A virtual Chamber
“With the launch of the new web site, the Chamber has reconfirmed its commitment to providing valuable services to our members. We’re excited about the new look and the fantastic advertising and promotional opportunities available to local businesses.”
But first, a flashback.
I had barely settled in my new job here years ago when Chamber President John Bone called and asked me, “if there was a local dialup number for the internet, would you subscribe?”
Bone had landed a commitment from Interpath, then a subsidiary of WRAL-TV in Raleigh to open the area’s first localized internet dialup number — provided he could convince 50 people to subscribe at $25 a month.
Barely a year later, Netscape released the first consumer web browser and Bone was back again — opening one of the first Chamber websites in the nation and trying to convince local businesses to get on the web and market the region to the outside world.
Before I left banking, Bone and then-Chamber president Paul Tine were pushing for local broadband in the form of fiber and even county-wide Wi-Fi.
So there were no surprises when the Chamber announced a complete makeover of its website. Even less surprising, the Chamber did it “their way” by adding user-friendly features that are unique among national Chamber websites.
Bringing together two national and one local company, the new website turned a template that was supposed to be “static” into a customized platform that challenged the two national software providers.I sat down with Angie Brady-Daniels, the Chamber’s vice president of public relations, along with Brett McIntyre, web/creative director) and Fred Ferrell operations manager for VBL Technologies in Powells Point to discuss the new site.
Three companies collaborated to bring the 21st-century web site to fruition: Accrinet, a Charlotte-based company producing web content software specialized for chamber of commerce sites; Steve Boyle & Associates (SBA), a California company whose software appeals to membership-based organization database management and VBL a Powell’s Point-based entity that excels in all things “web.”
The Chamber board made the decision to revamp the site around May of this year and VBL put four months of solid work into the final product. If you know Brady-Daniels, then you might have guessed she wasn’t going to settle for off-the-shelf solutions.
As a result, McIntyre recounted the untold hours on the phone with SBA and Accrinet “customizing” solutions to fulfill the Chamber requests. BBL then went “under the hood” to create the site’s navigation, graphic design and search engine optimization using those customized elements.
The result is a user and member friendly site that turned the static Accrisoft template into The Incredible Hulk. Brady-Daniels mentioned that as a result of the Chamber’s persistent requests, SBA and Accrinet are now collaborating on projects for other chamber sites.
One custom solution involves membership access and information. In the past, Brady-Daniel manually entered all web content submitted by members—company contact information, events for the Chamber calendar, even personnel changes.
With the new site, members have limited access to their specific area and can make changes, such as contact information. Companies and non-profits can also submit calendar events. All of this is monitored and approved by Brady-Daniels, but she wanted a site that would “minimize the demands on Chamber and member staff time and allow members to control their own content.”
Brady-Daniels didn’t stop there, however. Most Chamber sites merely list the names of their members in a directory, with the company name doubling as a hyperlink to the member’s web site. The Outer Banks Chamber wanted more. They wanted each member to have a small summary of their company and services, featuring their logo as well as the ability to upload company news and press releases.
McIntyre said Accrinet informed him “no Chamber had ever asked for that level of user input,” but Brady-Daniels and VBL stuck to their plans and eventually the website was forged by the three tech companies.
In addition, the new site is chock full of information — the Chamber newsletter, vacation information, data for business owners thinking of doing business on the Outer Banks, and the informative monthly data reports compiled by the Chamber—sales revenues, occupancy receipts, building permit numbers and values and restaurant listings.
Members can purchase banner ads or specific page sponsorships (such as the “restaurants” page) at reasonable prices. The intent is not to compete with other online businesses, but to help offset the costs of maintaining the new site, according to Brady-Daniels. The ads are affordable for businesses with small ad budgets. Non-profits also benefit by being able to publish press releases and list events on the calendar for free.
The Chamber bid the new site out to all local web development companies. When asked why VBL prevailed, Ferrell said he believed it was because VBL was the only company within 150 miles that can handle all aspects of the site — the graphic design, site navigation, site hosting and working with the other two vendors to customize their software to work in the manner the Chamber desired.
Ferrell and McIntyre also pointed to their local knowledge of the area. Both men are particularly proud of the clean web site design and the local flavor contained in pictures and content. The homepage slideshow of local scenery is a perfect example of how VBL was able to capture the “personality of the Outer Banks” according to McIntyre.
Robin Mann, the Chamber’s board chair, summed it up this way: “We are extremely excited about the enhanced opportunities for advertising, promotions, networking and more that the new site will give to our members. The Chamber web site offers outstanding exposure for businesses of all levels. Our focus has been increasing and improving the value of our membership. We are hoping that our members will agree with us that this new site will offer increased value and many rewards.”
Surf on over to www.outerbankschamber and check it out.
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