Best Practices for Association Microsites

This is a guest post by Andrea Bona, of One Orange Feather, on their great survey of associations’ use of microsites.  Download the paper here. It’s awesome.

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Micro web sites and sub branding seem to go hand in hand, as does the angst and elation both bring to trade association marketing departments. I completely support micro site development; it just seems many are launched without strategic goals to support a sub brand, and many have an expiration date. I am not alone in my love/hate relationship with micro web sites (micro sites). In our research for the “Sub-Brands and Micro Web Site Use by U.S. Associations 2012: Benchmarks and Best Practices,” white paper, we found that nearly one-half of U.S. associations have deployed micro Web sites to promote sub brands, and many of the association marketing execs I talked to mentioned a host of issues with the sites, including a lack of strategic tie back to the master brand.

Micro sites are usually launched to promote a sub brand, and most associations launch a sub brand and micro site to cater to a new market segment, create a different image, or establish credibility in a market where the parent company is either relatively unknown or not well received.

Micro Sites and Sub Branding, the Ties that Bind

During my tenure with the Mortgage Bankers Association, I re-launched the Homeloanlearningcenter.comsub brand and micro site to provide financial literacy education to consumers. The association felt it was important during the early days of the financial meltdown to provide financial literacy education and support to homeowners, but needed to distance the website from the Mortgage Bankers Association brand. A micro site was the perfect solution; I have found that many associations have the same need or motivation.

While a micro site is a good solution to supporting a sub brand, the launch, care and feeding (content) of the micro site comes down to pure economics. In the white paper we found that more large associations deploy micro sites than small associations. The complexity of large associations, and the more abundant resources available to support sub brands drive micro site deployment in these large associations. We also found that 47 percent of our sample and 49 percent of U.S. associations with annual budgets greater than $1 million deployed at least one micro site to support the association’s mission.

Meetings/Conventions Lead the Pack in Micro Site Development

More than half of all deployed micro sites supported meetings/conventions or association programs. Other popular uses of micro sites were for association stores, affiliate promotions and educational sites.

Meeting sub brands are the most common use of micro sites, and there are some key issues to consider when undertaking site development. One of the most serious issues was brought to my attention by Heidi Hume, senior manager marketing and Web strategy, Worldwide ERC. She said, “One concern we had was with the possible break with the unified brand. When you create a meeting site as the information hub for the event, and attendees are used to going to that site, you have to ask the question: are you actually converting show attendees to members? Is there enough of a link between the show and the association brand and are there opportunities to go between the parent and Micro site?”

As with most things marketing, there needs to be a goal and strategy behind the micro site, and resources to promote the site. In addition, the micro site needs to tie into the parent Web site and brand. Even the homeloanlearningcenter.com micro site tied back into the Mortgage Bankers Association’s mission to be a source of information and education for members and their customers.

To find out more about sub branding and micro sites go to One Orange Feather http://www.oneorangefeather.com/Resources/Resources.aspx and download the whole study for free. And stay tuned for our latest study on US Associations’ Use of Mobile Applications 2012, Benchmarks and Best Practices.

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Andrea Knotts Bona is Managing Partner of One Orange Feather Inc., a marketing and management consulting firm specializing in multi-channel marketing campaigns and Web site development for trade associations.

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