The past month, I have put in about 50 hours worth of time to not only construct a research project, but also to gather data and find some sweet nuggets of content to share with people. I am going to get into what this project looks like, but before that, I wanted to share how we got to that moment.
The beginning of 2015 seems to be the perfect meeting point for me in my blogging career. I have let go being an editor, moved to full time with ChurchMag, and begun blogging as a Staff Writer on this site. The best part about all of this is I have been having an itch to do some bigger research pieces beyond the opinion articles or “look what cool app I just discovered from another blogger” that I find myself sometimes writing. Hence the first big publication by me with By The Numbers.
I have told you over and over again that I dislike when people who give their opinion on what you should do with social media or technology when it is not based on data. Want to see it happen for yourself? Tweet out if you should go Apple or Android and people will give you SO MANY silly reasons to switch to one or the other. Ask if you should put your church on Twitter or Facebook, or what hosting platform you should use for your church website. Most of what you will get is not based on the large audience of churches and therefore a proper dataset.
This brings us to this series, By The Numbers where I see people constantly giving social media or website advise to churches, yet it is not based on relevant data. Instead, it is based on what they did at their one church for their specific congregation with their budget in their socioeconomic culture and the expectations and limitations of their denomination. Or “social media gurus” will give you best advise that has been written over and over by blogs for businesses looking to earn a profit, yet the motivations are different and the audiences are not even close to similar, making the “tips and tricks” best guesses.
Research Project Details
What I have done is utilized America’s Fastest-Growing and Largest Outreach 100 Churches, 2014 to find out what they are doing on their website and social media platforms. You can actually see the whole list with breakdown numbers if you click the link above.
This project looks at several factors including what basic components could be on their church website, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. Certainly I could have come up with more than the criteria I have listed below, but even with what I have researched so far, I have put 30+ hours into this project without writing a single word for a blog post or eBook. And honestly, their is a wealth of information here. If this is really well received, we could expand the research data as well as provide a more longitudinal point to it.
Below is a quick breakdown of the components we looked at to construct this research project. Tomorrow we will look at the analysis outcomes for solid data to be presented. Then I will give some very brief insights into what I have observed at the surface level before I begin to break down the data for your church to utilize. Finally, I will offer some tips of what your specific church could takeaway from this project. As a bonus, I plan to share an infographic of the data for you as well, which dives deeper into the data, parsing out helpful tidbits and giving social media and web church leaders some data-backed advice.
The website is, as Michael Hyatt would say, the platform of your organization. This is home base where everything else should be launched from. Below are the criteria I looked at for each church website. We assume very basic information that could be listed on each site.
- Social Media Links on the Homepage?
If your website is the home base for everything you do online, you would think that you would have all of your social media platforms on the website. We go a step further and ask if it is specifically on the homepage of the website. It should be noted that many of the churches we looked at have a homepage as well as individual satellite church homepages. Either one of these could count as a homepage for this research project. We did keep our research short sighted as too many options to evaluate would have made this research project too bloated, thus we limited it to only Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
- Are The Social Media Icons Out-Of-Date?
Facebook and Twitter particularly have evolved over time and with that the logo branding has as well. As a blogger, former social media manager, and digital nomad, out-of-date icons drive me crazy. Dustin Stout goes further by calling it an Icontastrophe. At the very least, keep your site up-to-date.
- Contact Us, About Us, and Ministry Pages?
A recent study suggested that the three most important pages for a church website are these three pages. So what I have done is simply looked to see if they exist. It does not matter if the About Us is buried in the ministry page navigation, the Contact Us link is at the bottom of the page in small font, or the ministry pages are individualized. I simply want to know they exist. It should also be noted that if your ‘About Us’ page is “cleverly” disguised as the I’m New page or What We Have To Offer, I did not count it. It had to explicitly state About and Contact for it to count.
- Physical Address and Phone Number?
When I have done website consulting in the past, this question has been always asked by myself when it comes up, “Why don’t you have your church’s phone number and address on your page? For people that are new to your community or wanting to start attending a church in the area, this becomes the most important information to them. Without it, they will not know where to go or how to get ahold of you. I will also state, I think it is best practice to have it in the footer or header of every page so that someone can find it quickly as well as on the contact us page, but if I am able to find it in one minute’s time, regardless of where they had it, I counted it.
As stated before, we are limiting the social media accounts to simply Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We know that there are several of the top 100 largest churches on others which were publicly displayed including Google+, YouTube, Vimeo, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest, and Flickr. But these were the minority compared to the first three. Here are the specific data points we collected.
I find this statistic great as it can compare how large social media presence is online in comparison to many different attributes, not limited to how this compares to the size of their congregation membership.
While this statistical value may be less important, there is some interesting ideas of if churches should follow others. What do you think is the case?
- Number of posts in a single month
Constantly I hear that churches should post 7 times a day on Twitter or at least once a day. Based on what? We’ll have what is really going on.
- Website links
If your website is suppose to be the home base, do your church’s social media accounts link back to your website?
- Custom hashtags
Specifically Instagram, does your church utilize custom hashtags? And lets be honest, I don’t count #Christmas2014 as custom. Branding or identify need to be present.
Whether with your Twitter header image or branding in your Instagram images, are you branding content?
I’m excited for where this takes us as well as how this can start to change the discussion for churches to actually do better online marketing, communication, and engagement with people instead of comparing themselves to the “self-proclaimed expert” and focus on what churches are actually doing.
If we continued with this study, what would you like to be seen done with the statistics or added to the research data gathering?