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Discussion about church and corporate communications

Many thanks to All Saint’s Church in Otley for their hospitality last night. We were talking about communications and in particular social media. The church would like to reach out to the local community. They are planning a church re-ordering programme which will involve architectural changes and more importantly a re-invigorating of church life.

In this post I want to capture a few thoughts about the need for the organisation to become comfortable and confident about its own identity, to understand the needs and perceptions of those they want to reach, and to organise opportunities for response. 

Communications is a complex topic and so I think it is important to pin down what the purpose of the communications from the outset. Social media can build relationships between individuals across the community in a very organic way, and/or can be used to support a single corporate identity? Communications can be a functional exchange of information in the short term or a highly creative crafting of perceptions over time, maybe through story telling.

I think the communications challenge we were discussing was to help form a clear identity for the church, to challenge perceptions of what church is about and to encourage participation and membership.

I think these three things come in a logical order. Firstly we need to be clear about who we are as an organisation. If we don’t have that clarity then we can’t hope to connect with the outside world. Once we are comfortable and confident about our identity only then can we embark on the task of changing perceptions. Having changed perceptions and won the argument for belonging we then have to make opportunities for people to actually participate. This last step is where the more functional aspects of communications kick in – creating events, offering invitations and managing the volunteers. But it all starts with confidence of identity and common purpose.

Once we have been through this cycle we begin to generate stories which then help to support our corporate identity and the cycle then begins to feed itself. I repeat that without clarity of identity and purpose we won’t ever get off the starting block.

In the world of corporate identity and brand building, in which I was absorbed at the BBC, single mindedness is very important. There is frankly no point in shooting off in all directions when we are dealing with communications. The way to have impact (or any impact) is to focus a single most powerful message and on an audience you can clearly identify.

To this end we discussed four questions which I think show promise. The four questions come in two pairs. The paired questions are related to each other.

The first two questions are as follows:

1. What is the most outstanding thing we do and have achieved? (part of identity)
2. What single thing are we bursting to tell the world? (our most important message)

The second pair is:

3. To whom must we deliver our single most important message? (specific target audience)
4. How will we reach them? (medium appropriate for audience)

Then when we have the answers we are then able to set out the challenge in a couple of sentences:

We want… (audience),
to believe that… (message),
by showing them… (evidence to support message).

We will do this by…(creative ideas for reaching them).

So for example you may end up with: We want young parents to believe that our church is a safe place to bring up children by meeting our trained and caring staff and seeing what they do. We will arrange a special children’s event at which they can talk to parents and show them our activities. This event will be advertised on the popular local parenting website.

If all this sounds like hard work then so it should be. It may also sound a bit corporate and like running a business but I think we should reflect on some of this.  The task of maintaining a consistent and focused identity is something which the whole community should share and get behind. This requires vision, leadership and organisation. In my experience vision and leadership can be found but the organisational aspects are where it often comes unstuck.

I will reflect more on this, but organising creativity is something which less about control and more about framework and boundaries – much too difficult to reflect on here.

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Keeping perspective on social media. Oblong, All Saints and the CofE

I have been working with Oblong Leeds, a community development charity for some years now and we are at last getting round to re-working the organisation’s website. I’m also helping to develop the on-line presence of All Saints church in Ilkley and am part of a forum to discuss the on-line activities of the new CofE diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales. I have resolved to be a bit more diligent in capturing my thoughts here, flimsy as they sometimes are.

I’m getting involved in these activities because I feel that communities must communicate, there are voices that need to be heard and stories that really must be told.

I’m not a web designer or an expert in social media, though I have worked for the BBC and more recently for ITV as the manager responsible for a news website. I can say that I am passionate about telling stories. Stories about who we are and the places we live should not be left to the professional journalists alone; talented as they may be there is only so much they can do. The world is so much bigger.

The big sparkling new diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales, whatever you think of the decision, throws up an opportunity for fresh thinking, particularly in the area of communications. We are not talking about a clean slate because there is much that is good, but the disruption of re-organisation gets people thinking and talking – and talking is certainly what we should be doing. If we want to encourage conversation then Yorkshire is a great place to do it – blunt, diverse and passionate communities of every persuasion and experience.

The incisive question I am working with right now is as follows: How can we equip communities to tell their stories connecting them to each other and with the wider world?

As All Saints Ilkley puts it we are “finding connections with God” and in the process we are finding connections with each other (or is it the other way round?). As I find myself repeating, communications and relationships are absolutely dependent on one another.

At its most profound, communication wouldn’t require technology or language, we would just know. However our relationships are highly dependent on language and technology and if we are to put relationships with each other and God at the highest level then grapple with language and technology we must.

The on-line world of websites and social media is often dismissed by some people as an irritation and a waste of time. I would urge anyone to look at how radically the process of maintaining relationships has changed in recent years. There are extraordinary opportunities for people to open conversations with strangers and experience different worlds. Websites, social media, photography, video if an end in themselves would be a waste of time, but there is real evidence that the creative expression these tools enable is bringing people together with amazing significance. Social media in some parts of the world is literally revolutionary. Shared visual media is extending the reach of communication to those who struggle with words. Power is shifting.

When we’re setting up our social media channels and websites I think it is essential to keep an eye on these higher opportunities for bringing communities together, telling important stories, giving marginalised people a voice, seeing the the world as it really is.

For me, participation is the key which is why I hate the concept of the web-master or the notion that there are ‘experts’ in social media. Intuitive use of these tools should be the aim but I accept that we need people to encourage and share good practice.

Even today at Oblong Leeds we’ve been doing our quarterly planning and on-line communication is playing a big part. We are driving for outcomes in education & skills, employment, raised aspirations, expanded world view, community cohesion – so what activities can we implement? It could be those activities which connect people together, give us a strong sense of identity and self worth, pull people together around a common purpose.

Websites and social media can’t change anything. I cant change anything. I do believe websites and social media may improve the possibility of change just so long as we don’t lose sight of the big goals which can be reached by shared conversations and relationship building.

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Telling stories on social media using video and stills

The use of video in social media is on the increase.  Vine, Youtube and Vimeo are popular services and video increasingly is being used in blogs, on twitter and Facebook.  It is easy to make high quality video on mobile phones and increased internet speeds now makes it possible to zap out a quick video post as part of social media  activity.   This explosion stills and video we have seen on-line is a really important shift in the way we communicate with each other.

The advice  we’re getting now is that if you really want to connect with people in the social media environment incorporating video and stills can have a bigger impact than text alone.  However, as more people are using video clips the novelty is bound to wear thin and so my thought is that canny social media users will need to pay more attention to the quality and relevance of the content.  By quality and relevance I mean is the story told well and is it of timely interest to the audience.

Questions for reflection

  • What does telling a story mean for the way we take our pictures and video?
  • How important is it that we publish our post at a particular moment in time?
  • When we publish stills, video and text are we contributing to a story which will be engaging for our particular audience?
  • What insights does our story provide which will be of fresh interest to our followers?
  • Is it our small story or is it part of a much bigger story?

 

 

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why the mantelpiece?

One or two people have asked why I have re-named this blog the mantelpiece. The reason is that I wanted something that reflected what I was really interested in. All my life I have been taking bits of media and rearranging them into presentations. Sometimes the bits have been things I have created myself and others have been created by other people.

Deborah my wife has a gift for arranging things. She seems to be able to position a thing on a table top – or a mantelpiece – in a way that looks pleasing. When I try to do the same it looks a mess.  We got talking about the things on our mantelpiece. I said I didn't like some of the items particularly but that they held important memories.

This is a place where precious objects and memories are kept.  It is a place that is both private and public, private in its hidden meanings yet visible to all those invited in. Each treasure is carefully arranged in relation to the others, perhaps a letter from a loved one or a photograph of a child long since grown; each one has its place.

Some of the objects are beautiful but others are strange and challenging, each reminding us of who we are and telling a story in the great adventure.

So it seems to me that a blog or a myspace or a facebook or a flickr have something in common with the mantelpiece.  If this makes any sense.