We first started designing websites for Chambers of Commerce back in 2011 when we joined our local chamber and found they needed help with their website and how they presented their brand online. We learned a lot about the tools needed to integrate with membership, how users interact with Chambers online, and how best to cultivate a community to help business grow.
Five Chambers, Eight websites, multiple years-long seats on Chamber Marketing Committees (and currently Board Chair of one our local chambers), and several rebranding projects later we have learned a lot about what it takes to make a chamber successful online.
If we had to boil it down to three things though, they would be this:
1. Make Sure Your Website Fits Your Chamber’s Personality
We currently belong to five different Chambers of Commerce and each one of them has it’s own distinct personality. Going to a networking event in the most affluent suburb of our city is a much different experience than attending one in a rural town an hour away.
Celebrate your differences.
The things that make you different are the things that answer why a member should join, renew, or become more involved.
Your website should be an extension of what it’s like at your networking events and should speak to your target member and serve your current membership so there isn’t a big disconnect between meeting in person and meeting on the internet.
2. Make Sure Your Website Is Easy To Update
One of the key components to a successful Chamber website is activity. One of the biggest barriers to that activity is not knowing the tools well enough or having an administration interface that is difficult to manage.
When we first starting building sites for Chambers of Commerce, we recommended a powerful CMS that offered a lot of granular features that allowed people to leverage many different positions on the website; if they knew how to use it.
The trouble with that approach was that most Chamber staffs don’t have the time to learn a sophisticated tool and leverage it to it’s best ability. So, most of the advanced features went unused and the sites became a chore to manage.
We found that a better way forward was to use a simpler CMS that accomplishes the most common administration features easily to remove the barrier to making updates. After all, the updates are the biggest part of a thriving community.
We also include multiple training sessions with staffs at launch and after they’ve had some time with it in the public eye to be sure everyone knew how to use the tools and that we could make administration function more easily.
The point here is, if your website is difficult to use then you should make a change, get some training, or reach out for help. Nothing kills a website like no activity.
3. Make Your Website Your Online Hub
There are many differences between Chambers, but one of the commonalities we see between them is a big spike in traffic the day before a scheduled networking event to see where it is and then traffic dies down until the next big event.
While users are there at your website, make sure they know the most important things to know about the Chamber in 10 seconds or less.
If you have a big event coming up, make it the first thing they see when the website loads. If you have a strong Instagram feed, display it on an area of the home page. If you have a blog (hint: you should have a blog), make sure the recent posts are accessible on the main page.
Whatever is important to the fabric of your community, highlight that. Whatever you do well online, make sure that’s included. Your home page is a snapshot of who you are, so make sure what is important is easily accessible for everyone who visits.