By Anna Lothson
The tide turned for the Oak Park-River Forest Chamber of Commerce when Cathy Yen took over as interim director.
Yen joined the Chamber during a transition period with the retirement of longtime director Jim Doss at the end of March, but she hasn't slowed down since day one. One of the biggest tasks at hand was launching a new website, a project that started months before she joined.
"It's a soft launch right now," Yen explained. "By and large, we are really pleased with it."
Yen and the rest of the Chamber staff hope the soft launch generates big results. This means achieving three goals: allowing people, consumers and businesses to find the chamber; promoting news and special events and newsletters; and creating resources for the business community to post news.
The old site was run by a third-party company and when edits were needed, Chamber staff had to send changes. Now they have complete control over the back end of the site, making for easier and more time-sensitive solutions. Soon Chamber members will receive user names and passwords to edit their own content on the site.
"There won't be any lag," Yen said. "Our ability to function is really, really great."
Real-time changes also will benefit the consumer user, whether resident, tourist, potential resident or business owner looking to join Oak Park. The navigation ease of the new site has a seamless flow with scrolling news and events and an array of drop-down menus. The usability factor of the redesign was key, but another priority was ensuring that members had the resources available and had access to choosing how the Chamber interfaced with businesses.
"Part of the entire project included a revisit of the membership dues structure," Yen said. This meant re-creating a tiered membership process that allowed people to enter into a value-based style of membership instead of simply paying based on how many members were in the organization or company.
Improving the website also called for a review of the social media sites the Chamber uses to make sure every link and connected website is up and running. The group wants to ensure people know the Chamber is an active group with engaged members.
"It's member to member and chamber to community," Yen said. "It's creating the benefit — the spirit of activity. It's been really fun. I could not have come on at a more exciting time."
From the initial feedback about the website and the corresponding changes at the chamber, Yen said she's felt a new energy from members. The new site allows staff to track the number of people viewing the website and what they're showing interest in.
"People are really excited about our ability to promote the businesses," Yen said. "They are also excited to be able to push deals out. … It connects peers and consumers. The new site is more focused on doing business in the community whereas the old site was focused on what the Chamber is and who the members are."
Next steps for the Chamber's initiatives include outreach to members and the wider community to ensure people understand the benefits and changes ongoing at the Chamber to create a symbiotic relationship in the community.
The Chamber is also offering classes twice a week to educate its members on the new features of the site.
"We have a lot of ways to reach out to people. I am confident there is more interest to come back to the Chamber," Yen said. "I think things were going fine before, but now there seems to be a new level of excitement about what the Chamber has got to offer. That level has made it a joy to come to work every day."
To view the new site, visit oprfchamber.org.