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Recreation Advocate

The OutdoorWire family websites feature news and information affecting outdoor recreation opportunities and access to public lands. 

Communications Plan for the Internet Age

Technology provides a means to communicate and stay in touch with people.

Objective:  Provide a description of a strategy to improve communications between OHV community organizations and increase their presence on the World Wide Web.

Current Status:

Many OHV community organizations currently have web sites that provide a description of the organization and seek to entice new members to join.  Most organizations do maintain web forums where registered members can engage in on-line “conversation” on a variety of topics.  As a rule, the predominate model of a “corporate” presence on the web is a series of static web pages that are infrequently updated. In addition, there numerous commercial forums that cater to the OHV recreationist and the major magazines also maintain web sites.

 

A cursory review of web sites for the OHV community organizations reveals a variety of technologies employed to support their corporate presence on the web.  The basic page structure features quasi-static pages of information with a script-driven menu system to call stored pages.  The sites provided limited site search functions and virtually no information about issues impacting recreation opportunities.

The sites did provide good descriptions of their organization and why people should be members.  One site did provide an on-line version of their monthly publication.  Overall, the sites provided a good description of the organization and a plea for membership.

All sites promoted a core theme of “protecting access to public lands for recreation”.  All sites lacked a cohesive display of current information that is relevant to issues facing access to public lands and OHV recreation and the actions being addressed by that organization that would support their pleas for membership.

The current structure of OHV community organizations websites is a collection of static html pages linked through a complex network of scripts to give the appearance of seamless integration.  They provide information about their organizations.  People using the web to search for information do so by entering key words or phrases in a “search engine” such as google, Yahoo, or MSN.  Search engines employ a technique to review and catalog websites be keyword/phrase content.  The cataloging techniques also track keywords and phrases used to search for information.  Websites are “ranked” based on a formula that incorporates a number of elements; such as frequency site keywords/phrases match search keywords/phrases and how often a site is updated.  No sites appear to maintain high “search-engine ranking” for content.  

With respect to “content”, the OHV sites display subject matter that is not current and often lacks clear relevance to current topics of importance to OHV recreation and access to public lands.

Overall, the OHV sites lack a cohesive relevance to current events that are quickly located by search engines.  While the sites may be functionally serviceable to organization members, they do not display a compelling presence to attract non-members to join nor serve as a information conduit to promote a position on issues of importance to OHV recreation.

Strategy:
Acknowledging that current information is a valuable commodity and a key element in fulfilling the mission of each of the OHV organizations, the overall structure of collecting, displaying, and distributing information needs to be improved to address the desires of people for information on demand.  The assumption is that information is in three distinct categories: current (time-sensitive), informational (non-time sensitive), and historical.

In deed, the future strategy involves marketing and communications concepts.  This discussion will focus on the “communications” aspect.  The assumption is made that improving communications will enhance the organizations marketing position.

In communications, the core concept is a message is sent to an audience.  The message is received and interpreted by the audience.  There is an assumption that the message will be understood by the audience.  When the web is used to distribute the message, there are two "audience" segments that need to receive and understand the message: organization membership base and the non-aligned recreationist.

The organization membership base is the current membership of the organization.  There is an assumption they are willing to receive the information and are likely to understand the information.

The non-aligned recreationist is a group that is not tied to an organization through membership.  They are either a participant in OHV recreation or they are a member of the general public that found the web site by chance.
 
The various groups employ traditional methods of communication - regularly published newsletters.  These are provided to membership using the postal service.  Producing a periodical requires collecting information, formatting it for printing, and publishing (i.e. printing and distributing) the periodical.  These steps are labor and time intensive.  Information delivered by periodicals is often of limited value as it is “old news”  by the time it is receive.  It is also distributed to a very narrow market - mailing lists of subscribers (members of the organizations).  

Overall, the printed media industry as a whole is in the midst of radical change.  Subscribers to daily newspapers are on the decline.  Subscribers to monthly or quarterly magazines are on the decline.  The desire is to have news and information on-demand.
 
The World Wide Web (or internet) is the media where people are turning for their news and information.  The internet is a growing market for publishing information.  While organizations do maintain web sites, few web sites cater to providing timely information about issues.  Their presence on the web in general reflects their style of publishing a periodical.  The information displayed is targeted to their membership base.

Overall, the internet is a market where the OHV groups are sadly outdated and still mired in old-school techniques.  While OHV organizations do employ a “web presence”, they are not employing the full capabilities of the internet to distribute their message.  For the most part, they employ traditional print media concepts to distribute their message.

The early internet websites were “static” html (Hyper Text Markup Language) pages that  provided information in a series of linked pages.  Technology developments have moved the web from “static” pages to “interactive” pages.  This shift is often referred to as Web 2.0.  It is a means of displaying information using voice, video, and data through a web browser.  

 

Over time, the internet focus has shifted from the individual “pulling” content to one that is “pushing” content.  In other words, early web site displayed a collection of information and waited for someone to find it.  That model has shifted to a one where the web site is actively “pushing” information to the individual and other websites.  This philosophy corresponds to “static” content which does not vary over time and “active” content which is time sensitive.

The following is a brief discussion of various components of Web 2.0 technology that are available to be used to distribute an organization’s message.  The base strategy will be to employ the various components in a cohesive manner so as to take full advantage of all components and reach a broad audience; organization membership base and the non-aligned recreationist.

  • BLOGS:  A blog (or web log) is current data that is time sensitive which is displayed in chronological order.  In traditional media, it is equivalent to a daily newspaper.  The big advantage to blog software is its associated "tags".  The tags are keywords and phrases that are easily indexed by the internet search engines.  There are several blog “aggregators” that collect and rank web sites based on tag content, frequency of update, and what people are interested in searching for.  Technocrati and Digg are two of the major blog aggregators.  Over time, keywords and tags are logged and readily available to internet search engines providing rapid location of articles associated with search keywords.  BLOGS require a person to access the website to view the content.
  • RSS (Real Simple Syndication):  RSS is a technology that will “push” content to subscribing “readers”.  The RSS philosophy is based on syndicated news distribution employed by Associated Press and United Press International to provide news content to subscribing newspapers.  When employed as part of a comprehensive strategy, content can be “pushed” to a subscriber so that it can be read from a browser window without accessing a website.  Normally, a brief description of the content (title and first 10 lines) is provided for immediate viewing with a link to click to access the complete document.
  • WIKI:  The WIKI technology provides a framework where participants can contribute in real-time to develop an on-line encyclopedia providing in-depth discussion and cross-referencing of content to related or supporting data.  WIKI supports “tags” for cataloging by internet search engines.
  • CMS (Content Management System):  A CMS site is a “database-driven” site where content is displayed “on-the-fly” by pre-defined style sheets.  Typical CMS software provides for content to be logically stored in “section” and “category”.  This indexing feature allows two-level indexing of content.  CMS provides robust search features for rapid location of data by keyword or phrase.  CMS content, like BLOG content, can be distributed via RSS and supports “tags” from cataloging by internet search engines.
  • Collaborative Workspace:  Collaborative workspace is a speciality software package that provides a dedicated “project” space for a collaborative team to work and share documents and discussion in a closed environment.  Collaborative workspace incorporates several components of web technology providing a secure work environment where all team members have access to the same information.  (For additional information, see http://www.projectspace.com/).
  • Forums:  Forums provide a discussion environment for registered members. Forums provide a mixed results for distributing and sharing of information.  Forums are not tag-linked to provide ready indexing by internet search engines.
  • Social Networking:  Social networking provides a more intimate type of environment for sharing of information.  Unlike forums which are arranged in subject groups, social media is based on a chronological order of entries.  Some popular social networking sites are MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

(Note: The traditional web components of email and mail lists remains a viable component.  However, they are diminishing in use as a means of communication in favor of forums, instant messaging, and private messages.)

Goals:

There are numerous components of Web 2.0 technology that can be employed to reach the overall “audience”.  The overall “goal” is to provide communication through information distribution.

As noted, in communications, the core concept is a message is sent to an audience.  The message is received and interpreted by the audience.  There is an assumption that the message will be understood by the audience.  When the web is used to distribute the message, there are two "audiences" that need to receive and understand the message: organization membership base and the non-aligned recreationist.

By fielding a communications strategy the employes the various components of the Web 2.0 technology, the potential to reach the broad audience (organization membership base and the non-aligned recreationist) is improved.

While it is important to field a broad scope of information distribution, the information is only relevant if it is accurate.

Hence, fielding a communications strategy is best served if the information is vetted through a clearing house where accuracy can be verified.  This leads to a related discussion that should cover the concepts of “data-integrity”.

Through technology, the capability does exist to reach existing members and the general public with information covering the issues impacting OHV recreation.  To attain this goal, the organizations need to ensure they are in constant communication and sharing information through tradition means of telephone and email.

This requires a coalition that is committed to common goals with shares values and following a long-term or strategic plan.  Information distributed must be accurate, timely and relevant to the goals of the strategic plan.

Methods:

The following is a brief discussion of the publishing concepts I have adopted for my website (www.muirnet.net).

I use a BLOG (www.wordpress.org) and CMS (www.joomla.org) as distribution mediums.  The BLOG provides time-sensitive data such as Federal Register Notices, agency press releases, and miscellaneous alerts distributed by OHV organizations.  On average, one or more articles are posted daily.  Each article contains a list of “categories” that cover the subject matter and a list of BLOG “tags”.  The “categories” are indexed by the internet search engines.  The BLOG tags are “pushed” to BLOG aggregating sites for indexing within the BLOG community.  In addition, allow content is available to RSS subscribers.

Within the CMS component, I publish information that has a longer expected useful life. Posting of content to the CMS is at least once per week.  Content is of two types: articles and news that will remain relevant for a long-term (more than one month) and data that has reference value; basically, a reference library of articles and documents.

The CMS articles and news are divided into major content sections with sub-categories within each section.  This structure allow for incorporating the “reference library” in a cohesive fashion.

The reference library is managed by using cataloging software outside the CMS to build a “notebook”.  (The software used is NoteShare - www.aquaminds.com.  NoteShare is specific to the Mac OSX computer platform.  This is a function that would be better implemented in a WIKI environment.)

As with articles and news, the “notebooks” can be filed within “sections” and “categories” and viewed through a Javascript-enabled web browser.

Overall, this configuration provides for easy update as access to the “administrative back-end” is through a web browser.  Both BLOG and CMS allow for multiple users to submit and publish content.

Optional components can be enabled that would provided solution to a specific task.  For example, if the desire were to have a venue where registered users could discuss issues, “forum” software can be integrated into a cohesive website.  

If the requirement were to provide a “workspace” where discussions and documents were shared in a controlled environment, software is available.

As with BLOG and CMS, access controls can be implemented to have public, private, or a combination of public and private access to the Web 2.0 components.

In addition, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter are used to keep in touch with interested people.  Twitter allows a 140 character message to be posted to an account.  Other Twitter users can elect to follow the postings.  Also, in my case, my Twitter account is linked to my Facebook account.  From my internet connected cellphone, I can post to my Twitter account which forwards the post to my personal Facebook account.
Facebook allows a personal account and a “business” account.  I have established a 4x4Wire.com business account on Facebook.  With that, content posted to the 4x4Wire.com (joomla-powered CMS system) is forwarded via RSS feed to the 4x4Wire Facebook account.  That content is then available to Facebook users that elect to become a “fan” of 4x4Wire.

Summary:

The various components of the Web 2.0 technology offer a variety of methods to make content available to a vast audience.  The example provided is based on a single site.  The potential exists for one site to support a BLOG with RSS feed.  That RSS feed can in turn be subscribed and displayed on a personal web browser or through another web site.

In other words, each web site employing Web 2.0 components can “push” content to other web site to be shared.  The “push” can be from a central site or implemented in a “shared” environment where several sites push specific content.

The options and flexibility are there to implement a cohesive network of linked web sites where each organization can maintain their organization specific data and publish content developed by someone else distributed through an RSS feed.

Content can be public or private and include voice, video and data for publishing a robust message to a broad audience.

There is much that can (and should) be done to energize the growing base of recreationists eager to be a part of maintaining their recreation opportunity.   If they were provided the tools and information, there is a willing base of volunteers that can be enlisted.  The traditional concept of the “club” as the social organization is moving to the “virtual club” and with an on-line social networking structure entailing a change in the approach to interact with potential supporters.

Technology provides a means to communicate and stay in touch with people.

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