1999 SLAGO Conference
Internet Opportunities for Gay Organisations / Social Groups
By Ros Jackson, KRAGS
Note - this paper was presented in October 1999, and no longer necessarily represents the up-to-date situation
For any organisation, business, individual etc. the internet provides a uniquely effective means of publicity and communication. As with more traditional methods, though, it is only really effective if it is used well. I believe the essential elements of internet usage for gay groups to be:
- Attracting new members
- Communicating with existing members
- Communicating with other groups and organisations
Each of these elements can be incorporated into a group’s internet usage through the utilisation of the internet’s capabilities thus:
- Web Site
A group’s web site is primarily a means of disseminating information about the group. It should be seen as both a marketing tool to attract new members (see Getting Your Site Noticed) and a “newsletter” to inform existing members of forthcoming events, new ideas etc. As with any organisation, a web site cannot stand apart from existing practices; more it should be integrated with the group’s overall aims and strategies – a web site is not a social group in itself, it is a representation of a group. Any attempt to promote the web site should be a means to an end ie the site should prompt its viewers to become more involved with the group, rather than just visit the site regularly (although this may be seen as an advantage as well – see Other Possibilities).
The content of a group’s web site is obviously a matter for the group itself to decide, but it should be based on the following principles:
Attracting New Members
Those of us who browse the internet regularly will be aware of how frustrating it is to find a site which seems to be of interest, only for there to be little or no useful information contained within it. A web site is a fantastic marketing tool and should be designed accordingly. From personal experience, I know the things I would look for in a gay social group would be
- Accessibility – where is it based and what areas does it cover
- Sociability – what does it do and when
- Compatibility – what kind of people are in the group
It is easy to represent these things on a web site and my opinion is that this information could well be enough to attract people who are either just making their way into the gay world or who have been previously unaware of the existence of the group.
To look at this more specifically, I would recommend the utilisation of the thing a web site is particularly useful for, which is the visual representation of information. This could take the form of pictures of the group’s members, pictures of recent events (especially if the people in the pictures are willing to be seen enjoying themselves!), location maps for forthcoming events etc.
It almost goes without saying that contact information is an essential part of any web site. Simply by the fact that people are viewing the site, it indicates that they have email capability – so an email link should be included and featured prominently enough to be easily usable.
Communicating with Existing Members / Other Groups
When people think of communicating via the internet, they usually assume this means Email. Certainly this is a very valuable element of the internet, but a web site is also a very effective means of communication.
It seems that the most frequent means of communicating with a group’s members is through the delivery of a newsletter. This can also be quite a costly business. At the recent AGM of KRAGS, a show of hands from the members attending indicated that around half of them had access to the internet. It is not difficult, therefore, to imagine the potential cost saving involved in providing the newsletter information on a web site which would do away with the necessity for the printing and posting of a newsletter to those members with internet access. As the web site would be accessible to anyone with this capability, it can also be seen how other groups could be informed of forthcoming events etc.
The main advantage of Email is that it allows you to present a large amount of information at a fraction of the cost of a phone call and more quickly (and cheaply) than the post. Most email software allows you to form an address book of recipients, thus enabling you to send the same information to a wide range of people with one click of a mouse. This could provide an alternative means of keeping people informed of the information usually contained in a newsletter, with nowhere near the costs of printing and posting.
As well as providing a means of marketing your group and disseminating information about it, a web site can take on a life of its own as a resource for information and entertainment. A regularly-updated site of this nature could become an essential “must-visit”, not just for people in the local area, but for those further afield as well.
In order to achieve this a certain amount of effort must be put into creating the content of the site and adding to it regularly. Information of specific relevance to gay men cannot be too difficult to imagine and would include such things as coming out, the gay scene, local places of interest, the importance of safe sex etc.
With a little technical knowledge, it is quite easy to incorporate more interactive elements in a site, such as discussion forums, chat rooms, quizzes etc. and any members of a group could put themselves forward in a Contacts section or simply request link-ups with those who have similar interests.
While I believe these things to be by no means essential for the success of a web site in promoting a group, they do add an extra dimension that could lead to the site itself becoming well-visited. This, in turn, could lead to the possibility of sponsorship and advertising; although this is not necessarily something that should be a pre-requisite for a site and is actually quite difficult to arrange.
Getting Your Site Noticed
Every group already has a database of members who will (most likely) be interested in visiting its web site. Newsletters and any promotional material that is currently used should feature the web site and email address of the group, in order that people have the opportunity to find out more about the group’s aims and what it can do for them.
One of the main methods of attracting people who are previously unaware of the group’s existence is to have links to it from other relevant sites. To this end, I would recommend that all the groups within a certain area (ie those that come under the SLAGO umbrella) have links to all the other sites within that area. There is also quite a lot of opportunity for having links on other sites of local interest (ie local councils, newspapers, entertainment listings sites etc.).
By far the most likely way for people to find your site, though, is through having it listed in the main search engines or the various gay-specific search engines. (A list of these is attached). While it is not usually very difficult to register your site with these search engines, there are various “rules” that need to be followed in order to enhance your site’s listing position on these search engines. General information about these “rules” can be found at www.searchenginewatch.com but it will take some time and effort to fully get to grips with the necessary components of your site. Alternatively, advice can be sought from internet consultancies (such as www.intergration.co.uk) or people with relevant experience in this field.
The main search engines you should attempt to be listed in are:
If you become listed in these search engines, you can be sure your site is able to be found by virtually all the internet users in the world today. It is recommended that you arm yourself with information about the “rules” behind being listed before you attempt to register your site with them, as they will all require certain components to be present within your site before they position you favourably in search results.
There are currently several gay-specific search engines and listings sites which broadly follow the same “rules” as the main search engines:
The lists above are by no means exhaustive, but should provide enough coverage for your site to ensure it is featured in the results of relevant searches.