You’re ready to dive into social media for your church? Excellent! The keys to success are planning and dedication. The things you need to do are essentially the same as for any commercial enterprise.
Keep your eyes on the target
Your guiding principle should be to keep your congregation’s strategic vision in mind. This should be your prime directive. Are you trying to reach visitors, members or both? Is your target audience any more specific than that? The communications director at one large church in Texas told me that while his congregation reaches out to all ages, online he is only trying to reach those 35 years old and younger. That influences his decision on what to post in social media.
Another thing to consider in the member-vs-visitor discussion is whether you want separate channels for each. Keep in mind that Facebook pages, Google+ groups and Twitter accounts default to being accessible to the public. That means that the general public can see what you post … you don’t even need an account! There may be topics of interest to members that you want to communicate to members but you don’t want out in the public, such as budgets or leader nominations. Facebook, Twitter and Google+ all offer a solution for that: the ability to create private groups or accounts, allowing you to limit access to members.
Wading in is better than jumping into the deep end
While there is a lot you could do, you can make life easier, and probably increase the odds of success by not jumping in the deep end at the start. Don’t take on everything at once: start small and grow. Three things will help you keep your strategy manageable.
- Keep in mind that you don’t have to be on every social media platform now, nor probably ever.
- You’ve probably heard that if you want to catch fish, you have to “go where the fish are”. Don’t forget that the reverse is true, and important: Don’t bother to go where the fish are.
- Start small - one platform, then expand to new ones.
Clearly the platforms to consider starting with are the ones you know … Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram. As your program grows, don’t be afraid to experiment. I see some intriguing possibilities for Whisper and JumpCam.
How do you prioritize which ones you try first? Keep tabs on who is using what social media. Ask your members and current visitors where they spend their time. Consider finding articles on the demographics of the various platforms … this information is easy to find. For example:
- Media Bistro reported that urban, educated wealthy people are most likely to use Twitter.
- Fast Company said that the fastest growing demographic on Twitter is the 55-64 year age bracket.
- Fast Company reported in the same article that YouTube reaches more U.S. adults aged 18-14 than any cable network.
- The UK’s Guardian newspaper reported that there is a “gradual exodus of young people [from Facebook] towards WhatsApp, WeChat and KakaoTalk […] just as their mums and dads get the hang of social networking.”
Let's start posting
First, be original. By that I mean, post your content. It’s easy to just distribute links to the content of others, but you are trying to spread the word about your congregation!
- When you post an upcoming event to your web site, post a link to that web page to your social media channels (along with an appropriate intro or title, of course). If it requires registration, post it far in advance, and then add updated posts as the event draws closer.
- When the event has passed, post about that too, with pictures if at all possible. If your web site has a photo gallery, include a link to that album.
- Promote your sermon series, and if your sermons are online, post the link to each sermon’s page each week.
- If your minister/pastor/priest writes a weekly column for your congregation’s bulletin, introduce it to a wider audience. Post it to your web site and promote that page.
- Does your minister/pastor/priest blog? Another perfect candidate for social media posts!
- Now I’m not saying to only post original content. One of the biggest benefits of social media is that it’s easy to share relevant content from other sources. Look for articles and posts that you think your target audience(s) will find interesting.
- In social media, follow ministers and religious publications such as Christianity Today or publications within your particular faith.
- Monitor non-religious media. The Huffington Post, New York Times and Washington Post have religious sections that can either inspire your own content, or you can post links to theirs.
- Epistles.com is a new web site where Christians can post videos of themselves discussing their religious conversion or how their faith has helped them in life. You may find individual posts worth sharing (especially if you can get some of your fellow congregants to post their stories).
Whatever schedule you choose, I encourage you to post regularly. One thing that may help is that there are several tools available that allow you to schedule posts for future publication, many are free. See here and here.
When in social Rome ...
Each social media platform has its own culture and style. This means that you should not assume that you can use the exact same post on every channel, for two reasons. First, each platform has its own etiquette (just search for the platform name and the word “etiquette” - such as “Twitter etiquette” - to learn about that platform).
Second, the various styles will likely stop you from simply using identical posts on each platform. For example, Twitter limits a post to 140 characters, but the others don’t. That means that your Twitter post will often have to be different than your Facebook post.
You can increase you reach by taking advantage of hash tags in Twitter and Google+. These can draw the attention of those who don’t follow you but are searching for those hash tags. I suggest that you make sure that the hash tag(s) you want is actually used by searching for it (them) in each platform to see what and how many results you get.
Connect with others
Social media being, well, social. It’s good to use your platforms to reach out and connect with others. You’ll see their posts in your news feeds. These can give you ideas for you own posts, or you can share posts you think your audience might appreciate.
I would suggest connecting with other congregations, preachers/ministers/pastors, local schools. One congregation I work with has connected with its local Chamber of Commerce, and they share each other’s content and promote each other’s events. And certainly, connect with your congregation's members.