, that wasn´t the case. The topic of the website was one that interested me greatly. That only added further to my frustration. The site was for an organization that is preserving the tradition of tango music through teaching, converting audio recordings to digital and collecting sheet music - some of which is from famous tango musicians.
Having spent a great deal of my free time learning to play the famously difficult bandoneon, the accordion-like instrument of the tango orchestra, I have a great passion for tango music and culture.
(Of note, our designer Mar´s father also played the bandoneon and listened to him practice all the years he was growing up – which is probably why he chose an accordion instead for the main image of this post).
So I was quite excited to find this amazing organization´s endeavor. The site itself had decent graphic elements in its design despite being built using Flash (see why we hate flash so much here).
The education section of the website talked about their programs, but didn´t have a link to the schools location, lacked a description of the courses nor did it contain a calendar of upcoming master classes or talks. The section on music, spoke about the recordings they have preserved and recommended specific CD’s but had no music samples and provided no links as to where to buy the (somewhat rare) CD’s they recommended. The section on the collection of sheet music told me they had original scores with notation by tango greats, but nowhere could I see the actual handwritten notations of Osvaldo Pugliese that I so wanted to view. The concerts and events section talked about past events but provided no information about future that I could attend.Unfortunately, the only way to interact with the site was to make a donation or e-mail the site administrator. Quite frankly, I want more - I demand more!
Finally, crime of all crimes, there was no newsletter sign up available to receive passive updates on the project and its activities. It left me with the feeling that there was nothing for me to do but shrug my shoulders having learned just a little about a great project that exists but that I will soon forget about.
The point is, I don´t want to simply read about what someone is doing on the web. Like all users these days, I want to participate. Our virtual world is not for voyeurs. That was the generation of the television or the book. Much like I felt this morning when finding such an interesting site with only roadblocks to involvement, users get quite frustrated when they can´t virtually engage.
A website is to an opportunity to invite people into your community, to activate them, to inspire them to share a little part of a virtual or real world with you. Whether it is about purchasing a product, learning or improving a skillset or just supporting a cause...a website needs to have a goal to promote actions from its users.
That is why it is so essential when planning your website the first thing to think about is what your user should be doing on your site. Presenting what your company or organization does comes further down on the list. Think about the user first! What will they do on your site? What do they want to do on your site? What do you want them to do on your site? The site is a success when these three questions have the same answer. But this often takes some strategic and creative thinking.
Are you unsure as to how to turn your site into a change agent for your user or how to get them involved? If so, please feel free to consult with us on the best strategy for activating your user. We will look at which methods are best to promote the online actions that will help your site serve your overall organizational goals. We will design the User Interface of your site to promote these goals and to engage your site visitor.
Here are some suggested tried-and-true methods which we recommend:
1. A Newsletter: which is easy to subscribe to (we love mailchimp).
2. Blog! Keep content fresh and interesting and you will find other online sites will link to you, increasing your website traffic and additionally users will return to your site to read more.
3. Social Media feed and connect: Both allow your user to see on your site your most recent tweets and Facebook posts, and provide links to go directly to your pages through features such as ¨like¨, ¨friend¨, and ¨follow¨ you.
4. Give them free stuff: Seriously. They either find it on your site or will find it on others. Whether it is advice, media samples, or actual samples of the product that you will send them. Turn them from a passing site visitor into a consumer by your taking the first action in the form of providing a “freebie”.
5. Use a Contact Form: The use of a simple and clear contact form is great. Don´t just list contact information. This requires several extra steps from a user and will discourage contact.
6. Strong Calls to Action: Having buttons that are easy to find that promote your main method of interaction - whether it be signing up for a service, making a donation, or getting in touch are critical - especially for sites that are seeking to convert site visitors into customers.
7. Calendar: Use custom post types or a calendar to list upcoming events which site visitors can attend.
Want to step it up a level further? One way to truly engage your users and turn them into active fans is to build your site on a NationBuilder platform. With NationBuilder you get a whole set of built in tools to manage your fans. They literally become members of your site - or, in this case ¨Nation¨. They sign up easily through their Facebook or Twitter accounts and are suddenly active participants in something more than just a static site - a truly dynamic experience including out-of-the-box idea crowd sourcing and gamification. NationBuilder is now being used by a broad range of people from political candidates, to community organizations and small businesses. Tectonica is one of a handful of certified NationBuilder architects. This past week they even launched an official theme we designed for all of their clients to use as a template. Feel free to contact us to consult on ways that we can build a NationBuilder site that will interact in a genuinely engaging way with your community of fans. Or follow the link for more on our NationBuilder services.