Does Your Online Presence Instill a Sense of Wonder?

Your site may be functional and useful, but is it inspiring? Maybe you can't reach the heights of National Geographic, but there's still plenty of room to blow minds.

Sometimes, you’ll see something so mind-blowing that it makes you wonder if you could ever build anything anywhere near that awesome.

Your association probably can’t spend eight weeks working on something to that level of detail. But creating something that builds wonder? It can totally be done.

That was how I felt when I went to the monthly meeting of the Online News Association‘s Washington, DC, chapter last week.

The session, held at National Geographic Society building in DC, had a number of awe-inspiring moments that showed a level of thinking that few organizations, big or small, are able to attain. To give you an idea of what National Geographic can do, check out this clip it created of a cheetah running:

(OK, I’ll be the first to say that getting a budget for something this amazing may not be easy, but you should aim high, not low.)

As I was live-tweeting the event, I had a little bit of a revelation that remains unanswered.

National Geographic can get away with next-level mobile apps and thinking of website redesigns with a wide-lens focus, because it has massive resources to do just that. It’s an organization that, by its own estimate, spends eight weeks working on a “fast” story for the magazine. It has its own museum. And a couple of cable television channels. It’s built for thinking big.

Your association probably can’t spend eight weeks working on something to that level of detail. But creating something that builds a sense of wonder? It can totally be done.

Wonder On a Budget

Another thing that made me think about this was the recently launched, a long-form journalism site born of a Kickstarter campaign and sponsored by the City University of New York. Rather than sticking with a traditional online publishing platform like WordPress or Drupal, it chose to use the budding experimental platform Marquee. As any online publisher will tell you, that’s a massive risk.

But just look at the site. The risk paid off. It looks like nothing else out there. It has killer content (including a piece about a guy who chose to become a trucker after his unemployment benefits ran out). It inspires you to build something nearly as awesome.

When someone opens up your association’s website, do they feel inspired? Do they get a sense, when they read your content and see the members in your community, that they can do anything? For a small association where the stakes may be lower and fewer players have to be considered, there’s an opportunity to creatively build an online presence that helps you punch bigger than your competition. You aren’t tied to your legacy as much as your larger competitors are. You don’t have to work based on their standards. Write your own script.

With a smart campaign, the right technology and design, and—most important—a willingness to embrace an approach that goes beyond what your competition is doing, it can be done.

And it doesn’t necessarily need a huge budget. There are modifiable themes out there, which can get you within shouting distance of the big boys without the cost. Perhaps you won’t hit the level you might if you were building from scratch, but it certainly gives you a starting point from which to build. With a well-considered strategy, you might punch above your weight class.

Recently, I dropped a mention of Jeff Cobb’s recent post on “blue ocean” strategy, the philosophy of reinventing your strategy so you’re swimming in wide-open waters where your competition hasn’t gone yet.

Applying this approach to technology—by embracing emotion, visceral appeal, that sense of wonder that National Geographic does so well—could get you there quicker than you’d ever imagine.

And with the right approach, everything falls into place.

(Design Pics/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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