Monday, July 21, 2008
We had a lot of good discussion at the LISC Learning Forum in Detroit last week about how to raise the web visibility of your community or organization. Carlos Nelson of Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation showed off his group's website, at gagdc.org, and participants were wowed by the regular news updates, the generous use of photos, the business directory with its extended listings, and the traffic that all this information has attracted: more than 1,500 visits per month. This is for a community that four years ago had virtually no web presence whatsoever and was "Chicago's Best Kept Secret."
A dynamic, often-updated web site is great, but what if you don't have the time or money to put one together, or want to dip into the web with something less elaborate, to gain some experience? Good idea.
Turns out there are quite a few easy entry points on the web that let you get into the game without spending months gnashing your teeth and formulating a "web strategy." Using these tools, you can just start, and see where it takes you.
1. Blogs. These things are absolutely free and they're tracked closely by the search engines (Google owns Blogger/blogspot) so if you start one and begin posting about what's going on, you've got an instant web presence. A blog is limited to a linear, chronological presentation of your information – it doesn't allow different sections or offer calendars – but you can put up news items, little slide shows, video (via YouTube) and photos, so it's a solid place to start. The blog for Milwaukee's Harambee neighborhood is updated several times a month (usually by LISC/Milwaukee's Kathryn Berger) with useful information for both residents and outsiders. Plenty of full-blown web sites don't do nearly as well.
2. YouTube. Don't laugh. Someone in your neighborhood or city is already shooting videos and some of them, with a bit of editing or some conversation ahead of time, could be just right for documenting a community event or activity. Put some creative young people on the job and you might be surprised at the quality. Here's an example put together by the Violence Prevention Collaborative in Chicago's Little Village, combining music, locally produced artwork and a very real discussion about gangs and police. Notice how the YouTube video is "embedded" in the web site? That's easy to do on most blogs and web sites; once uploaded to YouTube, you can copy the "embed code" into your web site and the video shows up, just like magic. Of course you can email out the link, also. Cost? Free.
3. Photo sharing. You've already got the photos, probably, sitting on your hard drives or on a CD, but no one can see them. If you set up a photo sharing site at Flickr, Picasa or PhotoBucket, you can upload collections of photos so that the neighbors or corporate partners can see themselves and the results of their work. The learning curve here is minor, a few hours to get the account set up and your first photo sets uploaded and organized. After that, you can make it a routine to upload a dozen or three dozen photos after big events, and then send an e-mail out with the link. We started a Flickr page a few months ago at LISC/Chicago to show photos from the Getting It Done conference and are spreading it to other uses. Cost? $25 per year for a pro account that allows virtually unlimited sets and photos.
4. E-newsletters. This I haven't done myself but several Chicago lead agencies or partners did a three-part training with Community Media Workshop and a few weeks later I started receiving their email blasts, via Constant Contact or Vertical Response. Those companies make it pretty easy to get started with templates (and free trial periods) and they'll even manage your mailing lists for you, all for modest costs based on the size of your distribution. Once you've got an e-newsletter, you can point people to your photo sites, videos and blog. And your web site, too, but since that's a larger undertaking, we'll leave that for a future post.