One area of focus for us in the last year has been an overhaul in how we communicate both with our members and potential visitors to Bennington. The result is what we call our "Chamber Media Project." Phase one of this initiative was tweaking our brand, enhancing our print collateral, increasing the frequency and reliability of our weekly Chamber newspaper column (39 and counting!), creating our Thursday Facebook series "Chamber LIVE", redesigning our Friday e-Blast, launching our "Tour Bennington" newsletter for visitors, and embarking on our award-winning "Bennington Made" series.
We've now beginning the second phase of our Media Project. This phase will include a massive redesign of our website, maximizing and expanding our social media presence both in content and advertising, creating a publishing platform that can pump out relevant and quality content (articles, videos and more), developing another CAT-TV collaboration in "Bennington Tomorrow," launching a program for members entitled "The Chamber and You," producing a membership survey, and exploring other educational opportunities for our members.
Let's talk a little bit about those first three elements mentioned in phase two. It is now common business knowledge that influence and success for many organizations is based on their web presence. What's more, the traffic and engagement to our website, which determines our social influence and impression, is based on the amount of visitors and engaged viewers we have on our website (and social channels). Not only is it about the people that visit Bennington.com and watch, read and connect with our content, but also their ability to share, like and help us distribute that content to their friends. A good example of this is the recent Boston Herald feature on Bennington. Not only did a lot of people go to the Boston Herald link and read the article, they also shared the article over 1,200 times on Facebook thus far.
In a move to better align the Bennington Chamber with the new digital age of influence and social currency (the clout and authority that is given to an entity based on how the social network accepts and shares their content), we are launching a new website that is heavy on content production, distribution and search engine optimization.
The Chamber will produce weekly content in the form of blog posts, articles and videos that will drive organic search traffic to our website, Bennington.com. In turn, visitors to the website will enjoy the relevant and engaging content while still being able to utilize the traditional navigation of a chamber website — where to eat, sleep, be entertained, search membership directory, etc.
Best business practice shows us in this new Google/social media world that if we can build consistent and quality content on our website we can gain greater momentum in people "searching" key phrases such as "visiting New England," "what to do in Vermont" or "best wedding spots in the fall."
To increase our capacity to execute on this initiative we have partnered with Southern Vermont College and their internship program. We're happy that RJ Henle has joined our team as a senior from the college. If he hasn't already, RJ will probably be contacting you at some point looking to get information for these great articles. Yes! You have to be a Chamber member to be featured in our articles! Yes! We are now (and forever) accepting Chamber membership applications.
The articles that our team is producing are fun, human-interest pieces much in the same format as popular content producing sites like Buzzfeed and Thrillist.com. Examples of some of the articles include, "Top 5 Beers to Have in Bennington this Summer," "What's Hot at the Bennington Museum this Season," "Top Places To Get Your Pumpkin Spice this Fall in the Shires of Vermont."
Some of the articles we've already had the team write include: "How a Twenty-Something Intern Survived Garlicfest," and "Oldcastle Theatre Presents the Premiere of a Sultry, Historical Comedy By Revered Playwright Morgiello." Interesting to note, after publishing the later article on our website, the play writer's son liked the post and shared on his social media.
As we see our traffic to the website grow, we will also be able to create advertising opportunities for members. The great thing about these advertising opportunities is that the potential customer viewing the article is already interested in the Bennington brand and member product. It would make marketing sense for members to purchase ads and sponsorship on this site because there is already a clear engagement and interest level in the Bennington brand. For example, if Bennington Potters (sorry Sheela, I'm using you as an example, hope you don't mind) has an article written about them ("The Top 3 Spring Time Meals to Make in Your New Bennington Potter's Pottery"), it would make sense for the Potters to also purchase an ad (perhaps with a coupon for the pottery dishes) on the article page driving the reader and potential customer to visit Bennington and purchase the product they just read about.
As the Chamber looks to be value-added to our members and prove that we are an organization worthy of your membership, we are always on the hunt to find innovative and market-driven ways to connect our members to visitors and customers. I think our ongoing Chamber Media Project is one way to share the Bennington story and get people excited to visit us.
Stay tuned as we will be rolling out the new website in the next few weeks and with it, the articles.
— Matt Harrington is the executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce