Developing and maintaining memory café membership can be much more difficult than one would imagine. Once people come to a café, they are usually hooked, but getting new members out for the first time can be the biggest challenge faced by organizers. And when members move on because of changing care needs, the outreach and marketing cycle must begin again.
As we expand our memory café groups here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we are making new discoveries about how to do outreach. I will share them here, and I hope that you will do the same by leaving a comment or writing a community blog post.
Today my focus is on getting the word out online. We are trying to make a trusted connection with vulnerable older adults in need, and often that requires that they hear about our organization from several different sources. Online outreach is an important part of that connection.
Since most communities do not have access to a comprehensive calendar of activities available for people living at home with memory loss, one of the best ways for people to find out about your café is through an online search.
Have you done a few searches of keywords, to see whether your café program information or website comes up? An example might be: “activities” + “Alzheimer’s” + your city name. It turns out that it is important to use a “private window” or “incognito window” to test those search results because otherwise the searches are skewed by the topics and websites that we frequently search and visit. Using one of these private window options (found under “file” on your search engine menu bar) will allow you to see what others find when they search those same keywords.
If you’re not happy with where your website is coming up in that search, you may need to work on your SEO (search engine optimization). There are consultants who can help you fix these issues quickly (e.g EffectiveWebsites.com), but here are some basic DIY tips if you are operating on a tight budget:
- Make sure that your website has your important keywords in the text of every page of the website. I now understand that search engines pay attention to individual pages, not websites as a whole, so having natural integration of those keyword terms on every page makes it more likely that potential members will find you. If you want to go deeper into keyword analysis, you can compare wording choice with Google's Keyword Planner.
- Make sure that the images on your website have file names that contain your relevant keywords.
- Create a summary description of your café and put it on the directories and apps that most affect local search engine results (e.g. Google+ Yahoo local, and Bing Local). Moz Local can tell you where you are already listed and give you an idea of all the possibilities.
There are a lot of helpful summary articles about improving SEO, which go way beyond the scope of this post. If you're interested, one that I can suggest is the Moz Beginners Guide to SEO.
Many cafés are independent, which means their meeting information is not listed on the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter website or other regional elder care nonprofit websites. These days, it seems that each organization lists only the events they sponsor directly. It’s probably due to time constraints and liability issues, but this practice makes it difficult for potential members to find independent memory cafés, and for memory cafés to get the word out in an affordable and efficient way.
There are now a few national directories that are trying to help connect consumers to services. For example, two databases that are powering searches through local and national Alzheimer’s Association websites are CareMavens.com and CareLike.com, and both will allow you to post your listing at no charge. It’s worth adding your café information to both of these databases, although CareLike.com just informed me that since they do not currently have a category that fits memory/Alzheimer’s cafés, our listing will not be searchable until they have enough interest to create a category to ‘house’ us. The same is true for Caring.com, although they are accommodating us in their Adult Day Care category for now, and were very receptive to the idea of adding a category that would better suit Memory/Alzheimer’s cafés. Please consider talking to these organizations about the need—together we can make some noise and get memory/Alzheimer’s cafés recognized as an important category of services!
Have you heard of the National 211 Collaborative? They provide free information and referral for a broad range of help services including health care and counseling. You can now list your café free of charge with 211.org. Once you search your zip code and figure out if calling 2-1-1 is available in your area, you can check the information for agencies to find out how to submit your listing. In my area, 211 is supported by our local United Way.
If you are not already listed on the two national lists of Memory and Alzheimer’s Cafés, I would highly recommend that as well. Please see: Alzheimer’sCafé.com, and the Alzheimer’s Speaks Resource Directory.
Make sure to follow up and check back on all of your listings. Submission does not guarantee the listing will get posted or that it will be done with accuracy. And if your information changes, remember to go back and make those updates. It takes some time, but the potential to reach a broad audience at low/no cost is worth the effort.
Other options for online outreach include Craigslist and your local newspaper’s online classified ads. Craigslist ads are free and often times your local newspaper will allow nonprofit organizations/community events to advertise for free on their online classified page.
There is a movement now to create online community-specific news, information and engagement by several ‘hyperlocal’ organizations. If available in your area, consider contributing content or posting a café event on their bulletin boards. Two examples are Patch.com (national sites) and Baristanet (New Jersey)—check here to see if there is one covering your area. Also, many cities have neighborhood newspapers that have online content and classifieds, and they are looking for local news and events to write about!
Another possibility is to join local professional elder services networks, which often list their members’ organizations on their website. Examples might be ‘Senior Roundtable’ organizations, a local ‘Section on Aging’ group or Meetup groups.
Please chime in with additional suggestions. Many of us struggle with attendance issues at one time or another and sharing tips and information will help us continue to provide these much needed café programs!