I think small volunteer organisations like family history societies should do the same. It is even more important for societies to use low-cost ways of reaching people that cost little more than the time of a regular volunteer or two.
Most family history societies have at least a basic website so that people searching on Google can find them. Every society needs a website, a blog, and a Facebook presence at the very least, and perhaps a Twitter presence if you’re up for it, although this is not essential. If you don’t already have a website you can build a combined website and blog all at once.
The website is where you get people to join your society. It is your window to the world. The website is the most important presence you have. The blog shows them why they should join and helps them feel part of a community of like-minded people. The blog points to the website and keeps the website interesting to existing and potential members, and to search engines like Google. The Facebook page points people both to the blog AND the website and keeps them in contact with you and each other on a daily basis.Your Twitter announces your posts on the blog and the Facebook page and leads people back to them.
Let’s look at each element in a bit more detail.
A blog is a specialised website that allows you to write short articles that are usually date-stamped. The articles, or posts, appear on the front page, or homepage, in reverse order, with the most recent one at the top. Posts are usually categorised and tagged so that they can be searched more easily. A blog can also contain pages, which are static web pages that are reached by links in a menu, like a normal website. This is where you might put things like contact details, membership benefits and so on.
You need a blog to publicise what the Society does and what information you have, and to help people get to know you and see why you are worth paying money to join. Blogs are searched by Google, and if you post regularly you will be higher in the search results, and you will get to more people who may never have heard of you before.
The person or people who create the posts should be the ones who know what is going on within the society. It’s no good appointing someone from outside who isn’t involved in the new things that are going on. If the organisation has staff they should be involved, and if not then one or two of the organising committee.
A blog can be set up and hosted on a free site such as Blogger or WordPress very easily. Blogger is owned by Google and allows you to sign in with your Google ID. WordPress is open source and a bit more flexible. If you already have a website you may be able to install the WordPress software directly and link the website to it. My own websites and blogs are all WordPress installations on my own sites. You have much greater flexibility and range of templates because you can upload them, change them, even create your own. You can design your own logo and put it on the top of the pages.
It’s not necessary to do all that though. If all that sounds too hard go with a free site. You can always move all your posts into a new blog later if you change your mind.
The naming of the site is also a consideration. It is easier for people to understand if you have a domain name that reflects the name of the organisation. The domain name is the bit after the ‘www’ in a website name, so the domain name for this website is ‘socialmediagen.com’.
looks better than
A domain name is like a company name in that you can choose anything you like as long as no one has already claimed it. There are a lot of companies that will allow you to choose and pay for a domain name. The cost is only about $20 for two years, so there’s no excuse to not have one.
Your posts can be about many things, for example:
- what is happening in the society
- what new indexes or information you have (or what’s already there – a ‘featured’ database or collection)
- profiles of members or volunteers
- news in the wider genealogy world
You can become their source of information about new developments in the world of genealogy as well as in your more specialised area of interest. You can ask questions of your readers and members, and get them to engage with you by leaving comments. It really works!
Once you have a blog, you can give it, and the website, wider exposure by creating a Facebook page. If you are not on Facebook yourself it might be time to start, as it is easier to start the page when you already know your way around at least a little.
A few societies in Australia and elsewhere have Facebook pages, such as the Society of Australian Genealogists, the New Zealand Society of Genealogists, and the Southern California Genealogical Society. You can post general news about the Society or the website at any time, as well as whenever you publish a new blog post. Asking questions gets them talking and keeps your society and its activities in their minds.
When you publish a new post on your blog you can set it up so that it is automatically posted to Facebook. It’s a good idea to do this, as a lot of people will see it first in Facebook instead of reading it in their blog reader.
In Facebook you are trying to attract followers – people to ‘like’ you. Once they are followers anything you post will appear in their feed, so your message is directly in front of them. I have found that by far the best way to build followers is to post often. I try to post something every couple of days at the very least – usually a link to an interesting site or blog post, or a question to get people engaged in answering or giving advice. More is better – the more you post, the more followers you will have. It is as simple as that.
I’ve tried paid Facebook advertising and it is not worth the money. Perhaps genealogy is too specialised to work well in Facebook.
I have found that Facebook is better than a blog for engaging people to leave comments, but the blog is better for attracting newcomers. They are two different things and they work together. Ideally you will have both.
Twitter is like a blog except that you are limited to 140 characters. It is most often used to send out links to blog posts and websites, and for direct communication. Twitter is the best place to see what’s new, and to get quick answers and advice. It is far more useful for genealogy than most people realise.
Twitter works much the same as Facebook – you have followers, and they get your posts in their feed. Posts are called tweets. The more you post, the more people will follow you. Your followers may retweet your tweets to their followers, thus reaching more people. Twitter is different from Facebook in the level of privacy. Tweets are all public, unless you send a direct message to a specific person, whereas Facebook allows you to restrict your posts to followers, or specific people. As a society looking for members you wouldn’t restrict them, but it is useful to remember.
You can set up your Facebook page and your blog to tweet automatically, which is what I do.
I have 5 Twitter accounts, which I run from Tweetdeck, which is a 3rd-party application that allows me to show the different accounts in separate columns, and post from one or many accounts at once, all from the one place. It’s the only way I can manage all the different Twitter accounts without having to log on and log off each one in turn.
There are many, many more users of Facebook than Twitter. Twitter seems to me to be better for networking and communicating with other researchers, repositories and libraries quickly.
Unless you are already comfortable with Twitter I would leave it alone for now, and we can come back to it later.
Where do we start?
If nothing else, start with a blog. No question.
When you have a few posts under your belt you can expand into Facebook, or you can launch both at once. The website can have a link to show people how to follow you on Facebook.
Start a blog. Now!