What is the Religious Society of Friends for? — Outreach, Part II

February 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

Websites

Once we have become clear about what we have to say, then we are ready to explore how we say it.

The best outreach, of course, is personal contact—inviting people we know to meeting, putting up tables at local events, inviting the public to events in our meetinghouse. But I suspect that very many of our new attenders are seekers who have found us on their own somehow. How do they find us?

Nowadays, most people find almost everything on the internet. Mostly, they are relying on search engines. This means that your meeting absolutely must have a website if you want people to find you.

I encourage you to visit Joshua Brown’s blog arewefriends in which he analyzes and compares the websites of 34 yearly meetings in North America and some Quaker organizations. The blog entry has a long list of really valuable questions to answer about your website. I cannot emphasize enough how valuable I think this entry, this list, and the accompanying comparative analysis is. Click the following for the blog entry “What does your yearly meeting website say about you?” and the following for a very useful table comparing websites, “Yearly Meeting and Quaker Organization Websites”.

Ideally, your website meets the following qualifications:

  • It should be attractive—if not actually pleasing to the eye, then at least not truly ugly. (There are a lot of really ugly Quaker websites out there.) But more importantly . . .
  • It must have attractive content. That is, the visitors to your site must find what they are looking for. More about this below in the section on Audience.
  • It should be active, rather than static. It should be obvious that things are happening on it, which signals that things are happening in the meeting.
  • It should be current. What a turnoff to find content that is two years old, or even four months old.
  • It should be search engine optimized. That is, it should at least be registered with all the major search engines, it should have the basic meta tags (code that search engines use to refine search results), and it should have at least one sentence on the home page that lays out clearly the information that seekers are likely to want. This makes it more likely that your sentence will show up as a sentence in the search engine result, where it could answer many of the practical questions a seeker is likely to have right away. This sentence should also appear in the Description meta tag. For example:
  • “Hometown Quaker Meeting (congregation) meets to worship every Sunday at 10 am in a light-filled modern building [beautiful historic building; a welcoming space that we rent from X Y Z; etc.] at 123 Main St., Hometown, US 11111. Please come! You are welcome to join us.” Or something similar.
  • You should avoid using Quaker jargon in your url, your page titles, menu titles, content headings, and content text, unless you explain them right away. Examples:
    • “Monthly Meeting”. I believe that you should never use the phrase “monthly meeting” in public outreach content, especially not in your url. It gives people unfamiliar with Quakerism no useful information about your meeting and it suggests that you only meet for worship once a month. And trying to explain what “monthly meeting” really means will make their eyes roll up inside their head. If “monthly meeting” is part of your domain name (e.g., hometownmonthlymeeting.org), get a new domain name. If your banner (the part at the top of your website with your name and logo, or whatever) says “monthly meeting” in it, change it to “Quaker Meeting” or just “Meeting”.
    • Add “congregation” in parentheses after “meeting” somewhere prominent and early on your home page, and in your descriptive sentence. Don’t leave people guessing about what a “meeting” is.
    • Avoid Quaker acronyms. Write out American Friends Service Committee, etc.
    • If you use the word “testimonies”, explain what they are.
    • Likewise, be careful with “witness”: people may associate it with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and they may not know what it really refers to.
  • The basic information. Don’t make people hunt for basic information; they won’t. Make sure your home page includes:
    • your address with zip code (people want this for their Google maps search);
    • your phone number;
    • your contact email address or some easily recognizable way to contact the meeting without using the phone (usually a contact page with a tab in the menu);
    • the times for worship;
    • a link to a Google or Mapquest map, or at least, to a page with directions to your meeting place.

People are used to finding an organization’s address and phone number in the footer of web pages, but you might think about putting your phone number somewhere more prominent.

Audience.

As a guide to what kind of content your site should have, think about who your audiences are. You will have at least two:

  • an internal audience—members and attenders of your meeting; and
  • an external audience—mostly people who have either happened on your site by accident or, more hopefully, people who are looking for you: seekers.

It should be clear to all kinds of visitors that they have come to the right place and where to go next to find what they want.

Seekers will be looking to find you, to know when you worship, and to get some sense of the meeting and of Quakerism more generally. In this latter regard, you will want your home page to be welcoming and to clearly offer access to more information about Quakerism. Pictures of the meetinghouse and worship space and of people in the meeting greatly enhance your welcoming presence.

As for explaining Quakerism more generally, seekers are likely to want answers to some basic questions: what do you believe? and what can I expect from your worship service?

In my experience, answering these questions in the process of upgrading your website often leads a meeting to ask really deep and valuable questions about your identity. This can be very enlivening—and it can be quite contentious. However, when you are done, you will be able to answer these questions with confidence, so walk closely and optimistically in the Light as you discern. Consider also the possibility of linking to other sites for some of this content. Friends General Conference and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting have attractive websites with pretty good resources in this area.

Process.

As I said, developing a website or upgrading the one you have is an exciting and a challenging project. I recommend that the committee in charge of the project be rather small and that the meeting consciously agree to give this committee its confidence and the freedom to work unencumbered by Quaker “red tape”. Let them bring fairly well-developed proposals to the meeting for comment and approval. At all costs, avoid writing the content in committee or, worse yet, from the floor of the business meeting. Assign someone the job and then review it.

Ideally, you will have at least one person on this committee who knows a little bit about websites and how to organize their development, plus someone fairly knowledgable about Quaker faith and practice, and someone with outreach experience. I realize, however, that very often you won’t have the human resources you really need, especially a technical person. What then? Take a look at other meetings’ websites in your region to find the ones you like the best and see whether you can bring their web guru in as a consultant, if only to meet with your committee once to help you learn how to think and create a project outline. Or check with your yearly meeting. Or with either FGC or FUM, both of which have some resources for web development.

Web services.

You need to bring into in the meeting’s institutional memory two specific sets of information related to web services, if you haven’t done so already:

Domain name. Your domain name is your website’s name (e.g., hometownquakermeeting.org). If you don’t already have a webesite, you have to choose and pay for a domain name; if you already have one, you need to know who owns the account, what the account details are, especially the financial terms of the contract (when it is due and how you are going paying for it), and how to log in to the account. Very often, someone in the meeting has taken this on, but the meeting should own it. If this person moves on, dies, or gets distracted, you will be stuck. Decide who will keep this information, and especially, who should pay for your domain name and how.

Hosting service and content management system (CMS). Your hosting service is the company that provides the servers that your website lives on. The CMS (if you have one) is the interface you use to develop and maintain the site, which can be provided by your hosting service or some third party. As with the domain name, bring the hosting service account and the CMS account into the meeting structure, so that you have an institutional memory of who your hosting service and CMS providers are, what the account logins are, and who and how you’re paying for them (many CMS providers, like WordPress, are free).

Quaker Cloud. Let me recommend here FGC’s hosting service Quaker Cloud. It’s a little pricey, relative to the alternatives, but still not so much in absolute dollars: $120/year for meetings of 50 and under, $240 for larger meetings, when paid annually. That said, it really has a lot to recommend it. It’s attractive in a Quaker plain way. It’s easy to use. Your online assets will be in Quaker hands, not those of some corporation. You will have good support. And the service includes platforms for securely managing your minutes and your meeting member directory. Most importantly, their staff will help you get going.

Content.

Content comes before structure. The first thing to do is to identify your audiences: to whom will you be providing this content? Who will be coming to your website and, most importantly, what do they need from you? 

You probably will be tempted to start thinking right away about what your meeting has to say. Turn it around: ask instead what the visitors to your site will need, and let that guide the kind of content you develop and how you say it. If you think you still have something else to say beyond visitor needs, then say that, too.

Well, this post is already very long, so no room for social media. Maybe in the next post.

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