Section 3 | Communication
Your group needs a website and an e-mail address. It's more comfortable for potential new members to check you out on the web than to show up at a meeting. While you can certainly build a website from the ground up, don't forget about easy-to-use networking tools such as Facebook, MySpace, blogs and listservs.
All of your web resources should list the following information:
- Your group's mission
- Your leaders and how to get in touch with them
- When and where your meetings are
- Upcoming events and announcements
- Links and information about local/national groups
Having a consistent, lasting contact email for your group is one of the most important tools for group survival. It is best not to use a personal email address for this - instead set up a general group email address that forwards to an officer's personal email. That way you don't have to publish your personal email (which opens you up as a target of spam and proselytizing emails). When officers change you can keep your group's general email address the same - just change what address it forwards to.
The SSA is happy to provide your group with an email address to use as a group contact email. These are usually formatted as "YourSchool@secularstudents.org." There is no inbox to maintain and no password to remember. We can also set it up to forward to multiple individuals, so you could have it forward to all your officers, or whoever in your group needs to receive it. When the time comes that you need to change the addresses that your email forwards to, just contact the campus organizer. It only takes a few moments to update your information.
Listservs (Automated Email Lists):
Email & Web Forwards
We recommend having three listservs:
- One for planning
- One for announcements
- One for discussion
Your planning list should have your officers and any volunteers that contribute on a regular basis. If you have an active advisor they should be on this list too, but it is polite to ask first (professors have clogged inboxes as it is!). Having a planning list can be an incredible asset in keeping the people that get the work done in the loop. Be sure to keep conversation on topic. Although some schools offer listservs to their campus groups, most of our groups have had the best luck with Google Groups.
Whenever you table or send around an attendance list at a meeting, you should gather e-mail addresses for an announcement list. Then send well-edited, well-formatted messages out anywhere from once a month to once a week. Use this email list as a tool to keep a large group of people up-to-date about your group. Advertise this list on your website and in your brochure as well. Make sure that you:
- Only add people who asked to be added
- Take people off right away when they ask to be removed
- Set it up so that only your officers / advisor can send messages to the list
- Don't overflow people's email boxes (one email a week is good, more can get annoying)
Google Groups are a perfectly good solution to this. Be aware that if you get a lot of sign-ups on one day that you may have to enter the new subscribers over several days. Google keeps you from adding too many people at once to slow down spammers. Directly add those people who want to be added, rather than using the option to —invite— them to your announcement list. If these people already signed up it means they want to be added. Don't make them go through another step to get on your list (some may fail to follow through and click the link, while others may miss the message when it gets stuck in their spam folder).
Another site to consider is www.phplist.com, an open-source newsletter manager.
Your group can become a thriving online community through a discussion listserv. These lists sometimes become as active and vibrant as face-to-face meetings. It is a good idea to have someone to moderate the list - tempers can run hot and you want to prevent arguments from damaging your group. It is also a good idea to have a list of proper behavior / email etiquette that can be referred to when a situation occurs. The SSA can help you write this. Google Groups are a good option for a discussion list. This list should be separate than your announcement list because not all members may want to be on both. A similar option would be to create forums on your website, or to create discussion posts on your Facebook group.
The SSA has a Facebook page which anyone can join.
The URL for a Facebook group is ugly and hard to remember. To help with this problem, the SSA will happily give you a "www.secularstudents.org/campusname" address that can redirect to your Facebook page. See www.secularstudents.org/forwards for more information.
There are a few things that should always appear on your Facebook group: an introduction or explanation of the group, information about your officers (or someone to contact), a list of your meeting times/places, and upcoming events. Facebook groups have a place where you can designate the group's officers, a place to list a group email address, and a place to post recent news. Most groups list the other information in the "Group Description" area.
Admins of a Facebook group can send a message to all members of your group. This is useful when advertising events, deciding on meeting times, and to make announcements. You can also create events hosted by your group (speakers, socials, special events and even weekly meetings), and then invite all group members to attend. Encourage them to invite their Facebook friends, too!
Facebook also allows you to search people's profiles within your network. You can use this to attract new members: do an advanced search under "Religious Views" and search for as many "identifiers" as you can think of. Not just atheist and agnostic, but skeptic, bright, humanist, naturalist, Pastafarian, 'none,' heathen, etc. Get creative! Once you've collected a set of names to invite, divide the invitation duty among all your officers (Facebook limits the number of messages you can send in a day). Or, use your school directory to look up those folks and email them outside of Facebook!
As with any web presence, you will want to make sure that the information on your Facebook group is up to date. If you have a communications officer or webmaster, this is a great job for him or her.
Other Networking Options
Though Facebook is more popular with college students, there may be members from your group who use other social networking sites. Choose whatever medium serves your group and your members best! Myspace, Twitter, Google Groups, and more may all be options worth exploring. Keep in mind that each site has a different demographic, so focusing on one may exclude part of your audience. The steps for setting up groups, inviting people, and posting events are generally the same.
Follow SSA on Twitter!
Think about whether building a website from scratch is really right for your group. Maybe a simple blog from a site like www.blogger.com would be easier. Or maybe your group only needs a Facebook group, which is very easy to maintain. However, if you have someone who knows what they are doing, and they want to create a website, this can be a great benefit to your group. Remember that anything you or your members create needs to be easily accessible and updated by future leaders. With this in mind, you might decide that a website is too much trouble.
The primary focus of your website should be keeping it updated. Of course you want to make your group website easy to surf, with a professional and appealing design, but these elements become irrelevant if your website is outdated. Don't forget to show your pride by linking to the SSA website using an Affiliate Logo!
It is very important to consider what your group would do if the person taking care of your website suddenly left. If your group is packed full of computer science majors, maybe it isn't a big risk. If this person is your one and only technical person, they need to make a priority out of teaching others in your group how to update the website.
Think your group's website rocks? Apply for our Best Website Award! The winning group will get $300.00 as part of the award!
Your website may be some people's first impression of your group. A few tips:
- Keep it professional. This adds credibility to your group
- Keep it simple - make your site easy to navigate and easy on the eyes
- Make sure your text style and color are readable
- Try to use matching rather than clashing colors
- Avoid large files - they can slow download / display time
- Your opening page should be a guide to your site - don't put all your content on one page!
There are several things it may be important to include on your group's website. That way both potential and current members, as well as the community and local media will have access to this information:
- Mission statement / vision
- Names, contact info, and short biographies of your group leaders
- Current information about meetings and events (topic, time, date, location, directions, where to park, etc.)
- Summaries and images of past meetings / events and types of meetings
- Press releases and any articles written about your group
- Links to other organizations / the wider movement
- A copy of your constitution / bylaws
- An explanation of what freethought is
- Discussion forums
- A web form for signing up for the email list
- Blog about what your group is up to
- Your current newsletter (if you have one)
Ideally, you want to have one or more officers or volunteers whose sole responsibility is upkeep of your website, Facebook group, listservs, and all members' contact information. Many groups find that keeping their websites and membership information up-to-date is more difficult than creating the sites in the first place.
If you don't have anyone with the knowledge or dedication
- Talk to new, enthusiastic members of your group to find out if they have web skills and want to help.
- Contact the SSA for initial technical support. We can't solve every problem, but we can point you in the right direction.
Other Types of Publications
Publications should be considered once your group is established and able to sustain them. They should be created based more on need than want (otherwise they will go unread and become an unnecessary use of resources.) In terms of printed materials, brochures, business cards and flyers are your most important resources. Information about creating and posting flyers can be found in the —Advertising— section earlier in this chapter.
A simple, easy brochure is the tri-fold. You can write your own from scratch or you can get ideas from other campus groups at the SSA Flyer Exchange. If you do create your own, don't forget to post them on the Exchange for other groups to use!
If your group has a web site, you may be able to get away with business cards instead of brochures. They are easier and cheaper to make, use less paper, and are much more convenient to carry in your pocket than brochures. We can order some for your group!
Blogging vs. Newsletters
The SSA highly recommends that if your group would like to start a periodical communication, consider blogging instead of creating a paper newsletter. Printed newsletters are difficult to maintain and costly to produce. Blogs, on the other hand, are easily edited and linked to in email messages and on websites. Whatever is published in your group's blog should be interesting, readable, and representative of your group, as well as carefully edited and formatted.