3 Reasons You Don't Need a Website
Several months ago, a colleague reached out to me, seeking advice on how to build a website for his community mental health project in West Africa. My advice was simple:
These days many grant applications ask for detailed dissemination plans. It used to be enough to list a few papers for publication in academic journals, maybe a report or two to present to the Ministry of Health. Now grantees are expected to outline sophisticated communications strategies that engage local community members, district and national stakeholders, and even international audiences.
Stakeholder workshops are standard, complete with refreshments and per diems. Many projects get creative with posters, films, community leaflets, radio shows, theater troupes, even merchandising. Communications have become a critical component of implementation—raising awareness, creating demand, ensuring buy-in and celebrating successes.
For the record, I would encourage projects to experiment and diversify their communications strategies as much as possible. Our very own Agnes Becker released a Communications Toolkit on MHIN just a few months ago, for this very purpose. But when it comes to building a website for your project, I have three main concerns:
1. Building (and maintaining) a good website is not cheap
Websites that look professional and function well can be expensive to build, and most of us working on global mental health projects do not have the time or the skills to do-it-yourself. These are not one-time-costs we’re talking about. Writing copy, uploading to the site, troubleshooting IT issues, even paying for the domain name are ongoing responsibilities. Even if you can budget for all of this in your grant application, once the grant expires, who pays?
2. Stand-alone project websites don’t have much reach
Search engine optimization takes a lot of work, and hits beget hits. You need to beat out the competition in order to ensure that yours is the site that shows up on the first page of a Google search, even if someone doesn’t remember the exact name of your project. If you stop updating the site regularly—say, once your grant expires—or you don’t have a large target audience on the web, your site may become difficult to locate even for the people who are actively searching for it.
3. The opportunity cost is high
If you are so lucky to have a communications team, or even just one or two staff who have the time and interest, then they can develop a huge number of varied and effective communications products (again, check out the Communications Toolkit for ideas). But if they spend all their time maintaining a website—often with a poor Internet connection and limited IT support—they aren’t diversifying your communications strategy. They’re using just one medium to reach just one kind of stakeholder, someone computer-literate with Internet access and sufficient time and interest to look your project up on the web.
So what would I recommend to my colleague? If you want to have a strong web presence, use your Innovation page or Organisation profile on MHIN as your project’s homepage. We have over 1400 members and visitors from virtually every country in the world, a team actively promoting content, trouble-shooting and working on search engine optimization—and it’s all free.
Focus your online communications strategy instead on Facebook and Twitter, linking to your page to increase traffic. Include @mhinnovation in your tweet, so we can retweet you to our 1500+ followers. For greater reach, develop a blog, podcast or webinar (or all three!) for MHIN, which we can then link to your project page and share on social media.
Your web presence will grow along with MHIN’s, and you'll have more time to spend on a comprehensive communications strategy that won’t break the bank.