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Get creative with your website

19 March 2010

Online asks are getting more sophisticated, says Jonathan Purchase, from Engaging Networks

As the internet gets more and more crowded by online "asks", organisations are starting to become aware that they need to do more to engage supporters visually.

Initially, this might have been through inserting a video into a page, or just creating a "funky" design with "flash images"; but the thinking seems to have moved on to other, more interactive applications that update dynamically – no more "one size fits all" approach.

In the past few months, I have noticed an increase in the number of "widgets" being included in campaign actions.

What's a widget?

Widgets are flash files (visual representations – maybe a map, a graph, a moving image) that are connected to a "back end" data source and inserted into websites, blogs or social networks. When the "back end" data changes – for example, extra people take an action on a website or through an email – the flash file updates automatically. Once set up, they are an extremely useful way to show how a campaign is going without the organisation, or website administrator, having to manually do anything to it.

Take this website for example: Created by the NSPCC, this site has been developed to promote their campaign on child protection during the election period. It not only has counters on the homepage (to show how many supporters have signed up, as well as the number of parliamentary candidates committed to the cause) but if you enter a postcode in the form fields, it will tell you how many candidates are supporting the cause in your constituency: the ones in favour are ‘standing up’, whilst the rest remain seated.

Counters have been around for a while, but more integrated tools like this, which show varying information depending on the user’s area, are becoming more and more popular and important in explaining to supporters what is taking place in their locality.

Invest if you can 

Imagine how your action might look if you could pull in dynamic maps that display people who have taken part locally and what they have done; or, "widgets" that show what your MP (or any local contact) is thinking and doing. This could improve response rates from supporters, open up different avenues of interest and engage politicians more. Compare ideas like this to displaying static text on the page – well, there is no comparison.

Of course, as with anything, there are costs associated. You will need to have designers to create the "visuals", and these visuals will have to be hooked up so that the data – which sits behinds the scenes – gets pulled in to make the tool(s) work. But invest in this functionality if you can, particularly for longer running campaigns: the coverage you get, the awareness you raise and the campaign objectives you hit make it worth the cost – and will persuade your managers to help you out!

Jonathan Purchase

head of UK market development, Engaging Networks