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Through my work with a number of public broadcasters, I have had many occasions to discuss the idea of value as it applies to web properties. What is the value of a web property? What make a web property valuable?
The success of commercial properties is typically measured by sales or savings, by leads or brand recognition. Did the site make a sale? Did the site save us money? However, within the not-for-profit public media environment in particular, a site's value becomes a measure of something other than the number of sales it generates or the amount of revenue it channels through to the overall media organization. While the commercial broadcaster wants the website to create a more loyal relationship with their media consumers, the public broadcaster wants something a little harder to describe.
Public broadcasting was created to serve the public by enriching our nation's minds. It was created to provide a means of obtaining information without worry of tainting by commercial motivations. I wrote a bit about LBJ's famous words on the establishment of public broadcasting in my post titled, "What hath man wrought? And how will man use his miracles?".
So if the mission of public broadcasting (or any not-for-profit) is to serve the public, what does this say about the goals of these organizations' web properties? Isn't the goal of the web property somehow related to the mission of the organization? We would hope so, yes. In any case it's important to understand your mission and goals in order to understand the specific definition of success that one is trying to attain. Once we've established our goals and written them into our plans, we can begin the process of measuring our success against how well we've met them.
If the goal of a website is to serve the public, then the site's value is determined by finding out how well it has served. Instead of numbers of sales and quantities of dollars, we look at numbers like how many people have used the service, and how often do people return to visit again. Specific features that make a difference to the function of communities are essential. Depth of visit and distribution of content across the internet as a whole become king when your site's mission is to positively effect the lives of as many as possible.
This method of measuring website success can and probably should be extended to commercial organizations as well. After all, if we are truly effective at participating in people's lives, if we are honestly creating strong relationships and finding as many possible eyeballs as we can to view our content, we are also extending our brand and building our level of necessity in the lives of our consumers, regardless of whether we make money by selling products and services or by winning grants and inspiring patronage.
I happen to know a little about the traffic that is now going to a pretty significant number of public media websites. There are public media sites that see 10,000 visitors a day at times. These types of sites are pretty good at funneling revenue through the web. Certainly these sites are valuable. I also know of several that may not see so many daily visitors, but their reach in terms of how many inbound links from referring sites and the number of citations by other sites of their work is simply astounding - in the thousands. Sites like these provide services that otherwise wouldn't be available to their visiting local communities. They offer information that may be hard or impossible to find if they were not publishing it online for their region. This type of service is also quite valuable. More valuable? Maybe.
A few words to think about on this subject as a final note would be, "relationship", "depth", "distribution", "service", and probably most importantly, "contribution". Think on these a bit, imagine how to do better with each of these concepts, and I imagine you'll see an increase in your site's value to it's visitors soon.