Monday, September 27, 2010

Web 2.0 for the Sisters

This past week I was at a conference in Denver, one very specific to what I do. It was the National Communicators Network for Women Religious (NCNWR). It was attended by 114 communication directors and others from Roman Catholic women's religious orders. It was a great conference, in part because they always get very good speakers to talk about technology and social media and in part because it is very interesting to be with that many people who do exactly what I do.

I get to hear about what others are doing and always learn about some online program I can use in my job. And I usually hear in depth about something that I had only barely heard about before. This year, it was mobile phone media. What you need now, it seems, is a Web site that people can read on their phone. The mobile Web site, it seems, is actually a blog that consists of short bursts of information (your Facebook updates and Twitter feed) and a few links to longer things that are on your regular Web site or blog for those who are really interested. Once they click, of course, they'll have to read the piece they're interested in on their little phone.

I'm not happy about this development. It takes away the photos and design and any substantial length from the Web. Nor am I happy about the advice to not really communicate anything in an e-newsletter anymore, but just make it into a set of links to your Web site or other places where information is stored, for those who are really interested. "Click-throughs" are the measure of success.

I run a very successful e-newsletter for the Sisters. To see a sample, click here. I write all the articles except the brief, introductory piece by Sister Gen. There are links to videos I've posted on Youtube or registrations or our blog or the secure online donation form. People do indeed click through. They also open it at a rate of about 40%. Our open rate was even higher six months ago, when we had 2,000 subscribers. As we get more subscribers (now at 3,000) we get a lower percentage of opens, but still a very large number of (950-1,100) opens. What we get very few of is "unsubscribes." Maybe 2-3 a month.

Maybe it's because our audience is composed of readers. Or because they're interested in the Sisters. I like to think the newsletter is interesting and is changing some people's ideas about what nuns are like. I like to think it's because I don't waste anyone's time and have interesting content and good photos.

I know about the other kind of e-newsletter. I get one of these from my college's alumni office and the alumnae office at the college near the monastery. Sometimes I click through, mostly on links to articles in the New York Times or other big publications where my college was mentioned. If not a set of links, the Web 3.0 newsletter is what this expert recommended instead: one message, repeated over and over in each paragraph with a different wording that is also a link to what they want you to do-- click through to the donate page or information-gathering page on their Web site. I get several a day these days, now that political season is upon us. I give to one candidate regularly, and am happy to have a Web link to do it more easily. The rest I summarily delete. I barely glance at the subject lines.

The world has changed, even for the Sisters and their communicators. I am watching it-- both at a distance and up close. Learning to communicate in the new world in a new, and yet, I hope, meaningful way.

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