Twitter complements your church’s traditional communication needs.
By Jennifer Michalek
Although you have probably heard the word Twitter many times, chances are that it remains an abstract concept in your mind. So let’s begin by first describing what it is and then we’ll look at how churches like yours are embracing this tool as a means to connecting with their followers.
Twitter is an online social networking and micro-blogging tool that allows people to send “tweets,” or text-based messages of up to 140 characters that are delivered to other users, known as followers. Tweets can be sent through different mediums such as cell phones and the Web. They appear on the owner’s Twitter profile page and broadcast out to the owner’s followers. If your church has a Facebook page, you can use Twitter to update your Facebook status, or, conversely, you can send your updates from Facebook out to Twitter.
The social networking component of Twitter is that it allows users to become followers of each other and to receive their messages. It also allows followers to retweet messages, which spreads your message even further.
“Who has time?”
Many of us hear the word Twitter, and think, “Who has time for that?” Don’t assume that Twitter is a platform just for teens, narcissists or those with too much time on their hands.
However, churches are beginning to use Twitter to promote their events, to call for feedback, to provide commentary and to spread the Word. Twitter offers a direct way to communicate important information to those who want to receive it. It is a tool that allows churches to quickly, and succinctly, communicate with their followers. And better yet, it costs nothing.
“There is an investment of time, of course. When you are first learning, it requires more time. After that, I would say we spend about six hours per week on social media, including Twitter,” says Rob Cizek, executive pastor of Northshore Christian Church in Everett, WA.
Twitter and Your Church
Churches can use Twitter in a variety of ways to compliment traditional communication tools. Northshore Church, for example, tweets about food drives, Pastor Ken’s “A Beautiful Mind Series,” live online services, scripture and special events. “It’s a dynamic way for us to communicate with our congregation,” says Cizek.
12 Stone Church Lawrenceville, GA, with a congregation of 9,000, has about 740 Twitter followers and not all of them attend their services. “Connecting through social media gives the community a safe way to check us out. They are able to get a sense of our heart and mission before they ever walk through our doors,” says Donna Witten, 12 Stone’s director of communications.
“Through Twitter, we have been able to quickly respond to questions, connect volunteers, and by using the search feature on any mention of 12Stone, we are able to keep an eye on our brand. We can even see what first-time visitors thought of our service,” adds Whitten.
Twitter can be used by anyone. Therefore, pastors, guest speakers, attendees and even non-participants can tweet about your events and services. In fact, you may be surprised to find that members of your congregation have tweeted about your events even before you have.
Make use of Twitter in the following ways:
Scripture: By quoting scripture, many churches use Twitter to regularly lift the spirit of their followers and to spread the Word.
Events: Announce upcoming events such as opportunities for baptism.
Generate interest and define an agenda: Speakers can tweet to build enthusiasm for their talk or to find out what attendees hope to get out of it.
After-service follow-up: Remind your congregation of the resources mentioned during services by posting links to more information.
Request help: Ask for volunteers, donations, or prayers.
Live coverage: Through live-coverage commentary about events, you can include people who were unable to participate. For those who chose not to participate, live-coverage Tweets might entice them to join you next time.
Site traffic: As a viral tool, Twitter directs traffic to your Web site. By asking your followers to tweet about something your church is doing, your news will quickly be sent far beyond your Twitter reach.
Job postings: If your church or someone in your congregation is hiring, or if someone is looking for a job, you can use Twitter to announce it.
Branding: A benefit of Twitter is that it can establish your church as a personality that is connected, dynamic and approachable.
Feedback: Through Twitter’s search feature and services such as TweetDeck, you can “listen” to what is being said about your church.
Develop a strategy
Like many social media tools, Twitter requires an ongoing investment. It needs to fit within your overall communications mix. In addition, you need to identify how you expect it to support your initiatives.
“Before you start using Twitter, you should have a strategy. You have to think about what you hope to accomplish by using Twitter. Otherwise, it’s just one more thing to do,” says Cizek. “I would encourage other churches that are just starting to tweet to focus on quality over quantity. Sure, you need to remain active, but don’t overwhelm your audience.”
Here are some specific components to include in your plan:
1. Identify your audience (current and potential). What kind of resources and information do they want from you?
2. Define your objectives. What do you hope to achieve by using Twitter? For example, do you want to engage your followers, grow your community, promote your events, or perhaps all of those?
3. Develop your overall message. What do you want to accomplish through your messages? For example, do you want to inform your followers, inspire them, call them to action, or simply connect with them?
4. Define the process. How will it be administered? How much time will be allocated? Will you develop a weekly or monthly editorial calendar for Tweets? What policies should be followed?
5. Identify how you will measure your results. Evaluate your results against your objectives. Did you increase attendance at an event through Twitter? Did you see an increase in video downloads?
Start building followers
Like other social media tools, your church’s Twitter following will build over time. Start by signing up at Twitter.com. Once you have a profile, conduct a search on the site using terms related to your church to see what content already exists. Seek examples of how similar churches are using Twitter.
Once you have started using Twitter, start educating your members about your Twitter presence. Remember, in a tight economy, leveraging free social media tools allows churches to maximize their reach without breaking their budgets.
Jennifer Michalek is a freelance writer and the chief communications officer of a national medical society in Chicago, IL.
Examples of churches using Twitter