Too long; didn’t read: We ran a survey of how people in Drachenwald communicate in the SCA. A lot of them use Facebook, but they're not happy about it.

In early June, I circulated a three-question survey (with four questions) about how we communicate in the SCA. It was short, so as to get lots of answers; at the last count, it had 151.

The questions were:

  1. How long have you been in the SCA? (Dropdown choice)
  2. How do you find out what’s going on? (Checkboxes with write-in)
  3. How would you LIKE to find out what’s going on? (Same checkboxes with write-in)
  4. Anything else you’d like to say?

How long have you been in the SCA?

The first question is straightforward:

Chart: Well over half of responders have been in the SCA for more than a decade.
Figure 1: How long have you been in the SCA?

Incidentally, one or two people left exercised comments about the “more than 10 years” option being listed as “Oh, basically forever.”

What do you use, and what would you like?

This being an informal survey, it’s important bear in mind that people can answer the same question in different ways. Does “what’s going on” mean events? Court reports? Gossip? Does “how would you like” mean “other than the options I’ve already ticked”? The questions left this up to the reader.

So, before we look at the numbers, it’s important to bear in mind that the level of precision here is not high; we can get some idea of relative popularity, but not precise measures of how much each medium is used.

Bearing this in mind, questions 2 and 3 between them give us four combinations for every medium.

  • Do not use it, would not like to use it: As a shorthand, I call this Refuse.
  • Use it, would not like to use it: I call this Resent.
  • Use it, would like to use it: I call this Use.
  • Do not use it, would like to use it: I call this Wish to use.

So, what were the answers?

Chart: Resent, Use and Wish to use over all responses
Figure 2: What media we use, and would like/not like to use.

The longer the solid line, the more people get their information from that medium. Red is resent, and grey is use. A long grey line means that the medium has many happy users; a long red one means that people use it, but don’t like it.

Then the dashed lines beyond them are those who wish to use: who would like to use it but, for one reason or another, currently don’t. This gives us a picture of potential usage, should we find a way to get those people on board.

I don’t think there are big surprises here. 93% of responders use Facebook, but a lot of them aren’t happy about it. The next highest usage is the Kingdom Website; mailing lists and newsletters (official means of communciation) are all well below half.

Friends/Word of Mouth and Slack were not tickbox options, but were both written in by a significant number of people. (I counted Friends and Word of Mouth together.)

But how do these results change based on time in the society? Here’s the same graph, but only for those who’ve been in the society more than ten years.

Chart: Resent, Use and Wish to use for those >10 years in the society
Figure 3: Media use of those who have been in the society more than 10 years.

What I find most interesting here is that the grey lines get bigger, and the red and dashed lines get smaller. Despite what we might assume about long time members not wanting to use Facebook, it seems that those who have been in the society the longest are also the most settled and satisfied with how communications work.

Meanwhile, for those with fewer than ten years under their belt:

Chart: Resent, Use and Wish to use for those >10 years in the society
Figure 4: Media use of those who have been in the society less than 10 years.

This is fascinating: the usage of Kingdom newsletter and mailing lists is very low, but not because they don’t want to! Wish to use beings them almost back into line with the overall numbers. Some of this, at least, may be that we don’t advertise them; at least one person who has been in the society for over five years had never heard about the drachenwald.sca.org lists until this survey was being discussed on Slack.

Out of interest, just how effective is a mailing list post?

Who reads the mailing list?

I had another trick up my sleeve to get some data. When I announced the survey, I first posted it only to the Drachenwald and Insulae Draconis mailing lists. This was at 21:00 Irish time on June 6th. Through the night and into the next morning, the only responses we received were on foot of those mailing list posts, either directly or otherwise. Then, at noon on June 7th, I posted the survey to several Facebook groups at the same time.

Here’s when the responses came in.

Chart: 39 responses from mailing list only, 84 the rest of the day
Figure 5: When the responses came in, over the first 27 hours.

A pleasing result: 31% of responses said that they use the mailing list; and 31.7% of answers before midnight on June 7th were received before the Facebook posts went out.

Note that doubtless some of post-noon answers came from the mailing list, and it would have been more if the Facebook posts never happened, but we now have a feel for their relative effectiveness.

What people said

The “three-question survey” was a lie. There was a fourth question: “Anything else you’d like to say?” These answers are the most fascinating.

First of all, there were many suggestions for additional content:

  • “More actual commentary on things that are happening or have happened”
  • “Would like the report form functionality back”
  • “Single source of info especially for events; save having to visit both ID and Kingdom website.”
  • “I wish the websites would be updated more frequently such that they reflect the dynamics of social media so that those who are not yet members or those who don’t do FB could find current info there instead of just static (outdated?) information.”

The old report form functionality had to be removed because we can’t do it reliably anymore. We now recommend that officers use Google Forms.

At the moment, the requirements for submitting events to Principality and Kingdom calendars are different, so they require different forms. If we can streamline the requirements, perhaps we can coordinate the calendar submissions and display.

Other than that, requests for more or more frequent updates really come down to writing more stuff. We’ve made some inroads with importing content from outside blogs with This Is Drachenwald; in the future, we expect to be able to offer to take more of the technical burden away from shires and allow their officers to spend their website efforts on updates and articles.

Then we come to the sticky subject of social media. We already know from the numbers above that opinion is divided. The comments show some strong opinions against relying on social media:

  • A common theme that if some people don’t use social media, everyone should crosspost to mailing list. Some people are very strict on this: “Social media … can not be an official or only source of data.”
  • “Most people, including me, aren’t on FB etc and won’t be, so please continue with email notices.”
  • “Communication that relies on access to a smartphone might work for the majority, but it definitely won’t work for all.”
  • “Social media (mainstream or federated) can not be an official or only source of data. Forcing members to deliver their data to 3rd party commercial institutions is unacceptable. In other words, although people are going to use FB (for reasons which escape me), it must not be an official source of information.”

And yet there was also some dissent:

  • “One thing that contributes to FB’s usefulness to the SCA is that it allows you to keep up with the specialist interest groups that you don’t get from the website. Groups, and guilds don’t really have a place on the main website - which is perfectly reasonable, as you shouldn’t be expected to do everything- so it’s good to have it all in one feed.”
  • “I think at this stage, all messages sent to mailing list should also be sent to Facebook and Facebook should in turn become one of the official modes of communication.”
  • Comments that email is so little used that the email list should not be the official method of communication.

While some try to split the difference:

  • “I find that if the most important information is available on the websites, that , that reaches the most people.because at that point if you don’t have the information it is on you as you could have looked and gotten it any time and I think we are evolved enough in mundane society that it is not unreasonable to expect that a person will or can have internet access at a minimum of once a month.”
  • “Lots of places and different options would be best I suspect.”

Gosh. What do we do with this?

As a web artificer, much of the feedback I get is about consistency: for example. we’d like to see the events calendar kept reliable and up to date. But as a society we also value decentralisation - each shire organises its own website and runs its own events with minimal interference from Barony, Principality or Kingdom. And many of the comments above take accessibility not just as a value, but as a base assumption; everything we do should be reachable by everyone, even if they have minimal internet access and don’t use Facebook or another given platform.

So it seems likely that if we put everyone who gave these answers in a room, their eventual agreed position would be “Let’s use everything.” But, since we are all volunteers, we would have to decentralise this very heavily. When different people, with different skills and preferences, run their own shires and events in their own way, the one certainty is inconsistency.

To get consistency, we need centralisation, which is very difficult to do efficiently with volunteers. Otherwise it tends to come down to complaining that one person isn’t sending to the mailing list, or another person isn’t updating their website - and in a volunteer culture, this eventually becomes toxic.

Our approach, as web artificers, is to do what we can to provide support for shires - where something can easily or logically be centralised (such as website hosting and template) we can offer to do that for those shires that wish it. There will still be inconsistency, but we can support the things that we value most.

However, between the comments and the numbers, it does appear that there is a clear disconnect between SCA “official” media and what people actually use. When it comes to Facebook, we have the added difficulty that they have a very large number of very, very smart people who are working hard to attract users to their platform. It’s hard to see how we can compete with that.

Speaking of official media, let’s talk about newsletters:

  • Lots of people find having to login or even remember to check it is a big barrier. One person said “So, this is embarrassing, but I’ve been a member for over a decade and I still haven’t figured out how the hell to access the Dragon’s Tale…”
  • Some people really want info via email. Some people really don’t want more email (or messenger/whatsapp notifications.)
  • A few people miss the paper Dragon’s Tale - there is something to be said for having it plop onto your welcome mat.
  • “It’s preposterous that we produce newsletters that aren’t web accessible or indexed.”

The future of the newsletters is a matter for Chroniclers, not web artificers, but we’re in contact and are happy to work together.

Finally, my personal favourite comment:

  • “I can’t believe you snuck a extra question in…”

Conclusions

We have lots of ideas for content, and a hunger for more to read. But this is really difficult with volunteers; we discovered that the Kingdom Webminister role occupies all of a single individual’s time just trying to keep up with the flow of requests.

There is a high expectation of prompt info being posted to the web. Our decentralised approach militates against this; different groups of volunteers will handle their priorities in their own way. It’s not easy to see how a Kingdom Webminister could, for example, consistently check and re-check with event teams to ensure that their information in the calendar is up to date.

Having seen this, and also looked at Google Search Console information for Shire, Principality and Kingdom websites, something struck me: I think that the shire websites are best positioned for recruitment (since people tend to search, for example, “Fencing in Dublin”) and the Principality/Kingdom sites are best positioned for internal communication. However, this does not have to mean impenetrable docs and officer pages; after all, it’s evident from the above that some people still have trouble finding the information they need. They can still be attractive and outwardly welcoming, which in turn helps existing members find what they need.

In the meantime, our online community is to some extent fragmenting into different open or closed Facebook groups. For example, if someone is interested in designing their arms, or learning to make scrolls, at the moment our answer might often be “go to this Facebook group and ask around.” As a Kingdom, we might start to consider making people responsible not for managing or moderating, but for gathering people, already members, who are already interested in an area and would like to learn more.

Thank you to everyone who responded, and left such thoughtful comments. We’re looking forward to working to address them as best we can.

Updated:

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