Reprinted from ASAE’s Component Relations Newsletter, February 2010

By: Jacqui Olkin

Your web presence is an important part of how your organization and your components are perceived. Consider an integrated approach using a content management system, which can support both the headquarters site and your component sites. This approach can serve everyone’s needs—including contributors with little technical ability.

Does it feel like you have to choose between maintaining your brand and giving components the web publishing autonomy they want? Maybe a content management system (CMS) can help.

A web presence is an important part of any organization’s brand image. For many people who will never come to your association’s headquarters or attend a chapter meeting in person, the website may be the only face of your organization they ever see.

Visual design, page layout, and the use of logos, brand names, colors, typefaces, language, photos, and graphics affect the way your organization is perceived by those who visit your website and component websites—but it can be challenge to present a consistent brand image throughout all these sites. If the headquarters and component sites are not consistent, they may communicate a haphazard or even negative image, rather than the image of an established, valuable professional organization with a trusted brand.

An Integrated Approach
A challenge of projecting a consistent brand on the web stems from the fact that components’ websites are sometimes designed, written, and managed differently from the headquarters’ organizational site for various reasons, such as resource constraints. Components may be run by volunteers and there may be little money and expertise focused on managing the website. What’s more, components are likely to focus more on publishing information quickly rather than on supporting the overarching brand.

The solution to maintaining a consistent brand while publishing quickly may be CMS. A CMS can support both the headquarters’ site and component sites, allowing enough control and flexibility to serve everyone’s needs, including those of web content contributors who have little or no technical ability when it comes to websites.

Understanding a CMS
Whether a CMS is open source or a licensed product, it works like this: Content is entered into templates that control the layout, look and feel, and formatting of different kinds of pages. There may be separate templates for the homepage, landing pages, and article pages, but all should have a consistent design, including common navigational elements to help site users stay oriented throughout the site.

It doesn’t take any deep technical knowledge to learn to post content in a CMS that is well configured, so having this type of web management platform can make it possible for more people to post content to the web, eliminating bottlenecks that may occur when only one person can post content. Many CMSs have WYSIWYG (“What you see is what you get”) editing features that make formatting controls look similar to Microsoft Word and other common word processing programs.

A good CMS also includes a configurable role-based workflow—the ability to assign some people as authors and others as editors, administrators, and other useful roles. A role-based workflow enables an organization to make sure no content goes live without being reviewed by an editor or similar gatekeeper. Much like consistent design and standard templates, website contributors in the proper roles help maintain quality and project the desired brand image.

Reaching Out to Your Components
So how can your organization use a CMS to make its sites consistent? You can host component websites on the same CMS as the headquarters’ site and provide templates that will make it easy for components to enter their own content and produce sites that reflect the design of the headquarters’ website. Cascading style sheets (CSS) and modular layouts can enable one set of templates to serve all component sites, producing pages that are harmonious and brand-compliant but not exactly the same.

If you use a licensed CMS product, keep in mind that managing multiple sites may incur additional licensing costs, so you should check with your software vendor before planning how to manage your sites. Also remember that component sites can maintain their unique web addresses (URLs) regardless of whether they are freestanding or constructed as subsites of the headquarters’ site.

If cost is an issue and it is impractical to purchase a licensed CMS product and host it privately, there are lots of low-cost options for hosted, template-based websites that may make it practical for your headquarters and components to use the same tools.

As with all technology tools, a CMS can only solve problems if people are trained effectively. The headquarters organization should take an active role in demonstrating and supporting effective branding and communication on the web. Component relations professionals should offer training and reference materials for components whenever possible—not only on using web tools but also on editorial style, brand guidelines, design style (use of colors, logos, typography, etc.), and website management. A little guidance from the parent organization can go a long way toward supporting a consistent brand image in the marketplace.

Improving Your Image
Your web presence is an important part of how you are perceived by members, prospective members, industry partners, the media, policymakers, and other important audiences. If you want to ensure better brand consistency throughout your components while making it easy for them to publish web content, a CMS used well may be the key.

Jacqui Olkin’s company, Olkin Communications Consulting, offers web usability, information architecture, taxonomy, and content management consulting to associations. Twitter: @OlkinComm