This is possibly one of the most important pages on this site because promoting your group effectively, and getting positive publicity, has many important benefits, including:
Having an on-line and social-media presence is vital because it is the main way that people find out about groups and their activities. If you are not on the web, then to a large extent you do not exist as far as anyone new is concerned. It is an effective means for groups and their members and supporters to communicate with each other. And it can be used to enable people to register as members or supporters; and to register for activities. An on-line presence need not be expensive or difficult to set up, and there are various alternatives, some of which are described below.
Remember: The worst thing you can do with any on-line tool is to start it but not maintain it. If someone visits a Facebook page or a website and sees that the last entry was six months ago, they will conclude that the group is moribund.
Creating your own website is a good idea. A simple and free way to create a web-presence is to set up a blog using something like Blogger or WordPress. These both run your website for you, which makes it much easier to administer, but gives you less control over layout etc. If you'd like more control, you can run your own site - and if your group is a BHA Partner, then the BHA can host your site for free.
The BHA system will give you a website address that merges your group name with the humanist.org.uk domain name. So your site can be, for example, northchester.humanist.org.uk - and you can have email addresses such as firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternatively, you can buy your own domain name, such as northchesterhumanists.org.uk - and either have this point to your pages on the BHA system, or run your site completely independently. Domains are available relatively cheaply (around £7 per annum for .org.uk) from sites such as http://123-reg.co.uk.
It is a good idea to create a Facebook page, as it has the following advantages:
To create a Faceboook page, click on this link http://www.facebook.com/pages/create.php and click on “Cause or community”. Then type in your group’s name and click on “get started” and follow the instructions.
Creating a MeetUp page is relatively simple and has more advanced functionality than Facebook. It is particularly popular in Greater London and other big conurbations. However, it has disadvantages in that it is not free and not as many people use it as Facebook. People can see a group’s events without having to sign-up to MeetUp but if they want to register as a member or supporter, or if they want to sign-up to an event, they do have to sign-up to MeetUp – and this can be off-putting to some people.
Twitter is an increasingly popular way of communicating. You can use it to promote your activities and causes, and communicate with your ‘followers’. It works by the public exchange of text-based messages (up to 140 characters) called ‘tweets’. You 'follow' (sign-up to) individuals, organisations or causes that interest you - becoming one of their 'followers'. When one of them ‘tweets’ you will see this message. Conversely, when people follow your group, they will receive the tweets that you send, and, hopefully, send these messages on to their followers ('re-tweeting').
You can include links to websites in your tweets, which means you can direct your followers to more in-depth information (such as your website, or a specific event’s page within it). To insert website addresses (URLs) without taking up too many characters, you can shorten them using free online tools such as https://bitly.com/ and http://is.gd.
To create a Twitter account and find out more about its features, see http://twitter.com/. Choose a simple, logical, Twitter username: e.g. @newtonhumanists.
To get started, follow some relevant people or organisations, e.g.:
Tweet each of them, and ask them to RT (retweet) a message like the one below. You include in the tweet the username(s) of the people you are tweeting.
"@BHAhumanists @ahsstudents Pls could you RT? @newtonhumanists is a new humanist group for Newton. Pls see [insert shortened web link]."
There are many advantages to working with other groups and societies that you have common ground with - not least that they might promote your group's activities to their members. There might also be opportunities to work together on activities (like debates, campaigns, 'Think Weeks', etc.), and to co-ordinate your calendars so that your activities do not clash. Similar groups include: your nearest
Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS); Skeptics in the Pub groups; party-affiliated humanist groups; special-interest humanist groups (such as the Armed Forces or LGBT humanist groups); and, of course, your neighbouring atheist, humanist or secularist groups. Do not forget local societies dedicated to debating, philosophy, science, religion, human rights, etc. Working with other groups and societies will help increase awareness of your group in the local community and allow you to hold better events.
In the first instance you should let them know that group exists and give them your email address, Facebook page, and website. Invite them to your launch event, and any future events. Ask them if they would mind getting regular notices about up-coming activities in the future. If they have Facebook pages or Twitter accounts, remember to 'follow' or 'like' them (or the equivalent). And, of course, offer to publicise their activities in return!
You will, hopefully, end up with many people on your mailing list: your members and supporters; your contacts in other groups and societies; and your contacts in the press and on-line media (such as bloggers). It is a good idea to stay in regular touch with them, so that they know your group is active and thriving. Send them a monthly email and/or messages through Facebook, MeetUp, etc. Tell them about the events and campaigns (and how to get involved) coming up over the next month, and give them news about the successes and achievements in the previous month. These messages can act as a modern version of a newsletter, and help increase attendance and active participation, and make people feel part of the humanist community.
If you have a mailing list, look out for opportunities to plug it. For example: have a form for people to leave their details on at every activity you hold or take part in. Give people the option (a tick box) of signing up to the BHA mailing list too (at the moment, this means that they have to sign up as a supporter first, see: https://www.humanism.org.uk/register).
Not everyone has access to email or the internet. This is particularly important if you have (or anticipate having) older members or members with special access needs. Whether you produce paper newsletters depends on the local circumstances. You could appoint certain members to be the 'communicators' to the 'off-line' members; or produce a special hard-copy synopsis of news and activities.
You are most likely to get content into national media through the web, and it is possibly less effort for more reward. Publicity for your group on-line can be very effective as it is so easily and widely accessible, and your group's pages can be directly linked to, quoted and shared. Readers can also leave comments and get involved in discussions. There are many blogs and websites related to atheist, humanist and secularist issues (such as the BHA's HumanistLife). Some accept 'guest bloggers' or contributors, allowing you to write articles. Others might use or quote material you provide them with, or might even be happy to cover the story themselves. And there are on-line equivalents to newsletters and listings pages, which might be related to a cause or an area (such as your local community, local authority or residents' association).
BBC News on-line. The regional BBC regional on-line news pages might be interested one of your group's activities if it can be pitched as having to do with the wider population, or a wider topical issue or campaign. They sometimes let you write articles yourself - and will edit the story for you.
Your group's activities could be of interest to local newspapers and local radio. What you provide will not always be used, but do not give up! Remember, most papers have on-line as well as paper versions: make sure you make use of both. Much of what is said about newspapers applies to the radio but radio also has phone-ins, which are free publicity and a good way to get the humanist view-point out there.
Here are a few tips to getting into the papers:
Before you have anything to give them, build a relationship with your local papers and with the relevant reporters and editors. Provide a brief description about your group and its aims, and include links to your website, Facebook page, etc. By doing this, when there is a story on a relevant topic (such as faith schools), they will be more likely to contact you for a quote.
If you want journalists to contact you, you have to make it easy – otherwise they will go to another source. You might need to be available for comments at short notice. Give your contacts the email addresses and telephone numbers of at least two officers (the President and Secretary, or Press Officer). This is another good reason to have dedicated group email addresses (like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org) and not personal ones (like email@example.com).
You need something newsworthy: something big, controversial, unusual, or topical; or something with a big-name speaker. It should be of interest to the wider public (i.e. not just humanists, atheist, secularists, etc.). For example: a cause that affects many people, such as abortion or halal meat; a big event (like a ‘Reason Week’); or a ‘human interest’ story.
You can invite journalists to cover an event, such as a debate, the launch of a campaign, or a protest. If you have big-name speakers or guests, you can provide the journalist with an opportunity to interview them. The 'big names' can be important local figures, as well as famous national ones.
You can provide content pro-actively by writing about an up-coming activity, or reporting on one that has just taken place. Write a narrative rather than a descriptive report: avoid starting with things like ‘Newton Humanists held at meeting at X-place on Y-day...’; but try starting with something striking, such as, ‘Everyone should have the right to end their life with dignity: Newton Humanists argued at a lively debate on voluntary euthanasia on Friday.’ Talk about the exceptional size of the attendance at a major event, or about a campaign that it is part of, or some controversy surrounding it. Include quotes from your group and attendees.
You can also provide content is to write a letter or opinion piece. You can react to things that are topical and get a humanist's point-of-view into the paper. Give the humanist angle on a local, regional or national issue; or respond to something that someone else has said or written.
Unless you know that what you are providing will be used in full (such as an article for HumanistLife or a blog) reporters often just need a good quote. If you supply them with a long piece, they might cut it back to fit the context better or save space – or ignore it! To make sure this does not cause problems for you (and so they have less work) avoid long, sustained argument and go for a short recap of the situation along with one or two paragraph-length quotes from an officer (or someone of local or national interest, such as a head teacher, councillor, or big-name speaker).
If you want to get a story published, it is crucial that you are persistent. When pitching a story, get in touch with every possible outlet, individually if possible (if not, BCC them), with the pitch. This can work well both over the phone and by email, though in a phone call you can more easily adapt to requirements. As suggested earlier, tailor your focus to the audience – local news needs local interest, while a correspondent will be more interested in a wider campaign you are involved in.
You will be more successful if you get to know the newspaper and how it works: there might be a one day of the week when you have a better chance of getting your story picked up.
You will most successful with local newspapers, but it is occasionally possible to get quoted in the national ones - if the opportunity presents itself you should go for it. As with local media, you should find out who the best journalists to approach are, find out their contact details and send them a quote. And, do not forget, you can always send letters to national papers!
As there some people have a negative image of atheism – and our critics encourage it – try to avoid the 'militant atheist' image (without censoring yourself, of course!). Try to focus and stress areas where there is more agreement, that are harder to object to. For example: secularism (with the emphasis that you fully support the right to private belief and worship); initiatives such as interfaith and charity work; and many of the tenets of Humanism, such as doing good without religion. Above all: focus on what you are for, not what you are against.
It is a good idea to produce a leaflet, postcard, flyer, or similar, which contains some basic information about your group and gives its main contact details (e.g. its website or Facebook address). Have a few in stock so that you can take them out at any opportunity.
There might be places locally where you can put posters up or leave flyers for people to take away. For example: in local libraries, supermarkets, local shops, community/parish notice-boards, local councils, evening-class centres, and social clubs.
You can do single-event posters (which stay up temporarily), or general notice posters (which stay up for longer). The latter can contain a list of upcoming activities to show people the kinds of things your group gets up to. Give the times, dates and locations of activities, and remember to give your website or Facebook address so that people can find out more.
You might not have to go to each location and put the posters up, but ask first, as you might be able to post them with a covering letter.
Having consistent group branding (see Logos and Styles) is important. Posters need to be eye-catching, interesting and well designed - avoid things like long boring lists, clip-art images and 'word art'. Remember: keep it simple. This applies to design and to content. I.e. do not fill the poster with too many words or too many decorative/design features. Only include directly relevant information, have as few words as possible, and include blank space. Colour is good and can tie in with your group's branding, but too much can overwhelm the design or make it look amateurish - stick to two or three.
Local newspapers sometimes have announcements and listings pages. Announcements can be used to advertise an event (such as the launch of your group) or a campaign. An entry in the listings pages (for example, under the 'clubs and societies' or 'faith groups' sections), is a good way for people to find out about you. You might have to pay for these, it depends on the newspaper and type of entry.
Many areas have local magazines, directories, booklets, websites, etc., that have articles and listings of local groups and upcoming events. For example: the Hampstead Garden Suburb Residents’ Association magazine and web-site. Most Councils maintain an on-line directory of local clubs and societies.
There are also the big-name directories, such as Yellow Pages and the Phone Book, which will put in short entries for free and which can be listed under more than one category (tip: put one under ‘religious organisations’).
Make sure that:
You are listed on any on-line versions of the above.
You provide a way for people to find out about and contact the group - preferably a web address and general email.
There are sometimes opportunities to speak to community groups about humanism, or to take part in a discussion or debate. These are good opportunities to promote you group and, more generally, humanism.
Some places (such as local libraries) host displays, which could allow you to describe humanism, your group and its activities in detail. Sometimes this will be through manned stalls, other times, you will be able to set something up and leave it.