At one time in the not so distant past, phonebooks and the yellow pages were the gold standard for finding local businesses. It was a conveniently packaged source for how individuals found a business, church, or organization. In their marketing campaigns, YellowPages widely used the phrase “let your fingers do the walking.” Times have changed since then, and we now let our fingers do the walking on our computers or smart phones.
The web is not the only way to reach people, but it is one of the biggest and fastest growing. Technology can never replace the human connection - the face to face conversation, the caring in-person invitation for someone to "come and see." But technology provides us with new doors in which people may walk through. We must make sure these new doors are unlocked with their paths leading to our churches' front doors.
The web offers many options for users, and parishes need to be present wherever they expect their potential “audience” to be. And it's not just a matter of being there; it's a matter of cultivating your online presence so that you will be seen when people go to search. If we as the body of Christ are not present online, then those who are will find something else to occupy their time.
With the many options, it can seem overwhelming about where to start. Below we offer some guidance on how to get started with some of the directory and social sites that can benefit your parish. You'll want to either allocate some staff resources or get some volunteers to assist in the maintenance of your online presence.
The Web is THE place where businesses are found in today’s digital landscape. Whether it’s for buying groceries, choosing a dentist, or finding a house of worship, consumers make decisions based on what they find - or don't find - online. Of course, there are the major search engines, such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo! which scour the entire web for your search results, and they do a pretty good job of it, but you need to meet them halfway. In order for your business to be found and properly catalogued by these search engines, it is essential to have a quality, well-written, well-maintained, and mobile-friendly website.
Once your website is built and you are actively maintaining it, you'll want to submit the URL to search engines to make sure they know about it.
Having a strong social media presence is perhaps the best way to ensure that your church remains relevant and visible on the internet today. Services such as Facebook and Twitter are viewed by millions of people every day and provide a fertile ground for interacting with both your parishioners as well as others. Each platform has its advantages and disadvantages, specific purpose, and general audience. With most Social Media sites, you should strive to re-purpose content from your website rather than re-create things from scratch, saving you time and money.
With 1.5 billion active users each month (that's right, BILLION), Facebook has tremendous potential for your parish. Share upcoming events, news, sermons, video, audio, photos, announcements, and more. You can create public and private groups, target audiences based on demographic, and more. If you are going to be on only one social media platform, this should be where you invest your time and efforts. Brevity is king with Twitter. Can you share the Good News in 140 characters or less? Twitter is good for news updates, short spiritual reflections, and anything else that can be said briefly. As the dark horse of social media sites, Google+, which is integrated with Google's web experience, will only become more relevant as time goes on.
The Orthodox Church's Liturgical tradition is designed to activate all of our senses in our worship - the chanting, censers, iconography, liturgical vessels, and more. Through many social media sites, you can take advantage of sharing this rich visual and audial tradition with millions. Here are some sites you should consider using:
Where do you go to find the best slice of pizza in town? How about the dry cleaners with the most trustworthy, kind, knowledgable owner? How about the beautiful, peaceful, byzantine cathedral with the stunning iconography and the welcoming community? Let the internet be your guide, of course!
On the web, there are many business-focused search sites that merge traditional directory listings with crowd-sourced reviews and rankings. All Parishes - and businesses in general - should establish and cultivate a presence on these sites by ensuring they contain accurate and useful information, such as inviting photos, up-to-date service schedules, contact information, and more. Many of these sites offer both web and mobile app access, which make for a superb user experience. Users who visit these sites can offer ratings and comments to share with other users their experiences - for better or for worse!
For many of these sites, your parish may already be listed. If so, be sure to look for the "Claim my business" link somewhere on the page. It will take a few minutes to prove your "ownership" of the business for each site, but it is a necessary first step to get the process started.
Maps help us get to where we need to be. Whether you are in your car, on your smart phone, or at your computer, we rely on our maps to let us know what is out there. Similar to the social directory sites, you should take the time to make sure your parish is listed accurately on the following sites:
With just a little bit of time and effort, you will be able to make available all of these paths for people to find your parish. It is worth the time and investment, and your new members may just thank you for giving them the opportunity to find you!