The Episcopal Church Welcomes You (21st Century Edition)

We have seen the signs for years, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You”.  While this is nice to have in front of your church or down the street with an arrow pointing the way, is this the only way that people will know about your church?  Are you counting on people finding you in the Yellow Pages?  If these are your two major advertising methods, expect few visitors to your church door this summer.

As we begin to enter summer, vacations and traveling will be the order of the day for many people.  This brings the opportunity to update your website and local listing information targeted toward newcomers & visitors.  Is your church ready to help potential visitors this summer?

On your website, there are three things you should look at on your homepage and make sure are correct.

  1. Do you have your correct service times posted (you may have summer hours)?
  2. Do you have a map showing where your church is along with its address?
  3. Do you have a contact link, contact phone number or email address listed?

All three of these should be on your homepage and accessible without having to scroll.  If these cannot be readily found or are outdated, people will go elsewhere.

People search for churches the same way they search for restaurants and shopping, therefore the location listings on search engines are very powerful.  Take advantage of these.  You can claim your local listings and manage them for search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yelp, SuperPages, etc.  Another thing that will help you be found is www.faithstreet.com.  Signup is free and you can add your church quite easily.

Writing reviews is a very popular function of the web and social media.  34% of bloggers write reviews and 90% of customers trust peer recommendations over direct advertising.  Don’t be surprised if you find reviews of a visitor’s experience at your church on one of these local listing sites or other sites like ChurchRater , Ship of Fools or ChurchPick.  The reviewers may want to link to your website, Facebook page or other social media platform.  Be ready and as my grandmother would say “put your best foot forward”.  Use the tools and technologies available to show that in the 21st century, just as we have done for years, the Episcopal Church truly DOES welcome you!

What do you mean by authenticity?

As I travel around the diocese talking about websites and social media, one thing that comes up is “how to attract younger people.”  My short answer is “be authentic.”  What do I mean by that and how does one apply this, you might ask.  This posting by the United Methodist Church explains it pretty well.  The next time someone asks the question, this is a good answer to start.

A New Voice in the Church and Social Media Arena

I am always looking for tips and other input on how to best reach people in sharing the Good News.  A new blog has just popped up and it looks really promising.  It is Episcopalshare – Adventures in the World of Church Social Media.   Laura is the curator of this site and her goal of “sharing what I am learning about social media for churches as I go along” is off to a good start.  I particularly liked her post on using Google Docs for an online signup sheet.  A great little tip that churches can use and it is easy to implement.  Thanks Laura, and keep ’em coming!

Content Strategy with a Plan

So does this sound familiar?  You or someone you know wants to create content and have it published on your website or a blog. That is pretty easy.  But now suppose that this person wants content that is attractive and engaging.  Content that starts conversations or inspires its readers to action.  Most people probably want that (I certainly do!)  So how do we go about creating and publishing high quality content?

Part of the answer is Content Management.  Content management is just what it sounds like: a way to manage the creation and dissemination of content. Wikipedia defines this as “the set of processes and technologies that support the collection, managing, and publishing of information in any form or medium.”  Part of this is the CMS, which I have discussed previously.  Another part of this process is content strategy.

So what is Content Strategy?

In this context, Content Strategy is a mixture of information architecture, editorial processes, web writing and web knowledge that combines together into something greater than the individual parts.
So where do you learn about this stuff?  I would point you to a great little book by Kristina Halvorson called Content Strategy for the Web.  In her own words, Kristina states:
“Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.  It plots an achievable roadmap for individuals and organizations to create and maintain content that audiences will actually care about. It provides specific, well-informed recommendations about how we’re going to get from where we are today (no content, or bad content, or too much content) to where we want to be (useful, usable content people will actually care about).”

If you are serious about your content and don’t want it ending up in the digital trash bin, do yourself a favor and read this book.

What Makes a Good Website?

A few weeks ago I received a link to a site called “40 Great Church Websites of 2013“.  Obviously I was intrigued.

When I went to this site, it was interesting that there was no explanation or criteria as to what made these great sites, it was just merely a series of images and links to the actual sites.  Given that the link was originally presented by Sharefaith, a church website builder, may have skewed the data a bit and made me a bit skeptical.  However I went a little further into these sites to see what made them (at least to the people who posted this link) great sites.

What I found was that while the visualization of these sites and the imagery were very nice, what made them stand out was that they let you know out front who they were and what they were about.  They were authentic.  By looking at their site you could see their message, theology, beliefs and what was important for them to present to a visitor to the site.  They didn’t talk about being a “visitor friendly” or “welcoming” church in vague terms, they actually showed you on their site what this meant to them.  It was designed to find things quickly and efficiently.  It gave a visitor the opportunity to interact with the church through the website.  You could tell that this church was active and alive.  It made you think you could be a part of it.

It goes back to what I have said in earlier posts — you need to attract, engage and retain.  Having a site that looks like one of these “Great Church Websites”  may be a start, but without the content to back it up you will be disappointed with the results.  You can certainly use these websites to generate ideas and maybe integrate some of their functionality in your site.  However, you need to tell your stories in a compelling and authentic manner to get people to go beyond the pretty pictures and fancy graphics.

A good website is three dimensional.  What I mean by that is that it not only looks nice and inviting, but it has depth to it.  You want to dig into the site and wander around.  You want to find things easily and you want to come back again and again to see fresh content and features.  That is the real mark of a great website.

Good Social Media Practices

When I go out and talk with churches about their communications practices, I usually end up at some point talking with people about social media.  One of the questions that comes up concerns appropriate uses and etiquette for social media.  What is the best media?  When does it make sense?  What are best practices and policies?  All very good questions and the answers can be different based on the application and implementation they are considering.  I came across this nice article by Ilia Posin which provides a checklist which one can reference before posting.  It doesn’t solve all the possibilities, but it certainly is a good starting point.

Trying to Stop Hackers

It has been a while since I have posted.  I have been extremely busy doing other job related tasks, one of which is protecting our church websites that have been compromised.  Some hackers have a political/social agenda, some just hack for the self satisfaction of knowing they can.  Unfortunately the collateral damage done by these people can take up ridiculous amounts of time cleaning up after their tantrums.  I have learned a lot in the last few months about SQL injection attacks, Trojan Horses, Denial of Service Attacks, etc., much more than I had originally intended.  Finally, after playing Whack-A-Mole with these guys for months, I went back to square one.  Along with my good friend Chase, we rebuilt from the ground up some 25 church websites that had suffered some type of infiltration.  It was amazing what we learned and found.  In one instance, there had been a Trojan Horse embedded in a file on the site for over a year.  In another, we found that by simply incorrectly typing the cpanel directory name (the place where all of the development and administrative tools are kept) incorrectly, we kicked off a program that hijacked the website and captured keystrokes, unbeknownst to the user or the web host.  It was these kinds of issues that forced us to re-do everything.  It was a mess.

We did find a terrific tool that I highly recommend to anyone who has a WordPress.org website.  It is called WordPress Security Checklist from Ayoro SAS.  It is a step-by-step guide to securing and hardening your WordPress site.  It was very straightforward and easy to understand.  The document and plugins are free, although after you use this I would certainly encourage a “thank you” (you decide what that means 😉 to Anders Vinther and his team at Ayoro.  Since I have implemented this on our WordPress sites, I have received daily notices of different types of attacks on our sites that have been repelled by the series of tools and plugins.  Previous to this I would not of known until after the attack had occurred and I would be forced to repair/restore the site once again.

It was a lot of work (I won’t kid you!) but to date it has been well worth it.  If you have a WordPress.org site (I am not sure if this works with a wordpress.com site), I strongly urge you to harden and secure your site even if you have not experienced a problem before.

Branding, anyone?

As a followup to my TED talk in Vancouver, I would like to share some content posted by two of my favorite go-to people in Episcopal Communicators, Nancy Davidge of ECF Vital Practices and Richelle Thompson of the Diocese of Southern Ohio.  Richelle is starting a branding project for the diocese and has some good primer information on this subject.  If you are considering a similar project, or want to be better equipped in speak in this arena, these are good starting points.

Defining the Gobbbledygook

Brand Speak for Dummies – Including Me

Brand: Burn, Baby, Burn

Hands Across the Border

A few weeks ago I was asked by my counterpart, Randy Murray of the Anglican Church of Canada’s Diocese of New Westminster to give a TED style talk on church communication.  If you have ever done one of these, or seen any of them, they are very interesting.  There is a set format and guidelines and it is much harder than it looks.  I used the story about my “Communications as Mission” post as a framework for the talk.  The upshot of this is that my presentation is now up on YouTube!  You can see it here.  To make it on to YouTube….. I feel like Navin R. Johnson😉

Copyright, Intellectual Property and the Church

I have been following conversations of late regarding the proper use of other people’s material in the church.  Can you videotape your choir singing an anthem and put it up on YouTube?  Can you print out the hymns in your Sunday bulletin?  What about music on your website?

Here are two links that I believe every church should take a look at when trying to find answers to these questions.  One is Christian Copyright Solutions, a site that deals with music licensing.  The other is Copyright Guidelines for Churches which is a document published by LeaderResources.org.  You can also find this document and other information on this subject through the Episcopal Church Foundation Vital Practices site.  All of these are great resources.  So before you print that picture you downloaded from the Internet in your newsletter, do your homework and check out these resources.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure….