The Friends of SandallPark
have one of the liveliest and busiest websites we have found.
Here, Don Crabtree, communications rep for the Friends, explains how the group takes advantage of traditional and modern methods to let the world know what’s happening in their green corner of Doncaster.
I act as communications rep for the Friends of Sandall Park. Sounds grand but it’s not – it just means that all our communications strands are tied in together and any conflict of info is kept to a minimum.
It is fair to say that the fortunes of our group changed for the better when we developed a communications strategy for the group that linked our website to the park noticeboards – we have three.
Usually whatever appears on the website will appear – If appropriate – on the park noticeboards. Each noticeboard has the website address – www.sandallpark.org.uk – emblazoned across the top and we find that park visitors often read an article and then follow it up by visiting our website to send us a comment.
“Feeding” the noticeboards is by the far most time-consuming activity – but it is worth it as not everyone has a computer. Actually updating the website only takes minutes a day if the information is to hand.
We are on the second version of our website. The first was a DIY effort, which worked (just) but was hard work. We struggled with it but it showed us exactly what we really needed. Armed with this information we were in a position to approach a local company to design us a web site VERY, VERY cheaply. Because they were local they had a local interest and supported us accordingly. The company no longer exists but the owner and employees (now in a different business) still sponsor us.
Anyone that views the site will realise that the website is really a blog and the home page is the blog page. This is different to most websites. There are other standard pages but the key is the blog page as it is so easy to update and is the first thing people see and realise it is bang up to date. We try to put something on every day.
We monitor the viewing stats daily and can easily tell what is popular and the impact that an absence of items has. For example, if the web master goes on holiday we put stories on the blog in advance so they ‘pop up’ every day as we noticed that if there was a gap of week without an item visitor figures dipped dramatically and were hard to recover.
Figure-wise we get about 200 genuine visits a day or just short of 6,000 a month. These figures increase/decrease depending on park events. For example, concerts in the park attract massive numbers of visits, especially if the weather is dodgy. Likewise following events we get double the usual visits from people viewing photographs of the event or leaving comments – good and bad!
We also put updates on Facebook and the website (via Blackberry) from the actual events to let everyone know what people are missing in the park!
It is interesting that visitors to the site include Doncaster Council (which owns the park), the police and importantly the local press who use it a first port of call for stories. We actively encourage the council and the police to tell us of both good and bad news in the park – this helps to keep an interesting flow of information and different stories.
The third strand to the communications strategy is Facebook. We have a Facebook page. There are 360 ‘Friends’ signed up. We find this useful to prompt interest in park ‘happenings’ as the website relies on people initiating the visit, whereas using Facebook forces the information out to the ‘Friends’ and if worded correctly will attract them to the website for further information.
Linked to the notice boards we have most bases covered.
From a technical point of view the whole website is in WordPress and is free (always a bonus). It is simple to use and although I have only an average knowledge of computers I find it very easy to use and administer.
We try to make items attractive with photographs wherever possible – hard work to start with as you need a bank of standard photographs to feed the story – but once photographs have been captured they can often be reused and supplemented with up to date photos of incidents such as damage, litter or more importantly improvements made in the park and the latest work of our group.
I will probably regret saying this but the website is four years old and has never let us down. It is literally our shop window to the world as we get inquiries from expats all over the world but more importantly prospective funders can see we take our role in the community seriously and all our meeting minutes and key policy documents are there for the world to see and scrutinise.
We feel the key to the success of the website is the link we maintain between the low tech notice boards, the website and the ability to “force feed” information via Facebook. We could Tweet but we don’t.