Getting in their stream

February 24, 2010 — 1 Comment

I wrote last week that I believe we are now in a “post-website” world, where the organizational website, while important, is no longer the centerpiece of how we interact online.  Continuing to think along these lines, the question then becomes: what should be the main focus of our online communications and interactions?

My answer to that question is not simple. I believe that the best way to interact with our target audience is to build relationships with them online.  And one way to build relationships with them is to insert ourselves into the “streams” of information that they consume everyday.  To have the maximum reach possible, we must understand the streams that our potential audience wades through on a daily basis and become part of it.

Streams can be found in many places online:

  • Facebook status updates: get your content on people’s wall. Depending on your target audience, this may be the #1 way to get into people’s streams. Facebook is now the #1 site that people spend their time on.
  • Twitter: get your message into Twitter clients, whether that is text message, Tweetdeck, or itself.
  • Email: many people still use email as their primary “go-to” tool. While this may seem “old-school”, it also can be powerful and effective for certain target audiences.
  • RSS reader: the more tech-savvy out there (and those who prefer to read) probably use an RSS reader to aggregate content into one place. Be sure you make a feed available.
  • Mobile apps: as mobile devices become more and more integrated into our culture, you will want to make it easy for people to get your content delivered to their mobile device.
  • Search results: if people are looking for you, can they find you?
  • Wikipedia: many people go to Wikipedia first when trying to find information. It is listed as a “top 10″ web brand. Wikipedia results almost always show up in the first page of search results.

This idea is nothing new, marketers have been thinking in these terms for decades. Billboards, television and radio ads, door-to-door salesmen, telemarketers and multi-level marketing companies all understand this. Our potential “customers” will not come to us, will not engage with us, unless we go to them first.  But of course, many of these methods have an extremely negative connotation: we may not want our ministry to be identified with telemarketing or advertising.  So do we forget the idea of streams and just build a great website, hoping that it will get visited? No.

As I stated in my answer to my initial question: the main focus on our online communications and interactions should be to build relationships. To do this, you need a carefully crafted strategy that is research-based and encompasses a variety of online methods.  Some ideas on how to do this include:

  • How will your ministry start your relationship with someone online? Will you post ads asking them to “subscribe” or “follow” you? Will you look for recommendations through friends?
  • Each “stream” should be carefully identified and its role in your strategy examined.  The number of content items you place into a stream should be enough to get noticed but not so much that it is considered “spam”. Remember: users can choose to stop getting your stream.
  • If you choose to have multiple streams (and you probably should), work to find tools that allow you to manage them from one place. For example, if you post to Facebook and Twitter, you can link them together so that only one update needs to be done.
  • Don’t offend – if it is not appropriate for your content to be delivered through one of these methods, then don’t! Remember, each stream has unique pros and cons. Some are more public than others. Examine each thoroughly.
  • Who is going to manage all of this? Don’t think it will run itself! Someone on staff should have this in their job description!

This is a topic that I will be continuing to work through as I put together my book. I would love your feedback! What other “streams” exist out there? How are you engaging them? What are some of the differences you’ve found between different streams?


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Online ministry researcher and educator. Associate Professor and Director of Innovation for the Crowell School of Business at BIola University. Author of Ministry in the Digital Age.

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