by Florence Broder
Most companies or organizations consider their website a top marketing priority. Yet, according to a just released study commissioned by Jvillage Network, it appears that U.S. synagogues are not using either their website, or other social media tools, to market effectively or engage their members.
Despite the ease of both launching and maintaining a robust website, most synagogues apparently lack the internal infrastructure, and possibly interest, to carry through on this very important task. So it’s no surprise that the study found that most have websites that are lagging behind others in the Jewish communal world.
Here are some of the key study findings:
- Synagogues (49%) redid their website within the past two years;
- Respondents (54%) only posted the most basic information and were lacking in interactive content;
- Respondents (67%) didn’t know if their members were satisfied with the website;
- Websites (43%) were updated at least once a week.
Given the significant investment in putting together a website not only from the perspective of content, but also the lay/professional process, it seems that synagogues are missing a critical first step – the needs assessment.
Before launching such an ambitious endeavor it is important to first identify your audience/stakeholders and the various needs they might have. Instead of lumping together all congregants, divide them between empty-nesters and parents with young families. These distinct groups have different information needs which can only be garnered through a survey mechanism or focus groups, or both. It not only ensures that the website is designed with the desired features but community ownership as well. Members can feel that they too participated in the process. For instance, if a synagogue serves an aging population the site should be designed with features for the visually impaired and with audio enhancements. Beyond the external assessment, it is equally important to assess staff needs. What resources should be on the website to help them do their jobs more effectively?
As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest challenges for synagogues is the lack of infrastructure. They are all lacking in some way, shape, or form in their technology capacity. It begs the question: what is the role of the movements in strengthening synagogues under their umbrella? To their credit, a number of the Reform synagogues that responded took advantage of the URJ’s website template. That resource is a critical step in the right direction. It also ensures consistent branding along the movements. For example, Jewish Federations of North America has the FedWeb content management system with modular features and templates. Their staff also provides Federation with training about how to use it as well and recently created a LinkedIn Group for peer sharing in this area. However, without an assessment and a consultant to facilitate the process, the work is for naught. If an organization has the tools, it doesn’t mean they necessarily know or understand how use them optimally. Someone external needs to be the convener to optimize success.
Of course these days a website is no longer enough to connect with your audience. An organization needs a complete Internet presence which includes Web 2.0 or in some case mobile. Most respondents self-reported that the their website were not truly interactive. Only 21% have blogs but on a positive note 66% had some Facebook presence. What is unclear from Jvillage study is how synagogues are using Facebook. Did they simply open an account? Are they posting the weekly Torah portion? Therefore, it’s a bit difficult to evaluate the information. What was a shocking result is that 54% of the respondents did not plan to open Twitter account. The number one reason for not opening a social media account was staffing. However, it would appear based on the other responses that they also do not utilize the technology.
What is impressive is that a majority of the respondents understood the need for fresh content and updated their sites regularly. This is definitely a step in the right direction. However, what did not go along with that is the reviewing of analytics. Most of the respondents (66%), never checked their website statistics. Most organizations need to review not only their site analytics but also do an analysis of key words for search engine optimization. A popular tool to do that is Google Trends, which provides long-term data.
Synagogue 3000 was created it to attract members and reinvent synagogue life overall through innovative activities. Along with that programming initiative, it is vital for synagogues to own their digital marketing to attract and connect with their members. As new web technologies emerge, we as a community cannot afford for them to be left behind.
Florence Broder manages social media for the Jewish Agency for Israel.