Choosing an online and social presence for your interest group, project, event or organization

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I’ve recently been involved with several projects where the question arose how to handle online presence. Everybody always agrees that you need a website and these days somebody always asks what about Facebook. And with a really hip crowd, you also get a question about Twitter or maybe LinkedIn. But the online presence world is a bit more complicated. Here’s a quick guide to some of the things to consider:

Websites

Many projects or groups these days don’t even bother with a website and simply create a Facebook page. That is certainly not a bad solution but if you want credibility and most of all the all important Google discoverability, you need a website. Facebook also has the nasty habit of changing layout and functionality of its Pages, so you only have limited options.

Even more basic, some people simply stick some documents in a **Dropbox **folder and share that. Using Dropbox to share resources is also great but depends on somebody maintaining that account and Dropbox has clamped down on this use of their service before. There are some interesting services out there that leverage Dropbox to present a more personal website. One such is Backlift (https://backlift.com) and another is DropPages but you will have to pay for a nice URL.

A much better place for a free website is WordPress.com. Having a web site means that you have total control over how it looks and what it does. WordPress.com is free but this will mean a URL that includes .wordpress.com and the potential for seeing ads. But all of that can be remedied for very reasonable annual fees.

Another alternative is DrupalGardens.com which will let you create a more complex website than WordPress at the expense of having to learn a bit more interface. It also has a free option and will let you export the whole project into your own website, if you graduate to your own server.

I also still see people building site with Google Sites. I’ve done that as well in the past but Google has a habit of killing services it doesn’t see as important so I’m not sure how much I’d trust it.

The list of places to create free or cheap website is endless but I recommend not straying to far afield if you want reliability and longevity.

Social Networks

While I agree that it is beneficial and sometimes essential that any group or project has a presence on social media, this is not always an effortless process. The social network landscape is constantly shifting and things are a bit more complicated than Facebook and Twitter. Here are some things to consider:

  1. Facebook is probably the default social network for most people. But since many people use it to socialise with their friends and acquaintances, they may be reluctant to join Pages that would identify them as something they are trying to keep private.
  2. Many professionals are using LinkedIn these days, so for projects aimed at professional audiences, having a group there might be preferable to Facebook. However, membership there cannot be assumed, so the audience is smaller.
  3. Twitter has become a recognised medium for CPD. A presence there is highly desirable but requires constant engagement to get any benefit. With a Twitter account, you’d better have a plan for Tweeting something at least once a week and following the right people. However, having a Twitter account can be useful just so that people who tweet about your project have something to reference.
  4. Google Plus is the up-and-coming social network. Many progressive educators like to use Google communities. And Google Hangouts is increasingly the tool out there for doing public webinars on the cheap.
  5. Tumblr is the blogging/social network where many young people go these days as Facebook is becoming their parents’ social network. Most people never heard about it even though Yahoo bought it for a billion dollars. I’m not sure a presence there is necessary but it might be worth keeping an eye on.
  6. YouTube is more than just a place to store videos. There’s a vibrant community of people who consume it as their primary source of entertainment. It has now been integrated with Google Plus. This is a great example of how it was integrated with the RALLI campaign for SLI – http://www.youtube.com/user/RALLIcampaign. (Here is their web page http://ralliindex.blogspot.co.uk.)
  7. Mailing list: In all the hubbub about social networking, people forget that the venerable mailing list is still a very solid option for engagement. In fact, email marketing is still by far the most reliably effective form of reaching an audience. Both Google and Yahoo provide free mailing list services.

Tools for maintaining social presence

Many people and institutions who live and die by engagement with an audience will maintain a presence on several (and not infrequently all) of these platforms. No one platform will reach everyone. There are tools like https://hootsuite.com/features/social-networks that help with that but it’s still a lot of work. I find it interesting that even those most active on social media are compiling mailing lists. In my experience, you still get the most response from those.