By Ben Stroup
Create new opportunities to expand your reach and build a community.
Although ever-changing, social media is an effective channel of communication that many church leaders use to connect with their congregation and the larger community in which it exists. Still, many resist Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or even starting a blog, citing as reasons lack of time, knowledge, training and direct application.
Ministry begins when we connect with people. And people are increasingly choosing social media as their preferred method of interaction.
Social media is no longer optional. Church leaders need to adapt to new means of communication if they wish to be heard and to continue to be
Two important observations:
Social media is not a fad, passing trend or distraction. It is a genuine way through which people engage and influence one another. Communication at its core is more about the target audience than the preferences of the messenger. When the roles are reversed, the end result is noise, clutter and spam.
It is the responsibility of the church leader to remove barriers to communication. Just as missionaries first learn the language and customs of the people they are trying to reach, church leaders must become familiar with the language and practice of social media so they can have the opportunity to be part of the conversation.
How can churches effectively use social media as a way to increase ministry impact? Consider these 10 things as you build a social media strategy for your church:
- Encourage user-generated content. Social media represents a shift in how content is created and distributed. “Every person is a publisher” shouldn’t be a point of criticism. It should be embraced, recognizing that everyone brings their network of influence to the table. Empower the people in your pew to multiply the impact of your weekend experience, mission projects and community outreach.
- Make it shareable. When content is posted, some thought should be given to how people will be able to share this. If you make it difficult many people won’t even try. But if rating systems such as “Likes,” “Tweet this,” and “Share this” are built into how you distribute content, it will make it much easier for someone to expose your church to their broader social network.
- Keep relationships the primary focus. Social media is not about efficiency or recreating direct mail metrics in the digital space. It’s one person connecting to another person. Be in different places online because people consume and interact with online content differently. Take advantage of each of those platforms and their unique capabilities. But never forget that the tools are a conduit to long-term engagement and cultivation of interest, volunteers and financial support.
- Provide value. Don’t just put out stuff to fill “dead space.” Offer content that is explicitly and implicitly beneficial to the person you’re trying to reach. It’s easy to think about what’s best for the organization when the focus is on how content can help people take the next step in their faith journey and feel more connected to your church community.
- Create excellent content. Take the time to be thoughtful. Content is king and is the only currency that will survive in the economy of digital influence. You will be judged by how compelling, engaging and interactive your content is.
- Use social media strategically, not casually. Take the time to establish goals for each digital platform. Define key influencers within your church – both lay and staff – to create multiple “windows” into your community. Employ someone to be responsible for the overall goals and objectives of this initiative and do what’s necessary to keep up to speed with digital consumption habits. Be intentional.
- Keep it short and simple. The digital space is not the place for your magnum opus. Recognize that people don’t spend as much time reading online as they do traditional channels. Keep the content short, helpful, practical and consistent. That’s what keeps people coming back for more.
- Measure – and measure again. There are some excellent analytics tools that will help you chart your progress. Of course, the ultimate measure of engagement comes through how your investment in the digital space is creating interpersonal, offline relationships through the trust-building that takes place when you accurately employ a content strategy. People are checking out your church on Twitter, Facebook and the Web way before they visit your church.
- Market your social media presence. Tell people that you’re online and where you are active. With a consistent flow of good content and a clear understanding of who you’re trying to engage with the various tools and platforms, you can have enough information to get started and keep things moving forward. You’ll have to make adjustments along the way, but that’s expected and inherent in the process of relationships anyway.
- Be patient. Social media has a lower barrier of entry in that it isn’t expensive to get started. Though, the true cost is “sweat equity.” If you want immediate results, then you’ll be disappointed. It usually takes four to six months to begin to see the fruit of your labor. If you’re committed to building influence in the digital space and recognizing its multiplying effect, you’ll see that the initial investment is far less than the expected benefit.
Church leaders who embrace social media will create new opportunities to engage with others, expand their reach, and ultimately build community in a much more systematic and sustainable approach. The question is not if your church will venture into social media, but when. The real learning begins when we put down books, articles, podcasts and seminars about social media and start doing social media.
How churches are using social media
We’ve been finding success with content marketing across the social media platforms by repurposing our video sermon messages. Our media team creates “60-Second Sermons” that are share-friendly because they are edited in a way that understands the context of the viewer who will be stumbling upon the micro-message in a discovery state of browsing.
These bite-sized nuggets of truth for spiritual browsers end up being viewed on a friend’s Facebook wall, via email or even as a link in a tweet much more than full-length sermons that are found in the same places. One of the key aspects of our 60-second sermon edits is to get the viewer interested enough in that week’s teaching that they’ll click over to watch the entire message or check out Liquid Church’s multi-site campuses or church online.
Liquid Church, Morristown, NJ
At Long Hollow, we feel like social media allows us to engage our community without forcing them to change their browsing habits or behavior. It allows us to connect with them where they’re already gathering with their friends, family and coworkers.
and Technology director
Long Hollow Baptist Church,
7 books for social media beginners
- Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff (Harvard Business School, 2008)
- Content Rules by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman (Wiley, 2010)
- Tribes by Seth Godin (Portfolio, 2008)
- The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott (Wiley, 2010)
- The Mesh by Lisa Gansky (Portfolio, 2010)
- The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk (HarperBusiness, 2011)
- Trust Agents by Chris Brogan (Wiley, 2010)