- Who is your audience (who are you trying to reach)?
- What is your message (and what are their interests)?
- When are they online (and when are you available)?
- Where are they (and where are you)?
- Why are you using the Web (and why do you expect people to visit your site)?
- How will they find you (and how will you interact with them)?
Good journalism is rooted in providing the basic information on a topic and then diving in deeper. But, it is not just about the content of your articles - it is also about the audience for those articles.
Who is your audience (who are you trying to reach)?
This is probably one of the most critical elements of your online strategy. Geography and proximity factors are not at play online. Cultural differences are not apparent until after someone visits your web site. While 'profiling' has some bad associations, knowing who you are trying to reach and developing materials just for them is a good practice you can adopt.
Here are some of the basic questions to ask about your intended audience -
- What knowledge of your community do they have?
- What knowledge of your congregation do they have?
- What knowledge of your denomination do they have?
- What knowledge of the Gospel do they have?
- Are they receptive to the Gospel?
The Gray Matrix can help you determine your approach. Members of your congregation have different needs than unchurched visitors in a country on the opposite side of the globe, or even within your community.
You also must understand the differences between online communities and offline communities. Online communities must have access to the Internet in order to interact - offline communities don't. Online communities can be formed by people on the opposite sides of the globe - offline communities usually are much more geographically concentrated. In an online community, it is much more difficult to ascertain one's financial status, educational background, gender or age. Face-to-face meetings in offline communities makes it difficult to mask those attributes.
What is your message (and what are their interests)?
What impression do you want to make? Think of your first encounter with a new visitor to one of your worship services - are you going to sign them up for ushering or teaching Sunday School right away? The initial part of any relationship is getting acquainted with each other. People are interested in what they are interested in. Get to know your visitors and they will guide you to what their interests are and how you can help them.
When are they online (and when are you available)?
Services on Sunday morning, or even Saturday evening, are not the only times people are looking for spiritual connections. Get used to the Internet being global, without time barriers. I have had online chats with people 6 time zones away, even 12 time zones away. There are people online at all hours of the day and all around the globe. This poses some challenges, but also many opportunities.
A church or ministry web site effectively opens the doors to visitors for every hour of the day. People spending time online generally spend an increasing amount of time online - not just once a week, usually many times throughout the day. If you only have fresh information to offer on a weekly basis, you might be missing a lot of opportunities to connect with your audience.
Where are they (and where are you)?
This is similar to the last 'W' (When) - the Internet is global, in case you haven't noticed. Your site has the opportunity to be visited by people in your community, in nearby communities, in your region and in remote locations no where near you. Don't make assumptions that people viewing your web site know all about you and where you are.
Do your congregation members travel? How can you connect with them when they are away during regular worship times? Does your congregation partner with missions in other parts of the world? How can you strengthen the connection with them when you are separated?
Members of your congregation already know how to get to your worship locations, new community members may, or may not. Visitors to your web site may be in a completely foreign territory and have no point of reference for your location. Be sensitive to the location of your audience and how you can serve them from where you are.
Why are you using the Web (and why do you expect people to visit your site)?
Do you see the Web as a tool, or as a ministry? Or, possibly, as both? This is an important question, so don't zoom right by it. Spend some time in prayer about this - God has some surprising answers, if you ask him.
The Web is certainly a tool you can use in your church or ministry to leverage efficiencies in communication.
The Web is also a mission field. You can reach people directly with your site, or through members of your congregation that are strengthened through your web site. Be sure to view your site from various perspectives and balance your approach to fit your priorities.
How will they find you (and how will you interact with them)?
You have invested in informing people where your worship services are located - either through phone directory listings, newspaper advertising, door-to-door visits, mailers and flyers, signage, or any combination of the above. A physical location also has some drive-by visibility. Now, how will you connect with people online?
I won't give you all the options, but use the same techniques you currently use for any new program or event - publish in your regular print materials, announce it in worship services (when appropriate) and meetings, discuss it in staff meetings, add it to your phone directory listings, print ads, send out postcards - basically, any communication channel you have should inform people of all the other channels, too,
Then, turn things over to the Digital Generation - they can spread news at the speed of light using cell phones, text messaging, instant messaging, online social networks like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, and even some 'older' technologies, like email. Just be prepared for the many and various ways people will interact with your web site. In fact, if you are responsible for a web site and do not have a Facebook or MySpace account, you are not fully qualified to run a web site. There you will learn how people interact online, build communities and how the web will be in just a few short years.
Getting visitors to your site should not be your only goal - you need to start interacting with your visitors and developing relationships with them, just as you would if they visited one of your worship services. Find ways to start those relationships online - feedback forms, contact forms, forums for question and answers and discussions, mailing lists, messaging options and inviting people to bookmark or comment on articles are just some of the ways.
The Five W's of the WWW are the same five W's you learned in school, but on the web, it is just as important to consider the five W's of your audience as the five W's of your content.