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Who Needs a Website When Facebook is Free?

Tom Wolfe | Published on 4/4/2019

If you are just starting a new pipe club, or if you have a few members, the overhead and cost of creating and maintaining a website probably isn’t worth it.  After all, creating a Facebook group is easy and it’s free.  But as most things in this world, it is not so simple.

Most clubs in the UPCA have either a Facebook page or a Facebook group.  UPCA runs its own FB group and has over 1,100 members.  Even the Pocono Intermountain Pipe Enthusiasts (PIPE) is on Facebook, even though they have only 8 club members, it has 59 people in the group.

Facebook is a great way for people with common interests can stay in touch with each other, that’s why FB has over a billion users.  Sure, you have to put up with the adds political posts, and rants, but you get up-to-date info about people and things that you are interested in . . . including pipes.

Before the advent of PCs, newsletters like the well-revered Pipe Smokers' Ephemeris were the only way to share our knowledge and passion for pipes.  In the early days of the computer era, people could get together online via AOL and Yahoo. With the advent of internet forums, special groups like the Pipe Makers Forum were vital sources of information.  

Some clubs still publish regular newsletters, although most email them to their subscribers.  You can read online newsletters from The Sherlock Holmes Pipe Club of Boston and New York Pipe Club. The NASPC still mails out their newsletter to its members.

Forums are, I am sorry to say, a dying breed.  The Pipe Makers Forum contains a wealth of knowledge, but like so many others, it is no longer the ‘go to” place it used to be. Facebook has taken over.  The new face of the Forum is the Pipe Makers FB group.

The Pipe Makers FB group has 1,400 members.  Admin Tyler Beard states, “The idea is to create both a portal to the forum, and a second "home" for more of what we all love: pipe making discussion.”   Although the Forum still exists, the FB group sees a lot more activity.

Facebook has pretty much taken over the pipe club forums as well.  The New York Pipe Club (NYPC) still has its own forum, but their most recent post is from 2016.  Their FB group, on the other hand, has 140 members with several posts each week.  

The Seattle Pipe Club (SPC) also has both a website and a FB group.  SPC has 90 current members of the club, but the FB group has close to 1,500 members.  It no longer has a forum on its website.  Its forum went unused due to the popularity of the FB group.
Active clubs, such as the Furniture City Pipe Society in Flint, Michigan have their FB group as their only online presence.  It has worked for them.

So, if FB is so popular, why even bother having a website?  For new and/or small clubs, stick with FB, but for large or well-established clubs a website can do much more.  The main advantage of Facebook is its “in your face” up-to-the-minute style, but that is also its main disadvantage.  Finding out what happened last month, or heaven forbid last year is a bit of a problem on FB.  If it is not NOW then it may well not have happened.

So, websites are a much better way to record the life and, dare I say it, the history of a club.  Its lack of frivolity is an asset.  Articles and photos posted today are just as readily available to your members ten years from now. This is the reason that this blog is on our website, and not just yet another FB post.

Most pipe clubs on FB are open groups, where anyone can view the posts.  So are club websites.  Unless your FB groups is strictly “members only”, the group can be inundated with advertising by pipe makers, or by non-members sharing selfies to a dozen different groups at once.  Your important announcement to your members can be overwhelmed by trash posts.
Websites can be used to do things that FB can’t.  A website can track your membership and make it convenient for members to pay their dues online.  Websites usually have emailing options that allow you to email all your members at once.  Most clubs use this to send out meeting notices every month.  Let’s face it, not all of your members use Facebook.

Special events, like contests, dinners, and pipe shows, are another advantage of websites.  FB is a good way to announce your event, but a lousy way to track who is attending.  Websites can not only track attendance, but also make online payments, and can email reminders to attendees.

For example, last year’s UPCA slow smoke contest in Chicago was heavily promoted on FB, but pre-registration took place on our website.  Several years prior to this, you had to wait until the day before the contest to sign up.  Online registration accounted for more than half of the contestants last year.  

We posted the contest winners on both the website and on FB.  But if you want the details about the contest, our website is the place to go.  We have contest results including photos from all of our contests, dating back to 2003.  You won’t find that on FB.

The biggest disadvantage of websites, though, is the need to have a webmaster.  Webmasters are usually computer geeks that set up and manage the website.  Not every club has a geek willing to spend the time and effort into setting up a club’s website.  If you do have one, consider yourself fortunate and treat him well.  {I’m a little prejudiced here, as I’m the webmaster for both the UPCA and the Seattle Pipe Club.  I am also an admin for both of their FB groups.}

The solution that I have found is with an outfit called ClubExpress.  It is a business that caters specifically to clubs that want to build a web site without having to know the ins and outs of HTML5 and other computer jargon.  Fees are based on the number of members, so that small clubs are not excluded.  ClubExpress is used by the NYPC, SPC, and the UPCA.

Its basic services include online membership enrollment and renewal, member and non-member mailing lists, news articles, membership directory, member and club photo albums, online forums and blogs.  You can maintain an event calendar and create special events where ClubExpress can handle the online registration for you.  All of this without having to be a computer geek.

ClubExpress also has optional features such as distributing membership packets and adding banner ads to your web page.  You can also create (for a fee) an online store for selling things like goofy hats and custom pipe cleaner holders.  

If your club doesn’t charge dues, it’s going to be hard to maintain a website.  They cost money.  But if you are willing to charge dues for your club, having a website is your best investment.  Facebook may have made online forums extinct, but websites aren’t going away anytime soon.