Expert Interview Series: Frank Klassen of Brightfind on Building Better Sites for Association Management
Frank Klassen is the CEO of Brightfind where he is responsible for building a nationally renowned digital design and web development agency. He began his professional career working in technology for a number of higher education associations, which eventually led him to start his own firm to build websites for the member-based organization marketplace. Frank's current passions are in the areas of taxonomy, search, findability, and web user experience design.
Here he discusses the importance of developing strong project management tools within an organization to improve association management. Read on:
What are the most common management problems or frustrations you've observed among organizations and associations?
There are three common frustrations we hear from associations.
Organizations often tell us that they have tons of data about their constituents' behaviors and they want to start collecting more, but they don't know what to do with it once they have it. We suggest they take a step back from thinking about the numbers and really think about the importance of having a modern marketing infrastructure and a company-wide culture of data-based decision making, starting at the executive level. From there, we suggest they start small. Even small steps in collecting and analyzing data can have significant results on driving membership growth and providing provable membership value to constituents.
We also hear associations complain, rightfully so, that their projects often take too long and are over budget. We find that many technology projects get off track because there is not an effective internal project management process, and organizations rely too heavily on their vendors to drive process compliance and decision-making rigor amongst the organization's staff resources. When organizations have true internal project management staff and processes, projects are more likely to come in on time and budget; plus, staff members feel they have a true sense of ownership and pride about the projects.
Of course in our field, association professionals come to us frustrated because their website is not "working." We find a major reason websites are "broken" is because they are not designed with business goals and strategic objectives in mind. We encourage organizations to focus on business goals—and ensure that internal departments have a clear understanding of what they are. Any disconnect here can raise barriers to success.
How can the way organizations manage things like membership roster, engagement, financials, committees, and communications be improved?
Making a commitment to hiring and maintaining a strong project management team and ethos within the organization will go a long way to improving a wide variety of membership product and service deliverables. It is no longer just about subject matter expertise—organizations have to be able to manage time, cost, and outcomes more effectively in order to provide the value that your constituents expect.
Additionally, a strong marketing team that bases its activities on fully understanding the user experience before delivering products is essential to success in today's digital world. Everything from the delivery of enewsletters, interaction with the organization's website, to how real-time meetings are managed, the format and messaging of invoices, and any communication, service, or product directed at constituents should be built on a strong understanding of how your constituents actually want to receive and consume those communications, services, and products.
What types of tools do you recommend for improving these functions within an organization?
- Marketing automation tools such as Hubspot, Marketo, Informz, Real Magnet, or HighRoad Solution
- Project management tools such as Trello, Basecamp, and Jira
- Analytics tools such as Google Analytics with Tag Manager, Cyfe dashboard, LoadImpact, and Google PageSpeed tools
What types of tools or solutions don't work as well for membership-based organizations?
This totally depends on the kind of organization it is. There are so many effective tools and solutions—from high-end to basic—that there are no purely "wrong" choices. In the past, member-based organizations were often less able to take advantage of high-end, enterprise-class products, but I find that to be less of an issue today, as many of the enterprise class products have developed interfaces that are much easier to use and manage, as well as frameworks (including Cloud solutions), that require a lot less technical expertise to configure and maintain.
How do you think organization's websites can be improved to better serve their members?
Of course, the answer all depends on the business goals of the organization, the types of audiences being targeted, the expectations of their constituents and the functional requirements of the website itself—and every organization has significantly unique answers to each of these components. However, I can point out some fairly common issues to address:
- The navigation and information architecture of the website should be based on the constituent's perspective, not the organization's business structure.
- The navigation and information architecture should be continuously updated based on continuous monitoring and configuration of website analytics using methods such as A/B testing and small-scale user testing.
- Organizations should use opportunities such as annual meetings and other major constituent gatherings to organize focus groups that directly interact with constituents in order to test and analyze critical components of the website that impact constituent satisfaction.
- Organizations should implement content targeting functionality and persona-specific messaging on their websites in order to provide constituents with a more directed and focused user experience.
What are your biggest pet peeves or frustrations with the average organization/association website?
Most association websites are still very inwardly focused. I call it the "naval gazing" approach to designing website navigation and information architecture. These organizations do not put enough effort into truly understanding what their constituents really want from their website experience. An obvious symptom of this is the common model for how association use website analytics—they read them and provide reports to leadership about activity, but don't use the analytics tools to do what they are really in place to do—understand where things are working for their constituents and where they are not. And more importantly, analytics should drive decision-making and change management activities that drive the continuous improvement of the website.
Can you share an organization whose website you believe sets a standards for how organizations can communicate with both members and nonmembers alike?
The Society of Actuaries (SOA) has a modern interface that on the surface (home page and landing pages) creatively and effectively provide a message to nonmembers that the website is a resource for understanding the industry in general. At the same time the site also makes it easy to find the pathways to deeper knowledge—both from a topic/subject perspective, and from a products/services perspective. This tends to serve the needs of both members and nonmembers by showing inclusiveness, but providing selective and targeted information effectively.
The use of persona-based targeting navigation and information architecture brings nonmembers the broadest spectrum of high-level information about generally available resources, products and services, while also providing targeted calls to action to identified members and other segmented personas.
What website trends or innovations are you most excited about today?
About Brightfind: Brightfind began life as Syscom Services Inc. but was rebranded at the end of 2014 and rededicated to the pursuit of all things Web. They provide a full range of services including: Web Strategy, Information Architecture, Visual Design, Usability, Content Management System (CMS) Implementation, CRM/AMS Integration, and Analytics to promote continuous improvement. Their focus is on the user experience, continuous improvement based on data-driven analysis and decision-making, and a culture of passionate learning, customer advocacy, and egoless collaboration.
About Jennifer Barrell
As the Director of Content, Branding & Buzz at Aptify, Jen oversees the strategy and execution of brand management and content production across the organization’s global offices. She thrives on bringing compelling content and useful information to associations to help them grow and engage their membership. She's also an avid fan of mid-century modern design and all things science fiction.