Author:Brad West

I live in Palm Coast, FL with my family and have assisted my local parish with our website and communications. Our parishes today can benefit a great deal from technology. Whether it's improving communications, community building, evangelizing, business operations, and much more; we have the tools today. To help provide some direction and advice to parishes and parishioners, I wrote and published an eBook titled "The Connected Church" which is available through Barnes and Noble (Nooks and Nook apps) as well as Amazon (Kindle and Kindle apps).
  • Sr. Susan Wolf, SND

    Dear Brad,

    I admire your commitment to bringing your parish online and
    encouraging others to do so. I read your work on several channels.

    While I usually agree with your views, I have a different
    take on some of the things you have written here. My goal is not to get more
    Catholics online, it is to get more quality Catholic content online. Quality that
    adds value to the lives of people and brings them closer to Christ and the
    Church is what will bring people to our sites.

    I think we need to look at each communications vehicle separately and determine its audience and the appropriate content. I believe that online content needs to be
    more than an electronic delivery system for what people have already read and
    heard in Church although some overlap is natural and appropriate.

    I believe that a parish can choose how to use its website. They can use it as a
    communications tool for members (church goers actually) that reinforces,
    expands, even replaces print and oral announcements as you suggest.

    I also believe that parishes can choose to use their website
    to open their doors and hearts to the non-church goers (76% of Catholics do not
    go to Church on Sunday), to visitors, guests and seekers—in other words to
    implement the New Evangelization. These websites are websites of welcome,
    hospitality, and content that answers the visitor’s questions first and offers
    Good News for daily living. While there will be content on these websites for
    the convenience of members (calendars, forms, announcements), it will not be so
    overwhelming that visitors will feel that they are invading private space.

    I believe that Facebook is a great online community builder. Here, again, some parishes are about announcements and reminders. I like the ones that are about the people, offer encouraging words for the day, other real-time news and photos. Announcements and reminders are easier, but thoughtful reflections and faith stories are more engaging.

    I like your idea about people posting their own photos on social media and using hashtags. We are helping them to witness.

    This is a rather lengthy response, but I believe that we can do much more to build the Kingdom of God on earth and online. We need to help our members dream bigger and reach further than the people we see in Church each Sunday. We need to become virtual “Good Shepherds.”

    • Brad West

      Great great points and it sounds as though we agree with much more than you might think. As you said, audiences are different with the different communications channels. That’s one area that is probably the most confusing because we have typically always created one message and pushed it out, but now we might need to create multiple version of the same message to engage the audience on each channel.

      The problem I have is that there seems to me a great deal of confusion as to the role of internet with parishes and the Church at large. It bothers me to see a parish focus so heavily on SEO for example and forget about good local content and then wonder why the site isn’t benefiting their community. And I agree whole-heartedly with you that Facebook pages that are used solely to re-post the bulletin announcements will be much less engaging, but the page can and should serve as an additional avenue for gaining parish information.

      Great thoughts and thank you so much for your response.

  • Caroline Cerveny, SSJ

    Brad, In my understanding communication today involves a variety of options – the traditional, a website, facebook, twitter, and more. How do you strategize at the parish level so that all of these options are coordinated and planned for?

    • Brad West

      Great question.

      Step one i recognizing the role of each of those items you mentioned and know which ones are best suited for your particular parish:

      – The website – is the hub of all content and parish information.

      – Facebook Page – this is a social “site” where you can share content from your website, photos of events, etc. and engage in conversation. It should also be a source where questions can come in through messaging. This, like the website, will serve as a “service hub”.

      – Twitter – this is “social news”, should be fed through your parish website, and a great option for “live” posting at events. There is a component of messaging through this obviously and Twitter shouldn’t be dismissed as a “service route”.

      – Instagram – great means to capture a moment (or 16 second video) share out through 3 channels at once (Instagram, Facebook page, and Twitter)

      Step two:

      – use a social management service (i.e. Hootsuite). This will make montioring and posting far easier.

      Step three:

      – Post routinely (once per day or multiple times a week) and watch for activity (this doesn’t take much time).

      Step four:

      – Understand the “life cycle” of your content, and leverage what does well. Website content => shared out through social channels => look to see what is performing the best => “amplify” that content and/or create more content modeled after that success.

      The problem in many cases is what you could call “living in a pinball machine”. All of these social service tools are not synonymous, but too often they are being though of as so. So you find people flopping all over the place because they are trying to use the services all of the same and it becomes confusing. The goal is to use them in a coordinated approach and where they are best suited.

      • Caroline Cerveny, SSJ

        I’ve heard that Hootsuite is a helpful tool. What are its strengths and limitations?

        • Brad West

          Hootsuite is great for easily posting to mutliple accounts, scheduling posts to multiple accounts, and the column view is great for overviews of what’s happening (ie. Twitter broken out into columns). The mobile app is getting better and can still be a little quirky.

          My biggest irritation with it is the reporting piece. I use the free version personally and the base pay account at work (2 users @ $10/month). They have this strange point system for reports that you can easily cap and then you have to pay more. But the base reporting is beneficial to see what posts are performing well with clicks and where (Twitter vs. Facebook, etc.)

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