Merging two websites into one unified presence can be a difficult task!
It can be especially difficult when the two websites, while unified in purpose, have two very distinct identities.
Here’s what we did. Hopefully you can learn something about our challenge, our strategy, and eventually how we executed!
Take a look:
Gradually, it grew to include devotional studies by Pastor Mark D. Roberts, and other articles and interviews on leadership and attitude. And as the content source behind ChristianityToday.com’s Faith in the Workplace channel since 2005, the TheHighCalling.org had built an impressive following. However, it was missing the element of hospitality that’s so important in other programs of Laity Renewal.
The HighCallingBlogs.com blogger’s network was developed to experiment with the concept of online hospitality. The blogging community was viewed as being a critical part of accomplishing the vision of the foundation on the web.
Over time, it became a vibrant community where bloggers (the laity of the church) were able to connect with others who shared the same passion and vision for the high calling of their daily work, whether in the church, in the workplace, or in the home. Today the network has over 1,100 active member blogs who help to drive the content and discussions on the website.
The two websites had developed their own voices and (separate) followings. But they were also supported by two different technologies.TheHighCalling.org was a custom platform that was ten years old. HighCallingBlogs.com was on the WordPress Multi-User platform. The new website would need to be a robust open-source CMS platform that could handle the continued growth and innovation.
Developing a Strategy
Engaging the community had become an important part of the equation, and it was apparent that it needed to be a central part of this site merge. Senior Editor Marcus Goodyear realizes the danger of the traditional approach to communication:
The Internet is a multi-channel medium. Most Christian sites are still applying traditional communication models to this medium. Voices of authority speak to largely passive readers. Some of these sites empower their readers to share links and leave comments, but very few are listening to their readers directly. A traditional Christian site, for instance, feels a bit like a traditional church. An authority figure preaches to people in the pews who listen.
Recognizing the importance of the blogging community (the laity), the core development team knew that it would have to engage readers if it was going to be successful. So they built a team of core bloggers and off-site editors that would advise the development direction of the new website.
The first step of the team would be to submit and evaluate best practices from other websites. Places like FastCompany.com were evaluated for their content management and BlogHer.com for their community.
The core development team also went through the process of determining which features of the merging websites were most important. Answering the question of how regular content from two websites would blend together into one new website would be a key factor in keeping readers from both sites.
It would also be important to make sure that feedback wasn’t a one-time opportunity either. Regular webinars with the core bloggers and off-site editors became a critical part of ensuring that the direction that the development team was taking things actually matched what the community was hoping to see.
Executing the Strategy
The diversity of experience on the blogger/editor team turned out to be a big factor in the end result of the new website. With such a broad base of knowledge, even things like the psychology of color came into play when deciding on the background for the page.
Even after the launch, the editorial team continues to talk to the community about what’s working and what isn’t. Whether it’s through regular conversations on people’s blogs, private emails, or Twitter parties (using tweetchat.com), the development team is gathering feedback in order to continue to improve the website.
It’s All About the People
This approach is closely aligned with the overall strategy of the website. Goodyear states:
Our site is about casting a vision that is clear enough and inspiring enough that our readers can run with it on their own sites. We then spend the majority of our editorial time listening to them on their sites and helping them shine as writers. We believe in the power of the laity so much that we are relying on them and their audiences to help spread the vision that has been given to us.
It’s about people. It’s about empowering the laity of the church to live their high calling throughout the other six days of the week. The editorial team is constantly engaging in conversation with the community, commenting on their sites and commenting on articles at TheHighCalling.org. The group also actively pursues conversation on the Twitter and Facebook channels.
Editors visit member’s blogs regularly to engage and encourage the community. The editors track their level of engagement with the community by highlighting their comments to a shared Diigo group. This creates a record by which they can measure success, but it also generates buzz among the editorial staff.
And they’re not just leaving comments to hear themselves talk. When they find great content on people’s blogs, they’ll even work with those members to feature their work in the HCB Community and in their newsletter. If an article is especially on vision, they may pay the author for non-exclusive rights to republish it on TheHighCalling.org or on Christianity Today‘s FaithInTheWorkplace.com. In fact, the entire editorial team consists of bloggers who began as members of the network.
This strategy of focusing on the people in the community not only works for developing a growing online community, but also in successfully completing a complicated website merger.