Online

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The internet is now our core means of communication, and so it should be for your group. If you are going to get your message heard and spread the word about your project, the internet is where you are likely to have the greatest reach. Similarly, if anyone wishes to find out anything about your project, the first place they look is likely to be online - so make sure they find you there!

Click on the ideas below for practical suggestions and detailed case studies.

Website

Your website should be the hub for all your communications activity – it is where all your other communications materials will direct people to go for more information and a key hit when search engines are used. If you lack the technical skills to set up a website yourself, try appealing to your friends, family and other supporters to see if they have a contact who could help with developing a website. In the long run, it is worth actively recruiting someone with the IT skills to maintain and update a website.


There are a few fundamental features to consider when developing your website. Key pages to have include:


About us. Not everyone that visits your website will already know about who your group are and what you do. Having an “About us” page is therefore essential to provide an overview and introduction to your group.


Projects. An introduction to your projects, what they are and how people can get involved should be a fundamental part of your website.


The team. Including a page of profiles or bios for your key group members, such as directors and regular volunteers, can make your group seem more real, human and friendly.


Photo gallery and videos. A photo gallery, or videos, can really help to bring your project to life. It is one thing reading about an excited new project; it is another thing to see evidence of what has been happening in practice.


Latest news or blog. This could include news about your project, but also related local, national and international news relating to the environment or sustainable energy. See the Blogging suggestions for more ideas.


Mailing list sign up. You should take every opportunity to keep a record of your supporters so that you can contact them directly about your project. Having a mailing list sign up form on your site is an easy next step for those who want to find out more or are interested in becoming more involved.


Key documents. It may be worth uploading key documents, such as your constitution, business plan, strategies, past newsletters or share offer details for people to download. Having such documents available can help give the impression that your group is transparent and well-organised, which can increase the confidence newcomers feel in your project.


Contact us. Having a contact form, email address, phone number and postal address can all be useful for collecting feedback and responding to queries.


Links. Having a page of links to your group’s other webpages, such as on social media or blogging sites, as well as to relevant publications, other community groups in your area or other groups involved with similar projects can help to encourage people to develop their interest and find out more.

Case Studies
Country: UK

Brighton Energy Co-operative’s website sets out their existing solar PV projects, including photos and statistics on electricity generated and money raised. How the initiative works and related investment opportunities are explained in detail, including reasons for investing and information on returns and tax breaks. There is a detailed FAQs section and key documents are available to download, such as an information pack for potential solar landlords, their model rules and share invitation. In addition, the website includes a pledge scheme which enables anyone who is interested in becoming a shareholder to pledge the amount they would like to invest and to send on their contact details. This feature was particularly useful in the run up to the launch of their first public share offer, as it produced a list of potential members and demonstrated the extent of support for the project – over just a few months they had more than £100,000 pledged!

Country: UK

Westmill Wind Farm Co-operative has a “Westmill Voices Video” page which allows visitors to their site to hear some of their community shareholders talking about what the project means to them. The video was filmed by members of the Co-operative and local supporters in 2009 and 2010 and gives a taste of how it feels to be part of the project. They encourage people to share this video whenever possible.

Country: UK

Hook Norton Low Carbon’s website was developed, and is currently managed, by one of the members of the management board. At periods of time where specific areas of the website needed to be upgraded, the group also commissioned a member of the community who runs a web design business to carry out an overhaul of the website to keep it current and effective.

Social media

Social media sites are a great way to connection with your community, and are now such a popular form of communication that people are likely to expect to find your group represented there. While your website is likely to be kept updated with your group’s and the wider world’s big main stories, social media pages should be updated little and often to provide an ongoing stream of snippets of information and commentary.


There are no rules about what to communicate via social media; anything that relates to your group, type of project or the values they align with is likely to be worth posting. This could include updates on your group’s plans, activities and key milestones, such as upcoming events, volunteering opportunities and targets which have been met, as well as wider news items relating to the environment, policy developments, other projects, research results or new products and technologies. Having a variety of posts, involving a mixture of practical topics and fun information illustrated with pictures and videos, is likely to work best.


Two of the most common social media sites are:


Twitter. Twitter enables users to post short 140-character text messages, called "tweets", and other users can subscribe to (“follow”) and forward (“retweet”) different users’ posts. Twitter is great for communicating news stories and progress updates. You can put virtually anything relevant on Twitter, but be sure to use it regularly - the constantly updating format means that you are more likely to gain followers through frequent posts.


Facebook. Facebook has a wider variety of features than Twitter and enables you to post longer messages and whole albums of photos and videos, as well as creating events to promote and invite specific people to. Facebook and Twitter essentially serve the same purpose, but it can be worth having both in order to access different audiences. You can set up your Twitter messages to automatically post on your Facebook page, if you want to be really efficient!


You could also set up a YouTube account to promote your videos or a LinkedIn page for connecting with professionals.

Case Studies
Country: UK

Brighton Energy Co-operative recognise social media channels to be a powerful tool for community engagement. They recommend posting at least once or twice per week and setting up your browser to automatically log you in so that you can be in and out in a few seconds. In order to increase the number of milestones they post about, they set a series of smaller incremental targets, rather than one big overall target, for activities such as fundraising. By posting updates when targets are set, nearly reached and achieved, they find they have lots of updates to communicate! They also recommend using the hashtag #communityenergy to link in with the wider growing movement.

Source: Community-Led Photovoltaic Initiatives action pack

Mailing list

In many ways, your mailing list is your most important tool for communicating with your community. Having a list of email contacts can allow you to send targeted and whole group emails and e-newsletters to promote events and to update everyone on your progress.


Collecting contacts. The power of this tool comes down to the number of contacts you collect. Make sure you take every opportunity to record contact details at events, meetings and any other time when you meet interested individuals. Having a way for people to subscribe to your mailing list via your website and social media channels will also help.


Organisation and content. Organising your email communications into regular e-newsletters, sent monthly or quarterly, is likely to be better than sending ad hoc messages (although sending brief reminders just before an event or meeting can work well). Ideas for content could be gathered by referring to minutes from meetings and looking back at recent posts on your website or social media channels.


Style. Making emails concise and to the point is vital – no one is going to read very long emails, and you can always include weblinks to more information if anyone wants to find out more. Really think about what will be interesting for the reader, especially for those who aren’t closely involved with the details of your project. The details of your planning application or financial model may be fascinating for you, but might not hold your readers’ attention to the end of the page.


Online platforms. There are a range of online platforms available for managing contact lists and sending out group emails and e-newsletters. Most of these are free up to a certain scale and can enable you to form sub-groups within your contact lists for sending more targeted messages. Two examples are MailChimp and GroupSpaces, but compare what is available through different sites’ free packages to find one that suits your needs.

Case Studies
Country: UK

The Big Lemon started with sending out news to their mailing list every month, updating people on the development of their community bus service. News items included the grant of the operator’s licence, establishment of the first bus route, purchase of the first bus, recruitment of the first driver... it was all very exciting and people wanted to stay in the loop all the way!  Now that their community bus service is well-established, email news is sent out less frequently, but instead The Big Lemon’s Facebook group (facebook.com/groups/friendsofthebiglemon) and Twitter page (@thebiglemon) are updated every few days with the latest news, views and other stories.

Source: Community-Led Transport Initiatives action pack

Country: UK

Southend in Transition use Gmail and the Android app Go SMS to send out monthly updates to their mailing list. When someone is added to the mailing list, both their email address and mobile phone number are stored alongside their name in the group’s Gmail contacts. These Gmail contacts are then synced with the contact list on a smartphone, allowing the Go SMS app to send text messages to the Gmail contacts. As the app is limited to sending 100 SMS per hour, text updates are set up to be sent in batches of 100 using the scheduling function of the app. This allows them to send their updates during a defined time period, usually between 9am and 8pm so as not to be intrusive, and a few days before an upcoming event to provide a useful reminder. This system proved easy and convenient once set up, and it takes them around 15 minutes to write and schedule messages each month. Feedback from those receiving the messages has indicated that the text messages are particularly helpful for people to keep track of the group’s events.

Blogging

Blogging can be used to tell the story of individual events and steps along the way in your group’s journey.


Content. Whereas your group’s website content, social media posts, newsletters and other communications will be written from a relatively neutral point of view, a blog can be used to explain different people’s motivations, opinions and experiences. Inviting different people to write posts can enable you to keep the blog varied, in terms of style and content, keeping people interested and coming back for more. Varied blogs will also appeal to different audiences, widening your reach.


For example, you could ask a member of the community to write about a relevant external event they attended, a member of the group to summarise what happened at the latest group meeting, or a local professional who works in a related field to share their perspective on policy developments affecting their field and the context within which your group is operating. Other options include discussions of national and local items, and interesting and accessible explanations of concepts and technicalities behind aspects of your project.


Where to blog. There are various different blogging sites to choose from, two of the most popular being WordPress and Blogger. Alternatively, you could have a blog page on your main website, and there could be opportunities to post on other people’s or organisation’s blogs to widen your outreach.  Linking your blog to your other communications will also help to maximise your reach, for example by posting a link to the blog via your social media channels or setting up your blog so people can receive email notifications when new blogs are posted.

Case Studies
Country: UK

Bath and West Community Energy have a blog page on their main website which has featured posts by their team, including the Chair and Managing Director, as well as posts from people outside of their group, such as Will Cottrell of Brighton Energy Co-operative. Topics have included how to scale up community energy, an introduction to community owned solar farms, the government’s Community Energy Strategy and key events for the group, for instance winning Regen SW’s Best Community Initiative award.