Distant members are people who are researching our geographic areas, but do not live here. They are an untapped resource offering many opportunities even for the smallest society. By taking advantage of free and low-cost online platforms, we can attract distant members and give them the ability to actively participate in the society. The tools described here offer some suggestions for making this happen.
Build a Digital Library
Digitizing your society’s publications – especially the newsletters and quarterlies – and making them available online is a quick and easy way to attract distant members – and generate revenue by offering the digital publications for sale. Begin by creating a free account with the Scribd digital library platform. Start by posting copies of the newsletter. Scribd can be used to post digital copies of many types of publications from indexes and cemetery inventories to new member packets and how-to guides. Publications can be posted publicly or privately (requiring a direct link to access). It can also be used to offer publications for sale. Once you’ve set up a sales account with Scribd, you just upload the publication file, set a price and Scribd manages all the sale/delivery/customer service effort. There is no up-front cost, but Scribd collects a 20% commission to cover their credit card processing and sales management costs.
Use your Scribd storefront to offer digital copies of past issues of your quarterly for sale. Your more recent copies – those created as digital files (Word, In-Design or whatever format) – can easily be converted to PDF documents and uploaded to Scribd. Set a price, then start advertising them on your web site. Older copies would need to be scanned to generate a digital copy that could be uploaded.
You can also offer your members the option to choose digital or print copies of upcoming quarterlies. With the growing popularity of readers and tablet devices, a digital option is often preferred. The advantages of digital publications include full color at no extra cost, they are searchable and have functional hyperlinks. Encouraging this trend can also help reduce costs. For those who choose digital, the new version would be uploaded as a private publication on Scribd and an email providing the download link and instructions would be sent to the member. Another copy is uploaded publicly for sale and the price is set. Scribd has a document preview option and the publisher can define how much of the document – even select which pages – will be used in the preview. For quarterlies, using the table of contents for the preview gives visitors an index of sorts with minimal effort on your part.
You may even want to consider adjusting the format of your publications to make them more readable on tablets and e-readers. Most devices can read digest-sized publications (5.25″ x 8.25″) in PDF format very comfortably.
As the society’s digital library grows, so does it’s value to distant members (and non-members). For library holdings and older quarterly issues, providing a digital index to your holdings – and possibly even a research/copy service – could generate even more membership revenue.
One last benefit . . . the documents you post at Scribd also serve as an off-site backup of these precious publications.
Take advantage of social networking platforms such as Facebook, Google+ and Twitter to connect with distant members. It costs nothing to create a society presence on these networks, but they will require frequent monitoring and timely responses. These can be good places to get conversations going – between users and the society, between society members and between members and visitors. You can’t control all of the activity and, except for dealing with inappropriate content, you don’t really want to. You want lots of conversation so your visitors will know your society is an active and involved group.
While Facebook is a great place for conversations, Google+ has features that make it a great platform for virtual special interest groups. One example of this is the Evernote for Genealogists community.
Online Meetings and Webinars
Google+ has another advantage that societies can put to good use – Hangouts and Hangouts on Air. Hangouts is a free and easy way to enjoy a group text conversation or video conference call with up to 10 people. Any user can initiate a Hangout at any time. Hangouts on Air is also free and allows an unlimited number of attendees, but only the first 10 can actively participate – the others can watch and post text comments/questions. And, Hangouts on Air are automatically recorded on YouTube so you’ve got a recorded copy almost immediately after its over. In addition to conversations, you can use Hangouts for collaboration (like a live document review), tutoring (with desktop sharing) and meetings.
It will require some time and effort to learn to use the platform and develop procedures for conducting online meetings and webinars, but that effort can be quite rewarding. Not only will it allow distant members to actively participate in society activities, it can increase the productivity of your board and committees.
Use your society’s blog to point members to interesting Hangouts to help them get used to the platform. Experiment with Google Hangouts and Hangouts on Air to see if there is interest (from the board and from members in general). Use it for more informal “gatherings” like user groups and workshops as well as for building a collection of webinars, instructional videos, interviews with authors and/or professional genealogists and any number of other online events.
If you would like to see a very successful implementation of Google+ and Hangouts on Air, take a look at the DearMYRTLE community.
The ideas presented here offer your society a number of ways to expand your horizons. Although the monetary costs to implement any of these ideas is minimal, they will impact the amount of time each board/committee member spends on society-related work. Fortunately, most of this effort can be done whenever and wherever it is most convenient for you.
Watch for future articles discussing these platforms and others in more detail.