Society Websites, Why Bother?

I guess if you were not already interested or even convinced you would not be reading this webpage. But maybe you don't fully appreciate what a difference it can make and how easy it is to get started. I hope I can help on both counts.

The following is an article I wrote for The BFS' Fuchsia News soon after getting the CRFS website started, and two years later I am doubly sure it's essential and doubly sure it's easy to get started.

Society Websites Are a Must and Are Easy

The purpose of this article is not to berate those of you that quite liked the world we lived in a few decades ago, but to argue that the world has moved on, with or without us, and that Fuchsia Societies and other Societies must move with the times if they are to survive and maybe even thrive again.

There is a saying in business that goes:

If you always do what you've always done,
you'll always get what you've always got.

In my experience of work and life, this is generally true and reinforced by a definition of madness, which is said to be - repeatedly doing something the same way and expecting a different result. In the case of Fuchsia Societies in a changing world this could be expending a lot of effort and money doing what we did two decades ago and achieving less and less, because the world has changed and we maybe haven't.

Unfortunately, and in fact, when it comes to Fuchsia Societies communicating with lapsed members, potential members and the general public the outlook could be even more bleak if we don't change and work with the new internet age as well as our traditional paper and use both to our advantage. The above saying could be paraphrased to say:

If you always do what you've always done,
you're quite likely to get less and less than you've previously got!

For those of you who love Dad's Army, and don't we all, I am probably now sounding like Private Frazer with his morose cries of "we're doomed!, we're doomed!".  Oh no we're not doomed at all, and I'd much prefer to sound like Corporal Jones and tell you "don't panic!, don't panic!".  If you have a member of your society that is reasonably capable with Microsoft Word and its basic formatting commands, and I am sure 98% of societies will have many such individuals, then I guarantee that you can have a presentable website with a web address within a day of reading this article. And you can tell your Treasurer that it is entirely free, and your Committee that:

Yes, you can have a website of your very own that is

In the case of my own society, Camborne-Redruth Fuchsia Society, we hesitated and hesitated for over two years thinking that to build a website would have to be from scratch, and would be difficult and inordinately time consuming. Not true, I now know and I really could kick myself, because using a platform like BT's Community Website Kit ( was a dream and it took just minutes to register, to obtain a domain name (website address) and to get started adding some basic content such as the Society's name, what it aims to do and when it meets (much of it quickly copied and pasted from existing documents). There are inevitably some compromises on format and flexibility but they are not disastrous, and if you explore this website further, I hope you'll agree the end result isn't bad.

I think I've started to answer the question "how do we get a website?"; before tackling the more fundamental question "why do we need a website?".    Without going over the top, I think in some of their ways Fuchsia Societies and other Societies should operate like businesses do and I would say every society should have a Communication Plan; not a lengthy formal document as you might have in a business, but an annual Committee discussion on what you plan to do and why (what do you want to communicate, who is the target audience, how can you get your message(s) across to them. You need to be careful that it isn't just a case of taking the soft option of just doing more of the same because you've always done it that way, because you could get less and less of a return on your time and effort.

The world is changing, whether we like it or not, and in planning how your society should communicate, I would urge you to consider what has changed and is changing, for instance:

Ø  Newspapers are in decline, and more and more newspapers depend on advertising to survive. I can not remember the last time I bought a newspaper and would even struggle to say when I last read one. I expect to find my news on the web along with answers to all my questions.

Ø  I'm afraid I tire of our continuous whinge that "youngsters" are not interested in gardening anymore. I've been a member of the BFS and local societies for over thirty years and I don't remember many "youngsters", even back when I started. I don't think the majority of "youngsters" have ever been into gardening, and pursuing them and even considering them, for recruitment is an exercise in futility.

Ø  But it is true that people are living longer and in far better health than previous generations of "oldies" Recruitment and enticement should be aimed at the "Saga" demographic, those approaching retirement, entering retirement and in retirement. Most new members from this bracket will still be contributing and active members in twenty and even thirty years time.

Ø  We're getting increasingly lazy as information and opportunities are "pushed" to us through direct mail and email, and even spam email. We need to find our audiences, members and visitors and not wait for them to find us. Why not regularly email out what the society is doing and has done, which has worked really very well for CRFS?

Ø  Catchment areas for many societies have increased, unfortunately in many cases as other societies have folded, but often we concentrate advertising and publicity only on the immediate local area and don't look further afield for members and visitors.

In a nutshell:

The world and how most people communicate has changed,
and so must you and I.

So I would argue that as your audience increasingly relies on the internet for information, whether pushed or pulled, they will not find your society unless you are on the internet, with a website, reinforced by regular emails. So how can you do it now?

At this point, I must apologise to any of you with a penchant with another service provider, such as Google, as I'm now going to concentrate on BT's offering and my experience with it. With their Community Website Kit ( BT promise:

Ø  Free website hosting

Ø  Free website addresses

Ø  The choice of 8 templates with 5 or 15 colour themes

Ø  1 free format template

Ø  Enough space for unlimited pages and up to 500 pictures (more like thousands of pictures if you resize them before exploding).

Ø  Templates and colour options for all your content

Ø  An easy-to-use Page Editor or an HTML Editor if you're technically minded

Ø  Free technical support

Ø  Welsh language options

The initial part of the process is a doddle. The first step is to register a username and a password with BT, as you may already have done for many websites. When choosing a password you should go for a secure and not easily guessable password (i.e. not "Fuchsia" try a misspelt word with some capitals, a number or two and at least one symbol) and it should shared by a select few people so more than one person can update and maintain the website, but only a trusted few.

Step 2 is to start a new website, for which you need to provide just a few basic details like name of your society, purpose of website (must be non-commercial) and an address and a phone number (I used my own as the contact for this website).

Step 3 is to choose a website address which will be in the format:

What you choose does not have to be the name of your society. Make it as simple and memorable if you can, and I would suggest you avoid abbreviations.

The final step in getting started is to select a template (the look and feel) for your website, which you can change later if you change your mind.

That's it; you now have a website. It really is just as EASY as that.

Your new shiny website has a number of pages as a good starting point, which you can edit and add to until your heart's content, and these include:

Home Page - This is where you can introduce your society and highlight what's coming up.

Blank pages (unlimited) - Think of these as chapters, the names of which you decide (e.g. news, shows, meetings, etc), and these names will be listed on every page to facilitate navigation. One big tip is go for more pictures and less words on these pages, and pictures of people not just plants.

Contact Us - This has a fixed format to get basic detail from the enquirer and you nominate an email address for enquiry to go to. With the BT mandated "Capcha" mechanism it is a pain for visitors to use, so they don't, so ensure the site has other ways for people to contact you.

Guestbook - This allows visitors to your site to leave comments for you, hopefully complimentary ones. The comments are emailed to you by BT and are not posted on the site until they are approved by you. With the BT mandated "Capcha" mechanism it is a pain for visitors to use, and I think it puts people off.

Links - This page allows you to list other websites that may be of interest to visitors to your site, and using hyperlinks you can allow people to go to another site by just clicking on a word or two. Links allow you to build a network of contacts, as many will be reciprocate your link, ensuring your society is publicised much wider than just your own site.

Once you've played with text entries on your website you'll be ready to try links to other sites or links that initiate an email, tables, loading pictures (lots and lots of them), and documents such as membership forms and show schedules.

As with many things with computers and this IT stuff, the best approach by far is to get stuck in and have a play. And to help as you try new things there is a pretty good user guide on the BT site and plenty of examples of Fuchsia and other sites using the BT platform from which to get inspiration and maybe even some help if you get stuck.

Good Luck and Welcome to the Internet!

Ric Reilly