Picking the right Pictures

A picture says a thousand words, and when you only have 140 characters to use, a picture is incredibly useful in saying things words just can’t. Not only do pictures increase engagement across social media, but they also help tell a story on your website. Therefore it’s important to think about images in your digital media strategy, but it’s not as simple downloading a suitable picture from a Google image search and uploading it on your website.

The problem with this is that people own the images in those search results, and unless you have permission to use them, the person who does own them can sue. You need to assume all those images are copyright protected or risk getting into copyright trouble.

So where can you get suitable photos from?

First of all, you need to understand creative commons licenses. People can place different licenses over the images they own, which lets people know if they can be used for commercial purposes, be edited before being used or whether credit is needed. Information about the different licenses can be found here: www.creativecommons.org/licenses. (even if there’s no license listed, it doesn’t mean the image is available to use)

This means that you can use photos from sites like Flickr if you abide by the license applied to the photo by the photographer.

Alternatively, you can look for public domain images (Creative Commons license CC0). The owners of these images have completed waived their rights to them, meaning they have been shared for people to use with no credit needed and no restrictions on the image.

Below are a selection of sites offering free high quality public domain images:

(Many of these sites ask for a small donation in return for the photos but it’s not compulsory)

Collect your own image bank
The more photos you can use from your own collection the better, as they will be unique to your church. Here are some ideas to help build up your bank of photos:

  • Encourage your own church to send you any photos they take at church or church events. If you have the money, invest in a good church camera which any member of staff can pick up and use (Read my post on effective photography for churches here)
  • See if there are any amateur (or professional!) photographers in your church (or another nearby church) who can take high quality photos for free
  • If there are no photographers in the church, contact a local university offering a photography course. You may be able to find a student willing to take some photos for you for a smaller fee in return for some photos for their portfolio
  • Hold a church photography competition. You can hold an exhibition at the end. Make sure to include in the rules that you are allowed to use any of the photos submitted after the competition ends.

Finally, whatever you do, don’t use clip-art! There are many problems with clip art, but the main reason to avoid it is that it looks unprofessional. Because of this, it will hinder rather than help get your message across. Instead, use photographs using my tips above or if possible, have some custom-made graphics created.

Got any more good tips for collecting good images? Share them in the comments below.

Redesigning Your Church Website

Think of your website as your shop window: All good shops update their window displays at regular intervals to keep things fresh and inviting. The same needs to be done for your website, as a tired out of date website can turn potential new church members away – especially if they can’t find the information they are looking for, or even simple contact details.

A website can easily find itself out of date within a year or two. When was the last time you completely redesigned your website? Or even just refreshed the content? It’s important that you keep the content and the website up to date.

For a redesign, start completely from scratch. It’s easier to make something work well from the beginning than it is to try and plaster over cracks and force a site to work for you.

Before you even start redesigning, there are a few things you need to think about:

First things first: Do your research

Find out which content is helpful and which content isn’t. It’s hard to make those judgements yourself as you’re generally not the one using it. Here are some ideas to find out what other people think about it.

  • Add an online survey to your website for visitors to fill in (Though it’s not guaranteed that they will, especially if it takes a lot of time to fill in)
  • Hand out a survey in church, ask people to fill it in and leave it at the back of church
  • Hold focus groups, maybe straight after the service (bribe church members with food to attend!) Get discussion going about the site and make notes.

Some of the things you need to ask:

  • What do you like about the site?
  • What don’t you like about it?
  • What’s missing?
  • What isn’t being used to its full potential?
  • What should there be less/more of?
  • Is the site easy to navigate? Can things be found easily?

All the information gathered will guide you about the best way to move forward.

Second: Find your site builder

There are two options for building the site:
1. Find someone in your church with web design skills
2. pay a company to build it for you.

If you choose the church member option, ensure their skills are advanced enough to build the site you want, not the one they can cobble together. Secondly, remember that if the church member is responsible for looking after the site, make sure you also have access (in case they leave the church or suddenly can’t look after it anymore) It can also be awkward if you want to be critical of the site, aren’t happy with what they have created or you need to ask them to step down from the project (you still have to see them every week!)

The downside to paying a web company will always be the cost, but I personally think the positives outweigh the negatives. Some of the best church websites have been professionally designed. When you are paying for the design, you should get a company with plenty of experience and high quality skills, who can offer support and advice to make it the best website it can be. Employing a company and having a contract is also a safer way to work.

A web design company can also offer you a CMS (Content management system) This is where multiple administrators can edit the site from an easy online dashboard. It is a beneficial addition as you don’t have to rely on one person to edit the content and this can make updating the site as easy as possible.

If employing a company to help you with your site make sure you know exactly what your budget and time-scale is as this will help shape the kind of website you can have.

Finally: Things to Remember

  • Know your budget and time-scale, this will help shape the kind of website you can have and help the web company work out what they can offer you.
  • Get at least three quotes, don’t forget that the cheapest is not necessarily the best option
  • A website with little control over how it looks will date quicker than a website with a variety of options and styles
  • When you finally have your new website, don’t put editing access in one person’s hands – ensure at least one or two other people can log in to edit.
  • Regularly check the content of the pages for inaccuracies and other unhelpful information – update the site as often as you can.
  • There will be at least two groups of people using your site: the congregation and those looking to visit your church for the first time. Ensure each group has the content they need but prioritise newcomers (The homepage should be directed at them)

Anything I’ve missed or have any questions? Let me know in the comments.

Effective Headers

One of the things Twitter and Facebook have in common is its use of headers. Using the right photo or graphic in this space can tell people vital information about your church as well as draw people in, encourage them to spend time on the page and to learn more about you. It’s what they will see first and because of that, you need to make sure you have picked the right image, which says all you need it to say. Think of it as your shop window.
Here are a few ideas for you:
1. Choose a wow photo, something that will make people want to see more:
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2. Create a graphic which easily explains who you are or how you work:
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3. Choose something simple:
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4. Be different (choose something that will make you stand out from the crowd and be noticed) 
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5. Use it to send a message. Can you show what kind of church you are in one image? 
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6. Use it as a call to action / advertise a big event or project
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Things to remember:
  • The header sizes for Twitter and Facebook are different. but if possible, use the same picture for both to bring consistency to your accounts.  (Twitter dimensions: 1500×500 pixels /  Facebook dimensions 851×215 pixels)
  • Keep things fresh by changing the picture every now and again, though not so often it confuses people. Consider changing it with the seasons.
  • Always add a description to the header on Facebook – this can be done by clicking on the image and filling in the edit box on the right.
  • Always check how it looks once you have uploaded the picture and make adjustments if necessary
  • Try and match your header to your profile picture if possible
Finally: Any header is better than no header. A blank space where your header should be is a wasted opportunity.