When it comes to statistics, whose can you trust?

Bishops and diocesan leaders see all kinds of statistics on web traffic, social media, print publications and more. What do you do with all that information? This issue of Content Evangelist helps you sort out the facts to see if you are getting the most out of your diocesan media outlets.  

Recently, a bishop said something that I think is a common perception among diocesan leaders. He said he gets all kinds of reports on every form of diocesan media, loaded with often-conflicting statistics. He doesn’t know which ones
to believe. For example:

  • Some social media numbers look massive. Yet, the engagement and number of followers are typically low.

  • Catholic television and Catholic radio boast big numbers, but those statistics often refer to their potential audience, not actual viewers.

  • Diocesan website traffic reports seem impressive at first, until you compare monthly unique visitors to the diocesan Catholic population.

  • There always seems to be talk that print is dead. Should a bishop invest in his diocesan print publication if that’s true?

I’ve gotten to know many diocesan communicators. These colleagues are, without exception, devoted to spreading the Gospel message. Yet most of us, including me, have our preferred media that reflect our training or expertise. Unconsciously, we might seek out ways to justify what we are currently doing. We might select which media research to emphasize or which to downplay. Worse yet, sometimes we don’t gather data at all. If we don’t gather data and try to understand it, can we really claim to know what constitutes effective communication?

I’ll disclose my bias to you right now, and you won’t be surprised. I believe that a diocesan magazine from FAITH Catholic is the most effective way for a diocese to reach into Catholic homes to evangelize, form and inspire. Now, that is not my bias because we sell magazine publishing services. Rather, we sell magazine publishing services because over the years, we’ve done the research and the results are clear.

In this issue, we reveal the results of a new research project to look at the communication efforts of every Latin-rite diocese in the United States. We wanted to understand just how effective each media platform is to reach the greatest number of Catholics in a diocese. For every diocese, we tabulated its social media followers versus its print publication circulation.

The results are overwhelming. Even when the social media followers of a diocese, its publication and its bishop-ordinary are combined, social media reaches the equivalent of 5 percent of the U.S. Catholic population. However, when a diocese mails a publication into every home, reach expands to 100 percent.

Content Evangelist’s research aligns with research from CARA, the premier Catholic sociological research institute in the U.S. Our research confirmed what CARA has reported, that Catholic social media, Catholic television, Catholic radio, Catholic email or websites do not reach into Catholic homes like diocesan print does. See our 2017 State of Diocesan Media.

Unless Catholics receive a free Catholic periodical from their diocese, our research indicates that 9 out of 10 Catholic homes do not receive any Catholic media at all.

Of course, we can’t just send any publication into a Catholic home and hope for the best. When you look at your diocesan publication, ask yourself if it will get read, left on the coffee table and shared with others. Do you know if it is forming and inspiring people to grow in their faith and learn how to evangelize? FAITH Catholic does know. We test each magazine for every diocese we serve. We have a proven way to help bishops and their communications teams develop magazines that are effective.

Here’s an example. In one diocese we serve, a newspaper and a magazine alternate each month. One month, the staff produces a diocesan newspaper just as they always did. The next month, the same staff produces a magazine with FAITH Catholic. Reader surveys show the interest in the magazine is much greater than the newspaper—in fact, the difference is in the double digits.

So, the format matters—a lot. The content strategy matters, and the results of research matter. Our mission is the most important thing we’ll ever do. We owe it to the Lord to find the best way to present our Catholic faith consistently, compellingly and effectively.