Before a club even begins to build a website they should ask themselves who they intend their audience to be and how they are going to reach out and grow that audience.
In effect, they are discussing the purpose of a website.
When Doxess created ClubRunner, it conceived of a system which would assist Rotarians in the management of a club. Each of its competitors (Roster on Wheels (ROW); DACdb; and Club Collaborator) also created names which put the focus on the business of managing a club. Each company could have created software management programs which functioned independently of the Internet; however, as futurists, each recognised that data integration was on the horizon so built software platforms for the Internet.
This decision had the added benefit of creating a public face for the organisational entity purchasing the management system. Hence each platform was divided into two components — the club management component, hidden from view and only accessible to members with a login name and a password, and a public space viewable to everyone. Regrettably, the issue of what to do with that public space has not been the topic of much discussion among either Rotarian leaders or website managers.
In 2017, at the Atlanta RI Convention, the four businesses above were given an opportunity to provide an overview of their products. Each put their emphasis on the club management components. This is true for ClubRunner as well, but they did it graphically with pictures not a list of features. They were also the only company to express a vision for their product.
The key word on their slide is “Attract”. That simple word changes the focus of the product from club management hidden behind a wall to what is in front of the wall. When the focus changes, the purpose is changed. The purpose is now to attract! The what of attract is an audience. But note too, that ClubRunner very succinctly answers the “why and who” questions with “nurture prospects”.
We now have the What, Who and Why but the How remains. That is the question we rarely discuss. How do we use a club website to attract an audience? That brings us to the issue of content.
Before I address the issue of content, there needs to be some thought given to the concept of audience. Since your goal is to “nurture prospects,” then your audience is “out there,” and they are not Rotarians. On the Internet “there” is a very big place. If a club is the only one in town, then it likely has the same name as the community in which it exists. That is going to define the geographic parameters of your nurturing. However, if the club is in a large city, it is competing with many other clubs for the same audience, and that may require considering additional strategies.
Building an audience also means you have to have some way of knowing whether you even have an audience. And since your audience could be anywhere in the World, you have to know what fraction of that audience is from within the catchment area for your club. Hence if you have a club website, and it does not have a counter embedded into it you are literally in a room with no windows and the lights are out.
Virtually free or low-cost products like Statcounter and Google Analytics will tell you how many page views, unique visits, first time visits, repeat visits, the geographic location of each visitor, the amount of time on your site, the stories they visited, where they entered and left the site and how they found the site.
ClubRunner’s second step envisions the website being used to “engage” the members of the club. That makes Rotarians the focus of the website. It creates a secondary audience requiring different content. Addressing that audience’s need can both compete with the needs and content of the first audience and occasionally compliment the needs of the first audience. Fortunately, ClubRunner’s third vision is an extension of the second step.
The primacy of purpose for a club website, in my opinion, must go to attracting the first audience. The “how” of attracting an outside audience requires two very different pieces of content.
The content creators, of the majority of club websites, have given a lot of thought to one of the two components — my term for this component is “invitational content”. This area of the content invites visitors to join the club and provides an overview of the Rotary movement and the club’s activities. It can even have a form or portal by which you can contact club members or request to join the club.
One good example of a “home” page, independently designed, with invitational content as its primary feature is this one.
If this is the only content, you have on your front page then other assumptions click-in. A visitor has purposefully come to the site to learn more about Rotary. It also means that they have heard about Rotary elsewhere and wanted to learn more.
If this is the sole content of your publically visible site, I will hypothesise that your external audience is small, infrequent and return rate low to non-existent. Also, it is a constant therefore easily maintained, since it is infrequently updated.
When I reviewed ClubRunner back in 2010 for my club, to purchase I told them that the cost of the “management” component alone was good value, in fact, a bargain. The public face I told them, was “a free bonus”.
If one wants to grow the number of non-Rotarian visitors one needs to create what I term “community content”. The content must reach out to the community. The traditional word for this content is “news”.
Ask yourself how does Rotary produce “news”? It does many activities, supports many local causes, has work parties, and sponsors youth competitions to name a few. Each event is a news story. Each event is a story for a club website.
There is, however, one other feature of Rotary meetings that is “news” worthy. The speaker and speech of the week! Up until this year, our speakers were very rarely covered by the local weekly newspaper or Radio Station. Club activities and guest speeches have been the weekly content put on the website to attract website visitors.
Two crucial events follow from this. Over time you amass a large body of content, on a wide variety of topics. You also amass a significant sub-set of content which provides particular examples of what we do as Rotarians in the community — another, even smaller but vitally important sub-set is the “vocational” speeches given by your members. This volume gives search engines like Google and Bing many opportunities to find articles on the website and bring unsuspecting future client-members to a site.
The Dryden Rotary site is now approaching its 500th story. The city has a population of 8000 with a catchment area which might add, 2000 people. [For those unfamiliar with Canada’s geography, Dryden is on the only highway which crosses the country from East to West. It is about 300 kilometres east of the dead centre of the country. That puts it in Ontario 1,750 km west of Toronto. That is the same distance as Toronto to Atlanta GA. Our nearest American neighbour is the State of Minnesota, a distance of 200 km. The area is sparsely populated. Imagine an area the size of France, with maybe 250,000 people. Our closest Rotary Clubs are 100 km North and 140 km to the West.]
After the first year, the number of page views was around 5000. It was plus or minus that number for the next five years. Then we must have reached a tipping point because page views doubled and have stayed near 10,000/yr. since.
The challenge now is to go to the next plateau which I have defined as 20,000 page views. I know how to do it, but it will take the cooperation and courage of all members to achieve it. I want each member to post the week’s Club news story once it is on the website, to their personal Facebook page.
Additionally, each story is a source of pictures for the Club’s Pinterest Collection and the content of the Club’s Twitter posts. Think of it as an information pyramid with the club website as the base. Work from the premise that social media sites should drive visitors down to the club website.
Finally, something new is beginning to emerge in the Dryden data. It is possible that visits to the Dryden site, especially, if they are return visits may be the catalyst which causes a person to search out membership in a Rotary Club many kilometres away, even in another country.
Four months ago I upgraded the service I get through Statcounter. In the past four months, 82.4% (2413) of the pageviews have been accessed from Canada. The USA is next with 9.3% (271) while an additional 53 Countries share the final 8.3%
Of the regions (States & Provinces) Ontario accounts for 79.2% of the pageviews. Somewhat surprisingly, the State of Illinois is second at 3.2%. Nine provinces make up an additional 9.1%. That leaves an additional 119 States/Regions sharing the remaining 8.5%
It is at the city level where things get interesting. Dryden thank goodness is first at 29.2 %. The figure rises to 34.7% when thirteen other communities within Dryden’s local orbit are factored in. The Facebook initiative, described above, would help in raising the Dryden area to above 50%.
The second community with 233 page views is Angus, a small town about 1 hour NW of Toronto which is next at 218 pageviews. To place that in perspective Toronto is 300 times the size of Angus. But Angus is not alone. Other small communities show pageviews way out of proportion to their size. More in-depth analysis revealed that in two of them one individual had visited the site over 400 times. That is why I think if every club built content stories combining service events and speaker’s presentations there would be a cumulative effect which would in fact “Attract” and “nurture prospects” across an entire country.
As a result, the Rotary Club of Dryden’s website puts the most current stories first. The Join Rotary custom widget is next. A Facebook insert follows.
You will also notice that we place all of the ads on the Home page. The number of click-throughs on many of those ads are totally out of proportion to the traffic the site receives. I think some members of the public are coming to the site to access the websites of those clients. They in effect have become content drawing visitors repeatedly to the site.
At this point, you might ask do you know the number of visitors who have gone to the “Explore and Join Rotary” pages? The answer is 1% or 14 of 1331 visits. I am not surprised by that statistic. A review of the 2016 census data, reveals that the Dryden Club’s membership is almost exactly 1% of the adult population in the Dryden area.
Something else has occurred during 2018. We have in attendance at our weekly lunch meetings reporters from three other news gatherers, the local weekly newspaper, the local radio station who posts local news on their website, and our local cable operator. The latter creates videos and broadcasts them to the community. I can not prove there is a direct correlation with the decision to create the Club website as a community news portal but at the very least it validates my belief that our speakers are newsworthy. Together we are all building an audience.
Add to that mix, a talented member who invigorated the Public Relations portfolio, and a ridiculously dynamic Rotarian whose talent is recruiting new members, and you have a club which has increased its membership by 18.5% during the past twelve months.