Thirty-one Jesuits and lay colleagues from all over Europe and beyond met for four days in Drongen, Belgium for the annual Jesuit Webmasters (Jesweb) meeting, beginning on 20 April. Originally a gathering of webmasters of the European Conference, the meeting has expanded to include webmasters from other conferences. Over the week, participants updated each other on the online developments and strategies of their various provinces. Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications and Patrick Muldoon of Sacred Space gave a presentation on the Irish Province’s digital strategy regarding vocations promotion which included the building of the new jesuit.ie website in conjunction with Digital Vocations editor John McDermott.
This year’s Jesweb included participants from Asia Pacific, Latin America, and Canada-USA conferences. The highlights of the meeting were two keynote speakers, Mr Sim D’Hertefelt who gave a talk on “How Internet challenges the Church,” and Mr Marco Amicucci who spoke about “Knowledge Management.”
Sim D’Hertefelt said it was important to address the question ‘Are we as a Church equipped to meet the challenges of evangelisation in the digital age?’ Digital medium is the preferred medium for reaching new audiences that don’t otherwise come into the church and print media is struggling. But the truth is many organisations are ill-equipped to do digital evangelisation, and he said we need digital prophets and digital evangelists and specialisation is the way we have to go.
He said a range of skill sets were needed if we were to make an impact in terms of digital evangelisation. “You must think about goals, structure, user design, project build and how to generate content. Your strategy must include a continuous process of learning and discovering what users want.” He explained that there is a saturation of information on the web so we must think about how we can stand out. One way is to develop tactics around search engine optimisation,”You need to score in Google. Move towards professionalisation and specialisation of different roles.”
He went on to say that organisations who want to use digital media to evangelise need to be the ‘Church online’ for all the people that don’t know the Church. They need to show in practice that the Church is the people of God for all who don’t know God. They need to put their ‘face’ on the content they make; share personal experiences; listen and respond to people in a human way. And he noted “Sometimes in the Church we’re too concerned with being right rather than being relevant. Connect and identify with the people, provide users with an online experience. A lot of people in Church know about God but may have little experience of God to put into images and words”.
He spoke about the importance of images saying that many organisations spend 90% of their time writing stories but they need to spend more time finding images. He said organisations can become too fragmented in making websites for each project and diluting expertise because of cost. As a result websites end up amateurish and people don’t find the sites. The challenge is to work together as different organisations on common platforms and branding. He suggested that different congregations could share a common platform, a name, logo, symbolic space and share good material with an audience who has expectations of what they want to get.
He also said that good content and design is not enough. “You have to move from content display to interactivity. You have to engage and reward in some way those who come to you. And it’s not just about the website. Social media, Facebook, Twitter , mobile websites, Apps, YouTube all interacting, promotes higher ranking in Google searches.
The four days also provided Jesuits and colleagues working in the communications field to discuss the upcoming General Congregation in 2016 as well as the promotion of the Jesuit mission and vocations.
Pat Coyle and Patrick Muldoon also contributed to a film being made by the Polish Jesuits who are hosting Magis2016 for young adults in Poland. It’s a promotional video aimed at encouraging young people to take part in the Magis experience.