One of the challenges a genealogy society faces is the different interests and skill levels of its memberships. It’s impossible to be all things to all people, but you can offer them options. One of these is the special interest group (SIG). If there is interest in a specific research technique or more people want to learn about a new program or service, this might be best handled as a special interest group.
The beauty of special interest groups is they can be just about anything you want them to be. They could be groups that meet physically for presentations or workshops. They could also be a virtual group using social networks to share information. Today there are a number of networks supporting both open and closed (invitation only) groups with easy-to-use tools. Not only can you use them for scheduled get-togethers but they are also places were members can check in when it’s convenient for them.
Because Google has so many tools that support online research, it’s quite likely that many of your members already have Google accounts. This makes Google Plus a great platform for a special interest group. In Google Plus they are called Communities and you’ll find a number of interesting genealogy-related communities already there. For example, if you are interested in learning more about using Evernote, you can join the public Evernote in Genealogy community. Are you a RootsMagic user? If so, you might find the RootsMagic Users community quite useful. Then there’s DearMYRTLE’S Genealogy Community - a model community that takes advantage of a number of Google tools including Google Hangouts.
Hangouts is a Google service that is part text chat, part phone call, part video conferencing, part online meeting and part party. Any Google user can create a hangout at any time. It can be an online conversation between two people, a panel discussion or a formal presentation. And, it costs nothing to use. Combine it with a Google Plus Community site and you can have the basis for a very effective special interest group platform.
There’s always a “but”.
Even if I was an experienced and knowledgeable Google Plus/Hangouts user (which I’m not), I would still build my group slowly – starting with basic steps and later working up to online conversations and even meetings. Since many of the members I want to attract to my group have limited tech skills, I will need to provide them a simple platform that won’t overwhelm them, then slowly add in new features.
Here are some recommendations learned from the Hard Knocks SIG:
- Keep your group’s focus on a narrow topic – like Roots Magic or Local Research Sources rather than Technology in Genealogy.
- Recruit experienced users to help answer questions and offer their own tips.
- Present new topics by first selling their benefits. Give your members a reason to make the effort to learn it.
- Google Hangouts supports text, voice and video conversations for up to 10 participants. A hangout can be initiated with just a couple mouse clicks. You can put this to work to provide personal tutoring.
- Hangouts on Air are more formal and can have unlimited participants although only 10 can be speakers. These would be more appropriate for formal presentations or online meetings. Experiment with your staff to get comfortable using Hangouts on Air before putting it to use on your SIG. It’s also a good idea to have a “moderator” in addition to the host and guest speakers. That person handles any technical issues and passes on questions and comments from the audience to the speakers.
The combination of Google+ Communities and Hangouts has already built a number of impressive special interest groups. Join a couple to see how they operate. They are a great way to get comfortable with Google+ and see how you can put it to work for your society.
While Google+ is a great option for an online special interest group. It isn’t the only one. How does your society handle special interest groups? We’d love to hear from you!