The world’s retail, food and agricultural cooperatives can learn a thing or two from U.S. electric cooperatives about how to shine online.
Nearly 500 of the nation’s 900-plus electric co-ops have adopted the .coop extension for their websites and email addresses, ranking them No. 1 among all co-op sectors, according to the nonprofit that runs the domain. Some 9,000 co-ops worldwide use the extension.
“More than half of electric co-ops is a fantastic achievement,” said Tom Ivey, community development manager at identity.coop, which manages the registry for .coop and .creditunion domains.
“If big sectors like retail or agricultural cooperatives were to achieve over 50% of their communities also using .coop, we would see a massive boost to the visibility and collective online brand of co-op businesses worldwide.”
The .coop domain was launched in 2002 after a successful push by the International Cooperative Alliance to create an extension that would give co-ops a distinct online identity. Identity.coop, based in Oxford, England, was created in 2001 to manage the .coop domain after the ICA backed a proposal by the National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International, which works to develop, advance and promote co-ops of all kinds.
Ivey said the mandate behind the .coop domain and identity.coop is to raise the profile and maximize the economic potential of the world’s 3 million co-ops.
“Using .coop says that you’re not just another .com—that you put people first, that you’re great to do business with and you’re part of a global movement of more than 1 billion members representing 12% of the world’s employed population,” he said.
Identity.coop is tasked with ensuring that any entity requesting the .coop domain is indeed a cooperative. It also provides tools and resources for switching over from another domain as well as branding and marketing support.
For co-ops wanting to switch to .coop, “the process is very straightforward,” Ivey said, adding that co-ops can keep their current domains and redirect to .coop.
First, co-ops would reach out to their web host to check whether the domain is available. If so, the host contacts Identity.coop, or another registrar, for verification.
“It's simply a case of either providing bylaws to show that you’re a cooperative organization or other evidence to show that you are part of the movement,” Ivey said.
A .coop subscription has other benefits, Ivey noted, including a wide availability of domains so that co-ops will likely get the one they want. And because members are vetted, there’s lower risk of reseller markets with “people buying them, pushing up the price and selling them,” he said.
In Gilmer, Texas, Upshur-Rural Electric Cooperative switched to .coop several years ago “to highlight the fact and raise awareness that we're a co-op,” said IT Director Hoot Royer. “A lot of people don’t know what that means.”
And, in Virginia, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative went a step further and requested myrec.coop as its domain extension in 2003. In addition, the co-op is requesting .coop for several subsidiaries.
“Research shows that if people recognized themselves as a co-op member, they were more satisfied,” said Casey Hollins, managing director of communications and public relations at the Fredericksburg-based co-op. “So, the more we could help them recognize their electric company as an electric cooperative, the better.”
Ivey said momentum among U.S. electric co-ops toward the domain has been building over several years. His group will be making a push this year to boost the number of electric co-op registrants.
“I think there's just this desire among electric co-ops to form a community and to showcase their network,” Ivey said. “They’re all very aligned in what they're doing.”
The number of electric co-ops with the domain extension is evenly distributed across the United States, according to the Global Cooperative Directory, with especially large clusters in Kentucky and southern Minnesota.
“We plan to attend several NRECA conferences to raise awareness,” Ivey said, including Connect this year in Baltimore, Maryland, and PowerXchange in Atlanta in 2025.