Evaluating the best solution for your neighborhood website can be difficult. There are a lot of things to consider like site features, hosting options, domain name registration, and of course, price. For the most part you don’t want to get caught up in the technical stuff. Instead, focus on how the site will provide real value to your neighborhood.
First, let’s cover the basics. What is your goal? Why do you want a neighborhood website? This is the very first question that you should ask yourself. The answer to this question can lead you down very different paths. More often than not, though, neighborhoods primarily want a website to improve communication amongst their residents. And when you think about it, improving neighborhood communication solves a myriad of other neighborhood challenges, such as social event participation, architectural compliance, and safety. (Download a full list of common neighborhood challenges and solutions.)
Assuming that your goal is also to improve communication, here’s what you should look for when considering a website for your neighborhood.
Registration – Does the solution you’re considering have a registration engine? If it doesn’t, remove it from your list of considerations. A registration engine allows residents to fill out an electronic form online with information such as their first name, last name and email address. Through this process you can capture resident’s email address and establish an electronic communication channel. Registration also allows you to track your success because you’ll know who’s online and who’s not by looking at who has registered. eNeighbors takes this a step further and helps you to send out website welcome letters in the mail that encourage residents to register on your site. See how it works.
Security – Is the solution you’re considering secure? Before you can ensure privacy, you have to be able to secure private information through encryption technology. Make sure that what you’re looking at offers 256-bit SSL encryption.
Communication – Does the solution you’re considering improve communication? After all, that is the goal. Look for things like automatic eNewsletters, news postings, social event listings, social groups, an online resident directory, and classified postings.
Sustainability – This isn’t usually high on the list of considerations, but it should be near the top of yours. Why? Because you want the solution you implement to work for a long time. Unfortunately, most neighborhood websites fade away in a very short period of time because they’re not sustainable. To ensure that you’re website will run for a long time, absolutely nothing can be dependent upon you or the board. It must run on it’s own without you. And let’s face it, you don’t have the time to maintain a website anyway. A website that runs on its own comes with technical support for every resident, automatic processes that don’t rely on you, and allows everyone in the neighborhood to contribute so you’re not the only one posting information on the website.
Ease-of-Use – Finally, is it easy to use? If it’s easy to use, residents will use it. If it’s not easy to use, residents won’t use it. For this reason, I’m generally opposed to custom designs. While they can look nice and be tailored to the look and feel of your neighborhood, custom neighborhood websites often sacrifice the most important feature of design – usability.
If you have a specific question, please post it in the comments so I can answer for everyone to see.