Spenner and Freeman argue that companies should not attempt to build online relationships with their customers. Research suggests that customers who use the internet are more concerned with easy access to trustworthy information than being part of an online community. Marketers are actually driving customers away “with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage” (110).
Companies frequently misunderstand why their customers connect with them online. Spenner and Freeman researched why customers followed companies on social sites like Facebook and Twitter. They then contrasted the results with companies’ preconceptions. Most companies placed a premium on their customer’s three least important reasons to connect. The research found that relatively few online users were motivated by the desires to “feel connected” (33%), “submit ideas” (30%), or “be part of a community” (22%).
Such research should come as welcome news to church leaders who feel increasing pressure to embark on the bewilderingly vague task of constructing an online community. This article implies that few people go to church websites to be a part of a community. When people want community, they get in their cars and drive to church.
Spenner and Freeman conclude with three helpful suggestions that have applications for churches seeking to develop an online presence.
1. Aid Navigation
Most visitors to your church’s website page will be interested in general information. Can people quickly find your church’s service times and address? Do you provide a FAQ page to address their most important concerns? Of course, your website and social networking connections may offer more, but make sure your basic info is always easily accessible.
2. Build Trust
In a culture bombarded by ads, people put little trust in companies’ descriptions of their own products and services. Spenner and Freeman admonish companies to “build cadres of trustworthy advisers…and make it easy for consumers to discover and use it” (113). Churches should invest less time in writing promotional materials and instead encourage their congregations to create their own posts, tweets, and videos about the church. The church’s social media outlets can then simply direct visitors to more trusted sources.
3. Simplify Differences
Many online visitors will want to know what makes your church different, so tell them. Explain doctrinal differences, cultural preferences, and unique features of your church. Unless you are e-harmony, people aren’t coming to your site looking to fulfill their need for a relationship. Churches should keep their online messages quick, diverse, and simple.