I’ve decided to write a “persona analysis” and website analysis of the Surfrider Foundation because it gets mentioned in both Social Media for Social Good and Networked Nonprofit as being an organization that has used social media effectively. SMSG gives us checklists of best-practices for every tool we will look at, but I’m not going to employ, and you don’t have to employ, every single item on the checklist in your analysis. I’m going to add in a few teacher comments that you don’t need to include in your posts; otherwise, this is a model for you to draw on.
SMSG makes the point that a web 1.0 technology like a webpage is still a great return on investment, and a website can be designed and customized more extensively than a Facebook Page or Twitter account, so a website’s “persona,” the character it is meant to invoke, becomes really important. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to expect an organization like “Surfrider” to be pretty hip and cool, and the organization does this right now by starting visitors with a picture of their CEO, Jim Moriarity. Moriarity looks a like what I would expect a CEO surfrider to look like—handsome, spends a lot of time in the sun, the right age to be a CEO with his gray unkempt hair, but unshaven and dressed in a T-shirt and v-neck sweater.
The photograph uses the “rule of thirds” and puts Moriarity in the left-hand third, leaving two-thirds to be filled by interesting images and art on the wall behind Moriarity. The photo is large, crystal clear, and part of a set of 3 banner images. I don’t think SMSG talks about the rotating images, but they have become the gold-standard for today’s websites (from NDSU to Charity:Water and many points in between.) See if the smaller organizations can pull these visually stunning front-pages off or not. My guess is “not yet.”
A couple of other little touches help build the persona. The display font is often “felt marker” which gives the page a bit of the “home made” feel. Definitely more relaxed than all Helvetica, all the time. They do use a cleaner more serious font for their top bar navigation, which is well organized and professional. A few items have drop down menus, but STORE makes you click and “enter.” Very clever. Pay attention to the actions the websites and other social media try to get you to do. Facebook: it wants you to like everything. This site makes you enter the store, and they ask you to “JOIN!” with an explanation mark. I’m not a surfer, but I’m impressed and thinking about it!
Before SMSG goes into its checklist for websites, it offers 5 MUST HAVE CHARACTERISTICS for a website. I’m going to assume Surfrider.Org has an easy to use Content Management System – they may even be using WordPress. You’d be amazed how many small organizations have no or terrible CMSes. I’ve already praised their graphics and photos, and alluded to their great clear navigation across the top. And indeed they have a .org address. I skipped over “good writing” because I want to give that more attention. Most of the main page is just leading text, so I checked out Jim’s blog. It isn’t clear that Jim wrote it (his name doesn’t appear anywhere) and while that isn’t entirely surprising, it is a bit disappointing. The title “This is what our ocean trash looks like” is a great, descriptive title. Titles are going to be very important when they circulate on Twitter or Facebook. The piece opens with a rhetorical question, which is okay, but the next two sentences over-use the ellipsis. “Maybe not . . . you may have already seen enough of it first hand. Well . . . humor me . . . her is more of it.” I’m a sharp critic of the overused ellispsis; it is the weakest form of punctuation we have. “Maybe not [period]” would be a much stronger statement. The second sentence should be limited to one ellipsis at most.
This weak start is not a complete deal-breaker by any means, but it strikes me as a risky way to start if our assumption is readers online are a bit impatient. The author (Jim?) doesn’t get to the point. It could be a deal breaker if a reader simply clicks away. The rest of the post is well-written and makes some interesting moves: it links to relevant information, it encourages readers to follow @5Gyres on Twitter, it includes 3 images to support its 3 verbal claims about ocean trash from around the world. It is exactly 500 words and uses very short paragraphs throughout. You will see advice consistent with most of this showing up in SMSG, 140 Characters, and other sources.
My own post is over 800 words right now, but I’ll test your limit with a few more observations that draw on the 11 best practices SMSG mentions. The website puts its Newsletter sign-up in the top right hand corner, just as recommended. It makes “my account” easy to find above and separate from that, and it emphasizes “Joining” rather than giving, but all prominently displayed. They break the “two columns” rule but I think we are going to see more and more of these websites go from slideshow at top to three columns below. Surfrider has something closer to three layers, with the top layer being image-driven with some small, strategic text; layer two being 3 columns and detailed, with one column being the dynamic twitter feed, and then a 3rd layer with 5 columns: a lot of the same information re-organized, plus the social media icons (SMSG best practice #7) and a search box. The blog is hosted inside the website (SMSG best practice #11).
I can see why the organization gets praised for its communication strategies, but they might need a writing / blogging coach, if my analysis of one post were to hold up.