by Ivan Boothe
Interested in creating a website for your community or church group — or have a website already and want to engage fans in social media? You don’t need to be a programmer to create a website. Just 15 minutes a week on social media can make a big difference to your online presence.

What’s your story?

Who are you and why do you do what you do? What do you want people to experience from you group?

Websites of various groups present different personas.

 

Kiriku of Japan presents themselves as “classy.”


 

Embellish of Western Michigan evokes “playful.”


 

Sonos of California presents a site that says “innovative.”


 

Raleigh Ringers’ Facebook page reveals “creativity.”

Think about the first impression you want. How might you express that in pictures and words? This is your first chance to get to know potential audience members, musicians and supporters.
Kiriku ensemble from Japan, says “classy.” Whereas Embellish from Western Michigan comes across as “playful.” Sonos from California looks innovative, while a peek at The Raleigh Ringers’ Facebook page reveals creativity.

What’s your purpose/mission?

Your mission statement should be short and clear to both handbell musicians and those first learning about the instrument. The sites above offer a variety of approaches. Each is unique to that particular group. What’s the most important thing to say about your group?
Kiriku, Embellish, Sonos and The Raleigh Ringers each has a different approach. Each is unique to that group and dictate what is used as content and how it is presented.
What is your mission?
Another way to look at it is your handbell group’s mission or purpose: Is it to advance the art of handbell ringing? Is it to bring handbell performances to audiences who are unfamiliar with the instrument? Is it to act as an expression of faithful ministry?
As the examples above show, there’s no one right answer, but thinking about how to present your website — and especially how to communicate on social media — will be much easier if you know what kind of impression your group wants to have.

Creating a website

Do you need your own website?
  • Church-only ensembles will do well with a page on the church’s site.
  • Do you do both? You might also want a separate site so you can promote events and solicit bookings.
  • Community Choir? Definitely “yes”!
The first question is to decide whether you want to have your own website. Church-only choirs will probably work just fine having a single page on a church’s website. If you’re a church choir who also plays in the community, it might make sense to have your own website so you can more easily list events and solicit bookings. And if you’re a community ensemble, you’ll definitely want to have your own website, even if it’s a simple one.
Website options
Using a Facebook page as your website. If your group is new or small, or if you don’t want the overhead of maintaining a separate website, turning to Facebook might be a viable option, especially if some of your members are already using it. Creating a Facebook page is different from a personal profile — multiple people can administer it, and by default it’s viewable by people who aren’t logged into Facebook. If you go the Facebook route, be sure to get a “username” for it — a much shorter address than the default numerical one — and take advantage of Facebook’s built-in systems like events, photo galleries and videos, rather than sending people off somewhere else. Finally, it’s worth keeping in mind that not everyone uses Facebook, and while anyone will be able to view your Facebook page, only those logged in will be able to comment or contact you.
Using WordPress.com with a custom domain as your website. WordPress is a free blogging platform that is used in two different ways: It can be downloaded and installed on your own server, or it can be used online for free with ads. I suggest the ad-free option.

WordPress is very easy to use and has lots of compelling designs that look great on both computers and mobile devices. You can get your own domain (like yourbellgroup.org) to use with it for just $18 per year. It does have ads, which you can remove for $100 per year (along with getting other benefits). So you can do it for free — with some limitations — or for a little outlay of money. But all the complicated stuff about hosting a website is handled for you.

Using Pushtape to design and host your own website. Pushtape is advanced-level stuff: This means getting your own web hosting and setting up your own web platform. But Pushtape is a great free option. It builts on the open-source Drupal platform, that has multiple of built-in features specifically for musical groups.
While setting it up requires a little technical skill, once it’s going, non-technical folks can easily log in and update the site, just like you would with WordPress.com. Bells of the Cascades uses Pushtape for its website along with a custom-built design. Both  WordPress and Pushtape offer options, but the easiest is Google-formss which is free!
Web forms: These are used for collecting information such as, registrations, email lists, booking requests, enabling online audition inquiries etc. Regardless of what choice you make, at some point you’ll probably want to collect some information. Whether it’s registering people for events, inviting people to be on your email list, accepting booking requests, or, you’ll need a place for people to do that. There are options that you can integrate into WordPress or Pushtape, and several if you need an “e-commerce” component (like selling tickets), but the easiest and free-est option is Google Forms.

Social media

There are so many social media options out there — where to start?!
First, don’t engage in social media unless you have the capacity to keep it updated. It’s actually worse to have a profile that hasn’t been updated in months and months than to not have one at all. Social media isn’t a billboard — it’s social! — so plan to have some conversations and answer some questions with your fans, not just post event announcements like you’re handing out press releases.
 
Make your posts personal. Instead of talking about “we” as a handbell group, talk about the musicians, talk about the history behind the music you’re performing, talk about the community in which you’re presenting your work, talk about the ministry within the musical text. Talk about the people, not the buildings — or, in this case, the entity known as your handbell group.
You might be familiar with the saying that a church isn’t the building, it’s the people. When you tell your story, you want to focus on the people. Instead of talking about “we” as a handbell group, talk about the musicians, talk about the history behind the music you’re performing, talk about the community in which you’re presenting your work, talk about the ministry within the musical text. Talk about the people, not the buildings — or, in this case, the entity known as your handbell group.
For most groups, the best options will be Facebook and YouTube.
If your audience is youth or young-adults, and if you have members who are adept at taking and sharing media, consider Instagram, Tumblr, Vine and others.
No matter which your choose, the most important thing is to be active on them.
In terms of networks, for most groups, the best spots are going to be Facebook and YouTube. If you have people in your group who are adept at taking and sharing media (or if you’re committed to appealing to a youth and young-adult audience), then you might do well on secondary networks like Instagram, Tumblr, Vine and others. But the choice of networks isn’t as important as being active on them.
What do I post?
Social media is about conversations and relationships. You should, of course, let people know about your concerts. But think about how to engage people beyond those singular announcements, and communicate in your group’s voice about what you’re all about.
Behind the scenes: Are you putting in long hours working on a particularly hard piece?
  • Take a 5-second clip of it and share it on social media! You don’t have to give away the details of the piece if you don’t want to, but people getting to see a bit of what you’ve got planned — whether you’re already pulling it off, or still struggling to get it right — will make them want to show up and see the real thing!
  • If you’ve got a mobile connection at your events, get some shots behind the stage, during set-up, of the dress rehearsal, carrying bells or tables around — show all the work that goes into your performance!
Lean toward photos and videos: A picture might be worth a thousand words, but it also takes a thousanth of the time than to write all those words — and people will like it more anyway. Win! These get shared much more than text posts (if you have a long text post, be sure to have a photo or video as part of it) and perhaps more importantly, they’re actually faster to do once you get the hang of it!
Ask questions: This tends to work well when you’ve already got a sizeable group of people talking to you — leaving comments, sharing your posts, and occasionally messaging you. Once you’ve got a little engagement, start asking them what they think. The possibilities are endless: Their favorite piece on handbells, their favorite piece they’d like to see on handbells, their favorite holiday tune or hymn, or even something unrelated to music.
Asking questions, and having people answer them, is one more opportunity for your group’s name to show up in their feeds and dashboards and keep you in their minds when concert season rolls around. Just make sure that when they do answer, you give them a response — “cool,” “love that one too!” or a thumbs up are fine, but they need to know you’re listening!
Become a handbell expert: You almost certainly know more about handbells than most people you know. You know way too much about handbells, and you’ve been looking for a place to share it. Now’s your chance! Share the history of bells, the history of your group, videos of handbells being used in television or popular music. Or follow handbell groups in other parts of the country and re-post interesting videos or photos from them! Trust me, people who come to your concerts are not going to suddenly stop coming because you shared an impressive video from a group 500 miles away. If they love handbells, they’ll appreciate that video and want to see your own group the next time you perform. Handbell Brothers’ Facebook page is a great example of this kind of “content curation.”
 
Create something special: You know what you like to share, and what your friends like to share (two bucks says at least one of those things is cute cats). Consider making something especially for social media — a few members dressed in a funny costume, a 20-second rendition of a popular song on bells, a clip of your the ringers cracking faces to try to make the director laugh, or gift ideas for future ringers.

Resources

There’s a huge amount of information available on these topics, and this is really just scratching the surface. To go deeper and see some resources that might help you out along the way, check out this list of resources especially for you (PDF). Good luck!

P.S. For real virtual handbells, you missed out if you didn’t catch the Handbell Hero game from a few years back. (If you’re really geeky, it’s possible to build something similar.)

Ivan Boothe is a member of Bells of the Cascades in Portland, Oregon. He works as a freelance web developer and online organizer with nonprofits and community organizations. He is the online communications associate for the interfaith Fellowship of Reconciliation. A co-founder of the Genocide Intervention Network (now United to End Genocide), he worked as a community organizer in Philadelphia — where he performed with the Philadelphia Handbell Ensemble — before relocating to Portland in 2012.