Thanks to the modernization of global communications networks, proliferation of smartphones and easier access to computers, there are more than 3.5 billion internet users worldwide today. About half of internet users access social networking platforms daily, namely, Facebook.
Walk down any street, and you’ll surely see someone pull out a mobile phone at any given time.
If your church wants to reach people where they are, wherever they are, having a digital communications strategy is a must.
Your church’s digital communications strategy is your plan, your who, what, why and how for reaching people online. It helps you prioritize and stay on course in a fragmented online society.
Your digital strategy isn’t just an “add on” to your overall communications strategy—it is completely integrated into your overall communications and marketing strategy, and really, should be the priority.
Think of it like this: The people you want to reach are already being treated to excellent online experiences. They expect the same experience of your church. Their experience with your church on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, in Google or Bing search, on their mobile device and with your website will tell them what your church will be like when they attend for the first time.
Having a church digital communications strategy creates clarity for this important work of digital missions.
Here’s how to create a church digital communications strategy:
1. Understand what you want to accomplish. Is it more visitors? Is it membership growth? Is it more engagement with regular attenders? Determine: What do you want people to do and why? Why is it important? How do they benefit? Importantly, know exactly how you can measure whether or not your goal has been achieved. Put specific metrics in place.
2. Know whom you are serving. It is crucial to know exactly whom you should be reaching in your online communications. You may have different audiences, and that’s good. But your church needs a very clear understanding of exactly whom you are reaching—and whom you yet want to reach.
In addition to clarifying who it is your church still wants to reach, look at your digital analytics to uncover who you already are reaching.
For example, you can start by looking at the “Search Analytics” section of your Google Search Console account. What search queries do people search in Google to find your church website?
Next, look at your “Audience Demographic” report in Google Analytics. Look at general age groups, gender and where people are located.
Look also at the “Acquisition” > “Overview” report in Google Analytics. Which of your church’s marketing channels drives the most people back to your website—and which of those channels performs the best in keeping those visitors on your website and getting them to convert (i.e. sign up for a newsletter or register for an event)?
Get a clear picture for the types of people already going to your website. And then get clarity around your yet-to-be-reached audience. Ask questions about both audiences like:
Where do they live?
Could they easily attend a service here?
If they’ve been on our website before, how did they get here? Which digital channel led them to our website (i.e. another website, email, a search in Google, a social networking site)?
Where do they live online? Which digital channels do they use most?
Which content did they visit on our site?
Did they search for anything on our site? (If you enabled “Site Search” when you set up Google Analytics, you can determine the keywords people search on your website)
What are some of their pressing needs personally? How can we meet those needs?
How can we set up our digital channels in a way that eliminates friction—any kind of frustration or difficulty (for example, asking them to click too many times before allowing them to take an action)—that would prevent them from engaging with us further?
“Their experience with your church on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, in Google or Bing search, on their mobile device and with your website will tell them what your church will be like when they attend for the first time.
Having a church digital communications strategy creates clarity for this important work of digital missions.”
Know whom you’re serving and how you can give them an excellent digital experience with your church.
3. Determine the value you deliver. Ask: why would someone want to sign up for your newsletter, or visit your website, or follow you on Facebook? Why would someone want to attend a service or become a member? What is your key message? What is the key takeaway you want to give people in their first experience with your church online?
4. Create a “marketing funnel” that maps the digital journey someone typically takes with your church. In other words, how does someone go from hearing about your church for the first time to advocating for other people to go to your church too?
What are the digital channels they use that 1) help them hear about your church, 2) learn about your church, 3) consider whether or not they should attend your church, 4) decide to go to your church and 5) persuade their friends to visit your church?
A marketing funnel can help you clarify the typical online path someone takes to engage further with your church—and importantly, clarify the type of content you should be creating that will resonate with people at various stages in their decision-making journey.
“A marketing funnel will clarify the type of content you should be creating that will meet people in the various stages of their decision-making journey”
This type of funnel will be different for every church and will be a guide—almost a hypothesis—more than it will be a rule. Visitors bounce around from stage to stage and digital communication channel to channel. That’s OK.
But mapping out a typical visitor journey will allow you to map out appropriate content for appropriate times.
For example, you wouldn’t expect a first-time website visitor to download your app or even sign up for a life group. It’s possible that new visitors will take these actions, but unlikely that every new visitor will.
By the same token, a church member who has been to your website multiple times will skip right past a “visit us this weekend!” call to action and instead just wants to quickly find information relevant to him or her—possibly to share about a class or upcoming event at your church with a friend who has never been.
When creating your funnel, map out all of your digital communications channels, map out the typical decision-making stages you expect people might take—from first hearing about your church to recommending your church to friends and family—and very importantly, map out the metrics for each stage.
Metrics will help you understand whether your hypothesis is accurate. They also will help you measure the effectiveness of each digital communications channel.
Generally (not always), people will first hear about you online through something shared on social media or through a media story or by simply doing a search online for “church near me.”
Then people might take more interest and visit your Facebook page or perhaps watch a YouTube video of a sermon or event.
Taking time to visit a website (especially if they’re on a mobile device) is a bigger commitment for people. So the people who visit your site might be a little more serious about learning about your church and taking a next step with your church—perhaps signing up for a newsletter to learn more about you or watching a video or livestream.
Once people take that bigger commitment to go to your website, it’s important to engage them quickly and give them a smooth, simple, friction-free experience with your website. Help them find information within one or two clicks. Give them a next step they can take easily, even on their mobile device, and without necessarily being directed to another page they have to wait to load.
Then make it easy for people to share content—both on your website and all of your other digital properties like social networking sites.
Ultimately, having a digital marketing funnel will bring clarity to your entire digital communications strategy.
5. Audit your resources. Creating and managing digital communications channels—particularly if you are a one- or two-person communications department—is a lot of work. This is another reason having a strategy and a funnel are good ideas.
Determine what you or your team can reasonably do. Can you write blogs for the website; create images for Instagram or Facebook; produce videos for YouTube, Periscope or Facebook; or develop email marketing campaigns?
What content can you realistically and feasibly create that will reach your audiences where they are, according to the stage they are in? How often? Can you create content that expressly uses the language your key audiences use and solves their problem or need? Can you put money toward sponsored social media posts? Can you write articles and place them in publications your audience is already reading? Is someone in your organization well trained to do media interviews?
Think: realistic, simple and consistent. Because if it’s not, you’ll have a hard time keeping up and will give up after a while.
6. Uncover if there is anything blocking your path to what you want to accomplish. Perhaps your website itself is preventing you from being effective at digital communications. Does it need a re-design? Is navigation easy? Do visitors get a good experience?
Using a dinner party example, are you inviting guests to a party, only for them to find that the party invitation has over-promised and under-delivered?
Perhaps Google can’t read your website, which is a pretty big block. Maybe your church itself hasn’t accepted a digital mindset. If your church thinks of digital as simply a one-off tactic, you won’t see much success with digital communications. Your entire organization should begin thinking “digital” and begin incorporating digital into every aspect of your culture.
7. Examine whether or not your church is equipped to handle success. In other words, if your digital communications goal was to get more people to your website and have them sign up for an event, have you measured whether or not that happened? If your goal was to get new visitors through your physical doors, do people discover the same experience in person that they do online, or are there gaps in experiences? If people signed up to receive your content via email, are you sending it to them consistently?
Though it typically takes months before seeing success, let’s suppose your ministry’s digital communications is so wildly successful that people come flocking to you. Are you prepared to serve each and every one well?
These are important considerations to make as you create a church digital communications strategy.
As you begin to work on your church digital communications strategy, consider: What do you want people to do? Why do you want them to do it? What do they get if they do it? Then keep asking yourself those questions throughout the process.