Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Penguins and Polar Bears - Part 1

Do you know why polar bears don’t eat penguins? Because polar bears live in the Arctic, and penguins live in the Antarctic. 

The Rotary world has long wondered why younger people aren’t joining (in larger numbers). For the main part, it’s like penguins and polar bears. Rotary Clubs and young people don't always coexist in the same world. I recently heard of a Rotary club celebrating the milestone that 100% of their members now had email accounts. Meanwhile most under 35 rarely if ever use email.

I promised I would write a blog about our online presence, so here it is. (Part 1 is about websites, Part 2 will cover Facebook.) I don’t consider myself an expert in this field, but I have built from scratch about ten websites over the years, and the way we present Rotary to the wider community is a very important piece of the membership puzzle, so I feel I need to weigh in on this critical subject. Before I get to the “hows” I want to discuss the “whys”.

Generations X & Y are increasingly relying on the internet and social media for the information they run their lives by. Things that once required the chopping down of trees, such as the Yellow Pages, street directories and newspapers have been replaced by Google, GPS and Facebook, all of which are now available on a smart phone. Quite simply, if your club does not have an attractive and prominent presence in this online world, you might as well be invisible to this demographic. 

I want to clear up a few myths about what is required for a good Rotary club website. Some have argued that a Rotary Club website should be used for the benefit of the members, providing information on previous and approaching meetings, bulletins, board minutes, even constitutional documents. Conversely, some believe a club website should be about informing the public about what you do. Well, I believe it can be both. But there are only certain things that should be on the landing page. People need a reason to engage. The moment your page appears, you need to hit people with great photos and great stories of how your club is helping your community. A visitor to your website should immediately be able to understand your club’s service priorities. Then they need to know why and how to get involved. That is all you need on a landing page. That page is really valuable real estate. For anyone searching online for your club, it’s their first impression. And first impressions count.
According to web marketing agency Tribute Media, you have seven seconds to convey what your club is about, capture the visitor’s interest, and prompt them to take action. They shouldn’t have to search for anything – it should be neatly laid out in front of them. As for fellow Rotarians, from your own or other clubs, who are looking for information about when you next meet or what that last bulletin covered, these things can all go on a different page. Just add hyperlinks to the stuff Rotarians need down the bottom somewhere. Put the links to stuff your non-Rotarian visitors will want very prominently near the top. These are things like “What is Rotary?”, “Volunteer” and “Contact Us”. That’s your front page. Its prime objective is to get non-Rotarians to engage. We want to prompt them to ask more questions, in a non-threatening way. Whilst the long game is about more members, the short game should be more about informing and encouraging. Some people think a "Join Us" or "Become a Member" button is a good idea. But I think first time visitors could be a little reticent to click on one of these.  My preferred option would be "Volunteer" or "Get involved". These words don't elicit the same level of obligation, and this minor change can make a huge difference. 

Your club website needs a simple and easy-to-remember URL. That’s the bit that goes after the “www”. A simple test is what I call the bumper sticker test. The following link has been slightly modified so as not to embarrass the club in question, but it is otherwise a real club website.
Would you put that on a bumper sticker? I would hope not. But this is my own club website: 
Unlike the previous URL, this one requires no explanation and is easy to remember. 

Your website should also be optimised so it can easily be found by search engines. Check out the video below about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). There are plenty of articles about how to do this online, but this video explains it in plain English. Your website host should be able to help also. Is your page mobile and device friendly, or does it only work well on a PC? Also questions your hosting provider can help you with.

Remember, we cannot take it for granted that the people who we want to join us know that we exist. You can't continue to live in separate worlds, like penguins and polar bears. Be on the lookout for Part 2, where I'll give my two bobs' worth on Facebook.