May 4, 2015

Big Data and Small Data

Like communicators everywhere, Episcopal communicators need data to evaluate their effectiveness. But what kind of data: big or small?

It’s relatively easy to get numbers: How many people visit the website, how many followers we have on Twitter and how many people “like” our Facebook page, and, of course, how many people attend worship on Sunday.

But there is also less easily quantified measurements a church communicator must consider as well, or what this article in yesterday’s The New York Times calls small data. “The things we can measure are never exactly what we care about,” the authors write. You need both kinds of data.

The communications office at Trinity Wall Street where I work has been considering this question lately. We, like all church communicators, do many things that don’t generate big numbers. Maybe we wrote a story for our website about a parishioner that doesn’t get a lot of readers, for example, but means the world to that one person.

All of us communicators must consider both the big data—page views, likes, retweets, etc.— as well as the data that can only be collected by asking questions and knowing the community.

For example, do the people you reach through social media interact with each other? Are friendships and bonds forming offline? Does your communication agenda deepen the conversations happening in the congregation? Does it challenge parishioners and push them forward, too?

To get these answers, you have to know your congregation.

This means that determining how to measure the success of your communication plan has to be done with the mission of the church in mind. Communications is not separate from the mission and ministry of the church but integral to it. After all, Jesus was a communicator, among other things.

In the end the success of your communications is not only measured by engagement and clicks, although it is very important to pay attention to these numbers, but also measured against the mission of the church. Are we spreading the good news, being a prophetic voice, or making people in and beyond the community feel loved? Are we creating lasting connections?

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