You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I definitely judge a restaurant by its website.
If I’m looking to try somewhere new, my first step is to find the eatery’s official site. I’ll scroll the menu, browse photos and confirm that it’s open when I want to eat.
But some restaurants are shrouded in secrecy. Either they don’t have a website or they haven’t updated it since 2013. You won’t find them on Facebook or Instagram, either.
This sends a subtle message: “We aren’t really looking for new customers right now.” So I find a different place.
In this way, Scout units are a lot like restaurants. They need an online presence — a website, a social media account, or both — for two main reasons.
One, an online presence shows potential Scouting families that the unit is an active part of the community. They do fun things with regularity. And two, it keeps existing Scouting families updated on the latest news about campouts, fundraisers, meetings, service projects and more.
Is a website worth the time and money?
Stephen Lavoie, a Scouter who emailed me last week, wants to start a website for his pack.
“One of the biggest questions I keep getting is, ‘why spend the money on a website, and what benefits does it provide to the pack?'” he says.
Lavoie wants to illustrate to his fellow volunteers that a website is an important recruiting tool that gets new parents excited about Scouting.
And better yet, Lavoie says, a great-looking website can cost nothing and take little time and effort to get started.
Your best options for free website builders: Wix and Weebly
Many of the website builders designed for small businesses are perfect for Scout units, too.
The best ones include drag-and-drop customization, attractive templates and mobile-optimized design.
If you don’t mind a few ads and a slightly longer domain name (picture something like “pack123.123websitebuilder.com”), you can get all those features for free.
Or budget some unit funds toward the paid version that makes everything look a little bit better.
There are hundreds of website builders out there, but the trusted review site Wirecutter likes Wix and Weebly best of all.
WordPress, which powers the Bryan on Scouting blog, is great for a chronological stream of posts like you find here. But it’s less ideal for a unit website that needs a lot of static information and easy navigation. It can be done, but the learning curve is steeper.
6 ways to make your unit website better
- 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 up to date.
- Keep it updated: If the most recent activity on your unit’s online calendar is from 2015, 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.
- Appoint at least two people to update the site: 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.
- Upload 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 …
- Avoid personal info: Visitors to the site should be able to see the time of your weekly meeting, a way to contact the Scoutmaster, a summary of your unit’s recent successes, a few photos and other key information. Don’t keep information like Scouts’ last names, trip itineraries, members’ contact info, or anything else that could be used maliciously, on the unit’s website.
- Visit the BSA Brand Center: Using the BSA’s official logos, images and brand guidelines will help you put your best foot forward online. Go here to find all you need.
Your best option for social media: Facebook
On the social media front, nothing matches Facebook’s ability to support a unit’s needs. You can schedule events, share photos from recent adventures, post a poll to vote on the next trip destination, stream live videos of courts of honor, answer parents’ questions and much more.
If operated correctly and updated frequently, a Facebook page itself could be your unit’s website. That’s one-stop shopping.
One important note: Be sure to consult the BSA’s Social Media Guidelines before you proceed. You’ll learn, for example, that the BSA does recommend that units use Facebook for public information and marketing but does not recommend the use of closed or private Facebook groups. Scoutbook is a better option for that.
What about Twitter, Instagram and YouTube? These have their place, but if you’re short on time, it’s better to do one platform well instead of five or six that you update irregularly.
Already have a unit website? Add it to BeAScout.org
Want to reach more potential members? Make sure your unit’s website is part of your listing on BeAScout.org. Here’s how to update your pin (link opens a PowerPoint).