Engaging with the web

In the extended entry I outline some thoughts about moving the WWF website from the more passive mode that currently exists to something more engaging.

Quick note: I write the following with the deepest respect for the work my colleagues and predecessor have done on the website. I recognise that many of the ideas that I am putting forward have been recognised by them – I am writing this in part to clarify my thinking, but also to document the process I am going through as I review the WWF site.

First, a little bit of background. In my brief time with WWF I have picked up some themes that I think are important when looking at web strategy. WWF is not predominantly a “grass-roots” organisation (it may have once been, but this is no longer the case), instead I think there are some very strong corporate themes running through our workplace.

WWF is built upon a scientific foundation. We have strong processes in place to manage our “business”, how we approach campaigns, advocacy, research and field work. From one perspective, we are in control of our investors’ contributions which total in the millions of dollars. The difference is our investors are supporters donating their money for a social/environmental return rather than a financial one. If I were an investor in this organisation I would want WWF to be well organised too.

WWF is a political player with significant influence in government and industry. This influence has been built over the years through a pragmatic approach of constructive engagement with the people and organisations we wish to influence. It is also very much a reflection of the strong reputations of the people who work in policy, advocacy, research and in the field.

WWF-Australia is a part of a multi-national organisation that spans 97 countries. We have approx. 110 people employed full time in Australia alone.

There is a thread here that I think is reflected by our current website. It feels to me, as a new visitor, to be very corporate in its approach. It largely talks to our visitors, rather than with them. In other words, it is not particularly conversational. There is very little in the current website that engages our visitors, or even encourages our visitors to get involved. It provides a large amount of text information in a very deep information heirarchy that, IMO, is quite daunting to someone new to the site (even after a few weeks I still struggle with it), and yet to support some of our activities there is not enough information provided.

It is largely structured around our internal ideas of how we work. This internal structure is important for us, but, IMO, not particularly important to a visitor to the site. The website speaks largely from our perspective. It doesn’t invite our visitors into the organisation. It does not look at WWF from their perspective.

From the brief stats review I have done, most of our traffic is from visitors seek out general information about what WWF is about – who we are, what we do, how to contact us – and news about what we are doing/have achieved. It seems to me that our supporters, those that contribute financially, want to know what we are up to, keeping an eye on their investment as it were.

People new to the organisation and existing supporters are also wanting to know what they can do to help – more than just donating I suspect. Although we do provide information on different ways to get involved donations is probably the main thrust of the message we present.

Our publications – which are generally detailed and important documents for advancing the environmental cause through research, science and advocacy – are also very important to our visitors. They are very important to us too because they lay the foundation of a lot of our advocacy and campaign work. Some of the publications are the result of years of expensive research, made available for free via the website.

The depth of information on the website is testament, I think, to a wish to be transparent about our activities and to provide detailed information about our work so that interested parties can remain informed. Unfortunately the desire to provide this deep content structure is not supporting the majority of our visitors. And because we have limited resource to maintain and develop all of the various areas of the site aggressively, the information that is there lacks the nuance and detail that is desirable by some of our teams to support their work, nor is it necessarily up-to-date.

My view is that our website needs to shift from a deep informational website to one that seeks to more actively engage our visitors – be they existing supporters or new visitors. This is not to say that we do not provide deeper information, but that the focus when a visitor first comes to the wwf.org.au home page should be aimed at that core visitor group. It should highlight our current work, important wins, key policies, current campaigns and new publications in a way that encourages interaction and action by our visitors – be that volunteering, letter-writing, email campaigning, joining a mailing list or donating money.

The tone of the website needs to change to reflect this throughout – it is not simply a case of adding a link to a mailing list here and adding a form there. It is about rethinking our information architecture and updating our internal processes to support this kind of interaction.

Although the main thrust of the site would be towards this kind of interaction, we still have a requirement to present more detailed information for advocacy and policy reasons. This is a different form of engagement. In some respects it is a deeper engagement because it requires a larger degree of commitment by the visitor to interact with the information provided and will usually come about through prior contact by WWF with the visitor. These may be others in the scientific community, policy makers, politicians and business leaders. In this sense these areas of the website will serve to support advocacy and policy development objectives in a strategic way.

We also want to support better communication of individual projects’ progress and activities to interested parties, be they individuals or partner organisations, in a way that is consistent with WWF’s values. Such features of the website could be developed to be more than just an information – adding features for community and volunteer organisation as well as specialised functionality to support the specific aims of the project (the olive ridley turtle tracker application and Ningaloo volunteer form are examples). These specific project pages would generally be visited by those with a direct involvement in the project and would most likely be directed to a specific page/section of the site by WWF or partner organisations.

The navigation of the site will need to provide access to all sections, but the drive of the main visual elements of site, the home page in particular, should, in my view, focus on the more generalised communication requirements.