The 10 Commandments of social media
By Ben Stroup
Apple’s announcement in June of the seamless integration with Twitter in its next iOS update offered another sign that social media is no longer something that young people and techies play around with. It’s now an accepted, proven – though ever-changing – channel of conversation that leaves church leaders no choice but to adopt it as a legitimate way to communicate and interact with its congregation and the larger community in which it exists.
While many church leaders have adopted social media in some capacity, many continue to resist Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or even starting a blog. They cite lack of time, lack of knowledge or training, or lack of direct application as noble reasons not to allow any distractions from the work of ministry. The fundamental flaw is that ministry begins when we connect with other people. And people are increasingly choosing social media as their preferred method of interaction.
Social media is here to stay and is no longer optional. Leaders must choose to break free of their preferences and adapt to new means of communication if they wish to be heard and to continue to be relevant.
Two important observations before moving forward:
1. 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.
2. It is the responsibility of the church leader to remove barriers to communication rather than increase them. Just like a missionary who must first learn the language and customs of the indigenous people he or she is trying to reach, so they must become familiar with the language and practice of social media in order to continue to 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 Commandments” as you build the social media strategy for your church:
1. 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 and mission projects.
2. 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, “Likes,” “Tweet this,” and “Share This” type buttons are built into how you distribute content, it will make it much easier for someone to in turn expose your church to their broader social network.
3. Keep relationships the primary focus. Social media is not about efficiency or recreating direct mail metrics in the digital space. It’s based off one person connecting to another person. Be 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.
4. 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 must be how the content can help move people to take the next step in their faith journey and feel more connected to our church community.
5. 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.
6. Use Social Media strategically, not casually. Take the time to establish goals for each different 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.
7. 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 other, more traditional channels. Keep the content short, helpful, practical and consistent. That’s what keeps people coming back for more.
8. 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 employe a content strategy. People are checking out your church on Twitter, Facebook and the Web way before they visit your church.
9. 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 among 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.
10. 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 recognize the 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.
7 books for social media beginners
1. Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. (Harvard Business School, 2008.)
2. Content Rules by Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman (Wiley, 2010)
3. Tribes by Seth Godin
4. The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott (Wiley, 2010)
5. The Mesh by Lisa Gansky (Portfolio, 2010)
6. The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk (HarperBusiness, 2011)
7. Trust Agents by Chris Brogan (Wiley, 2010)
Ben Stroup is a writer, blogger, and consultant who helps individuals and organizations navigate the new rules of conversation to achieve maximum impact. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and blogs at thecontentmatrix.com.