Interactive websites

A new wave of websites including blogs and social networking sites (see growth of online communities) place a far greater emphasis on a dialogue between the publisher and their audience, or between the members of a network.  This occurs through features like commenting on what others have written, rating products or services, collaboratively writing the content on a site and pulling the content from one site into another through ‘feeds’. Individuals are more likely to believe and use information recommended by a 'person like me'. This trend will accelerate and the role of peer-to-peer advocacy in establishing trust in online relationships and transactions will become of increasing importance

What are the implications?

  • Opportunity to increase reach through online communities.
  • A shift towards non-hierarchical network models in which expertise is shared and modified rather than held by the central organisation.
  • Interactive features lead to a loss of control over messages as stakeholders are encouraged to have their say.
  • Increased expectation that organisations will not only disseminate information but also engage in dialogue (see for example the backlash to the Chief Executive of Cilip’s dismissal of Twitter in February of this year - the organisation has since about turned to providing training.)
  • Maintaining a continuous online dialogue in addition to traditional communications can place a burden on organisations.
  • Increased expectation of true debate and a variety of opinions. If not met, stakeholders may stop engaging.
  • Users may be more likely to trust organisations that are open and allow stakeholders a voice.
  • Encouraging users to rate and comment on information can help organisations to filter a wealth of online information.
  • Possibility that users will use these technologies for themselves and self-create rather than waiting for the organisation to act (see this example)

Moving forward

Before deciding to introduce any new elements to your website it is probably best to start by assessing what opportunities you currently offer for dialogue.

  • Why not look at what your competitors and collaborators offer?
  • Look at a range of options including: forums, individual blogs; rating; commenting; aggregation of feeds; wikis.

It is important to consider what is appropriate for your organisation. For example, if you provide advice, you may feel that it is too high a risk to allow users to advise each other, in case misleading or incorrect information is given. Looking at what other similar organisations do will help.

  • Could you include some questions in a stakeholder survey to find out what your users would like you to provide?

It is easier to build around an existing network than to create a new one decreasing the likelihood that your users will fill the gap and create their own sites.

  • Are your users are already active online? Have you analysed where they congregate?

If you do decide to introduce more interactive features, consider the skills needs of your organisation. You may have staff with the right skills already, even if they do not use them currently at work.

  • Do you need to introduce some training or recruit people with experience of working with interactive websites?

You will also want to consider whether to invest in your own website, or to use existing (often free) websites like Ning.

  • Could you experiment on a small scale on free websites before investing in a redevelopment of your own website?
  • However, bear in mind that you should communicate that this is what you are doing, as you will need to be confident that you will be able to migrate your community to a new platform at a later date without any reputation risk.

Want to know more?

ICT Foresight: how online communities make the net work for the VCS

Published by: NCVO Third Sector Foresight

Date: 2007

Format: PDF

What is it: A report on trends in social networking and the risks and opportunities that social networks present for voluntary and community organisations. It covers how social networks have developed to date and how they are expected to develop into the future, and strategic opportunities and challenges in the areas of: membership; information and advice; transparency; collaboration; fundraising; and, marketing and campaigning.

How useful is this: The report is aimed at VCOs and includes a short executive summary which includes a table summarising the key opportunities and risks that organisations should consider.

Last updated at 15:05 Mon 21/Sep/09.

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How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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