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What is the online word on your church?

SUMMARY:  It is important to learn what people are saying about your church outside of your Web site or other church-controlled communication.  

Regularly checking online conversations about you and your congregation is wise. Start with a Google search, but don’t stop there. Check Twitter and other social media sites. Create a formal monitoring process. Whenever you look for your church on a search engine, you can gather information.

How do others talk about your church online? An unhappy member might not express dissatisfaction to you but may blog about it. Finding the blog posting lets you learn what she or he feels—and, perhaps, to address the issues. Happy members might mention an upcoming event on their Facebook pages or talk about the difference someone in your church has made in their lives.

Who shares information and other materials originally written for your Web site, blog and newsletter? Strangers who share information from your church may become advocates for your ministry, extending your church’s reach around the world. Incorporate them into your ongoing communication strategy. People may use material without your permission. If you find people using material without your permission or not attributing it to you, you can ask them to give proper credit and links.

Don’t ignore the obvious.
Even if your church is not active online, that  doesn’t prevent people from referring to it there. It’s no longer one person telling several people. Now millions can read what people have to say, especially with social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Online media can create virtual conversations, usually more positive than negative when it comes to churches. However, the sentiment doesn’t matter in monitoring. Embrace all perspectives and decide when you want to participate in those dialogues.

Monitor the conversation.
Start to monitor what’s being said by using the following free tools:

Search Function on Twitter: This tool shows what has been written on Twitter that matches your search query. Twitter search is available directly from the home page in the top right corner. Simply type what you want to be updated on, such as “United Methodist Church,” and you will receive a list of all that is being said in real time.       

Google Alerts: Google comes to the rescue with this free service. Enter a phrase or keywords you want monitored. This might be the name of your church or a particular ministry. Determine whether you want results from news, search engines, videos and/or groups online. Provide your e-mail and receive “alerts” when a new article or Web site appears that mentions your search terms. Google News Alerts is an excellent, free media-monitoring service.

Technorati: Technorati notifies you when your brand has been mentioned in the blogosphere. Sign up for an account at

How should I respond to a negative comment?
Ignore it. Depending on what’s being said, you may want to let it be, especially if a complaint is minor or the writer doesn’t look credible. Don’t draw attention to the writings and spread the person’s negative words.

Confront it. 
If what’s being said is harmful and seems credible, communicate directly with the writer if possible.  Ask why they posted the comment and see what you can do to make it right. If the issue is big and you need to respond to all readers, post a response on the original site, if possible, and on your own online resources. Type your response offline first, review, edit and then post. Your first reaction isn’t necessarily the best one for print.

Get help. 
If your problem is  very  large or you face a particularly aggressive onslaught of false information, seek professional help. Companies specialize in online reputation-management services that range from monitoring to correcting misinformation to taking legal action if necessary.

What should I do with positive feedback?
Your searches may turn up people evangelizing, promoting or participating in your outreach ministries. Acknowledge them. First, send a note of thanks or post a comment directly on their blog. Then incorporate these people into your media outreach. Consider bloggers, Web sites and Facebook posters as other media channels. Keep them informed about your church. Include them in news-release distribution lists. Monitor their online words and follow up with comments and notes as appropriate.

At church, teach your congregation how to maximize their online presence and share their church activities and inspiration. Create a how-to guide with ideas for members  to help your church through personal online activities. Recognize their efforts with thank-you e-mails and public appreciation.