July 25, 2012

Virtual Tour your Church

Forget the yellow-page ad.

With 80 percent of church shoppers turning to the Internet first, spending limited marketing dollars on an outdated tool doesn’t make sense.

Our diocese has been looking at ways for the Internet to help connect seekers to congregations. I’ve talked repeatedly in ECF Vital Practices about the importance of social media and active websites. We started a new program this week that I think may put an updated, fresh twist on the yellow-page experience.

We worked with professional photographers (certified Google trusted) to develop an interactive, 360-degree virtual tour of one of our churches. The photographers built the virtual tour and then integrated it into Google Places.

What does this mean? Well, when you search for St. James Episcopal Church in Cincinnati, you’ll see the website pop up on the left side (as usual). On the right is a Google map (still what you’d expect). But underneath the map is a picture of the church with an invitation to “See inside.” When users click that button, they’re taken to a virtual tour of the church, with navigation guides on the top left corner.

You can zoom in. Look at the ceiling. “Walk” outside and look at the front door or go down the hall to their fellowship space. 

Curious? Check it out here (or google St. James Episcopal Church in Cincinnati) Just like Google Earth, it might take a few seconds to load. Be patient. It's worth it!

You can also view a few "points of interest" photos on the congregation’s Google Plus link. 
If you visit their website at stjamescincy.org, you can view the virtual tour embedded onto the homepage. 

Now, of course, we get to the bottom line: What does this cost? 

For us, with the company we’re using, the virtual tour costs way less than an ad in the Yellow Pages. That’s right. This virtual tour, which helps people get acclimated to the worship space and provides an innovative, integrated invitation of hospitality, even costs less than simply having our name in bold in the print version of the Yellow Pages. (I called today to double check!). Plus, it is a one-time cost, not an annual and recurring fee. 

We all know the actual distance between the street and the red doors is small -- but the psychological distance can be huge. The virtual tours are designed to ease the anxiety for visitors: with this technology, visitors can walk-thru and explore your church, from floor to ceiling, in a high-quality, 360-degree, interactive experience. 

I’m dating myself here, but when I was younger, the phone book companies encouraged people to let their “fingers do the walking.” With an online virtual tour, they really can.