Does your overseas post need a community website? A place where useful links and English-language advice can be easily shared among all members of the community–including all the spouses/partners at post who do not have ready access to the intranet?
If you are (very) lucky, then your post has already done the work for you. A friend recently shared this “unofficial newsletter” maintained by the Community Liaison Office in Brasilia with me. We both thought, “Wow! That would be great to have at this post!” And so, we immediately began collaborating on a similar site for the large tri-mission community in Vienna.
Within a week, we had a developed a basic site structure, and recruited two other spouses to contribute information on specific subject areas to the site. We are now filling in links and other content, and hope to recruit two or three more regular contributors soon. Check us out here: trivienna.wordpress.com.
If you are interested in setting up a similar website in your community, here is what you will need:
A place to host your site
We used the free blogging platform at WordPress.com. It offers free templates, menu and navigation “widgets,” and other items that make setting up a basic website a quick and simple process. WordPress has extensive online help files, and there are also many independent how-to sites with tutorials and videos. (Note that WordPress.ORG is not quite the same service. It is a more advanced content management system that requires paid web hosting, and would be overkill for most post community websites.)
You can use other blogging platforms, such as Blogger, for this purpose, but I strongly recommend WordPress because it offers such an extensive range of options. Even if you don’t think you need them now, you may want to use them later. It is also easier to present a large amount of content on a WordPress site than on more basic platforms because of all the menus, search boxes, “tag clouds,” and other navigational aids. These are built into the website control panel (or “dashboard’), and can be added to the website’s pages by simply dragging and dropping them into place.
A name for your blog
For free blogging services, your site/account name will be a subdomain of the blog provider. For example, trivienna is our account name, but the blog URL is http://trivienna.wordpress.com, indicating that the site is hosted at WordPress. Choose something short and easily spelled so that people can easily find your wonderful site!
A person who is willing to webmaster the site
This can be anyone with previous blogging experience, or anyone who is willing to learn how to blog. It is helpful to know your way around WordPress, but there are similarities between all blogging services. If you have used Blogger, Typepad, etc., you will be able to to figure out how to use WordPress.
In our case, I had quite a lot of previous experience with WordPress because I have my own blog at WordPress.com, and contribute content to www.aafsw.org which uses the same platform. So, I felt comfortable setting up a fairly complex site at the start. But there is no reason that a site can’t be launched with a very basic structure using a free template and then grow over time, as content multiplies and the webmaster’s skills improve with practice.
Content and contributors
The first things you will likely want to put on the site are useful links to local expat groups, clubs, stores, tourist sites, and so on. Fortunately, this is also the easiest type of information to collect! Ask your friends, read the post newsletter, and develop a few basic categories of links to get things started. We also looked at our community’s Facebook group to gather a few recommended links to start us off.
Next you will probably want to add some written content. In Vienna, because there is so much to see and do, reviews are a focus of our site. The chances are that your post newsletter has already featured brief reviews by employees and family members of restaurants and local attractions. They do not need to be New York Times-worthy to be helpful. Why not email the reviewers and ask if you can include their reviews on your site? I did this, and the reviewer not only immediately said yes, but offered to contribute more reviews in the future. Another person offered to contribute reviews of kids’ activities in Vienna.
Guides to local activities or shopping are also helpful. Do you know an “expert” on some activity at post? Ask them to write up their advice and include a few links! I asked a friend to write up a guide on antique shopping in Vienna, for example. I wrote up a quick guide to thrift shopping myself.
It can be helpful to recruit a person who speaks the local language and can translate local resources. Fortunately, my partner in developing TriVienna is a native German speaker. She provided an English-language explanation of a couple of useful local websites right away.
Contributors can submit their material in various ways. WordPress has several types of logins. Administrators can do everything a webmaster normally can do. “Authors” can write posts and publish them to the blog, but they cannot edit other people’s posts or change the site structure. This is a perfect arrangement for someone who is nervous about making the leap into blogging. Writing and publishing a simple blog post is similar to writing an email using an online interface.
“Baby steps” are also possible: one of our contributors decided to save her first few posts as Drafts, so that the site administrators could look over them before publishing. Contributors will need to know where to post their content. There are various ways to set that up. Each person could be responsible for one page, for example. In our case, I set up various topic categories on the site that are the basis for the site navigation. Contributors just have to check a box on the posting page to ensure that their content ends up in the right place.
Alternately, contributors who would rather not post directly can simply send an email to an administrator who can then quickly paste it into a blog post to publish on the site.
Decide on security procedures
For our site, we decided to stick to information that is already freely available online. All we are doing with our site is aggregating, reviewing, and occasionally translating it. Any information about mission activities is of a very general nature: for example, there is a craft group, it meets weekly, email this person for more information. That’s it.
There is no technical reason that the Community Liaison Office coordinator cannot be a contributor to a site of this type, either officially or privately. Their more sensitive posts could even be password-protected (you simply check a box in WordPress in order to do this) and the password distributed to the mission community.
Whether a CLO would be allowed to do this is a question that is outside the scope of this article. But, with the online tools that are available to us now, there is no need to wait around to find out. Any member of the community who wants to make this happen can do so, and at no financial cost whatsoever. Just do it!
- Choose a blog name and sign up for an account here – https://signup.wordpress.com/signup/
- Well-written online guide to building a wordpress.com website – http://learn.wordpress.com/
Note: when searching for additional help, always specify wordpress.COM. Many tutorials and help sites are actually written for wordpress.ORG users, which can be a source of confusion. Wordpress.org is a paid content management service offering many more downloads and options than wordpress.com.
Kelly Bembry Midura is AAFSW ‘s Content Manager. She blogs at wellthatwasdifferent.com.