A heads-up for congregational marketing

Cory Doctorow lays down an obvious marketing rule for 2024:

“If there was ever a moment when the obvious, catastrophic, imminent risk of trusting Big Tech intermediaries to sit between you and your customers or audience, it was now. This is not the moment to be ‘social first.’ This is the moment for POSSE (Post Own Site, Share Everywhere), a strategy that sees social media as a strategy for bringing readers to channels that you control….” (Here’s Cory’s blog post — just be aware the title of the post is Not Safe For Work.)

This applies to congregations, too. If you’re relying on Facebook as your central marketing strategy, that’s probably not a wise thing to do. Sure, it’s fine to use a Facebook account for marketing, but Cory’s point is that you really want to use that Facebook account to drive people to your own website. Which you control. So it cannot be censored, or walled off, or otherwise controlled by Big Tech.

Marketing for congregations

When I arrived at First Parish in Cohasset in August, I started watching for newcomers. Of course, I didn’t know most of the people, but each Sunday I would ask the long-time members if there were any newcomers.

We had no newcomers in August. One in September. None in October. Then two so far in November.

As a former salesperson, when I see so few newcomers I immediately assume that there’s no marketing going on. That’s what marketing does — it reaches people who are new to your business (and a small nonprofit organization like a congregation is a business). The primary form of marketing for most Unitarian Universalist congregations is a website. So I decided to take a look at the First Parish website. I found that since the COVID pandemic had started, there had been very little new material added to the website (no surprise there, people were busy doing other things). The administrator and I started adding content to the website at least weekly, beginning in October. Sure enough, we got a couple of newcomers stopping by in November.

I’d like to believe the tiny uptick in newcomers is a result of our markting efforts. Of course I know this is the worst kind of evidence — it’s all anecdotal, there’s no way of proving a causal relationship, etc., etc. I know that I could simply be deluded by confirmation bias here — I see something that confirms what I already believe, and continue to believe what I believe.

But I still think marketing works. If your website is your only form of marketing, then paying attention to your website should yield dividends.