Leadership Greater Chicago
How do you interest busy civic leaders in participating in a new social networking website when they rarely used their old "brochureware" site?
LGC members are movers and shakers in the Chicago nonprofit, business, and government worlds and are on the boards of about 1,000 civic organizations. Each year, about 35 new candidates, sponsored by their employers, participate in 10 months of lectures and discussions on such issues as education, healthcare, community development, and the environment.
Welcome wizard. First-time visitors walk through a two-step wizard that simplifies describing themselves and entering content they wish to share with others.
Usability testing. We tested the welcome wizard extensively with members to ensure that it is straightforward and motivating.
Promotion. LGC members received email and printed teasers inviting them to participate in a new social-networking site.
The "Ah ha!" moment
It's all about networking. LGC members are not necessarily experts at using computers or navigating the web, but they're experts at networking. Once we understood that, design and development of the site could proceed at full speed.
These are the major stages of this project:
- First client meetings. We told LGC leadership that we felt that making the previous site look better or changing the navigation would be akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic—a fair amount of effort to little effect. We suggested a new approach: do research to discover what sort of site members would find valuable enough to use regularly.
- Research. We learned why people join LGC and continue to be active. We called members, asking questions such as, "In connection with your profession, do you read books?" Answer: "Yes." "Would you be willing to share those with other LGC members?" "Yes." We asked about websites, blogs, jobs, civic organizations, etc. and the answers were always the same. Soon we had something to go on, it's all about networking.
- Wireframes. In the course of prototyping possible layouts, we presented ideas to the board. They were enthusiastic and asked that we expand the site to let members tag themselves personally (runner, mother, canoeist, single) and list jobs and volunteer positions.
- Welcome wizard. Successfully "rostering in" the first group of members was crucial to success. To support this process, we designed a simple two-step wizard to collect basic information and explain how the site worked.
- Usability testing of the wizard. Testing with a few members revealed some technical and conceptual problems, which we fixed, then tested again, then fixed—until we, and LGC leadership, were confident that members would understand what we asked them to do and be motivated to do it.
- Promotion. To support the idea of information exchange, we devised the slogan "I'll show you mine if you show me yours." We put it on cards distributed at the annual holiday party, in emails, and on postcards mailed to members.
- Beta release and content seeding. To support the beta release, LGC staff called members and, while they were on the phone, sent them an email through which they could log onto the site. Then they guided them through the wizard, helping them as needed.
- Release. We did not let anyone get beyond the wizard until about 120 members had added content. After about three months, the site had enough content to release to all members. This approach avoided the "Who's going to be the first in the water" problem.
- Today. The site is doing very well. Member traffic is high and we're learning how we can make the site even more useful to members.
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"Webitects' design work far exceeded our original goals. They took the time to really understand the business we were in and what our website should accomplish. They developed an innovative and interactive site which all our members admire. Furthermore, they have provided responsive and timely service as time passes and changes are required…"
— David DeCoursey, Executive Director