Members of local community and voluntary organisations have been taking advantage of a new course to enhance their digital marketing skills.
The Digital Community Programme - organised by East Belfast Enterprise (EBE) - aims to provide practical advice on how they can best maximise social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Linked-in as well as gain advice in other key areas such as website design and optimisation.
Recently, EBE held an event in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, to celebrate the success of the programme and also give old participants and new participants an opportunity to meet and exchange advice and information.
The event was sponsored by East Belfast Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle who kindly organised that EBE could use the venue for the event.
Kat Maguire, Enterprise Executive for East Belfast Enterprise, explained that in November 2010 EBE carried out a study of local community and voluntary organisations and found that they were struggling, were losing funding and weren't maximising contact with their local communities.
"They were finding that the marketing they were doing just wasn't working anymore - it was out-dated.
"The study found that a big contributor to this problem was that they were doing little or no online marketing.
"With tools such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube becoming more and more mainstream in the lives of local residents, it seemed like the perfect solution to try and show these organisations how to solve their problems digitally," she said.
EBE applied for funding from The Building Change Trust in April 2011 and were successful, enabling them to deliver the Digital Community Programme.
In September 2011, 40 community and voluntary organisations applied for a place on the programme and13 places were awarded. Participants attended eight training sessions learning not only how to set up social media accounts, but also how to integrate them into a strategy which met the objectives of their organisation.
"We faced several challenges along the way. There was a fear of technology, of the unknown and also of not being able to control what was being said online," Kat explained.
"Organisations also found it difficult to persuade their superiors that social media was a viable resource to allow staff to spend time on, and so it was important to introduce subjects such as time management as well.
After training each organisation received up to 15 hours of one-to-one mentoring with a specialist, guiding them in their chosen area. Participants were given advice on how to set up websites and social media accounts and learned about digital marketing strategies, website optimisation, time management, creation of Ezines and social media policies.
A post course evaluation cited a marked increase in knowledge, confidence and understanding of various digital marketing elements, as well as visible, tangible results for the organisations involved.
The second Digital Community Programme is due to start on April 18, with another 13 participants already signed up.
East Belfast Enterprise experienced an overwhelming response to the recruitment drive carried out prior to both courses.
Kat concluded: "Our vision going forward is to build a digitally connected community within Northern Ireland, and beyond. We aim to continue to offer training and support to assist organisations in the community and voluntary sector to connect and reach out.
"With technology constantly changing, its essential to ensure that organisations are not left behind and that they continue to embrace online opportunities and are at the forefront of digital communication."