4. Build an Online Presence

Critical to becoming an effective advocate for any issue or cause is developing an online presence. There are many ways to go about building a home online, some STR groups utilize Google or Facebook pages to organize stakeholders, files and relevant conversations but many coalitions across the nation have found great value in constructing a basic website. This approach is ideal because, not only is it legitimizing in and of itself, but also it can serve as a much more accessible, centralized space for a wider range of interested parties.

While a group on a social network may easily function for active stakeholders, a website engages more broadly by giving potential new members a simple point of entry, equipping reporters and politicians with your group’s positions and relevant STR facts and studies, and serving as a resource for interested voters.

Note: The process for setting up pages on social networking sites is relatively straightforward: to create groups on Google, Facebook or Yahoo click their respective links.

A quick Google search will reveal a number of platforms offering free or inexpensive template-based DIY web design, of these many groups have found WordPress.com to be a good option. Even for people without much tech-savvy what-you-see-is-what-you-get platforms such as WordPress can be very easy to use. To give us a launching point we’ve built a demo site and will walk you through how to reproduce this for your group step-by-step. You’re free to use our template as-is or to explore the hundreds of themes, widgets and style-sheets WordPress offers to customize your group’s site to your liking.

Let’s begin off-line. Before constructing your new site it is important to set out a blueprint for what content will be important to present. An easy place to start is with the menu. On a most basic level, your menu will likely include buttons navigating to three distinct types of content:

Spend some time thinking what content your group will need on its site to best communicate your message. You can and should add more later on, but before your site goes live it is crucial to have the basics covered.

On the demo site we have a link to the national STRAC site, home, about, facts, contact and join us pages, as well as both news and press release feeds. Your group will want to begin with a similar set of pages and feeds and may also consider adding calendar/events, our team, or policy positions pages and/or a blog feed.

Try sketching out a menu for your group including your desired arrangement of top-level buttons and drop down menus. Once you know how you want to organize your content, create a folder on your computer and begin to fill it with resources you’ll need to assemble your site. For instance, you’ll certainly want to have a home page, so go ahead and compose the text you’d like displayed there and save it in this folder. Gathering up also the images and graphics you’d like to display throughout your site. Check out sites that offer free use of images like Flickr’s Creative Commons.

Note: As you select various images, especially if you’re pulling them from online sources, remember that too-small files will become pixelated and will look unprofessional. Try to find graphics that are at least 800 pixels by 600 pixels, but greater than 1 megapixel is optimal – you can easily filter Google’s Image results by selecting “Large” under search tools’ size menu.

Once you’ve gathered the documents, images and other content you’d like to display on your site its time to begin construction.

Navigate to WordPress.com, find the “Create Website” button and, on the next page, scroll to the bottom and choose the option skipping theme selection for the time being. On the next page you can choose a plan and domain name. It’s free to create a site like our demo site with an address such as “MySampleSTRGroup.wordpress.com,” but for just a few dollars a year you can lend significant legitimacy to your cause by purchasing a .com or, more preferably a .org domain. Ideally your group will live at “MySampleSTRGroup.org.” Choosing a domain name is an important step because you want to create an address that is short, memorable and recognizable. For example the Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity, an STR group in New Orleans, Louisiana chose the slick domain “AllianceNOLA.org.”

Once your group has settled on a great domain name you’ll be guided by the WordPress platform to create a login and will ultimately reach a page thanking you for signing up.

Note: Some STR webmasters ask whether they should create a universal login that can be shared among all administrators or just log in as themselves. We’d advise each user to set up a separate account and let administrators set their roles on the site through the Users panel. For more information on this read this article.

Navigate to Themes and click “customize” there you will have the option to browse the various layouts created by professional designers. We’ll be using the free “Apostrophe” theme in this tutorial. Once you have selected a theme a customization panel will open, once there, update the title, tagline, logo, fonts, and header image fields to your liking and then open the widgets menu.

Note: The default in this theme is to display widgets on the right side and in the footer of any page, where you don’t want widgets to be displayed change the template style from default to “full-width” in each page’s settings. You can see an example of the difference between the default layout and full-width template by comparing the demo home page with the demo news page.

Apostrophe comes with a host of pre-set widgets; poke around in the primary, secondary and footer folders—each arranged top to bottom by page placement—learning what each widget does and deciding which widgets you’d like to display where. The last tab theme settings permits the administrator to make global site choices as whether to display or hide author bios and/or enable featured content—on the demo site we’ve hidden author bios and enabled featured content.

Note: The featured setting will allow you to pin posts within your feed pages to the top of the stream. If you have a feed page with a particularly potent post that you’d like to be the first item visitors to that page see you can set a keyword tag under this menu such that any time you mark a post with that tag it will become featured content.

Go ahead and click “Save and Activate” and then navigate to the WP Admin dashboard. There you will be able to create each of the pages you’ve outlined and select settings for each such as to enable commenting, display like and share buttons and/or choose template styles. After you finish editing each page hit “publish” to push that content onto your site.

Similar options exist when creating posts from the WP Admin dashboard. One important difference is categorization and tagging. If you plan to have a stream or streams of content such as news, press releases, or blog feeds it will be important to create categories for each of these separately so they will be easy to your site’s visitors can easily find them through distinct menu buttons.

Dive back into the theme customizer to set a home page. Automatically “home” is set to be a feed of your most recent posts across categories, but likely you want to display a static home page like we’ve done on the demo site; if so, simply choose this option and select the welcome page you just created to be the front page under the “Static Home Page” menu.

Now that content is live on the site it’s time to use our blueprint to organize it effectively. On the old WP dashboard you can build menus by navigating to Appearance > Menus and on the new dashboard “Menus” is displayed on the left-hand side of the page. Create and name a new primary menu. Menu items will begin with “home” at the top and descend in the order they’ll be arranged from left-to-right. Some menu items will point to static pages such as our “about” or “contact us,” others will point to category feeds you’ve created such as our “news” feed on the demo site, still others will be direct links to outside webpages such as STRAdvocacy.org. To create drop down menus simply indent a menu item beneath its parent heading, an example of this can be seen in the relationship between the “About” and “Facts” pages on the demo site. You can nest up to three menus as needed.

Once you’re satisfied with your menu return to the theme customizer and ensure that it is set as the primary menu under the navigation tab. Hit publish and check out your live site.

Note: While MySampleSTRGroup.wordpress.com will be live immediately, due to nuances of domain acquisition and mapping it may take up to 48 hours before MySampleSTRGroup.org is up and running from the time it is registered.

You’ve built a very professional website for your STR group in no time at all! Now try adding other users who can help you publish content and edit and manage the site. Maybe even use your new WordPress expertise to explore other themes, widgets and designs, fine tuning this site to your groups specific needs, and, when you’re confident in your creation, spread the word.

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