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Using Web Technology to Market Our Faith

General Assembly 2009 Event 2029

Workshop Outline (PDF)
Presentation (PDF, 80 pages)

Presenters: John Hurley, Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Director of Communications; Deb Weiner, Director of Electronic Communication for the UUA.

Religious seekers, who are our target audience, want a spiritual home where they are known. They want a sense of community with a religious authority that is right for them, and, importantly, they insist that we deliver on our promises.

The Pew Forum publishes information on the “Religious Landscape in America.” Their data show, among other things, the mobility of people of faith today. Americans change religious affiliations early and often—50% at least once. The biggest change is among the unchurched and unaffiliated. Huge numbers are ready to change affiliation or are unchurched and ready to find a new affiliation. Children raised unchurched are looking to join a religious group and unchurched young adults are returning to faith communities in significant numbers. This presents us with real opportunities.

John Hurley explained that if we want to market Unitarian Universalism (UUism), we need to understand the best way to market our faith or a specific congregation. The UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association) recognizes that we want to focus on our congregations and this landscape of people.

The communications landscape is changing dramatically. Online ads, the web, email, social networking and texting are replacing traditional newspapers and the yellow pages. In fact, we are seeing the slow death of newspapers. In Massachusetts, the Boston Globe is struggling for survival while its online presence is gaining readers—although their business model has not worked out how to make money from viewers. Traditional ads may still work in some instances, but they must be targeted to specific events and placed in the area of the event.

New lessons to be learned include marrying electronic communication to the search for community. Communication now means person to person, not top down, so we need to understand how a website can facilitate community, while, at the same time, recognizing that an online community is, at best, a supplement to a face-to-face community. There are dramatically increased expectations for faster communication. Services and their readers are hungry for fresh, relevant content. A stale blog will work against you, so be prepared to update often in order to meet your consumer's expectations.

Deb Weiner said that while Marketing has been a dirty word for religious people we are, in fact, all consumers of religion in a consumer society. So we should plan to market our services to those consumers. However, we need to recognize that just because we think we’re terrific it does not mean others do as well. We need to provide those others with the information they need to make up their own minds.

We must be aware of the audience to whom we are directing information: visitors; insiders, such as the board; the media; or the wider world. One of the most common mistakes is trying to address all needs on the home page. Weiner emphasized that the home page should be aimed primarily at new seekers, and to do that you need to understand your local demographics. Decide who you want to attract and let this inform what your website looks like.

Some examples of effective websites developed by Unitarian Universalist congregations include:

First UU Church of San Diego has a consistent style throughout its site, is clear for newcomers, and even has a hot link for newcomers embedded in the home pagw "welcome" message—in addition to being the first button in the top navigation bar.

The First UU Church of Rochester, NY, home page is uncluttered, has buttons for what’s hot! and Newcomers Basics, and is simply beautiful.

Weiner used the River of Grass UU Congregation site to show that excellence depends more on vision than on a congregation's size or financial resources. This congregation is really reaching for newcomers and they want to show how their ministry—and their minister—may be right for them.

Some of the good things we see on all good sites are: clear directions, clear signage and a simple, easy-to-navigate design. There may be RSS feeds for people wanting a more personalized connection. Increasingly, we are seeing Podcasts and other widgets. Most importantly, the website needs an authentic welcome. You must NOT offer what you cannot deliver. Pictures of members are very important because a seeker will want to know how they will fit in and be welcomed, by looking at people who represent you.

An Annenberg survey highlights the increasing importance of electronic media: 60% of people use search engines, 47% take advice from family and friends, 26% rely on social networking, 24% use blogs. Even Podcasts, RSS, and mobile capabilities are growing, each being used by 7% of the people.

The UUA has had good results with YouTube. Voices of a Liberal Faith—Unitarian Universalists (YouTube) is a 10-minute video that has had 70,000 views. It is completely focused on newcomers. If your congregation uses YouTube, the video must be high quality and focused, with a clear intent. As a suggestion, every congregation can post a link to this video on its website.

Hurley and Weiner also recommend using Google ads. They can be targeted, appearing only to users who have searched for the words or phrases you choose; the Google ad staff will help you word the ad and choose the target phrases; they are only paid for when clicked through; and the analytics are amazing. You can track information on an ad and how many people click through to your site. You can measure very, very finely. You can limit your cost to what you can afford. Some of the UUA ads have gotten millions of impressions (they pop up on the right of a Google search-results page), but we only pay for click throughs (searches that end up on our site). Remember, if you use this tool, you are responsible for piquing the searcher's interest once they reach your site. Make sure that the click through goes to a landing page that talks about what you want the visitor who made that search to find. You can buy Google ads according to geography, which is especially important for congregational marketing. We have done some Google ads related to this General Assembly. We are currently running ads there to get interested people to come to our Sunday worship service.

We are trying to get people to interact with our website. Our gold standard is getting people to reach our “Find a Congregation” page. That’s why we need congregations to have good websites. If we send them to you, you need to have an appropriate welcome for them when they get there.

Useful contacts at the UUA are:

Deb Weiner
Director of Electronic Communications
oecdirector @ uua.org
(617) 948-6104

Shelby Meyerhoff
Public Witness Specialist
(617) 948-6103
pw_specialist @ uua.org

Tim Griffin
Online Communications Manager
(617) 948-6448
oecmanager @ uua.org

Reported by Rodney Lowe; edited by Bill Lewis.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Tuesday, June 21, 2011.

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