Thursday, April 16, 2015

Websites, Social Media, Google, Apps, Smart TV’s, and A Relationship With God

Websites, social media, Google, Apps, smart TV’s, and a relationship with God. Church leaders have responsibility to effectively communicate God’s message while navigating today’s complex communication infrastructure. Most church leaders have some exposure to today’s ever-changing communication tools. Some have embraced the changes and have done everything they can to stay cutting edge, while others have resisted and tried to embrace a simpler image.  Like many of you, I have attended workshops and read books and articles about best online practices. I am going to sum up the bulk amount of information that you would receive with one statement. Your church needs to have an online presence and needs to be engaged in social media. Here is why. The church is the hope of the world and not everyone within our churches' spheres of influence are attending.  As a church leader, I have a responsibility to provide the infrastructure to reach out to those disconnected from the church.

According to statistics, 87%of the population of the United States spends time online.[1] This provides so many opportunities to churches to interact with people who may never consider walking into the doors of the church. Since we have already established that we need to be online let's talk about some of the little more advanced things that churches can do to increase their online effectiveness.

Google

SEO

How is your SEO. Assuming you have a website for your church the next critical question is, can someone find it? SEO or search engine optimization is the key to making sure that Google and other search engines can find your site. When you “Google” search for churches in your city, does your web site show up as one the first couple of pages? If not than you need to investigate why Google does not see your site the way you would want it to be seen. The web is full of SEO tips and tricks. Here is a link to one (http://www.cio.com/article/2460827/seo-sem/top-25-diy-tips-for-better-seo.html).

Reviews

One of the most powerful tools in Google is the review stars. Think about it.  If you are looking to try a new restaurant, would you go to the one that had 2.5 stars or the one that had 5 stars? The answer is obvious and the same goes for churches. That is why online reviews of your church are critical. Here are some quick tips about Google and online reviews.
  • You must have 5 reviews for the stars to show up
  • Seekers are trained to look at reviews before they go to the site
  • Reviews allow members to tell their stories about how the church has impacted them
  • Reviews show up on maps
  • Google will pull in reviews from other sites like Yelp and YP
  • The more reviews the better the chance the church has to move up in Google’s rankings
Encourage your people to give online reviews about the church. When a person joins your church, ask them to go to Google and share their story. That story may be exactly what someone who is looking for a church needs to hear. A quick word of caution, many activists organizations have learned this trick and have attacked a church online by giving bad reviews if they disagree with the teachings of that church. Read your reviews because that person who is looking for a church will! [2]

Ads

Long story short. My church is in Tallahassee FL. However, for some reason we are literally feet from the boundary line of what Google considers Tallahassee. So, if you were looking for churches in Tallahassee you would never find us. The only way I am able to overcome this is by paying for a Google ad. It does cost money but every day the amount I have allotted for that ad is used by people clicking on a link and being taken to my church web site. We pay a certain amount per click. That value is determined by how much I want to pay for certain words for phrases. For example, Baptist church may cost less than the name of your city and church. The cost is based on how popular the words you choose are. Another factor in the cost is how many other organizations in your market are paying for those same words.


If you decide to run an ongoing or short-term ad, you will then set-up a budget for how much you want to spend per day. When that money has been used by people clicking the ad goes away. Start off small, even just a couple of dollars per day will get you thousands of impressions (number of times the ad is seen) and a handful of people clicking to view your site.


Video and Web Design

Based upon the data received from tracking how people move through my church's site along with conversations with professional website builders I have found that the importance of video on a church's website cannot be understated. Your website needs to be clean, functional, and above all else a platform for people who are not members of your church to find out more about your church. Some of the most important information is service times, physical location, and how the church handles children. In a conversation with new members to my church, almost all of them said they visited our site before they came in the door. In fact, many of them watched us live before coming. So that brings up two important video elements that churches need to work towards.

The first being a Sunday video archive. Here you can get a glimpse for the Sunday services and if you were unable to attend one week, to catch up before the next Sunday. Here a couple of thoughts about how to archive
  • Audio is the most important part of an online video; spend some time making sure it sounds good. What you see is important but what your hear is critical
  • Most churches do not need to upload the entire worship service. Trying to upload your music is very hard and typically sounds poor. As special song is fine but unless you have a studio to post mix a service, don’t do it. Most people who are visiting your page just want to hear the sermon.
  • Upload the messages as soon as possible and share them on social media when they are live
  • There are a number of free services that can be used to upload including Vimeo and YouTube.
  • There are advantages to paying for a service or using one that comes native with our website
Once you have a good archiving system setup you are now ready to live stream your service. Each week I am amazed at how valuable the live streaming of the Sunday services are to our members. When you live stream it you create a higher level of commitment to your church. Whenever people watch,  whether they are sick or out of town, you know that people really want to hear the word and they find value in the relationship they have with the church. Here are some thoughts about live streaming.

  • Check your bandwidth, (don’t try to stream HD unless you have 9 MB of upload speed)
  • Paid streaming platforms are great but not cheap, (we use Faith Network http://www.faithnetwork.com/ ) but free ones are also good but they have ad’s.
  • Encourage people to watch the live stream when they are out of town
  • Spend time with the shut-ins and let them know how to access the stream

Social Media

There are two important things to remember when considering social media. The first is to claim/create an account for your church for every major social media site. Below is a list of some of the popular sites. When you create an account, do not feel you have to use it, just give a little bit of information about your church and be sure to create a link back to your churches website because this also helps your SEO!
  • Facebook  900,000,000 - Estimated Unique Monthly Visitors
  • Twitter 310,000,000 - Estimated Unique Monthly Visitors
  • LinkedIn 255,000,000 - Estimated Unique Monthly Visitors
  • Pinterest 250,000,000 - Estimated Unique Monthly Visitors
  • Google Plus+ 120,000,000 - Estimated Unique Monthly Visitors
  • Tumblr 110,000,000 - Estimated Unique Monthly Visitors
  • Instagram 100,000,000 - Estimated Unique Monthly Visitors [3]
The second thing to remember is to not get overwhelmed with the need to be constantly posting to all of these. I would suggest using the platform that most of your members are using. Based off statistics that would probably be Facebook. One of the nice things with Facebook is the ability to schedule posts. Pick a day of the week and schedule all your posts for that week to post right before people get off work typically between 3-7pm. The key to social media is to only do what you can do, but always try and to something.


Newer Online Tools

I wish I knew what new things were coming that will revolutionize the way churches handle communication and community, but since I don’t below are two newer services that I think you would enjoy and could really help your church to grow.

Google Business View

This service will allow a Google selected photographer to come inside your building and take pictures that will then be uploaded to Google maps. This will allow people to see inside your building just like in Google maps street view. This would allow people to virtually walk through your building and see the worship center looks like, move down the hall way and see the preschool room. This cost a one-time fee of about $500 (depending of on the size of the campus). This new service could be critical in allowing people to experience your church before they even visit the churches website. Click on the link below to contact a local Business view professional (http://www.google.com/maps/about/partners/businessview/)

Apps

Apps are  not just for your phone anymore. A new type of app shows a lot promise and these apps run on your smart TV or ROKU/Amazon Fire stick. These apps will give people access to live video, archive video from your site, and allow you to watch church services on your TV. This is why I am so excited about what this could do. For example if you order a  ROKU/Amazon Fire  stuck that could be distributed to shut-ins who have wireless internet you could easily teach them how to click on the app and from their own home, they could watch the services live or the archived ones on your site!

Life is busy. Ministry is busy. The idea of doing some of these things may seem overwhelming. There is help out there and some of the greatest social media experts are in your churches. Mobilizes them and embrace some of the new technologies. Remember that all it takes is for one person comes to know Christ and its all worth it!


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[1] http://www.internetworldstats.com/am/us.htm
[2] Some information taken from presentations by Scott N. Smith, Consultant, Evangelism Ministries, Georgia Baptist Convention
[3] http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats14.htm#north