Creating a Web Presence
This topic really needs no introduction; creating some sort of online hub for your organization is the easiest way to raise awareness and keep in touch with members. This resource is intended to get you started by providing and explaining the different options and going over some basics about Internet use.
We have seperate resources available to help you manage Social Media and Websites. Below is an extended section to help you use the internet to your best advantage. Even if you are an IT pro, we have some tips for you!
Using the Internet Effectively
The internet is a powerful force, and it can be an invaluable tool for your group if used correctly. However, poor use of internet tools for campus organizing is common and can be worse than having no tools at all.
A web presence is a place on the internet with information about your group. This can be as simple as a static webpage with your group's mission and meeting times, or it can be a complex entity with discussion boards, event registration, contact forms, calendars and more. You might have a page like www.secularstudents.org/Yourschool, a Facebook page or group, a WordPress blog, or build an entire website from the ground up.
Every group should have a web presence. The Secular Student Alliance will link to your web presence from our Affiliate Directory, and we get a surprising number of students going through us to find groups at their schools. It's also something you can list on your group's flyers, business cards, and other promotional materials.
In general, it’s always better to have one well-maintained web presence during group start-up. Later on, groups can expand to other means of social networking and develop more complex websites.
Your web presence should always have some basic information. It should include, at minimum, the group's name and campus, a description of what the group does, a way to contact the group's leadership, and information about your events. It's also critically important that you have something that indicates when the information was last updated. Nothing is worse than a web page with information from three semesters ago and no dates.
Depending on the web presence you have, you might consider also including a discussion forum, a group blog, photos of your group's events, a calendar of events, a list of secular blogs and/or organizations, and so on.
Choose your web presence carefully. You need it to meet your group's needs, so think carefully about what you want out of it. Many SSA affiliates find that Facebook groups or pages are sufficient for their needs. But if your group is in favor of additional anonymity, you might consider a Google Group or an Atheist Nexus group. If you are going to hold events with registration, you might need a web presence that can support that. (Or, you might use a tool like Eventbrite and just link to it from a simpler web presence.)
You also need to ensure that your web presence choice is sustainable. Maybe you have a small army of web-willing volunteers now - but will you have them in a year or two? Or perhaps you have an especially enthusiastic volunteer who's willing to build you a custom website from scratch - but what happens when she graduates and the site needs work? You can be active on every web platform in existence, but make sure that they are accessible to future officers.
It is extremely important to keep your group's web presences - all of them - up to date. Outdated web presences are seriously bad news for your group - prospective members see no activity and assume that there's nothing going on. Even if you have a hundred posts a day on your Facebook group, if your website's last blog post was six months ago, you're sending a bad message about your group. Try to update everything at least once a month.
Finally, be willing to kill unused web presences. If you find that you just don't use that WordPress blog you created, don't be shy about shutting it down. It's far worse to have an unused web presence sending an implicit message that your group has disbanded, than to just shut down the web presence you're not using.(Just don't forget to tell us at SSA so we can update your group records!)
The Dos and Don’ts of Sharing
DON’T - Leave pages without updates for more than a month. This especially applies to social media, but it’s also a good idea to frequently review websites and blogs. Freshmen and prospective students frequently stumble across websites, and having a out-of-date website can be offputting.
DO - Share news items, blog posts, magazine articles, studies, or other items of interest. This is a great way to start discussions and gather more interest in the group. It also means that you’ll be sharing more frequently and building a more active presence online.
DON’T - Use highly specialized online tools that only one person understands. It’s cool if your group wants to build their very own website from scratch, but your hard work may go to waste if the upkeep is too much for incoming officers. It’s generally easier to use formats that everyone can understand with a limited IT background.
DO - Keep the need’s of your group and your perception on campus in mind. If your group is aggressively atheistic, you will probably post items that follow this theme. However, many groups choose to have a more moderate presence (especially online, where the entire campus can see and react to discussions). Be willing to devote the time to follow up. If your group does not want to spend much time responding to online criticism, try posting less controversial items.
DON’T - Barrage everyone’s inbox, newsfeed, or forum with too much information or comments. If you send out an email telling your group about an event, then send out a Facebook invite, then post a status, then message everyone, then post an update on Twitter, then message all your followers, and finally post a blog and repeat the same process within the space of five minutes, you are doing too much. All of these are great options, but space them out over a couple of weeks (this is why planning is important!). Make some private spaces (such as a Facebook group) so that your members can chat without imploding a newsfeed.
DO - Check your school’s guidelines. Some schools have very specific directions, including setting up a website under their domain name. Others might have restrictions on contacting members in certain ways. You may find your group the focus of administration if a controversial online discussion gets started, and following all the rules ahead of time protects you and your followers.
Advertising for your event via your web presence can be a highly effective way of promoting your event or group. You need to walk the fine line between promoting frequently and annoying all your connections.
The key is to intersperse your advertising with other material, such as news articles or interesting tidbits. Some groups use the 1:1 policy; for every posted advertisement, something unrelated should also be posted. If your group’s social media page is updated several time a day, you might need to revise this strategy. Posting about an upcoming event/meeting once or twice a day is totally acceptable, but 25 status updates gets kind of annoying.
You can advertise on the Internet via your website/blog and your social media page. Develop a calendar for your website or a banner at the top that always advertises upcoming events or meetings. Include pictures if you have hosted a similar event before. If you are feeling especially tech savvy, you can have an email list signup on your website. You can use your email list to notify your group about upcoming events for a bit of in-group advertising.
Advertising differs between social networks. Facebook gives the capability to create events and invite as many people as you so choose. Make sure to have all the details of your event finalized before you start inviting people, or the constant notifications and updates will get bothersome quickly. Remind your attendees a few days before the event and the day of for the best result. Keep in mind that the Facebook RSVP numbers are rarely accurate, especially if there are a large number of individuals that have not responded to the invitation.
An interesting aspect of Facebook is that your page updates are not seen by everyone. You can generally see what percent of your network has seen your posts by checking out the statistics graphic on the main page of your group’s page. The people who view your page the most from their personal page (i.e. you and your other officers) have a higher chance of seeing the post. Frequent posts help to minimize this problem. Entire companies have sprung up to maximize Facebook advertising potential. You can pay for an ad on the side of a page that will appear to more users (including those that have not liked your page), but use the strategy that works the best for your group.
Twitter can also be a great way to promote an event. The easiest way is by creating a hashtag, like #SSACon. Encourage others to follow the tag, and retweet the most notable tweets with the tag. You can also private message your followers, although this is rather unusual way to communicate on Twitter. Your updates are not filtered like on Facebook, meaning you have an easier time of contacting your network. You can link your Twitter and Facebook accounts under your profile page on Twitter.
Every social networking site has a different method for creating and spreading the word about events. Explore your options and thoroughly, and remember that Google is your best friend.