Association Software versus Blogging Software
In a previous post, I discussed the mind shift from a “web-site” to a “blog configured as a web-site”. So what is still missing and how do you achieve it? This post will deal exclusively with membership issues for association software.
One of the problems that many small associations are having is that there is so much information online for free that it tends to marginalize the association itself as the gate-keeper of technical knowledge. Free list-serv capabilities of Yahoo have often eliminated the need for extensive libraries of technical information given that it is often easier to just post a question to the list-serv and wait for the answer.
Now, the answer may be worth what you pay for it, but these sites tend to self-correct to a certain extent since other members with different experiences may disagree and give you other information. Then it becomes up to you to wade through the varying opinions. I have personally had situations where the responses were conflicting and there were too many of them to make an educated decision without some real independent thinking. I guess that’s the price you pay – or didn’t pay.
From the website’s perspective, you don’t want to contribute to the lack of need to join the association. Being able to restrict the content to just members but providing “teasers” to show what would be available if only you were a member is not a bad thing to want to do. Not a problem…
I found a number of WordPress plugins to deal with the situation. As you might recall, the site I put together for the group was done based on WordPress. These plugins are considered “premium” so carry a charge of anything from $50 to $150. That’s quite a bargain compared to some of the custom approaches I have seen or especially the commercially available AMS systems!
Now, here’s where you run into some of the problems of open-source, inexpensive software. There may or may not be any documentation and may or may not be any support. As with any software, that software may or may not do what it advertises it will do. Then again, you face that with some very expensive software as well.
I first experimented with eMembers ($49) but ran into issues that I couldn’t get past both in terms of functionality and in performance.
Then I picked MagicMembers ($97) and found again that there was little useful documentation but very good and very responsive customer support capabilities. Once you understand their terminology and wade through all the details, it works quite well. As with eMembers, performance of the site was significantly slower with the plugin enabled but not nearly as bad. Load times were longer but still acceptable. If anything, the Magic Members software is more complex than what we needed but also offers capabilities that we may use in the future. For instance, it can deal with renewals to credit cards with automated notification that the renewal is due. Ultimately, we will do this on the site but the officers weren’t quite ready to give up their paper system. Well, baby steps…
So, we now have a site that visitors can look at that will show them how much material is there but not let them read any more than a snippet of the text. Members can see everything.
What experiences have you had with either the issue of driving membership through your website or dealing with open source software to accomplish everything?