You’ve probably heard about the potential benefits for your parish. You’ve read about it here. You’ve heard me say it. Even some Bishops are tweeting. The Facebook thing looks great. Google+ looks interesting. So you and the Pastor decide to give it a go. You set up all the accounts, do your customization, you tweet, you status update, and . . . nothing seems to be happening. And you’re left wondering if all this hype is valid or just simply hype. Or you’re left wondering what you did wrong.
If this is you . . . you’re not alone. We’ve all been there. It’s exciting to ponder the possibilties, easy to set these things up, and you’re rolling in no time. But the one thing we often forget to do is plan it out first. It’s kind of like envisioning this great party, ordering all the decorations and food, setting it up, and . . . nobody shows up. A huge bummer right? What happened . . . you sent out invitations but just not to the right people or forgot to send any invitations at all.
Parish communities are unique in the world of social media and most are trying to simply apply common business strategy and advice to their parishes. This does and doesn’t work because the two have very different purposes and agendas (our’s is better by the way). So what should you do to have a successful launch for your social and online strategies?
- Form a Web Ministry. This is always done with Pastor approval and he should be included in meetings. Most parishes have someone that “knows computers” and they “do your parish website”. Web design and social media/networking are not the exact same skill set nor are they interchangeable talents for many people skilled in web technologies. So it makes sense to have a few people with varying web talents to execute these things for the parish. In addition, it’s a lot of work for just one person and by putting it all on just one person you are limiting your possibility for success.
- Determine what it is you want to accomplish. Not all parishes are the same. Each are beautifully unique from their geographic locations to the makeup of the parishioners, and your online strategies and activities should reflect the unique needs of your parish. I recommend starting with one or two problems that have been common and you’ve been wanting to find a solution. Make sure you get to the root (the real cause) of the problem and brainstorm possible tech tools that might provide a solution. For example, parents have been complaining that the altar server schedule doesn’t get to them timely enough in the mail and it’s making it difficult for them to plan. Sue does those schedules and has a lot on her plate and is doing the best she can to get them typed up, printed, and mailed out. What’s a possible solution? An online calendar for that schedule on your website. Now Sue simply enters the schedule once to the calendar and it’s available to the parents. You’ve saved Sue time, met the parents planning needs, and reduced parish expenses by reducing mailings.
- Ask your parishioners. You can’t expect to have a good turnout to you party if 90% of the people you invited don’t have transportation. It’s easy to assume that everybody knows how to drive and has a car right? But maybe a lot of them don’t. This is the same when it comes to online stuff. We assume that everybody has a computer and therefore is online emailing, Facebooking, Tweeting, etc. This might be very true for a parish in Palto Alto, Ca. or New York City; but your parish community might not have a lot of Twitter users BUT it does have a lot of Facebook and/or Google+ users. Find out where your parishioners are by asking them.
- Set up a table after Mass to ask people and jot down some numbers of services (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.) your parishioners are using.
- If your website does pretty well, add an online poll or survey
- Listen over time. You might remember hearing quite a few people suggesting a particular service
- Plan it out prior to rolling it out. You’ve found out people want a Facebook page for the parish. You know it will overcome communication barriers because you are heavily reliant on the paper bulletin right now. So you create a page and . . . it just doesn’t seem to work for anything. Facebook pages and Google+ pages are like mini-websites in some ways with better interaction with visitors. These “pages” should be in sync with the parish website and provide a similar set of information (i.e. events, online bulletins, contact info, etc.). The pages will act to be more of a part of daily lives from a social aspect and also an additional hub for information. So your website person and your social media people all need to “be on the same page” (no pun intended) when it comes to information. For example, me and a gentleman at my parish recently discussed providing the bulletin through our Facebook page. He initially thought that should be something for the website. Sounds logical right? But when we discussed it for a few minutes it was quickly apparent that providing it in both places just made sense and it didn’t matter where our parishioners got it but rather that we provided the access to it where our parishioners are.
- Promote it! Again, you have to send out the invitations if you expect people to show up to your party. This part always gets missed. We put the website address in the bulletin but nobody goes to the website. You set up the Facebook page but nobody “Likes” it. Write a brief explanation of the benefits in your bulletin. Definitely promote any additions such as adding a Pastor blog, a new design of the Ministry page, bulletins now available for download, etc. Lisa Hendey had a great idea and promoted the Facebook check-in feature in her parish bulletin. Guess what? They saw a huge increase in check-ins immediately that week. Pastor involvement and participation is often a huge factor to parishioner participation and is always something to promote. If you’re a Priest reading this . . . your participation and telling parishioners you support these things goes a very long way (as it does for any parish initiative). We really do listen.
So there you have it. What have you done to plan online strategies for your parish? What creative things have you done to promote these things in your parish?