Mantra for communities: Local website, local content
The maxim “content is king” is as true for Bahá’í websites as any other.
So says David Hunt, who collaborates with the National Spiritual Assembly’s Office of Communications in helping Bahá’í communities build and maintain effective websites.
Community websites must clearly and concisely tell what Bahá’ís believe and do, he says. And their focus should be on activities in which area residents can participate.
But Hunt says erecting the site’s framework needn’t be a big job.
“Start with a platform that already exists, whether one the Office of Communications offers or another such as Wordpress,” he says.
“Just so you don’t have to spend precious time and resources setting up the site from a technological standpoint.”
Then what? The site’s sponsoring Spiritual Assembly must decide.
And that also needn’t be complicated, says Hunt. A one-page presentation might be sufficient, especially in a smaller community.
“The thing that the front page of any site should portray to the public is what the Bahá’ís believe — just a one-paragraph statement about what the Faith stands for — and what the Bahá’ís of your local community do.”
Links within the statement can take users to more in-depth information on the Faith’s precepts and history, he says, on the Bahá’í World Center site (www.bahai.org), Bahá’í National Center site (www.bahai.us) and others.
The site Hunt manages for the communities in his area of Oregon, www.gorgebahais.org, is more complex.
“But if you look at it, just that one page, even without all the sidebar stuff and all those tabs, would be enough to talk about who the Bahá’ís are in the Gorge,” he notes.
“And if it were only that one page, we’d want to mention some of the cities in our area so that people could find the Bahá’ís in Hood River, for example, because not everybody is familiar with the word ‘Gorge.’
“One way to contact the local Bahá’ís would be good, either through the national seeker response system or if there is a local contact,” Hunt adds.
“Many local communities, especially the ones with one-page websites, might not be in a position to handle calls in the best way. So maybe the seeker response system might be better for them.”
From there, he says, “you can add things if you like. The system we’ve developed has facilities for people to add local news stories and videos and so forth.”
Hunt generally does not recommend adding a calendar of events to a local site, though.
“Not too many people go to the website looking for the calendar,” he says. “And it is a lot of work to maintain.
“If you don’t keep it up to date, it just looks empty. And, of course, that doesn’t reflect the reality of your community.”
Instead, he says, the community calendar should be emailed or part of a newsletter.
What’s more critical for the website, says Hunt, is a description of activities in which the community is engaged and the general public can participate.
“You know, ‘We have children’s classes at various locations. We have junior youth groups,’ etc.,” he explains. “’If you want to get involved in these, give us a call and we’ll get you plugged in to our activities.’”
Like the calendar, a login-accessible private section of the site for community members is likely to be ineffective, in Hunt’s opinion.
“I’ve never seen a community where people will just log in to the site just to see what’s going on in the community,” he says. “For the most part we really encourage people to see their website as just for the public.”
In sum, says Hunt, make the site local.
“So if you’re in Punxsutawney, then talk about Punxsutawney,” he says. “Don’t have a picture of the Shrine of the Báb on the front of the site. Have a picture of something that’s related to your town.
“And then talk about what the Bahá’ís are doing in that town. Because that’s the thing that nobody else on the Internet is going to be discussing. That’s your unique content.”
Many communities have someone who likes to write human interest stories, and “that makes for a pretty interesting local website,” says Hunt. “These would be stories about things that are happening in the local community.
“But then that has to be kept up,” he notes.
That’s true as well of maintenance.
The more complex a site, the more work must go into maintaining it. Hunt says some communities have a dedicated person for the website. Others have more.
Assembly oversight can be simple or involved as well.
“Sometimes people think you do a website and then it’s done and it’s there,” says Hunt. “And that can be more or less true, depending on how you set it up.
“Yeah, with a simple one-page site you can leave that off the agenda and come back to it maybe once a year. But if you get more complicated, you just need to have it on your agenda on a regular basis.”
What, then, are the minimum standards for an effective website?
Hunt and Glen Fullmer, director of the Office of Communications, list these metrics:
- Tells what Bahá’ís believe and what Bahá’ís do
- Focuses on the local community
- Is oriented to the public
- Has at least one photo/graphic on the front page
- Tabs and links work
- Text is readable (contrast, size)
- No errors
- No spam or hacked content
- No broken graphics
- No obviously outdated content
- Sponsored by a local institution
- Has designated maintenance person
“There are always things that can be done better,” says Hunt. “But if you at least reach those basic levels, then it’s not a terrible site.”