A really awesome reader, who works for an association whose members do life saving work (really, they are that cool), sent me an email and asked a simple question. Rather than paraphrase and get it wrong, I figured that I would re-post the email for all to see.
I have redacted some of the identifying parts of the email, because, in all honesty, I have I always wanted to redact something because it seems way more cool and important than just removing the text… It makes it seem like super secret stuff, like the CIA or NSA.. So, you will see her association and her name as REDACTED because it is just so 21st century and we all know that I am just a totally hip dude.
I just found and read your article, “Simple Web Tools for Associations and Event Planners”. Loved it! <REDACTED> is a small, but mighty non-profit association. We don’t yet dabble in social media, but we do talk about it and how much longer it will be before we have to make a serious effort. We are also preparing to update our web site a bit. The article has so many great tools in it, however, because it was written in 2010 I wonder if you’ve given any consideration to updating it. Would your recommendations and links be the same today?
I was like wow. 4 years since I wrote that post… After giving it some thought, I figured that I would write this post for her because her association is THAT full of awesome and does WAY important life-saving type work that makes the world a better place.
This is for you REDACTED… I hope that it helps.
As you know, the original post was geared for people in your shoes. Simple, effective, web tools that meeting planners and small associations like yours could use to make a big impact without blowing gobs of money on stuff that nobody would use and everyone would hate.
I am not going to change that focus.
This post is for those that live in the real world where budgets and hard choices are a fact of life, where money doesn’t grow on trees, and a $15,000 website is just not happening… someday maybe, but not today. This is not a how-to guide, just my recommendations about solutions that have worked for me and my clients. I won’t even begin to try and explain how all of this stuff works because it would take weeks and from our emails I get the impression that you are a pretty smart cookie.
A lot of things have changed since my last post and I have expanded this list accordingly. In four short years, the world has become much more mobile and cloud connected and less reliant on solutions that need a desk or a lap.
HERE IS THE REALITY MOMENT – Choices harder now because across all platforms and products, the costs are about the same and they all do a good job….
Human nature, not data or cloud services will make these hard choices even more difficult. No matter which of these tools you pick for your event or association, you will make someone in your organization irrationally unhappy and people that are irrationally unhappy are mentally unstable and the mentally unstable in your office end up being a pain in your ass.
There are people that love Outlook and hate Gmail even though they have never used it, there are people that hate Dropbox even though they think a cloud is something that ruins their sunny day, there are people that think that iPhones are far superior to Android even though they can’t open iTunes, and there are people that swear that by using Facebook the NSA can monitor their thoughts…. They will drive you bonkers, jump up and down, throw a total tantrum and you are just going to have to tell them to buck-up and get the &$%#@ over it.
Let us begin.
Building Your Home on the Web
A lot goes into creating your association’s home on the web but it need not be something that is scary or hard, you just need to make sound choices that are based on need, not want.
Corporate Domain Name Purchase
Really. IMHO there is no other choice. I said it in my original post and I will say it again – Godaddy may have the worst commercials on the planet but they are the best place to buy a domain. A good price, decent customer service, and an easy dashboard that allows you to point your domain at your web-host… I say this because you should NEVER host your website with the company that controls your domain. Period. Why? Because if you are with one company and they go belly-up, you have lost control of your domain and your site until you can unscramble the mess. When they are in different places, you only have to fix one problem… Old thinking maybe, but it has worked for me.
Building a Website:
A few thoughts on this subject before I list my picks. Most small associations don’t need some huge, high cost, member management platform. That can come down the road, if at all, ever. Most small associations just need something that looks amazing and allows them to communicate effectively with their members. Again, if someone is reading this and they want something that will power a 150,000 member association with an annual budget of 14 gajillion dollars, this post is not for you… I can write a post for you, but not this one, it belongs to someone else. This post is for REDACTED.
The last time around I did not even include WordPress because 4 years ago it was not that easy for someone with limited experience to set up a WordPress website. Fast forward to today and WordPress is the most amazing platform for easy to manage websites.
WordPress powers something like 23% of the web and is used by more than 20% of the top 10 million websites, it is the most popular CMS (content management system) on the planet with over 74 million installations… those are some heavy stats.
What is even more impressive is that the core, the base, what gets you a website, is actually free (you pay for some themes and some plugins) and for those that don’t want to go it alone, you can also have it installed for you for super cheap and then you can just maintain it. Easy Peazy Lemon Squeezy. Some web hosts even offer a 1 click install. Really simple.
WordPress will also GROW with you. There are plenty of plugins that handle member management (even for those associations with 150,000 members). In fact, we are building an association / conference site right now using WordPress and the membership plugin we are using handles automatic member renewals and non-dues revenue like sponsorship and video sales…
Stop laughing. I still love Weebly. For the low tech DIY crowd, Weebly makes building a website fast, easy and dare I say… Fun. Weebly works really well for small associations and conferences. My son is 8, he has a Weebly site and other parents think I created it, I don’t tell them I didn’t. Remember, there are no plugins here so it won’t grow with you but until you are ready to move up to WordPress and beyond, it is a fine choice.
Using Wix you can set up a site in no time and be ready to rock it out to your members in hours. One of my association clients used Wix to build their new association website and it is getting rave reviews from members, staff, and me. Again, this is a great choice for the small conference or association that just needs something that looks great and is easy. For my client, they don’t want or need anything more and probably never will. Oh, it is also super cheap. Cheap Cheap. Like cheaper than a new outfit.
If you are using services like Wix or Weebly, no problem, those are hosted solutions meaning that the hosting comes with the package. If you use WordPress (which you should), never use Godaddy for web hosting. I love them for domains but they suck when it comes to hosting websites. They are like the McDonald’s of the internet. Great fries, sucky burgers…
Web hosting is not all that complicated but there are many considerations that go into who you are going to choose. You have to think about the type of website you will have, the size of the website, how much traffic you expect, what e-commerce needs you might need, and a host of other considerations. Since we are talking about a small association website, I am going to guess that you have relatively modest needs…
If you want cheap, reliable, and fast, go with Hostgator. I actually host a few conference/association websites with them and I have not had any downtime or problems. They get mixed reviews with the super-techie online crowd, but again, I have not had any issues.
If you want to run a full Membership site using WordPress, and why not, based on what you told me in your email, it might be a good fit… use WPEngine. They are a little (lot) more expensive than other solutions and by expensive I mean like $29 a month compared to $7 a month. They offer the best WordPress hosting period, amen. WP Engine is to web hosting as the Four Seasons is to hotels…
Communication and Conversation
Communicating and conversing means email, phones, and tablets….
In the email ballgame, there are only two players that matter…. oh who am I kidding, there is only one that matters. Microsoft is only around because so many people are married to Exchange / Outlook and they don’t know how to file for divorce… really, what a dinosaur…if you already use it and your people are used to it, don’t change unless there is a compelling reason to do so and by compelling I mean you want a better solution that works without all of the crap that Microsoft brings to the table.
- Accept no substitutes. Simple pricing for non-profits (FREE), easy to use, add email addresses on the fly, massive storage amounts, and all with Google search capabilities. Gmail is way more than email. Why anyone would use anything else, I have no idea…
Communicating with your members is the most important thing that you do and you MUST use a good email service to do this so that you look professional, can track statistics, and ensure your organization stays above anti SPAM laws. There are lots of email services out there but there are only three that we use and recommend (all are equally good with a slight edge going to MailChimp). We do not use or recommend ConstantContact… there are many reasons for this,.
Your association is pretty small so I am sure that they don’t hand out phones to everyone with a desk so this might just be a personal recommendation… I use both of these and they are equally good… no matter what the fanboys say… Again, they really are equal in almost every sense of the word.
A tablet is a serious business tool and you will LOVE the flexibility that it gives you. In fact, I am writing a big chunk of this post on my iPad and my Google Nexus doubles as my ebook reader and internet device. When I am at events, I use my tablet and the other tools on this list for 99.9% of my work, I don’t need anything else… and yes, I do keep my travel laptop in a bag, close at hand… but it is a Chromebook, not my Windows or MacBook, I leave those in the office on my desk(s).
In the tablet world, there are only three that matter today (this could change tomorrow).
Projects, Docs, Storage, and File Sharing
Storage and File Sharing
- The new Google Drive has really turned into something that everyone can use. Today it is much more friendly to the Windows user and the new Drive allows you and your team the ability to save, share, and edit documents across a variety of devices including your PC, tablet, and phone. I used to hesitate recommending Drive and now it is at the top of my list….and the price is right for non-profits… FREE!
- Hands down my favorite but only because I have used it for years and I am used to it… Like I said, when I recommend the cloud, I now recommend Google Drive, but if you are good with DropBox, be good with DropBox, both are fine tools.
- Don’t use this one much but people I trust swear by it and just because I don’t use it doesn’t mean it is not top rocket and all full of goodness.
- I will say something nice about Microsoft in this post. Onedrive is actually very good. No complaints. Yes, I do use it occasionally.
Document Creation and Editing
There are tons and tons of options out there for office suites and some of them are really good and free (OpenOffice) but really, when it comes down to it, there are only two players in this space that matter to small associations and most event peeps.
Most of my association clients (hint…Hint….HINT) are now using Google for their document creation and editing and email and storage and photos and video and most everything else except making coffee. The bonus with Google Docs is that two, three, or four people can work on a document at the same time and Google is REALLY inexpensive, especially for you non-profits. Have I mentioned that it is FREE for you? I don’t think I have, it is FREE. Oh, and revisions, you can roll back a document which is handy if the ding-dong working from home accidentally screws up the spreadsheet masterpiece you just spent 10 hours creating.
Everyone knows Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Yawn. They gave it a catchy new name, they now have online editing capability, and made it cheaper. Sigh. Yawn. How exciting.
Until someone uses a GOOD project management solution most people hate them. Here are some tools that will set your project management mojo right and make you dance through your cubicle or across your office with wild project-completing abandon.
Is Evernote a project management solution? Yes, no, maybe….hell if I know, but this is the category that it belongs in. This is the category it owns. Evernote is a brain that you can share. Evernote is my number one go-to project tool and it works even better with other project management tools, and my scanner, and my phone, and a host of other things around the office that it can talk to. Evernote is so hard to explain that I can’t. You just need to try it, and once you start using it you will wonder what you ever did without it because Evernote is what you need it to be. We no longer use event binders, we use Evernote… Here is a good book and another good book that explain Evernote better than I ever could.
Azendoo is project management made simple, this is their tagline and it fits… Azendoo also ties into Evernote and Google Drive, and has an amazing mobile app and I use it and I love it, and I can’t say enough about it, and it is free for small teams and really cheap for small associations…. and did I mention it is AMAZING… whew. Long sentence.
Azendoo is not everyone’s cup of tea and my next choice is BaseCamp…. It is a fine product… nothing wrong with it. Expensive, you bet, good, sure.
Another great choice that used to be called TeamLab. We had a client that swore by it and you will see it recommended in the sidebar of this website… The client (and me) only stopped using it because the cost went up and it was then out of the client’s budget. That does not make the product bad… it just means my client has a really small budget. When TeamLab switched their name to OnlyOffice they also became more than project management focused. They are now project management, document storage, a full office suite, and more… this can be good, it can be bad, just depends on your needs. They have a 45 day free trial. Try away!
Beginning Social Media
Everyone is going to have a freaking opinion about this and I really don’t care. There are only a few social media platforms that you need to worry about at this stage of the game… a deep dive into social is for later. Don’t let anyone tell you different. This is where you should start. Take it slow and begin by asking your members where they are spending their time online to save yourself some wasted hours.
You will find that the majority of your members are on one or two platforms which is where you should concentrate. I will take a wild stab in the dark and guess that your members will be Twitter and LinkedIn…… Maybe Facebook , but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it… if I had a farm, which I don’t, but I won’t bet anyone else’s farm either, or cows, I really wouldn’t bet the cows….
Managing your Social Network Accounts:
Managing social networks from one dashboard is a huge time saver and for this task I recommend (but do not use) one product, HootSuite. There will be other products that you will use later, but to get started this is enough. Starting off by being overwhelmed leads to stress and my job is to keep you unstressed.
- For newbies, HootSuite makes it easy to monitor and post to all of the social networks that matter from one place. Again, there are other tools, don’t rush, you will need them soon enough.
Building Social Networks
I was going to take this section out but thought I would touch on the creation of private social networks because they were in the last post so they were important then, why are they not important now.
- Four years ago, this was a thing. Like twerking, it crawled away and died so I no longer would recommend that anyone build their own social network.
- All of the majors including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ offer some type of private group function so it is the department of redundancy department.
- This does not mean that you can’t have a forum on your website.. it just means don’t try and build some huge social thing on a platform like Ning because you think that your members or attendees are gonna hang out there and be all socially connected making friends, being cool, and sharing pictures… They won’t… so don’t.
- There are exceptions to this rule… your group is not the exception. Trust me. I know.
Video is critical to your success. Really it is. Please know this. Video inspires, educates, and makes people take notice like no other medium… and with what you do, I can already think of 800 videos that could be created… and that was just sitting here drinking coffee.. .Imagine if we brainstorm this puppy over a beer or three. You guys gotta make videos and put those videos online.
In my last post on this subject, four long years ago, I think that I called YouTube a necessary evil. I take it back, I am sorry YouTube, forgive me. YouTube is awesome and a must for sharing your content… they have changed for the better. You may not share everything here, but you must share something.
Vimeo is one of the online video greats. You can share a video with the world, with a group, with a friend, or even restrict it to a specific URL. When you need to control where and how your video is seen while you also control costs… Vimeo is your best friend. A friend with benefits.
If you use one of the suggested website building tools listed here, they all have photo galleries built in for showing off your event images and other pics that your members might love but there are reasons to have a place outside of your website for your organization’s photos. Reasons range from the simple (you really need to back them up) to the complex (they can be easier to share socially)….Whatever the reason, here are two of the tools that count.
A photo sharing site that allows you to organize images, lightly edit them, and share. Flickr is owned by Yahoo but don’t let that get you down, it is still pretty good and they have an awesome app (seriously, have you seen their app. Top notch). They also give you a TERABYTE of free storage, that is like 1 MILLION 1 MB pictures. Seriously, that is a sick amount of free storage. FREE!
Google does a lot of things well and photos is another feather in their cap. Edit, organize, share, put on Google+, create cool stuff… jeez, what doesn’t it do… The name may change as Google is integrating and shifting products but no worries… it is Googlelicious. It is also both a web and desktop app.
You are an association, associations have events. Here are some good tools to get you running right. These are not the be-all and end-all of event tools, this is just a little taste of what is out there. There are lots of tools that I am leaving out, forgetting, and overlooking and I will try and get back here to update this section or perhaps create one post dedicated to event stuff.
We both know that there are a ton of event registration companies out there and some want into every part of the event life-cycle…some of them even want to “help” you to book your meeting space… but always remember that they are registration products. The ONLY reason that they want you to buy other stuff from them is to increase their bottom line, they are not trying to be helpful because they love you and want to be your bestie. That being said, here are the event registration systems we (and our clients) are using.
RegOnline – UPDATE 9/11/14. After yet another bad customer service experience, we can no longer recommend RegOnline. You would think that the role of customer service rep is to help you solve a problem but at RegOnline it appears that their job is to close out the service request as quickly as possible without actually having understood the issue in the first place. They make the client feel like an idiot. It is my hope that I can change this post at some point in the future after they figure out who they are, what name they want to use, and who their number one priority is because it is my humble opinion that their first priority is not their client… it is something that I have not figured out yet.
Yes, they want to sell you meeting space and room nights. Yes, their support portal is a royal piece of crap. Yes, they are confused about what name they actually are using now, Active Network, RegOnline, Lanyon… who knows… they should fire their entire marketing department… and the CEO. Despite all of the downsides, their registration product is actually very good for complex events. I spent three hours today in their dashboard and I dig it. They are WAY better than that other big registration company… you know the one, they probably call you 20 times a week and harass you to the point of being called stalkers.
A good registration tool for simple conferences and most events. Good pricing. Integrates nicely with 100 other products including WordPress… nothing wrong with it and they don’t call you and email you 100 times a day to buy more stuff like that other big reg company.
Using WordPress as your website CMS? EventEspresso is the way to go for registration if you want to keep your data in-house. Not the easiest thing to use but it gets the job done well and in the long run, it is cheaper than third party stuff. Steep learning curve. Steep. Like grab a rope and hang on steep.
Event Management Software
This is a new category and there are some true up and comers here. Four years ago, this category was a joke and now there are some serious contenders for product of the year. A few are not even listed here, this is just a hint of the possibilities.
See the stuff above about Evernote. For event management, it is our number one, go-to tool, every day.
They help you manage your event by integrating with your favorite registration system, you get real-time analytics on sessions, CE credits and attendance, you get QR Coded Badges that can be scanned via phone or tablet to monitor session attendance, smartphone lead retrieval for exhibitors, and more… good stuff it is, good stuff. Full disclosure on this one, I am on their board of advisers but know that I wouldn’t be if they sucked.
I have a post about these guys coming out within the week so I won’t go to deep into what they do but go to the website to see… they are doing some kick-butt stuff and they help manage the entire event life-cycle of your conference including attendees, the venue, speakers, sponsors, f&b and marketing with detailed reports for budgets, expenses, staffing, A/V set ups, and more. Vinay, their CEO and Founder, is a super smart dude and I like him very much. He used to manage big events so he gets it. They have created a special product here and I love the direction that they are going… more about it when my post hits newsstands in a few days…
WordPress Event Themes
If you are looking for a conference theme for your WordPress website, accept no substitutes…use themes created by the amazing Julius Solaris over at EventManager Blog. Really, they are kickin… designed and built by an event planner for the events we manage. My favorite theme is Tyler. Oh, and subscribe to the blog while you are there… Top flight stuff…
Wow. This is not even a thing you have to talk about anymore. I can stop beating that drum now. Good. All of the website builders listed in this post include a “blog” or news component. Get to it… blogging is one of the most important things you can do for your organization.
SEO or Search Engine Optimization
This used to be a thing so it deserves a mention and it is also the thing that will generate the most email crap (always does). The art of making your website friendly for search engines is what SEO is and although SEO is not dead, it is on life-support. Google is getting so good that it is no longer a matter that you need to be concerned with, just write good blog posts that are relevant to your industry and Google will find you. Don’t worry, it is what they do and they do it well. They should be bounty hunters… they find everything.
Scanner – Use a Doxie. Integrates with Dropbox and Evernote. Love mine, goes everywhere. Cheap, easy to use. Fits in a backpack.
Camera – Keep a Nikon D5100 DSLR in the office. You can get them now for next to nothing ($699 with two lenses) and they take amazing pics and because it is a DSLR, you can buy or rent the other lenses you need when you have an event. This camera also takes stunning HD video when you are in a pinch and forget to bring the next product on the list.
Video Camera – If you want to shoot almost broadcast quality with minimal investment, use a Cannon Vixia HG10. Seriously, click the link to the review and see the things that CNET complains about… one of the complaints is the fact that the camera doesn’t ship with second battery…Really?? And because it is a couple of years old, the cost of entry is not even that scary. I own one. Love it.
For the thrifty non-profit, event, or anyone looking for amazing tech at rock-bottom prices, there is plenty to go around. The funny thing is, most of the cheap stuff is better than the higher cost alternative… Listen to your gut, if you think that something is too expensive, look for something else or shoot me an email…I am always happy to help.