By Kem Myer
Technology makes it possible for people to gain control over everything except technology. -John Tudor
Bad technology happens to good people. If you code yourself or pay someone to do it for you, carry a selfie stick or a walking stick, are an online social media master or disaster, read your books on Kindle or turn the pages, spend your time downloading apps or downing appetizers—I’m talking to you. And, I’m going to tell you what you probably won’t hear anywhere else. If you want a site that works, make paper first. [screeching brakes] That’s right. I said “make paper.”
You see, the secret to making online technology work is to make the paper that holds the plan for your online strategy.
That plan replaces the wrong questions with the right ones. The right questions prevent you from falling victim to one-size-fits-none solutions and flimsy technobabble.
Do you want to unleash the power of the your online and on-the-go spaces? Start by asking, “What is the desired response we want?” instead of, “What do we want this to look like?” and work backwards from there.
Take your web site, for example. Just because you build it doesn’t mean they’ll come.
Your site isn’t for you, it’s for the person you want to visit (and hopefully, come back). Remember, you’re the host of a public, online gathering space!
Too many corporate and church sites are self-centered or self-absorbed. Consequently, it sends the message that the organization is self-centered and self-absorbed. Is yours?
- Is your site map organized by your organizational chart or department list? Consider grouping and categorizing around the tasks people are trying to accomplish and resources they’re looking for instead.
- Do you split long copy into multiple pages? Don’t make people link to different pages if they don’t have to; help them scan. Give them more bullets and fewer clicks.
- Do you have an “under construction” or “coming soon” page? Don’t tell people to check back, just turn it on when it’s done.
- Do you tell people to follow you on Facebook? Why? What do they get out of it? If you’re providing something helpful, they’ll follow you on their own. And, when they go to your Facebook page, does it offer anything different than the website? The same holds true for apps. You don’t need an app unless it offers something your mobile site doesn’t. Why bother?
- Do you make people swim through menus and subpages to find what they’re looking for? Give people quick access to a search bar so they can bring what they’re looking for to the front, when they’re looking for it.
- Is your tagline insider-focused? It’s one thing to have a sound, operational mission statement. But, all mission statements aren’t guest-friendly. Think about what you’re communicating on your site. News site The Daily Beast uses the tagline, “Read this, skip that.” The tagline for the Zipcar car sharing service is, “Wheels where you want them.” At a glance, both taglines clearly communicate what the company websites are all about.3
- Is it overdone? Your church site is not Madison Square Garden. Don’t overpower because you can. Don’t show off your performance quality or creative design chops and neglect the core reasons someone looks to the church in the first place.
- Is About Us or Ministries the top language people see? Instead, consider guest-focused language like Welcome, Events, For Families,
- Is it full, big blocks of controlled, corporate-scrubbed content? Instead of looking for ways to create more to say, consider making it easier for people to find, contribute to and share good information that already exists.
When I was in charge of revamping our church site a second time, I knew I needed a fresh perspective. Something to help me design from the outside in, not the inside out. I knew I was too close to it, so I spent a year interviewing more than 100 people, inside and outside the church, about what they like in an online experience.
I asked them to think about the sites they love and use regularly in their lives, and tell me what they like about them and why they keep going back.
It is interesting to me that all answers revolved around clarity, ease of use and authenticity. Nobody ever said anything about cool technology or awesome design.
Another fun fact? An overwhelming majority of the people I interviewed said no website is better than a bad one.
Technology and design can enhance or hinder the online experience, depending on how much authority you give them. They are there to support a goal, not run the show.
Kem Meyer has spent nearly three decades helping people communicate better. She spent 15 years in corporate communications, and led communications at Granger Community Church. Kem lives to simplify complexity and reduce information obesity in churches and organizations. She is the author of Less Chaos. Less Noise: Effective Communications for an Effective Church.