From the February 1999 issue of The Leader Magazine
To Web Or Not to Web
by John Rietveld
To "web" or not to "web," that is the question.
Or perhaps we could pose a question like this: How can we keep in touch most effectively with our Scouting community?
"The medium is the message," said Marshall McLuhan, in the 1960s. Today we have more media available to deliver our message than ever before. In five years, the number of Canadian homes with computers has grown from less than 10 percent to nearly 70 percent. Computers will soon become as commonplace as telephones. That brings the electronic highway to our doorstep.
Tangling with the Web
So what medium best fits Scouting? Whatís the best route for people managing communications for sections, groups, districts or regions? A web page can offer super communication "inroads" for your group. Here are a few tips and cautions for you to consider as you point your group up the information highway.
A clear message is always important, but over the Internet itís doubly true. Thatís because youíre never sure who your audience is. Mainly, youíll attract Scouting members; but you could play host to non-Scouting folks from anywhere in the world. In electronic communications:
- Your words and images must be more clear and precise.
- Avoid jargon.
- Avoid giving personal opinions when you write.
The thirst for instant information means Scouting communicators need to produce more than did newsletter editors of the past. Timely, relevant, visually attractive communications have always played a key role. But today, our messages needs to be more up-to-date, suitable for paper and electronic media, and often interactive.
For almost three years (well ahead of many other agencies) Scouting has maintained a presence on the worldwide web. Since February 1996, Scouts Canadaís web site has received over 200,000 individual "hits." The pace increases monthly. Last October, Scouts Canadaís site registered a record 15,000 visits, far outstripping our previous record of 11,000 visits during CJí97 in Thunder Bay.
Keeping Up with Late-Breaking News
An out-dated web site loses its popularity very quickly. When individual pages on the web site go unchanged for months, the number of hits declines rapidly. One minor update, however, will quickly generate more interest, as new and previous visitors return to get the latest scoop.
So, how can you keep up with this demand?
- Donít forget "tried and true" print media. Magazines like the Leader, district newsletters and section bulletins, will continue to form the backbone of Scouting communications. Many people still donít have access to the Net. Others prefer to read pages on the couch, in their kitchen or in bed, rather than on a computer screen.
- Produce information pieces with both paper and the computer screen in mind. Articles produced for print are easily adapted for the web. Youíll need to start by typing your piece on a computer. Consider purchasing software to turn your document into html text for Internet use.
- Think visually! An inexpensive scanner allows you to incorporate images and photos into your web page. Several software packages allow you to improve low quality images. Desktop publishing packages provide countless images, fonts and graphics.
- Donít get carried away. Too many graphics, photographs and gimmicks might cloud your message and distract your reader.
Hooked in the Web
Whatever medium you choose, make like an old-time reporter. Answer the five "Ws": who, what, when, where and why? Start with a strong, current opening line. Add a catchy headline, a pleasing illustration or appropriate photo. Youíll have your readers hooked , or caught in your web!