Last month I blogged here about starting the consulting process to improve our online strategies at CITI – in other words, practicing what we preach.  At CITI, we advise our clients on doing better at integrating their online presence with their long term mission goals, and it has become clear that CITI needs to do a better job at that, ourselves.   Our clients need to know what we do and how to get in touch with us (more on knowing what your clients need below) and our website presence has traditionally tried to answer these two basic needs.  When Glennette Clark, our online strategy consultant, pressed us to examine our goals and our current metrics, it was a (welcome) exercise in humble pie.
To create our action plan, we had to narrow our understanding of our goals and focus ourselves on creating clear deliverables for the short, mid, and long term that would get us closer to those goals.  Should be easy!  But the more we jumped into deliverables, the more we questioned our basic goals.  And the more we looked at the metric reporting we started, the more interesting details were revealed, which also cycled back around to help question and redefine our online goals.
For example, we already knew that prospective clients coming to our site need to know what services we offer, so we created a goal around the ease with which a new user could find relevant content that would lead them to submit a inquiry for that service, either through our contact form or by telephoning CITI for more information.  We suspected that some terms an “accidental techie” at a nonprofit would use to search for options might be far from the “official” technological terms, so we knew we needed to incorporate both labels where possible – i.e. “infrastructure support” and “my email keeps crashing”.  And it is part of our staff DNA at CITI to do that in a way that enables the nonprofit staffer to take charge of their IT decisions – not feeling that they need to know the official language to be part of the club.
What we found through our web metrics surprised us though.  While we pride ourselves on hiring exceptional techies who care a lot about their clients and their work, we hadn’t reached the obvious conclusion that we should consider our staff as part of our services. The result: we provide tons of details on the technical aspects of what we do but a rather dry staff list of who will be doing it for you.  Our metrics report helped us discover that you consider our staff closely – staff pages are consistently high ranked referrals – and our internal process of sharing positive feedback on staff helps us see why.
So now through the consulting process, rather than a vague goal to “communicate better with our clients and prospective clients online” we have a mandate to create staff content that showcases who you get when you sign up with CITI, linked to examples of projects they work on, cross-referenced with the glowing feedback we previously shared internally only.   To reach a goal of providing relevant content that would lead prospects to phone us (not to sugar-coat it – we are a business that needs to be sustainable so we can keep serving the community, after all)
I’m blogging about our own path here, but of course the hard work of setting online goals for communication can get  harder when you substitute nonprofit goals such as outreach, education, fundraising or advocacy.   In any case, however, the evidence – the metrics – will help you discover what you need to do, and help you keep from making decisions based on intuition alone.
Our next step was to hold a focus group where we could get direct feedback – from real users, clients – to find out what needs we didn’t even know about.  More on that next.
Some resources from Glennette:

The role that strategy plays in building a web site that accomplishes organizational goals.

The importance of having organizational social media policy in place sooner rather than too late.

How to build a social media dashboard to monitor your nonprofits’ brand