A content management system (CMS) is a flexible option for communities wishing to share news, events, and information about the place where they live. Brattleboro, Putney, Richmond, and Burlington are a few Vermont towns that have used a CMS-backed site for neighbors to share news.
A CMS, such as Wordpress, Geeklog, Joomla, or Drupal, is a free, open source software package that gets installed on your web server. Once configured, multiple users can have registered accounts and can participate by submitting news and information they wish to share.
A site using a CMS can be more engaging than email lists or static web sites. It can become an online town common, changing as the community changes.
If you choose to use a CMS, your first decisions will involve choosing software and modules that will meet your needs.
Begin by asking yourself about your own goals. How many people will be using this site? How often? What will they need to be able to do? Make a checklist so you can evaluate your options.
Choice of a CMS matters. Some, like Wordpress, do a good job with a small number of users. Others, like Drupal, can better handle larger numbers of users. It’s good to do research to look at features of the software as well as sites in use that are already using it.
Plugins and modules can be added to a CMS system to add functionality. You might want a plugin to create a slideshow of images, or a calendar of events. Part of your CMS research should include a look at potential add-ons. Check to see if they are free or have fees associated with them. You can also check user forums to see if others are having any problems before you invest time and energy.
We look for software that is in heavy use, has reached a stable version, has a wide community of developers, and has the features we want.
Once choices have been made, software gets installed on the server, and configured for use. Configuration takes some time, but gives you the opportunity to customize and fine-tune what you present to users. It’s good to work with a web expert to get things set up, and a designer to help with site graphics.
Your site should be a reflection of your community. Take the time to make your site as unique as your hometown.
You may want to create special sections of your site for special types of content, create a custom look-and-feel for the site, or add other useful features such as a “share this” button for social media.
For example, when we initially set up iBrattleboro, we created story sections based on common topics of discussion we heard around town. Since then, we’ve used plugins and modules to add new features as we need them, such as weather and maps.
Once installed and configured, the CMS is ready for use.
Someone, or a team of people, will be administrators of the site. They will get special access to backend features, and can be given full permission to edit and change the site as needed. Administrators can install new software, configure plugins, approve stories and other content submissions, and moderate user behaviors.
It’s a good idea for administrators to develop policies and procedures for publishing items on the site. Your neighbors will test your limits, so it is wise to have some.
Your users will expect the site to be working 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, too. Make plans for how to deal with holidays and other interruptions.
Your CMS will allow for registered users - your regular site contributors that write stories, submit events and information, and comment on stories. We’ve found that requiring approval for new users is smart, and allows you to make an immediate connection with them from day one, and they can be introduced to policies and procedures immediately.
Your CMS is your site’s engine. How you drive it is up to you.