How to make website content more effective by telling stories
Take a page from C.S. Lewis, and his advice on how to engage audiences through telling stories, rather than just providing information.
Info-driven (and usually bland) text once made up the bulk of website content. Today, it’s all about STORIES.
Years ago, text dominated websites due to bandwidth and internet speeds. On top of that, the technology wasn’t there yet to incorporate the photos and video we see today. That meant people building sites at the time wrote out everything. There was a lot of words, a lot of information to sort and process through. And we just read it and did the work of connecting the dots.
As technology and behaviors have changed, people have gravitated to images and video. YouTube launched in 2005. Instagram launched and blew up in 2010. We see their impact in today’s website content. There’s more creative freedom to share stories and engage audiences on these massively popular platforms. As that audience goes elsewhere, they respond when they visit sites with photos and videos.
When you do the math, as of this writing in 2019, YouTube and Instagram launched 14 and 9 years ago, respectively. When talking digital, that’s quite a while ago!
What does this mean for church website content? It means looking at content and comparing that to current best website best practices. Text-heavy pages indicate a site hasn’t kept up and likely isn’t as effective. Images that don’t tell a clear story don’t quite hit the mark.
How can you tell a story with photos and video? Let’s look at what C.S. Lewis had to say about the medium of the time – words – and tease out how we can apply this in today’s highly visual world.
C.S. Lewis created content that entertained, engaged, and encouraged his audience.
“Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”
– C.S. Lewis, [Letter to Joan Lancaster, 26 June 1956]. See goodreads for the full quote.
Given his place in history, C.S. Lewis used words to illustrate scenes, emotions, and ideas. Lewis advised writers to focus on doing the job of capturing the activity in such a way that produces the desired emotion and letting that draw the audience in.
He didn’t just state what was going on. He described it so that you could picture it. Not a skill unique to him, of course. However, his works took ideas, sometimes even weighty theological concepts, and transformed them into stories so that people could understand and relate. Sound familiar?
Readers get a sometimes foggy glimpse of what could await after death in The Great Divorce. Screwtape and Wormwood display the cunningness of spiritual warfare in The Screwtape Letters. For stories of faith, friendship, bravery, and redemption, Narnia and wartime England serve as a backdrop.
His works cover a variety of concepts that matter to Christians. These stories resonate because Lewis did his job as a communicator to “tell us how you want to feel”. We continue to discuss, share, and point to them because they engage us and tap into what we care about individually and as a community.
By telling stories, we can do the job of showing our audience why they should care about what we have to say.
Practical examples of how to “show” in your website content, rather than “tell.”
You can take this story-telling concept and run with it. Telling stories through images takes strategic thought, but it’s way more engaging for everyone involved than just sharing information.
No matter what size church or budget, you can use your resources at hand. Today’s smartphone cameras offer quality images and the opportunity to take a quick video. This useful tool is likely within reach most of the day – use it! High-quality videos and pictures are great and have their place, but are no longer a “must-have” all the time. People right now crave authenticity more than quality when it comes to content. It’s more about the people and the community behind the lens.
Allow the images to tell the story
How does can this play out as you look for ways to level up on your website content?Let’s take a look at how churches across the country use storytelling best practices in their images and video.
- Summit Park Church’s homepage goes through the scope of what church life is like. Welcome, kid’s ministry, worship, and community are all on display. They don’t have to tell you they have a friendly church. You can see it.
- Those interested in a small group at Bayside Church in Tennesee get a feel for the sense of sharing that comes with belonging to a group. Named the fastest-growing church by Outreach magazine in 2019, they know a thing or two about engaging people.
In each of these examples, you can see how they let the images tell the story. Your church can do this too! It’s about giving thought to how you can capture moments and use the content to engage and encourage your audience.
All comes down to, “Who is your audience? And why should they care?”
Ultimately, this is what it all communications and marketing are about. What is the story you want to tell people when they visit the pages of your website?
Leverage the resources you have to tell mini-stories throughout your website that connect with your audience, meet a need, and compel them to want to be a part of it.
The Firm Foundations team keeps up with the latest in content best practices and partners with churches like yours to elevate their efforts in creating messages and content.