During 2016 you will see changes and improvements to our website. Within this blog post I will provide an overview of the project and how it will improve the way the Society is able to communicate to members and how members and the public can communicate with, and access information, from the Society.
The need to replace our Member Database
The first enhancements will be to the member database. Our current system for storing members’ personal data (name, address, telephone number, email address etc. they provide when they join and renew their membership with the Society) is managed for the Society by Cambridge University Press. Members will be aware on joining and renewing at the moment, limited ‘data fields’ are completed on the application form, and the process was originally designed to simply enable the Society to accurately communicate, either by email, telephone, or by letter with the member. This system has been in place for many years and has proved to be safe, reliable but, now in today’s communication environment, limited in its application. This limitation results from in part the growing field of nutritional science and the many themes and sectors that exist. In addition, members of the Society are now in a wide range of employment sectors, in research, academia, the health service, government, industry etc.
In addition in past member surveys, and especially in the most recent annual member survey, members have expressed a clear desire to receive more targeted and relevant information from the Society. They want to control and select the areas of nutrition science information they wish to hear about. They are asking to be able to communicate with members who share similar interests, or who are working in similar sectors. The Society is not unique in its members asking for this, and it is a result of the 21st Century communication explosion where we all now seek to control (and often minimise) the volume of data and information being presented to us every day. Our current database does not have the capability to enable members to identify specific email communications they would wish to receive, and the Society faces the inevitable dilemma of having to send an email to all members on a subject it knows perhaps only 25% of the membership at any one time would be interested in. Member surveys, and strategic conversations at the Trustee and Council levels, have highlighted this has to change if the Society is to remain at the leading edge of being a valuable membership body that members of the nutritional science world will wish to join.
New Member Database
Between February and June 2015 we have been testing and trialling a number of new member databases, or to give them their more technical term ‘Customer Relationship Management’ systems (CRM). In October our Trustees considered a number of proposals based on this testing and selected NFP Services to build a new CRM for the Society. NFP Services have over 40 years of expertise in building, and managing and supporting online membership models for non-profit organisations. When the new CRM system is launched in 2016 members will initially see very little difference to the area on the website called ‘Member login’. However, what lies behind that functionality is a very sophisticated system that will enable the Society to offer a range of member services and benefits far in excess of anything we are capable of doing at the moment.
Firstly, I should reassure members the most important criteria in selecting a new system has been the security of member data for which Cambridge University Press has provided an excellent secure system for the past six years. I am able to confirm our new CRM system will be as equally robust, and able to take advantage of all the very latest encryption opportunities, ensuring that members’ data is securely held for the foreseeable future.
One of the most significant changes resulting from the new system is members will notice additional optional ‘fields’ for them to complete when joining or renewing their membership online. These ‘fields’ have been designed to enable members to identify specific areas they wish to be associated with. For example nutritional themes, academic interests, committee work, whether they are an undergraduate, graduate or postgraduate, or working in industry etc. The introduction of these themes and groups is a direct result of the member surveys, and the many discussions at the Trustee Board and Council over the need for the Society, and members within the society, to communicate to specific groups, to exchange ideas, to seek comment, and pass on relevant information.
A term members will begin to notice being used more frequently is ‘communities’. Following on from the selection by members of ‘fields’ the Society will be able to identify specific communities, a grouping together of members with similar interests. It will then be possible to post within a ‘Community’ area documents, tables, blogs, videos etc. that will be of interest to that specific group. Communication within a ‘community’ will also be possible.
Members will, once they are in the new member area, be able to easily navigate between their own profile, registering for events, accessing information, volunteer for opportunities with the Society, and register for training and education. These areas will not be accessible to the public and will be held securely within the member area. Within each member's profile they will be able to see a record of their interactions with the Society, in particular there will be a list of all of the science meetings and training and education events they have attended.
Opt in and out of future email communications
In addition, the new fields will enable members to specify the types of email communication they wish to receive. There will be an ability for example to opt in or opt out of the weekly news digests, the monthly newsletter, request information only on specific communities that they are members of.
Finally, the new CRM system has capacity, it has capacity to grow and to have additional modules added to it, based on the growing needs of the membership. At this stage we have decided to launch the new site with basic modules of member communication, registering for events, managing CPD, and the sharing of information through communities. Feedback from members will be very important in helping us to enhance these particular modules, and also identify additional modules we may wish to add in the future.
This enhanced member area will provide members with a safe and secure area to interact with colleagues and members with similar interests, in an area that non-members cannot access. The target date to launch the new CRM system is 1st May 2016.
As a non-technical person this CRM system is best described by me as sitting in the background, and it is accessed through the website. Elements of it will be supported by pages within the website that we can in future restrict to members only or remain publicly accessible. This brings me onto the plans for the website.
It is clear from surveys and discussions with members the website is a very important communication vehicle for the Society and the subject of the science of nutrition. Unfortunately over the years our website has become over populated with data and, using a non-technical term, overcrowded. The website is therefore under review by a specialist consultant to advise us on how we can best streamline the content and redesign the format so that the content is more easily accessible. This will also be an opportunity to decide how much of the information in our website should be publicly available and how much should be available to only those who have opted to become members of the Society.
We also need to be conscious that our website is accessed from members and the public all over the world. Elements of the website receive in excess of 50,000 visits per month. It is vitally important that we make a visit to our website an experience that is not overly complex and encourages people to visit on a regular basis for reliable information.
The work on the website is being conducted in parallel to the work on the new CRM system, and the two will come together in the summer of 2016.
In conclusion, the project to introduce a new CRM system greatly enhances the Society and members’ ability to communicate with each other and exchange data and information. It will ensure the Society continues to offer and provide the highest level of security of member data. It will provide a world-class online membership facility. The improved website will see an easier navigation experience and access to information, with an enhanced professional feel and look, seeking continually to have the website accurately reflect the status of the Society as a leading scientific Learned Society. Overall this is a significant financial and resource investment in ensuring the Nutrition Society remains the world's leading membership organisation for those with an interest in the science of nutrition.
Mark Hollingsworth, CEO