Get Your Group Online

Soon after your Chapter or SIG has been approved, it’s time to get online by setting up a web hosting account, a simple website, a Facebook page, and a discussion group. With so much happening online, it’s an excellent way to announce your new Chapter or SIG and communicate with your community. It’s tempting to put this off, but doing the basics as soon as possible enables the group to take adantage of its early momentum.

Choose a Domain Name

Your domain name is your Chapter’s or SIG’s address online. It should be closely related to the name of your group to make it easy to find. Setting up your hosting account as a “sub-domain” of the ICG’s ‘costume.org’ domain name is the easiest option and is free. For the “Sasquatch Valley Costumers’ Guild,” this could be ‘sasquatchvalleycostumers.costume.org’. If that is sufficient, there is nothing more to do and you can skip to the next section on setting up your web hosting account.

Some groups may also want to register a seperate domain name or use an existing domain name they previously registered with their web hosting account, For example, the “Sasquatch Valley Costumers’ Guild” might also want to use the domain name ‘sasquatchvalleycostumers.org’. The ‘.org’ top level domain indicates that your group a non-profit organization, which may make it easier to get certain benefits. You could also choose one of the other common top level domains like ‘.com’ or a country-specific one like ‘.co.uk’.

Registering your own domain name has several disadvantages. First, you must find a domain name that is available. using an online service like ‘whois.com’. Enter your prospective domain name in the search box to see whether it is available. If not, try some variations until you find one that is. This can take a number of attempts, and the available names may not be exactly what you wanted.

Second, you must pay to register your own domain name with one of the many domain name registrars. Some examples include ‘whois.com’, ‘hostgator.com’, ‘1&1.com’ and ‘midphase.com’. It’s a good idea to shop around as prices vary. Domain names typically cost between $7 and $15 per year.

Third, you must remember to renew your own domain name registration. If you do not, your registration will expire and your website will become inaccessible using that name. Worse yet, someone else could re-register your domain name for a different website.

To avoid this, try to register your own domain name for multiple years. It is also a good idea to make the Chapter or SIG Treasurer responsible for renewing the domain name before it expires. You may or may not receive email notifications about renewals, so put the date on the calendar. Some registrars offer an automatic renewal option if you keep your group’s debit card on file with them.

Set Up a Web Hosting Account

If you are using a subdomain of ‘costume.org’ or you have successfully registered your own domain name, you are ready to set up a web hosting account. Every Chapter and SIG is entitled to a free web hosting account as a benefit of affiliation. Contact the ICG webmaster at webmaster@costume.org and provide either the subdomain name you have chosen, or your registered domain name and the name of your domain name registrar. The ICG webmaster will set up your account with the domain name, and email instructions to access it. The account provides online tutorials and videos to help you get started.

Create Email Aliases

Even if you don’t create a website right away, at least create email aliases for officers and special-purpose accounts like online banking and PayPal that forward email to whomever is actully responsible. Be sure to include several officers like Secretary and Treasurer on your special-purpose account aliases, in case one or the other becomes unavailable. The ICG webmaster can walk you through how to set up aliases for an ICG hosted account. Here are some common aliases to set up

  • president@squatchvalleycostumers.costume.org
  • vice-president@squatchvalleycostumers.costume.org
  • treasurer@squatchvalleycostumers.costume.org
  • secretary@squatchvalleycostumers.costume.org
  • board@sasquatchvalleycostumers.costume.org
  • webmaster@squatchvalleycostumers.costume.org
  • info@squatchvalleycostumers.costume.org
  • paypal@squatchvalleycostumers.costume.org
  • bank@squatchvalleycostumers.costume.org
  • yahoo@sasquatchvalleycostumers..costume.org
  • google@sasquatchvalleycostumers.costume.org
  • facebook@sasquatchvalleycostumers.costume.org
  • mailchimp@sasquatchvalleycostumers.costume.org

Create a Simple Website

We suggest starting out with a very simple website first, and worrying about extending it with additional pages and features later. A simple website will provide basic information about your Chapter or SIG, and enable costumers to find you. The information can include a description of your group and the kinds of costuming that members do, who to contact about joining, cost of membership, and maybe some information on your next event. Having a photo of your group helps add interest.

If one of your members has web authoring skills, creating and uploading plain HTML pages and image files works well. The ICG web hosting account includes a file management function for uploading pages to the site. Another option is to use one of the site building tools that are available for free with your account. These tools are visual and require no web authoring skills.

RVSiteBuilder is a website authoring tool that provides templates and a step-by-step wizards for creating a single or multi-page website. You can customize the site and add content without any technical skills. There are a number of tutorials and videos available on the web to help you get started.

WordPress is designed for creating simple to more advanced websites. It enables you to create both static web pages and a blog that your Chapter or SIG can use to add current or topical information to your website, such as news about the group, event announcements and how-tos. WordPress provides a wide variety of themes, including ones that are mobile device friendly, and plugins for things like calendars. Several ICG chapters and the ICG itself use WordPress for their websites. There are many books, online tutorials, and videos about using WordPress to create websites. If you would like to use WordPress, the ICG webmaster can assist you in setting it up for your account.

Create a Facebook Page

Your Chapter or SIG may want consider creating its own Facebook page. A Facebook page makes it easy to use social media to promote your group, announce events, and post current content to help engage your community.

Setting up a Facebook page for your Chapter or SIG is simple, and requires no technical skills. An online tutorial includes a video and step-by-step instructions. There is also an online guide with information to help you manage your Facebook page. You will find a number of tips to help non-profits use Facebook more effectively on the web by using the search terms “Facebook” and “non-profits”.

The ICG has two Facebook pages. The International Costumers page is for general infomation about the ICG and happenings. The Pat & Peggy Kennedy Memorial Archive page is for infomation about activities of archive and its collection.

Note: Starting in 2015, Facebook began filtering users’ News Feeds to eliminte many of the unpaid status updates they receive from business and organizations they have “liked.” This has made it tougher for them to reach their constituencies without paying. It has hit some organizations hard that don’t have a lot of money or time to spend on social media. Your Chapter or SIG will want to monitor this for your Facebook page, and decide on the appropriate amount of effort to invest. If possible, encourage people to “share” as well as “like” because shared pages are made more widely available.

Create an Online Discussion Group

Online discussion groups offer a way for your members to communicate with each other and share ideas any time and anywhere. Discussion groups are especially important for SIGs and Chapters whose members are geographially dispersed, but even Chapters whose members are local can benefit from having an online discussion group.

Several hosted discussion group platforms are available at no charge, supported by advertising. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. All of these platforms allow you to set up an open or a member-only discussion group, enable members to participate through a web interface or by email, and provide additional functionality including polls, file storage, photo albums, calendars, and simple databases.

The most popular discussion group platforms include

Visit the corresponding websites for information on setting up a discussion group.

The ICG hosts open Yahoo! discussion groups for the costuming community (ICG-D) and for the Pat & Peggy Kennedy Memorial Archive (ICG-A), and several limited or closed discussion groups for the ICG board, and various committees. Several Chapters and SIGs operate discussion groups that are either open, or closed to all but members.

Create an Email List

Email lists are a way for your Chapter or SIG to communicate directly with your members and others in your community. While your Chapter or SIG could send emails directly, using a hosted email campaign platform offers more advanced functionality for creating and sending email messages, and avoids a major pitfall.

An email campaign platform provides the ability to manage one or more subscription-based email lists, create and send fully formatted and personalized emails to subscribers, and track how well your email messages are being read by subscribers. For example, you can have one email list of just your members, and another that anyone can sign up for to get notices about upcoming events. Several Chapters use email to notify members that a new issues of their newsletter is available on their website. At least one actually distributes its newsletter as a formatted email message with images.

A major pitfall of sending email directly is that there are strict laws in the U.S. and most other countries that govern commercial email, including email from groups like Chapters and SIGs. In the United States, the law is known as the CAN-SPAM Act. It seeks to limit sending unwanted emall messages (“spam”) to those who do not want to receive it, and requires the ability for recipients to “opt-out” of future messages. Many internet providers block or “black-list” email from known or suspected spammers. Sending email through an email campaign platform helps ensure compliance and avoids having all email form your account being blocked.

A popular free email campaign platform is MailChimp. Your Chapter or SIG can sign up for a free account by visiting their website and providing some basic information. You can upload your membership roll to create a members email list, and create other lists that people can subscribe to receive information about future events and activities.

Create a YouTube Channel

A YouTube Channel will enable your Chapter or SIG to publish easy-to create videos about your group and what they do, and to create and publish useful tutorials and presentations for members and the costuming community. This is especially important for Chapters whose members do not live close together, and for SIGs whose members can live anywhere. A YouTube Channel enables you to publish all your videos in one location, organize them. and allow viewers to provide feedback and even make donations.

To create a YouTube channel, you must login with a Google account because it is part of Google. Always create a YouTube Channel from a Google Account associated with the Chapter or SIG. If your group does not have its own account, it must create one first.

Never create a Google account for your group using a personal email address or an individual’s name. Instead, create an email alias in your web hosting account to to associate with the Google account. This makes it possible to easily change who is responsible for the account. It is highly recommended to have multiple people on the alias so that if one is not available the other can do whatever is required.

Once your group has a Google Account and and you are logged in with that account, you can create a YouTube Channel by going to the Create Channel web page. You should choose the option to create a YouTube Channel for a business or other name, and supply the name of your Chapter or SIG to appear on the Channel. You can costumize the YouTube Channel by including information about your Chapter or SIG, adding a link to its webpage, and choosing an image that appears on the header of the channel.

YouTube has a special program for non-profits called YouTube for Nonprofits that provides additional benefits. It is part of the Google for Nonprofits program. U.S. Chapters and SIGs can enroll if they participate in the ICG’s Group Exemption Letter (GEL). Google verifies their 501(c)(3) non-profit status by looking them up by Employer Identification Number in a U.S. Internal Revenue System database. For information about participating in the ICG’s GEL, visit the Tax Exempt Status for U.S. Chapters and SIGs web page.

The ICG’s Pat and Peggy Kennedy Memorial Archive YouTube Channel includes videos that it produces about material in the collection.

Video Conferencing

Chapters and SIGs whose members live further apart may want to consider video meetings as a way for members to get together regularly and have social interactions. While nothing can replace in-person meetings, video conferencing is a way to help bridge the gap by providing realtime interaction among members

There are several first-tier video confencing vendors used by businesses including WebEx, and GoToMeeting as well as a number of second-tier vendors. All of them are relatively expensive, although some provide special pricing to non-profits.

One free option to consider is video conferencing through Google Hangouts. Hangouts provide audio and video conferencing over the internet, and include screen sharing. Hangouts are limited to 15 active participants, with no time limit. Active participants need to have a Google Apps account, which is free for personal use. A chapter could set up a video feed of an in-person meeting through Hangouts so that up to 15 chapter members who are remote can actively participate.

Chapters who also have a YouTube account can record the video from a Hangout and add it to their channel. This is a great way to share with those who are unable to attend the meeting in person or through a Hangout. YouTube also has a “live events” feature that enables streaming Hangout events directly through YouTube. There are online articles and YouTube videos describe how to do this.