It has now been five years since Rotary’s new branding initiative launched. To assist Rotarians in implementing the change, Rotary created, at the Zone level, a responsibility portfolio called the Public Image Coordinator. Some but not all Districts followed suit.
Unfortunately, there is a good deal of evidence that RI still has a considerable distance to travel to convince clubs and individual members to adopt our new branding paradigm.  With the coming launch of Rotary’s next five-year Strategic Plan, it is time to revisit this relatively narrowly focused task.
 
All four Strategic Priorities have actions which rely heavily on our still ‘new’ branding format. If we are going to “improve our ability to achieve and measure impact”, create “new channels”, “increase openness and appeal”, “increase awareness of our impact and brand”, create a “participant-centred approach” and “opportunities for …connections” while being “innovative” based on “research” then we need help over a much broader area than just our “public image”.
 
The only term I can conceptualise which incorporates all of the above tasks and includes our “public image” is an “Integrated Communications Coordinator”.  
 
Only a short time ago newspapers and newsletters made up the majority of our “public relations” portfolio along with face to face communications.
 
Today, piled on top of those still important avenues, we face a plethora of electronic options generally termed “social media” which are in turn, constantly growing, evolving and creating new ways to communicate our message and wishfully attract new members. Add to that e-mail, texting and messaging and we find ourselves wading through a digitised swamp of our own making. Second-after- second, we decide to open or ignore the messages on our smartphones, tablets and laptops.  
 
Newsletters and bulletins now get ignored. A good opening rate is just 50%.
 
Between 2010 and 2015 both RI and Districts emphasised Clubs creating websites and offered breakout sessions on the more technical aspects of setting up sites. Content Management Systems like ClubRunner and DACdb were encouraged as easy ways for non-experts to create an “Internet” presence at low cost. (It should be noted that ClubRunner and DACdb are also Administrative Management Systems or AMS and it is in this component where an equal or greater value lies.)
 
At the same time, Facebook and Twitter were being adopted by everyone as a no-cost personal and quick way of communicating and sharing information. YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram offered additional image-based portals while Yahoo and LinkedIn groups had replaced “Bulletin Boards”. In response and a little late, Rotary created My Rotary with its discussion portal.
 
Rotarians however, have not had a critical discussion about how all these new and old “channels” are interrelated and overlap. More importantly, we have never discussed the issue of “content”. Few seem to realise that it is not the platforms that overlap but that it is the content which is the overlapping feature.
 
Like it or not content is still the number one factor in Google ranking your site high. Content is not just the word count but design features such as headers, links and of course pictures. Quantity also is important. Content is one of the reasons business sites have blogs built into their site. They are a means by which to increase content.
 
Nowhere have we researched or explored how best to create content which is attractive to the different audiences we want to have joined us. Are we creating content which attracts non-Rotarians or are we creating content that is attractive to people who are already Rotarians? If new members are our goal, then we should be marketing ourselves to non-Rotarians. Rotary International has never to my knowledge held a breakout session on how to create a membership marketing plan for a Rotary club.
 
Such a marketing plan would by its nature be very different in a large urban place with many Rotary Clubs than in a small market town with just one club.
 
Do we set a budget for marketing on what appear to be free sites, like Facebook? They are not free. If you have an event, FaceBook will push you to pay to broaden the scope of your audience. I’ve seen Facebook pushing ads from $8.00 to $39.00. If you pay $600.00 per year to a CMS/AMS then is it not legitimate to pay to advertise your fundraising event more widely on Facebook. One-time newspaper thank-you ads are far more expensive. Using Google ads or Facebook ads may be a better value.  They get targeted to the exact demographic you want to attract.
 
Workshops in SEO (Search Engine Optimization), SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and SMM (Social Media Marketing) are new fields I hear no one discussing. There are many companies more than willing to supply you with the data and expertise to create marketing campaigns and content that is aimed directly at the audiences your club wants to attract. In large cities,  many clubs need to pool their funds to gain and share such expertise. Rotary should have such experts available to single community clubs for consultation purposes with access to high-end companies such as SEMrush. Even small clubs can purchase the minimum package from SERanking.
 
If the Club is in a small local market with no other Rotary competitor, we can optimise our site for local search as opposed to worldwide search? Do we understand and use keywords which are local? Do we have backlinks to other quality local websites?
 
All kinds of wishful thinking and claims get made about each type of communications portal, but I have found no research that the club website or Facebook page has recruited a new Rotarian.
 
ClubRunner has created, currently still in Beta format, an interactive, what it terms “content” module, for recruiting members on a website.  It is a step in the right direction.
 
Finally, there are other trends now on the periphery which within the next five years will be mainstream. One such technology is “live streaming”. It already presents opportunities for Clubs to combine features of traditional clubs, e-clubs and satellite clubs into a new hybrid. Live streaming can also present new ways to fundraise.
 
Rotary’s new Strategic plan calls on all of us to “Expand our Reach” by creating new channels to Rotary. Having a coordinator promoting image and brand is not going to expand our reach. Having a coordinator who knows the old and new channels and how to integrate and maximise their use is what we need.
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