Podcasting Church 101125

I’ve had an idea for a book in my head for a few years now. Since there is a challenge afoot, I started, November 2, 2010, to write that book. This blog will contain the very rough draft and I hope I’ll get a chunk of it out this month. No guarantee I’ll write everyday, but I hope this won’t be the last entry.

Branding

This brings me to brand identification. If your church has several podcasts, a network id and cross promotion help people discover similar content. For a good example of this, go over to twit.tv. They have a network id that all shows play. All shows have similar album art work based on a comic book-like drawing of the host and all have links on the main page.

Even if you don’t have a network of podcasts, album artwork and show open tell people something about each show. If you put time and effort into making something nice it says that your content matters. If you don’t, that says something, too.

Album artwork and other branding is labor intensive at the beginning, but is reused for quite some time, so take time and get it right. These are like the sign in front of your church. They present a face that someone sees before they experience the rest.

Consistency across podcasts, websites, and the church itself will give a unified feel that people are likely to read as care for your message. This might be a good opportunity to refresh your church’s logo and brand. Look at others that do this well for examples that you might take inspiration from.

Other pieces

Make sure you have a place on your website for a list of episodes organized both chronologically and by podcast (if you have more than one). Audio and video aren’t as searchable as text is, so this small addition can make it easier for people to find your podcasts. Also consider listing any books, Bible verses, or other things that you reference (with hyperlinks if available). More than once I’ve heard of something nice on a podcast and made a mental note to check the site later.

Having a list of things mentioned on the podcast means that anytime something interests me I’ll go to the website for more info. This is a win-win. Traffic means people and more traffic means more people. Keep your site updated on other pages as well. A calendar of events from two years ago tells people that the site isn’t a priority.

Promotion

Unless you’re a Willow Creek or Saddleback Church in terms of stature and recognition, mentioning your podcast once probably won’t get you hundreds or thousands of subscribers. Most podcasts don’t have audiences of more than a few hundred. Some have audiences in the tens of thousands, but most don’t. If your heart is to help people, you’ll want to an effort to get the word out. How do you do that? Start with what you’ve got.

Do you have a place where you can display the web address for your podcasts? Do you have a place on the side of your building where you can hang a sign or a changeable sign out front? List it there. Most churches print a weekly bulletin or regular newsletter. Put it there. Have another current advertising outlet like a website? Try there.

Try some more creative places too. Did you know that if you have someone in your church that can produce a commercial for you, commercials on local cable are remarkably inexpensive? Next time that your youth group gets t-shirts put the web address for the podcast there. Put it on any recorded media you sell like message CDs; those people already like listening to church content. Have a contest for whoever can get the most friends to subscribe (you can use special addresses to track this). Tweet it from your church twitter account. Put it on your church Facebook page. You could even buy Google ads (they charge based on click not impression, so you only pay for results). Finally, try putting examples (or each episode for that matter) on YouTube. It’s not automatic, but if you do it well, people might visit the site linked in your description.

Lately one of the biggest buzzwords is social marketing. It’s one of the ways I’m marketing this book. If you can build buzz, you can get the word out. How do you build buzz? That’s a great question. Entire books have been written to answer that question. I think it’s all about finding and playing to your niche.

There is a group of people that are dying to hear your specific message. The power of a podcast is that it doesn’t take a million households watching it to make production worthwhile. An audience of hundreds or thousands might do it. With the universe of people online as a potential audience who aren’t encumbered by limitations of time or space, you just need to let them know that you’ve got the content they’re interested in.

That’s really how you need to view promoting your podcasts. There’s nothing wrong with promoting your content to the people who want it. That’s actually a piece of the secret. You need to find people who are interested in your content. That’s the trick. Relevant ads are unobtrusive and entertaining. Ads that are irrelevant aren’t.

Think of it this way, when you get an email that happens to deal with a medical problem you have and were planning to go to the doctor for, it’s good information. You might think to yourself, “Huh, how did they know that I had that issue?” The opposite is also true. Let’s say you’re a single woman whose father has passed away. If you get an email for a prostate health supplement, that’s spam.

This is something that old media doesn’t get. They make their money on quantity not quality. You have a message that people want, but not all people. Target it toward the people who want it and you’ll find that you get better results.

Finding those people is the trick. If you’re looking for a type of person, go to them, where they hang out. For example, I spent a lot of time on ChurchMedia.net (an online church tech forum) when I was producing Tech, No Babel. Since, I’ve found other places where church tech people hang that I can publicize a podcast (or say a book about podcasting in the church).

Now, there’s a proper way to do this. If I answered every question and made every announcement through the lens of getting more subscribers it would backfire. The trick is to provide useful content and only occasionally mentioning it.

This is the trick behind good Twitter marketing. I follow @syfy on twitter. He works at the Syfy channel and answers questions, provides behind the scenes pictures, gives things away, and interacts with people who love the Syfy channel.

I consulted with a local restaurant and told them this very piece. It’s tempting to think that once you have people following you on twitter you can give them a constant stream of ads, but you can’t. You’ll lose followers. What if instead you had contests for free food? What if you handed out recipes for how to make stuff at home (which will probably never taste quite as good)? What if you talked about new dishes or new ideas? If your followers like you, they’ll want to help you out. They’ll want to come into your restaurant.

What if a church provided a daily verse? What about a spiritual thought? What about occasional giveaways (of tickets to the Easter play for example) or a behind the scenes look at your pastor’s week? The more they like content, the more likely they are to participate in other ways.

Evangelism

The tech community has taken a term that comes from the church. They’ve learned this lesson from the church in Acts 2. It spread in what could be considered a viral way. How? The term itself tells us. Literally, eu + angelion means “good message”. The church of the first century didn’t just turn people into members, they felt so changed by what they’d experienced that they became the very people who spread the word.

The message of Jesus is good news. I think using the words “gospel” and “evangelism” might make it easy to forget that we’re simply talking about good news and spreading the word about that good news. That’s just step one, though. Tell people good news, but let the people who’ve experienced this good news tell others. If they tell others and so on, it becomes viral.

This applies also to spreading any sort of news. I have a couple of friends named Joel and Phil. They’re some of my biggest fans. I’m sure that many of my listeners for “Tech, No Babel” came from these two guys. They’re my evangelists. I can almost hear them say, “Hey, I know you run the computer at your church. Have you heard about ‘Tech, No Babel’? My friend Paul broadcasts all sorts of tips and tricks. You should check it out.” If some of those people get that sort of excitement going for themselves, a small podcast can quickly take off. You better bet that those two guys (and some others) will be getting a copy of this book.

Fans are fine, but cultivate evangelists in your fan base. Take the time to acknowledge people you hear of that are spreading your message. Reward them whenever possible in whatever way you can think of. Acknowledge their accomplishments and thank them.

Reluctant evangelists can be encouraged with small rewards. As I write this, Jon Acuff from StuffChristiansLike.net is launching his latest book. As part of the launch, he’s giving special promotions to people who preorder. Everyone gets the paper, audio, and electronic version. People that order on certain days get something personalized and special. One day it was a call from Jonathan. Another day he promised to write you a Christmas card. It’s not much, but it differentiates him from the others in the pack.

Chick-fil-a does this well too. When you are at their restaurant, the manager wanders around and offers refills. They have free wifi that you can use while there. If your kid doesn’t like the toy with the kid’s meal, you can trade the toy in for ice cream. What really impressed me though, was when I went to a Chick-fil-a in a food court. All of the other perks were still in place. I just didn’t expect a manager to search me out among the customers from twenty other restaurants to offer me a refill on my sweet tea. That turned me from a fan to evangelist.

Last summer my family took a trip with my in-laws to a small theme park in Southern Indiana called Holiday World. It’s been around since the 1950’s, but has gotten a lot better recently. Is it a better roller coaster? Yes, but what parks don’t have roller coasters? Is it a water park? Yes, but what parks don’t have those now? What impressed me were a couple of small things.

First, if you’re thirsty, all soft drinks are free. I expected that they’d give you a plastic cup when you arrived that was your only way to get these drinks. I expected that they’d only be at a couple of locations throughout the park. I was wrong. There were self-serve drink stations at all food stops and evenly spaced throughout the park. Each stations was continually stocked with disposable cups, so there was nothing to lose. I stayed hydrated the whole day.

When I was done with my cup, there were trash cans spread evenly every few yards where I could throw it away. It would have been difficult justifying littering when you were a couple of yards from the next trash can.

When I was hungry, food wasn’t free, but it was reasonable and good. I expected a cheeseburger to cost $5 and be tasteless. It was $1-2 and tasted fine, not gourmet, but fine. That day I became an evangelist for Holiday World. I know of two families that went there because of my recommendation. So Holiday world traded $15 worth of food and drink opportunity cost (what they could have charged) per person into $100 worth of new business per person. They also succeeded in turning each of those families into evangelists, too. So, they traded tens of dollars for literally thousands. I don’t care who you are, that’s a way to stay in business and thrive.

It’s not just small places either. Disney World is good at this too. This past fall we took our first trip to Disney. We stayed at the cheapest Disney resort hotel. The rooms were small, but they were well-cleaned. When we arrived, we were greeted by towels folded in the shape of little animals and Mickey Mouse ears. The pools fit the theme of music–one shaped like a guitar and one like a grand piano. Each employee (or “cast member” as they’re called), greeted our daughters as “princess” and spoke to them as if they were. The people in costume portraying the characters weren’t ill-trained teens, but clearly actors that took the part they each played as seriously as Alec Guiness would take a role in Shakespeare. Most of these things were cheap or free (like treating our kids well), but they really made an impression. Now I’m a Disney evangelist, too.

Do you get the point? It doesn’t take a lot to turn a fan into an evangelist, but this is what you want. Ultimately, you’re hoping to move your fans to evangelist (good news reporters) not only for your podcast, you, your church, but for Jesus Himself. Telling others about a valuable training tool for ministry increases their effectiveness and ultimately brings more people closer to Jesus. This is the real goal–lives changed.

Paul Alan Clifford, M.Div.

Paul Alan Clifford, M.Div. has been a tech volunteer with Quest Community Church in Lexington, KY since 2000 and is the founder of TrinityDigitalMedia.com, llc. He became part of the technology in ministry team when his church’s attendance was around 200 in one Sunday service and has witnessed it’s growth to 5,200 average weekly attendance in one Saturday service, four Sunday services in one online and two physical campuses. He literally wrote the book on podcasting in churches, twitter in churches, & servant-hearted volunteering, as well as writing various articles for publications like “Church Production” and “Technologies for Worship” magazines.