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Building Society Membership through Social Media

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

The traditional methods of building members through in-person highland games and highland festivals were scuttled in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now more than ever, Scottish Heritage Societies are relying on social media to build their networks.

However, Facebook “friends” and Instagram “likes” do not translate directly into membership dollars – unless you create a solid online presence and implement an ongoing campaign. In 2019, the Clan Forbes Society had to rebuild itself from the ground up without membership recruitment from Scottish games and festivals. Here are some of the lessons learned.

You will need solid content that will attract your potential members. Research all the reputable sources about your clan, such as published books and papers. You’ll find that many online sources repeat inaccurate information or legends. Create individual website articles or “blogs” (from the contraction of “web logs”) from the information. These articles will serve as the basis of the content for your social media posts. Ensure that all your content is current. Blogs or articles with dates older than one year should be refreshed or undated.

You need to ensure that the design of your website allows the content to be viewed on different sized screens, not just your desk-top or laptop computer monitor. About half of your users will be browsing your website on a smartphone (such as an iPhone) or tablet (such as an iPad.) The worst offenders are websites that are built purely in Hyper-Text Mark-up Language (HTML) and those that use “frames” and “tables” to enforce a specific width. For websites built on Drupal, many themes are available with the “Bootstrap” app that adapts the site to the size of the screen. Online website hosts such as Wix have a built-in function to allow you to tailor each page to the smartphone screen.

The other critical approach is through “search engine optimization” or SEO. Basically, you want to ensure that anyone looking for your clan on popular search engines (such as Google and Yahoo) will find your website in the first page of responses. You can either optimize your website yourself (such as by naming all pages in the HTML header and including “tags”) or use the service provided by your website host.

In order to convert visitors to members, you need an online payment account, such as with PayPal. Once you open an account, you’ll be able to link it directly to your bank account and create payment buttons that you can imbed into your website. These online payment services accept many different credit cards so your potential members do not need to have their own accounts. You will receive e-mail notices every time someone charges a membership or makes a donation. You can also download a spreadsheet in either an MS Excel format or a Comma Separated Values (CSV) format which can easily be converted into a MS Excel spreadsheet.

Once you have an engaging and accessible website and a payment system, you can start driving potential members to your site. The two most effective social media services are Facebook and Instagram. Each have different audiences and will require different strategies.

For Facebook, you should create a "Nonprofit Organization" page which is open to the public and a closed “Private Group” for just members that you approve. Make sure that you include your website and a contact e-mail is included in your profile by adding through “Settings” and “page Info.” You can designate more than one page “Administrators” and “Page Editors” by going to “Settings” and “Page Roles.” Develop a plan for rotating types of postings with pictures each month, perhaps one or two per week. These should be drawn from your website so that you include a link to a specific page for each posting.

Once the picture and copy is posted, you’ll receive notifications when people “like” it. Make sure that you encourage people to “like” your page, as well. For each post, click on the number of reactions and you’ll see a pop-up of the list of all the post “likes.” Then click on the “Invite” button if the person has not already been invited to like your page. This way, future posts will appear in their news feed.

An effective way of generating viewership and “likes” is by cross-posting or “sharing” your post on other public and private group pages on Facebook. You first need to be accepted as a member of these groups and then you are allowed to post articles that fit their guidelines. Some of the most appropriate Facebook groups are Scotland – Descendants of the Scots, Scotland’s History, Scottish Clans, Scottish Clans and Families (@scottishclans), and Exploring Scotland's History.

You can track overall results for your page by clicking on “Insights” at the top of your page, when logged in as “Administrator.” Here’s an example of the summary information. You can also track individual posts so that you can determine future topics.

Instagram is another popular social media platform. You can create an account and link it to your Facebook account. Your strategy for using Instagram should include (a) choosing interesting content and photographs; (b) including the right “hashtags” and Instagram handles; (c) following appropriate accounts; and (d) commenting on the posts of those accounts.

Hashtags are simply key words with a “#” preceding them. You can make up any hashtag you want and include popular hashtags that are already being used by popular accounts. This will get more viewers for your posts. Sample hashtags are #scottishclans and #scotlandhistory. Research has shown that including at least one hashtag will create more engagements than those that feature none. Your Instagram “handle” is just the name of your account with “@” on the front.

Your goal is to get as many appropriate “followers” as possible – much like Facebook “friends.” This will ensure that your followers will see future posts. One way is to tap into the list of followers of other popular accounts by following them.

If used strategically, your website and social media efforts can be effective in attracting new members. You need to develop your strategies, identify the project managers within your organization, and implement your plan consistently. And COSCA can help you.


Society Advice: In-person events should be a small part of a successful membership recruitment and retention program. Following the advice in this article will greatly increase your membership rolls. If you feel that you don't have the expertise, please contact COSCA and we'll assist you.

Society Successes: How has your society used social media to improve your membership recruitment and retention? How would you advise other societies? Would you be willing to assist other societies with technical assistance?

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