Had an interesting afternoon at Kadugli House in Steeton yesterday at the Bradford diocesan centre for the Church of England. I was there on behalf of All Saint's Church, Ilkley. The session was led by Bryony Taylor social media manager at Reach Further
Feedback from the group suggested that there were fears about embracing social media as a corporate communication tool - mostly around the flood of information that is difficult to assimilate or control. The Bishop of Bradford made it very clear that it was easy to lose control and how vital it is that churches become adept at engaging with the media.
The Bishop's knowledge and command of the media, and his support for these sessions suggests that more churches may want to improve their media skills and visibility.
In the long term, online media will continue to transform the way people share information and interact, the internet has become ubiquitous. We have gone from being somewhere to everywhere.
With a few exceptions, it seems that there is a drift away from specific destination sites to a presence which is defined by content rather than channels. The bishop gave an example of using twitter to search for articles published by the Guardian. The use of search terms and other forms of metadata seems to be the key. For this reason a website based on a blogging platform may be better than a static site - offering better connectivity and a more dynamic experience.
The internet is all about links (of course) and an internet presence should be designed around the use of multiple services linked together The automatic distribution and flagging of content between services like Twitter, Facebook, blogs and the new kid Pinterest
But let us not forget the much bigger picture in which old forms of media continue to be important - flyers and posters, notice boards, phone calls, house to house drops. The media mix of any communication campaign should be broad and appropriate for the message and the audience. Online media does not replace old media. As Bryony said - "E" stands for enhanced (does not replace). The people who provide the content for websites should not be the geeks - encouraging newsletter editors to submit content for the web may be a way forward, but remembering that editorial has to be re-written and presented in a different way; different audience, different media.
The provision of quality content continues to be a challenge but increasingly there are sources of content issued under a creative commons licence. Flickr & Mixter for stills and music. Even if you have to pay for content iStockphoto is a source of affordable quality images. Evidence shows that stories without images tends not to engage readers quite so well - newspaper editors have always known. And many are saying that without video you may become invisible!
So what do I think? I'm really pleased that the diocese is seeking to encourage and equip churches to be more media literate. This signals a willingness to connect with the outside world. I am loyal to my local church which does some superb work but it feels like the Galapagos Islands (where isolated evolution has thrown up unique species that are not able to associate with normal creatures).
In the business world it would be unthinkable not to have a communication strategy of some sort. Identifying need, mindful of language, finding creative ways of connecting with new customers, listing - being outward looking. It seems to me we at last have communication tools that are cheap and actually fun to use.
"Go out into all the world" if you dare.