by Sharon Villines
When I saw a blog on a cohousing website, I realized that we have missed the boat on using blogs to market cohousing. By reading the informal accounts of personal and community events, I felt this was a community I could walk into and be perfectly happy. The posts were about things like canning tomatoes, their Royal Bocce Ball tournament, and fears about getting to know people.
That is what people who are considering cohousing want to know. Who are these people and what do they do? Is this a therapy group or what?
I love blogs. They are uncensored and there are no requirements for subjects or formats. A blog post can be anything from a picnic review to a deep-thoughts piece on "Why is it raining again?" Since I write in my sleep, a blog is easier for me than for many, but every group must have a few writers. If you don’t, find some. I’m serious. Advertise on your flyers: "Looking for a community bloggers!"
Blogs started as “web logs.” Serious, personal, and frequent posts. Like a diary. Blogging was a commitment and a sacrifice. It was a tightly knit community; there are books on these people. Bloggn was being real. In time, the name was shortened to "blog" and with new technology and internet access their popularity grew. Mommy blogs are huge now, but many are just opportunities to sell stuff. These are not blogs.
Blogs are personal, ideosyncratic remarks on any topic. Why bother otherwise? Let your community show itself as a diverse community of people who enjoy simple living, or simply living, or wondering what simple living is, or …
Your community needs one or more ways to communicate inclusively—where information is available to everyone. And where everyone can share. A blog can usually be part of anything you choose.
1. Wordpress on a self-hosted site is my favorite solution because it will do everything. Wordpress comes in two versions. One that Wordpress hosts as Wordpress.com, and the .org version that you host on your own account with an internet service provider. Both are free.
The version you host on your own account has the most options but the .com version has almost no learning curve and works fine. If nothing else, .com is a good starting place.
Wordpress can also become your community's “content management system” — a place to store everything from minutes to pictures where it is accessible to everyone and never runs out of space. Everyone uses it from the New York Times to the ten year old down the street.
2. With a self-hosted Wordpress blog, members can email their entries to the site. They don’t have to learn the software. Write an email, give it a subject line, mail it, and it posts itself.
You will need one and preferably two people who know the back end. "Wordpress Beginner" is an excellent, huge site — a library that covers every detail.
And there are many forums on specific features that will answer any of your questions.
3. What prospective members have liked forever is a page of pictures and bios of current members. It allows them to see if they fit in. A blog goes even further. It says more about what their interests and concerns are more intimately than a photograph of a person canning. Or the street festival where the group was handing out flyers and people asking questions. Funny meeting stories.
All these are great topics to show members' personalities and interests. The key is personal. Even though the blog is also useful for information updates, the entries that show personality and uniqueness are best.
People may have ideas about “I want to live in cohousing” as an abstract good thing to do, but reading personal accounts of activities and getting to know people can attract them in a different way.
4. Unless you have a really weird person in your group who wants to blog about cohousing as the perfect window peeping opportunity, don’t set rules. Let the blog develop. A blog post is no harder to write than an email. And you don’t have to go to a meeting to help interest the world in your community.
5. The worst thing you can do, however, is leave long periods with no entries. A blog is like NPR, not a natural history museum. It has to be alive and fresh and active. If the blog is dead for 3 months, or even a month, readers may assume the group is defunct or not doing well. Or their interest will just naturally wander elsewhere.
6. Blogs are perfect ways to get attention with little expense. Understanding “Search Engine Optimization” (SEO) puts you in Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go, etc. You use keywords to attract people interested in many topics, not just cohousing. People who are searching for "bocce ball" could find you site as well as those searching for "playground design."
An active blog will rise in the search engines and increase your likelihood of being tripped over and attracting attention.
Yes, there are a billion blogs out there, but you would be surprised how easy it is to get noticed. Particularly if you have a variety of subjects and don’t push the marketing lingo or sound too “professional.” Some realtor-speak is helpful in conveying details, but the key to a blog is personality.
Examples of entries from cohousing blogs:
Mike is doing a photo essay on the construction. He posted a slide show of the land pre-construction.
Members are searching yards for spruce tree seedlings for the public cross country ski trails to provide wind protection and hold snow on the trails.
An anonymous post on how one person is adjusting to the group — a multi-part, autobiographical commentary on meetings and the process of choosing colors and cabinets.
An invitation come to a coffee party at a local coffee bar. No selling, just coffee at Prime Roast.
One on the process of picking apples and canning apple sauce.
All these things show what living in cohousing is like—and they haven’t even broken ground yet. I have not a clue who the people are but I feel like I know them and I stop by to read their posts. If you can make people feel like that, how can they not move in?
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC