With the growth of the web, new forms of communication are becoming dominant. Old methods of communication are impacted by this change. For example, the U.S. Postal Service is considering the elimination of Saturday delivery because mail is down 26 percent in 5 years. Or look at the newspaper industry. We are seeing not only new ways to read the news, but a whole transformation of the industry. Technology’s growth creates behavioral and organizational change in deep ways. These changes require your organization to communicate and interact with people in new and different ways.
Let us look at a few trends that will change how you engage your audience:
(1) The impact of the Internet is more than technological; it is about worldviews
As the web catches more of our lives in its grip, it becomes a layer through how we view the world. We are becoming more dependent on it. Behavior changes, such as forgetting people’s phone numbers as we keep them on our cell phone, continues with each new technology we adopt. Think about this: one-third of women aged 18 to 34 first check Facebook when they wake up, according to a 2010 study by Oxygen Media & Lightspeed Research of 1,605 young adults. Twenty-one percent of these women check Facebook in the middle of the night, and 57 percent of young women say they talk to more people online than face to face. Facebook is just one site that is changing the rules of how we behave.
Organizations need to see that the impact from the web is larger than the technology itself because it reflects a new worldview. There has been a change in how new generations see the world. In his 1993 book, Post-Capitalist Society, the late Peter Drucker worded it this way:
“Every few hundred years in Western history, there occurs a sharp transformation . . . within a few short decades, society rearranges itself – its worldview; its basic values; its social and political structure; its arts; its key institutions . . . Fifty years later, there is a new world and the people born then cannot even imagine the world in which their grandparents lived and into which their own parents were born. We are currently living through just such a transformation.”
Technology is accelerating this process of change. For example, do you think social media would have taken off as it has if it were around in the 1950s? Or was there a different view of authority that would have discouraged people from posting their opinion online? Part of the explosion of social media is that it aligns with a postmodern worldview. It is important for organizations to see what is underway as more than just technological; it is about a worldview change that is reshaping industries and organizations. The next generation of digital natives is being made in the image of the web.
(2) Mobile requires your attention
According to Google, by 2013 the desktop computer will be irrelevant. The mobile device, be it an iPhone, an Android phone, an iPad, or something we have not even seen yet, will be the primary way that we do computing and interact online.
Mobile is different; unlike a desktop computer, it is always with us and available. This leads to different habits for its use. Google now estimates that 20 percent of its searches are for things that are nearby, and that percentage is even higher for searches conducted on mobile phones. According to Facebook, over 250 million users access its site via mobile device. And those that do are more active than those who access it via desktop. So what should ministries do? As a ministry, imagine that the entire world has a smart phone (like an iPhone), and will want to access information about you using it. Then plan accordingly.
(3) The “appification” revolution is underway
The number of apps available in Apple’s application (app) store now exceeds 500,000 and these apps have been downloaded over 15 billion times. According to Flurry Analytics, in June 2011, mobile users spent more time on apps than they spent online.ÊAs these apps embed themselves into our daily life, they bring changes to our behaviors. The drive to build web and mobile apps will increase as organizations seek to engage users.
The next frontier for organizations is to build mission-focused web apps. Already these apps are being developed for the church (e.g., YouVersion). As you consider an app, think about going beyond presenting information. Use apps to engage users in ways that matter to your ministry, whether it is discipleship, volunteering, or other valuable activities.
(4) We are in a post-website world
We live in a “post-website” world. The advent of social media, including the massive popularity of social networking, has changed the game. The power of social media is clearly seen in Twitter. Founded only a few short years ago in 2006, Twitter became a critical social media tool to the regime changes that recently swept the Middle East.
The primary use of the web is about becoming more relational, not informational. Our focus should be to go where the people are, not to expect that they will come to us. The question you need to answer is, How do we become integrated into the online habits of our audience? Websites are still valuable to accomplish the goals of your organization, but a website is meaningless if no one visits it.
(5) Focus on the fringe that is central to your success
Traditionally, the basic organizing principle of communications has been the pyramid, but that is changing. For example, according to Altimeter Group research, most novice organizations engage social media through a centralized person or a department. However, today, those who have the most advanced and effective strategies are more decentralized. The web allows you to flatten your organization and reduce the friction to communicate and engage people. An example of this is Compassion International, which does its best to get out of the way and connect the sponsor with children around the world. Or Salesforce.com, which launched a peer network called Chatter to connect peers within an organization in a real time environment, removing unneeded bureaucracy to achieve results. How are you using web technology to connect and empower people at the far reaches of your organization?
(6) Research needs to drive your online strategy
Your decisions about online tools should be driven by strategy. And strategy should be driven by research. Use research to understand how your target audience uses the Internet. Do they use mobile devices? Do they prefer e-mail or a Facebook message? Forrester Research has developed Social Technographics, a way to classify people according to how they use social technologies. This helps you to determine if your customers are creators, joiners, critics, spectators, collectors, or inactive. This type of research can help you determine if your ministry should invest in certain social media sites and how to best engage your audience.
If you design your research well, you will probably find some new insights that will surprise you. For example, when David T. Bourgeois, associate professor of information systems at Biola University, worked on a project to determine the best way to reach staff members in their early- to mid-20s, his assumption was that a Facebook page and wall posts were the best solution. However, research showed that they preferred e-mail and actually did not want the organization to use wall posts.
There are several methods of research available to you. If possible, directly surveying your target group is probably the best way to understand them. Creating a well-thought out survey is not simple; if possible, I would suggest that you find a survey used by a reputable research organization and modify it as opposed to creating one yourself. Using third-party data (such as that from the Pew Internet Project or the U.S. Census) will also give you some ideas of how to reach your group. I would also recommend working with someone who has experience doing research in this area.
How can your organization prepare for the communication changes ahead? A friend of mine, ministry online technology consultant Cynthia Ware, often quotes 1 Chronicles 12:32, where “from Issachar, men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” As leaders we need to learn about the shift in worldview and in the technological landscape.
The first act in the story of the Internet has been the vast availability of information. We are just beginning the second half of the story – the pervasiveness of the web in every aspect of our life. This pervasiveness includes but goes beyond our mobile phones to all the things in our life, such as our cars, our living room, and even the appliances in our house. All of our life will become increasingly brought online.
These trends can be positive even though they often require changes in how your organization operates. To succeed, ministries must adjust and adapt to this new environment. For example, an increasing number of churches are exploring online worship services and are hiring digital pastors to interact with their congregation online. One large ministry built a private community site to engage users to learn, serve, donate, and increase participation, but they had to shut it down after a year because it required more community management than their staff could handle. This organization did not want to change and thus closed down the online community website. In most of our strategy work with organizations, there are changes people must consider to implement effective web strategies. Often these include making new hires, retraining staff, and letting people go as the organization’s needs change.
For many organizations, particularly established ones, there is a significant tension between maintaining the current technology and the need to innovate. But with change occurring so quickly, there is a vital need for ministries to innovate and to be willing to fail. Who is leading your organization to translate your mission, strategies, and goals into the web environment?
At Monk Development (an organization that does this for many ministries and churches), we understand this is full-time work. Most ministries have been on their own in navigating their web strategy. Our desire is to see this change. We lead the Ministry Internet and Technology Summit at the CLA National Conference, which brings together experts in technology and social media from across the ministry world. I invite you to send your teams to participate in this conference in Orlando, Florida, April 10-12, 2012 (ChristianLeadershipAlliance.org/2012). The summit will offer sessions on building the right social media strategy, how to increase online donations, best practices of mobile or application development, and other topics presented by thought leaders in the ministry space. In addition, each year research is conducted and presented at this summit that will enhance your ministry’s online engagement. Please plan to join us.
Second, in partnership with CLA we will launch a new CIO Forum. These forums will include peer-learning to share best practices and discuss the challenges we all face. At stake is the ministry impact we make and how we steward our limited time and resources toward things that will deliver the most value.
We as leaders need to think deeply about the transformation that technology is enabling. We should embrace change, but remember the good news that we do not have to put our hope in keeping up with the changes around us. Our hope is in Christ alone and that Jesus promised that he would build his church. Christ will guide us through, even as the transformation of communication and technology continues at an exponential pace.