Friday, August 18, 2006

Declining Membership in Genealogical Societies: Promoting Your Organization with Technology

A big part of attracting new members to a genealogical society is self promotion. People are naturally attracted to more dynamic and diverse groups than those that appear to have little going on. What you show the world is what they will think of you. One way to show what your organization is about is with an attractive, frequently updated web site (frequent updates suggest there's more going on with the group). Fortunately, these days most genealogical societies have a web site although the site may not be advertising or promoting them as well as it could be. Being as I'm a professional web site designer and search engine marketer, I could go on and on about how to improve your society's web site but that's for another post on another day. Webmasters beware... your day is coming ;-) In the meantime, I'd to highlight newsletters, online communities, and blog carnivals as ways of advertising and promoting genealogical societies.


One of the best and most under utilized ways of promoting a genealogical society is with a newsletter. Preferably an online newsletter. And the newsletter should be distributed for free to anyone who signs up for it on the society's web site. This is a great way to advertise and promote your organization to a group who by virtue of the fact that they've sign up for the newsletter are telling you they're interested in your group.

Treat the newsletter as the face your organization shows the world. Create excitement with your words and make sure the flavor of the newsletter is always positive. This is not to encourage insincerity but rather to stop and think about how things are phrased. People will naturally feel more favorable towards a group that presents itself as a happy, positive, energetic group of people.

Besides having a positive outlook and sounding exciting, a newsletter should always promote the people who make up the group. By this I mean you should mention the names (genealogists love surnames!) of members who have done something… anything. Just get members' names in print.

One idea is to do a profile on a different member with each issue. Keep it short but make it personal (not giving out personal contact information though!) giving an overview of that person's length of involvement with the group, their research successes to date, what they contribute to the organization and what they appreciate the most about the organization. This will give newsletter subscribers a feel for what kinds of contributions members make and what they get out of the group. It may give them ideas about getting involved, what they may be able to contribute, and what they stand to gain from participating themselves. Look at it as a means of recruiting new members while getting the word out about the latest society news.

Remember, people who are interested in genealogy are interested in people. So each issue of a newsletter should highlight a person, but be careful not to over do it. The newsletter isn't a grandstand opportunity for people's life stories. It's more about telling the world what great people you have in your organization. So stick with talking about the person's involvement with the organization.

Another good idea for newsletter content is promoting upcoming events. Remind people of meetings, conferences, etc. But it's equally a good idea to talk about recent past events. Write up a review about the speaker at the last meeting, include links to their personal web sites or to sites they discussed in the meeting. If they are a published author, be sure to include information about their book and where it can be purchased.

Of course it's always good to pass on information about newsworthy items that are relevant to your society's area of specialization. So you want to do that too.

Probably the most important thing you want to include in your newsletter is what was discussed at the last meeting of the organization's officers and the agenda for the next meeting. This is vitally important information because it speaks volumes about your organization. If you are discussing taking on a new group project, or who to invite as speakers for the annual seminar, or possibly expanding the content on the society's web site, or whatever, let everyone know! Not only are you more likely to get helpful feedback (if you know what people want and can deliver it to them you’re more likely to keep them as members or get them as members!) but you're also showing them that you are discussing serious matters at the meetings and not just having a coffee klatch. And people just love to know what's going on behind the scenes… think about all the reality TV shows that show what goes on behind closed doors in people's lives. People eat that stuff up. Inquiring minds want to know ;-)

Keep in mind too that the more different things you put in your newsletter, the busier and more active your group looks. It's not about more words on the page but more items in the newsletter. If the item takes more than 2 paragraphs (3 tops) it doesn't belong in a newsletter. The information would be better presented in a different medium such as a blog post.

The key to a good newsletter is to have it promote your group with a positive, active image, while conveying timely topical information. Use it to get people excited about your organization and they'll be more likely to join or happier that they did. This is a great opportunity to advertise and promote your society. Do it!

Next I'd like to touch on online communities. They have become cyber meeting places for people with common interests. They are a tool to socially connect with others and they have become a favorite online space for the under 30 age group. But there's no reason that genealogical societies can't create online communities where members can interact as well. Sometimes the most interesting conversations take place spontaneously between people who find themselves in the same place at the same time. Dick Eastman has his chat room open 24/7 for people to discuss, whatever. But he also has prearranged chat sessions too. It's a meeting place. It's an online community.

Yahoo Groups are a great invention. While they don't offer online chats (you can do this in Yahoo Messenger), they do offer a great way for genealogical societies to offer a host of sharing venues with no programming knowledge needed. Set up a group and you can control who enters, post messages (and send group email), photos, files, databases, calendar events, and more. This could make a wonderful online community for a genealogical society. It will be listed with the Yahoo Group directory and it becomes another form of advertising and promotion for the organization.

Did you know that genealogists now have their own dedicated online community? It's the equivalent to MySpace.com but for those who share a passion for genealogy! The site I'm talking about is GenMates.com and it would be a terrific place to set up a genealogical society online community. I've mentioned it in a previous blog. Check it out and think about the possibilities. It's great exposure and a great promotion for those who are willing to give it a try.

And lastly I'd like to mention carnival blogs. Carnival blogs are actually a collection of references (text and links) to blog posts on a specific topic. One blogger hosts the carnival and picks a topic. It gets listed/announced at blogcarnival.com. Other bloggers then submit blog posts they've written on the topic. The hosting blogger collects all the submitted posts (and usually collects some they find on their own) and publishes the whole kit and caboodle on their blog on a given date. This is another ideal way for a genealogical society to advertise and promote their organization. Start a carnival and rotate hosts among group members. Other carnival watchers and bloggers will find it and you'll increase your group’s exposure. It's great advertising to sponsor a carnival! By the way, I have started a carnival, the Carnival of Genealogy, which is published twice a month. You can check out the details on the blog carnival web site and check out carnival editions one, two, three, four, five. My next post will actually be another edition of the Carnival of Genealogy. The topic is… genealogical societies!

So now we've looked at using newsletters, online communities, and blog carnivals as ways to advertise and promote genealogical societies. Next week I'll get to the more radical stuff so come back and visit my blog then!

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