If first impressions are everything, your unit website better be good.
These days, many prospective Scouts and their parents will research your pack, troop, or crew online long before they pick up the phone or visit one of your meetings.
An easy-to-navigate, well-designed, regularly updated website can mean the difference between recruiting a new Boy Scout and watching him join the troop down the street.
With that in mind, here are 10 ways to improve your unit’s website:
1. Consider your audience
When creating or improving a unit website, the first question you should ask is: Who is this site for? You probably will come up with four distinct audiences:
- Current Scouts
- Current Scouters and/or parents
- Prospective Scouts
- Parents of a prospective Scout
All decisions about content (and organization and design) should include an analysis of how each of those audiences would be affected. Think like a member of each of these customer groups, and consider why they’d be taking the time to visit the site. What do they want, and do they have an easy time finding it?
2. Consider the motivations of your audience
You know who they are, but what do they want? Here are a few ideas:
- Check the calendar of meetings, campouts, and troop events
- See photos of past events as a reminder of how much fun was had
- Find a packing list for the next campout (usually accessed the night before departure)
Current Scouter and/or Parent
- Check the calendar of meetings, campouts, and troop events
- Find out when to pick up/drop off for the next campout
- Find a packing list for the next campout to make sure their Scout isn’t forgetting, say, a flashlight or sleeping bag
- Get contact information for other parents
- Find answers to questions about advancement, including where to sew patches, etc.
- Pay dues or register Scout for jamborees, summer camps, or other events
- See photos and videos to learn what Scouts in this troop do
- Find out what cool places the troop is headed off to in the coming year (or places recently visited)
- Learn when to come visit a meeting
- Print off a flier to hand to Mom or Dad
Parent of Prospective Scout
- See meeting times/location to determine whether it’s convenient for family’s schedule
- Find a calendar of upcoming and past events to make sure the troop’s active
- Get contact info for the Scoutmaster to schedule a visit or ask questions
3. Make it easy to navigate
Don’t make it difficult for current or prospective members to find what they need. A navigation bar at the top of the page or along the left side can make information easy to find in a hurry.
4. Tell them when and where you meet
One of the first questions a potential new member will have when visiting your site is, “When and where do you meet?” Make their life easy by providing that information “above the fold,” meaning it’s visible on the home page before scrolling down.
5. Include a calendar
Modern moms and dads plan their calendars months in advance. By including meetings and outings on a detailed online calendar, you’re giving parents and Scouts fewer excuses for missing activities down the road. But if you’re going to prominently display a calendar, be sure it’s updated. Speaking of …
6. Keep it updated
If the most-recent activity on your unit’s online calendar is from 2010, that sends one of two messages to potential recruits: (1) this unit has stopped operating or (2) this unit is unorganized. There’s some work involved in keeping a website up to date, but it’s one outward-facing sign of a vibrant, active pack, troop, or crew.
7. Appoint at least two webmasters
Many hands working on a website make everyone’s job easier. So giving admin powers to multiple users makes sense, especially if someone goes on vacation or gets swamped at work. For troop or crew websites, at least one of the admins should be a youth to keep their needs and interests in mind. After all, “youth-led” applies to the online realm, too.
8. Upload your packing lists
Consider this scenario: It’s the night before summer camp, and, of course, Chase hasn’t even started packing. That’s not a huge problem, except for one thing: Chase can’t find the packing list he was given at the troop meeting on Monday.
Sound familiar? Alleviate this headache by including last-minute details right on your homepage. I’m thinking departure time, meeting location, emergency numbers, and, yes, the all-important packing list. But this sensitive information shouldn’t be publicly displayed, which brings us to …
9. Protect sensitive info
Create a verified login system that prevents unauthorized users from seeing certain parts of the site. Unregistered visitors should be able to see the time of your weekly meeting, an email address or phone number for the Scoutmaster, a summary of your unit’s recent successes, a few photos, and other key information.
They should not see Scouts’ last names, trip itineraries, members’ contact info, or anything else that could be used maliciously.
Read more about unit website guidelines at this official BSA page.
10. Be brand-compliant
Let’s call this one a Level 2 tip. After you’ve completed Level 1, which is building a website that’s functional and easy to navigate, think about branding your site using official BSA logos and colors. I blogged about this earlier this month, but it’s worth repeating that the BSA Brand Identity guide includes exact specs on official Scouting colors. The goal: a consistent look and feel to all the ways a Scout and his family interact with the organization.
11. Start a blog
Perhaps I’m biased, but I’m a big fan of blogging as a way to share news and updates in a conversational format. Ideally, these posts would be mostly written by Scouts and include photos and perhaps video from recent trips. Other thoughts:
- Trip recaps should be short and written in the mindset of “look what we did last weekend.”
- There could also be a Cubmaster’s/Scoutmaster’s Minute blog post where the top adult leader can share some weekly or monthly words of wisdom.
- To be a viable blog, I would suggest posting something no less than once per week. Any less and the thing would become stagnant.
- I would suggest having one adult and one Scout be primary administrators of the blog, with the Scoutmaster and other youth and adult leaders having the ability to post to it, as well.
- A blog post doesn’t have to contain many words at all. It could simply be four or five photos with fun captions.
Share your successes
Does your pack, troop, team, ship, post, or crew already have a phenomenal website? Share the link in the comments section below so others can learn from your example.