CHURCH IN THE DIGITAL AGE
First impressions matter
By Richard Hong | Presbyterians Today
It used to be that the first impression of a church was made at the front door. That first impression is now being made online. These days, people visit almost every organization virtually before having any further interaction. So, the question that needs to be asked is, “What message or image are you presenting to these visitors?”
Remember, having an online presence is more than just about getting visitors to become regular worshipers, be it in person or digitally. The first goal of each online encounter is getting those clicking on to your site to linger and explore what you are offering. Studies reveal you have a very limited amount of time to engage online visitors. People decide whether to “stop the scroll” when engaging in social media in less than a tenth of a second; decisions to read an email or not are made in under five seconds; and new website visitors stay on a site for fewer than 45 seconds.
What are they looking for?
Effective content begins with understanding what the person is likely to be looking for. Yet, every medium is different. Someone scrolling through social media on their phone often goes through posts quickly, so graphics with vivid colors will catch their eye much more than just words. With email, the first thing people see is the subject line. Is it concise? Catchy? Inviting? If it isn’t, chances are the email will not be read.
Your website is a different kind of medium. Social media and email are known as “push” media. You are initiating contact and “pushing” content to them. A website is known as a “pull” medium, where a person seeks out the content. This distinction is crucial.
When using a “push” medium (a social media ad or email blast), you need to catch people’s interest. With “pull” media (your website), people are initiating the contact and you need to anticipate — and satisfy — what they are looking for. If they cannot find what they are looking for within one click and without scrolling very far, they are likely to leave immediately. This is called a “bounce.”
Pre-COVID-19, we presumed that someone was coming to the church’s website for the purpose of deciding to visit or not. The website was designed to entice a person to become a first-time visitor. The presumptive question we sought to answer was, “Will I feel comfortable there?”
Once COVID-19 altered our worship, the website went from a place to learn about worship to a place to access worship. In March 2020, within two weeks of the pandemic’s start of shutting down traditional worship, the church I serve revamped its website, scrubbing most references to in-person activities. The first thing you see now are links to online worship services. We also replaced word-based links with clickable image “thumbnails” that catch the eye and connect with what people are looking for much faster than words. Think of a picture as a “headline” and the words as “detail.” If the headline doesn’t interest them, they won’t read your words. And the content must be fresh. Your website has to continually reflect what you are doing now.
What is their next step?
When you successfully engage with someone, you need to make it easy for them to take the next step that you want them to take. For our social media ads, we have a simple goal: We want them to like/follow us. Then we have the ability to continue to push content to them. The goal of that content is to encourage them to visit our website. Finally, the goal of our website is for them to watch a worship service. Once they worship with us, we want them to share contact information and add themselves to our email list. During COVID-19, we have increased our Facebook page followers by 70%. The number of devices watching our services each week has increased by 57%.
Here is something else that is very important to consider. It seems obvious, but it is the one thing that is often overlooked. Does your physical church sign on your property have your website address on it? People driving by should be able to quickly find you on the internet. And what about your phone system greeting? Does it have all the up-to-date information a caller might need?
Developing an effective digital strategy that draws in someone who is unfamiliar with your church, and leads them into a relationship, is not hard. It just takes one small step at a time and remembering to meet people where they are at each step along the way.
Richard Hong is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Englewood, New Jersey. He thanks Nicole McKinley of First Presbyterian Church of Bryan, Texas, for suggesting this month’s topic. If you have suggestions for future columns, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Categories: Presbyterians Today
Tags: church communications, online, social media, website
Tags: church, content, email, first impression, first presbyterian, first presbyterian church, goal, looking, media, next step, online, people, presbyterian, presbyterian church, richard hong, social, social media, visitors, website, worship
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