secret shopping the sites #1: up front, updates, and boilerplates

My first stop in randomly-selected college ministry web sites is in the north, at a Cru chapter that seems to be bustling.

Let me note that my intention with these “site visits” isn’t to pick on anyone. I get a little uncomfortable ever talking about “negatives,” because I’m such a fan of college ministers. I know the work is long and the field is rocky, to say the least. Time is short, and creating great social media isn’t easy.

So I simply make some observations in hopes of making us all better.

Here’s what I noticed about this one example:

Up front with the gospel: The rotating banner across the front page asks evangelistic questions, allowing anybody looking to encounter the gospel. Using some of Cru’s famous evangelistic techniques – like the question, “Do you want to know God personally?” – visitors have an immediate chance to get the gospel. Not all ministries would want to lead with this presentation, but for a ministry that does, it does it clearly.

Up front with options: Because this Cru chapter (like many around the country) actually serves multiple schools, it’s great to see very obvious “buttons” to choose. Navigation isn’t nearly this easy on a lot of web sites.

A downer: On the other hand, some of the front-page text describing one of their campuses simply informs the reader that nothing is happening regularly. Clicking deeper, I found out that plenty is taking place; they just don’t happen to have a Large Group Meeting right now. So even though that campus doesn’t have a Large Group “front door” to report, it doesn’t make sense to describe things negatively rather than positively.

Updates, please: On the front page of the site, Twitter, Facebook, and Flikr are linked. But…

  • The Twitter feed has three total entries,
  • and the last Flikr pics seem to be five years old.
  • The Twitter feed is actually incorporated into the front page, too, but simply announces there that no public messages have been made…)

Remember, there’s no mandate to have several social media sites. Sure, it makes sense for reaching today’s students. But if you can’t keep something up-to-date – and yes, it’s a tricky task sometimes – then it’s not worth it. In this case, it seems they realized the first part (that not all social media is necessary) but forgot to remove the links.

On the other hand, it seems that Facebook is the preferred online venue for this Cru movement, with individual sites for the campuses they reach. Honestly, I almost wish the web site domain could simply redirect to Facebook – or at least the buttons for the individual campuses could.

Static is super: The web site, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have a lot of built-in need to be updated regularly. That can be a great thing. Web sites can be static representations and solid, permanent advertisements for your ministry, provided there are other venues in which students engage.

Template language: Finally, I noticed a lot of language (by far the majority on the web page) that seemed to be “template” or “boilerplate” language describing Campus Crusade’s work nationally and around the world. Very little seemed to describe this specific Cru chapter, or even to be written for a collegiate readership. (It felt more like it was written for parents or supporters.)

But this is the site they’ll find: Yet this is the site – not Facebook or their other social media – that comes up first on Google (with a variety of web searches for Cru (or “Campus Crusade”) + the city or the campus).

Steps to Better:

  • Get a student on it! As is often the case, a student or two could easily – and radically – update this page. Even if you still wanted to leave it static.
  • Remove any mentions of social media that isn’t updated.
  • Highlight the Facebook pages as the main venue for getting connected. Put multiple references throughout the site.
  • Make sure the language is student-friendly, but create a parent/supporters section with the more “adult” information about your chapter AND Cru itself.

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